Winter Road Trip? You’ll Need This Stuff To Survive

If a winter road trip is in the works and reports of major winter storms have not scared off the idea yet, we have some hard-learned tips. Unlike a summer road trip, winter road trippers have some different challenges. Besides the obvious (snow, rain, sleet and hail), simply not being able to roll down the window or pull off the road to visit some place not on the planned route can add a different dimension to the experience. Still, while the price of fuel is down, there might not be a better time for a winter road trip.

Tune-up and test
To help ensure survival on a winter road trip, take that car to a trusted mechanic for any needed maintenance before heading out on the road. Duh. While with the mechanic, consider maintenance items especially important to you for this winter trip.

Check tread depth on tires, test battery life with a load test designed to see how it will perform in exactly the conditions you are about to experience. A check of that electrical system, which may be used more than normal, is a good idea too. Right now you really don’t care if the AC is a little low on refrigerant.

Be realistic, really
Sure, your 4×4 can take us off road to places where no one has been. But should we? If you have an all-terrain vehicle and a decent amount of experience, there’s nothing quite like being the first vehicle on a snow-packed road.

Days from when you go off road – after daytime highs have melted roads and nighttime lows have re-frozen them – the ride will be bumpy. Right after snowfall? Like driving on air.Check weather and traffic reports, briefly
This was really important ten years ago when GPS-equipped autos did not indicate heavy traffic areas. But now they do; who cares? Someone without one does and a good second-choice is Google maps.

Like other GPS devices, Google maps change the color of roads and highways based on the speed of actual traffic on the road (compared with posted speed) to give an accurate traffic reading at any given time.

Emergency help
Emergency help can be just as close as a call from your smartphone. American Auto Club (AAA) members have 27/7 assistance via Emergency Roadside Service, an included membership benefit. Taking others along on your winter road trip? Ask if they are AAA members or if their parents are; benefits cover you in an emergency when the vehicle you are either driving or riding in becomes disabled.

No AAA? Your auto insurance company or cellphone service provider may also offer roadside assistance too, included in the price. If not, it’s usually an inexpensive, easy option to add on.

Winter survival gear
If you did all of the above, odds are swinging to your favor for surviving that winter road trip. Still, as all good people who live in winter climates can tell you: see someone who works in this weather for an idea of what you need.

Just “making it” from point A to point B during a winter storm is an accomplishment for many travelers. Those who work in that weather have a completely different definition of “accomplishment” and what makes for a good day on the road.

Years ago, I delivered newspapers (printed publications containing news, feature articles, advertisements and correspondence) in big vans that had to be on the road every day. When schools and businesses were closed, power was lost and even the postal/UPS/FedEx workers stayed home, but we worked. We had/did all these things and more to be able to drive during a major winter event.

An emergency car kit will have the basics for survival and can be bought online in a variety of sizes. Beginner 72-hour kits from a number of sellers like Emergency Essentials start at $39.95. Want to be prepared for anything? A Comp II Emergency Kit has a comprehensive set of preparedness items needed to survive for the first three days of a major crisis/world-ending event.

Want professional quality? Add snow chains and know how to use them. Best bet: buy in the summer when lying down on the ground to practice putting them on does not freeze you to the street. Also, try to get that time down to less than five minutes. In the winter, you will appreciate the training.

Some extra weight in the trunk is always a good idea too. In newspaper vans with thousands of publications to weigh them down, this was not an issue. Still, every fall, many who drive in winter climates know a bag of sand or something else of weight in the trunk can help with traction. Make that sand some bags of kitty litter or salt and getting stuck is not the end of the road trip, just another adventure along the way.

[Photo credit- Flickr user D. Bjorn, Catchin’ Up]

Motor Club Membership Has Pets Wagging More, Paying Less

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a not-for-profit motor club that has been helping travelers since 1902. Formed mainly in response to a lack of roads and highways suitable for automobiles, AAA membership has evolved to serve the changing needs of more than 50 million members. Tackling everything from emergency roadside assistance to road maps, travel guides and travel services along the way, AAA is relevant today too. Advice and discounts cover everything from saving money buying a car to caring for and traveling with pets.

“Owning a pet, whether it’s a dog, a cat, a hamster or a bird, can be pricey,” says AAA in its monthly newsletter. “In this sluggish economy, everyone is on the lookout for ways to shed unnecessary expenses, and spoiling our pets may not make the budget.”

AAA directs members looking to save on spay/neuter services, discount pet food and medication to partners such as Pets Warehouse, PetFoodDirect and large retailers like Costco, PETCO and PetSmart.

On the road, AAA’s hotel search engine will help travelers locate a AAA Diamond-Rated hotel fit for them and their pet. A copy of AAA’s “Traveling With Your Pet” ($9.99 digital edition available at the iTunes Store, and, details pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, attractions and more.The AAA website has free information on traveling with pets too, including:

AAA also offers discounts on vacation packages, cruise vacations and more. A lot has changed at AAA since 1902, including up-to-date mobile apps and a YouTube channel that can be a great help to the travelers of today.

AAA online guidebooks, launched last year, let members download free digital guides for their Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader or smartphones equipped with an e-reader application. Site visitors to can view the available eTourBook titles, but only AAA members can initiate a download. To complete the process, members login to download titles to their personal computer and then sync the files to their portable device.

This video about safe summer travel is typical of what AAA has for motorists.

[Flickr photo by TheGiantVermin]

Six things NOT to do when renting an RV

Forget your trailer park misconceptions: If you’re planning a long haul road trip, either in the U.S. or abroad, renting an RV may be your most cost-effective way to travel.

At least that’s what my husband and I found when we took a 24-foot-long campervan through the South and North islands of New Zealand last fall. Not only did we have more freedom to go where we wanted without waiting for buses or trains, we saved money on eating out – and had fun meeting other travelers at our campsite each night.

RVing does have its pitfalls, however, and we noticed plenty of them on our week-long trip. Here’s a few things that could inject a sour note into your open road opus:

Rent the biggest vehicle you can find. You might see this trip as a time to indulge your Big Rig fantasies. But you’re much better off renting a smaller campervan that handles well, particularly if you’re going anywhere that involves twisty roads or mountain overpasses. Smaller RVs are also better on stretches of open highway, where strong winds can push your vehicle around the road.

Ignore vehicle briefings. Our campervan came with a DVD that cut off halfway through the instructions. “We’ll figure it out,” said my husband, who was eager to hit the road. Ha. Those 15 minutes we saved by leaving the parking lot early were nothing compared to the hour it took us to figure out how to dump out the sewage. Never again.Pack too much stuff. Most campervans have elaborate storage systems, with cubby drawers, hidden compartments and spaces under seats to place your things. Which you’ll need, because if you don’t put your hiking shoes away, they will become projectile missiles during the next curve in the road.

We passed several RVs that looked stuffed to the brim, with stressed-out people in the driver’s seat. Only bring the basics; most RVs come with all of the dishes, silverware, bedding and towels that you’ll need.

Fail to check your surroundings. The scene unfolded like one from a Chevy Chase movie: Our mouths screamed “Nooooo” as a neighbor pulled out of his campsite with his RV electrical cord still hooked up to the outlets. The resulting noises were not pleasant. If you’re absent-minded, write your debarkation routine on a slip of paper that you review each morning.

Annoy your neighbors. RVers are an early bunch, with many hitting the road before dawn. You’ll be the star of the holiday park if you invoke MI6 agent stealth and leave noiselessly, without rattling all of the recycling bins (you know who you are).

Once you’ve selected your campsite for the night, it’s also considered poor etiquette to walk too close to your neighbor’s vehicle. Saying hello at the communal BBQ pit is fine, lurking outside someone else’s windows isn’t. And when that van is rocking, definitely don’t go knocking.

Plan a packed itinerary. Sure, you could take 72 hours to criss-cross Arizona. But where’s the fun in that? Plan two-day or three-day stops at RV parks so you have time to leave the vehicle and see the sights. Otherwise, you might as well fly.

Travel writer Chris Gray Faust writes about Value Luxury Vacations on her website, Chris Around The World.

Summer road trip plans; don’t let gas prices slow you down

If you’re starting to think about that Summer road trip and how much it is going to cost, take another look at gas prices. At about 96 cents above average prices last year, experts say prices could beat July 2008’s record $4.11 as Summer driving season demand, speculators and political uncertainty in Libya and the Middle East drive crude oil prices up.

“We’re going to see some more increases, but $4 gas is enough to cut demand,” Peter Beutel, president of energy risk manager Cameron Hanover told USAToday. “Once you get to a place where everyone is paying $4, the pain threshold is universally shared.”

Here are a few tips that can help save fuel:

  • Get off the highway to buy gas. The highest prices around will be on the interstate or turnpike. Look for well-marked exits that have multiple gas stations listed
  • Bring an extra friend to help share the cost. If the price of gas goes up 25% (which would be like a buck a gallon- not likely), adding a third or fourth friend along to share the cost can make a big difference.
  • Keep a log or journal. If you have done this before you know that things can get kind of blurry after driving 15 or 18 hours straight. Keeping a log of where you are when you buy gas, how much it was and how far that got you.
  • Have a plan on where you are going. It’s no problem to say “I want to see the country” but America is a pretty big place. Waking up in Kansas City to say “Next stop:Miami!” is more of a long-term goal. There will be a lot of stops between Kansas City and Miami.

Also see Gadling’s 20 tips for surviving a summer road trip, courtesy of touring musicians and for more information.

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AAA launches new online guide books

Members of AAA (formerly known as the American Automobile Association if you haven’t been paying attention lately) have long-relied on guide books and the famous AAA TripTik page-by-page maps that looked to be doomed as Internet applications like Google maps became more popular. But now, things are looking up for the world’s largest auto club.

Announced today, AAA members can take along the free digital guides for their Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader or smartphones equipped with an e-reader application. Site visitors to can view the available eTourBook titles, but only AAA members can initiate a download. To complete the process, members login to download titles to their personal computer and then sync the files to their portable device.

The AAA library is extensive too. AAA publishes 26 regional TourBook guides covering the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean .The information is gathered by a team of travel editors and inspectors conduct in-person evaluations of all AAA Approved lodgings and restaurants.

Listings include 58,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated lodgings and restaurants, 17,000 attractions, 23,000 events and 7,000 destinations.

Printed AAA TourBook guides and maps are still available free to members through AAA offices or online at I just ordered a bunch of them for an upcoming trip to Italy at the end of the month. I think it is one of the best benefits they have…well, next to coming out for free road service that is.

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Flickr photo by photopaige