Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter Travel Trips

Dear Travel Guru,

For the holidays, my family and I are taking a road trip from Charlotte, NC to Pittsburgh PA to see my in-laws and my husband's cousins.

I grew up in Southern California, went to collage in Texas, and we now live in Charlotte. I have really never driven in the snow and I am nervous. My husband will be doing half the driving, but I want to be prepared, both for driving myself, and any emergencies that we might have. Do you have any winter driving travel tips?

Caroline K. Charlotte, NC

Dear Caroline,

Driving long distances, especially in "winter weather" conditions can be quite tricky, most especially if you are unfamiliar with the way your car will react on ice and snow. If you find that you have to drive during adverse conditions, please consider the following winter travel tips:

1. Know the route and pay attention to the weather. A couple years ago I was traveling from New York to Charlotte in February and got caught in a huge storm. We had chosen to go one way because it would be "faster." Instead, we ended up spending 2 extra days in the car! If we had been paying attention to the weather report, we would have seen the storm coming up the East coast and chosen the more Western way, avoided the storm, and gotten to our destination 2 days sooner! Check the Web, the TV and the Department of Transportation road-condition hotlines and consult them every few hours while you’re on the road.

2. Drink plenty of water. With all that rain and snow, it may seem unlikely that you could get dehydrated, but as little as a 1-2 percent loss of body weight can lead to fatigue and reduced alertness. And you need to be as alert as possible to drive in the rain, snow and ice. Bring plenty of water, and remember to drink it! And as an added bonus, all the water might cause you to take more rest-area breaks, which can help you stay alert and allow you to stretch your legs.

3. Eat enough food. In the winter we crave hearty foods: meats, stews, etc. That is because during the winter your body needs more nourishment than it does on a warm summer day. So bring sandwiches, and high-energy foods such as nuts and granola mix. Remember to pack enough for a whole extra day in the car just in case!

4. Pack a winter travel safety box. In your winter safety box, besides a first aid kit, include a blanket, ice scraper, small shovel, and cat litter for traction. You will also want in the car a cell phone, matches, flashlight, "fix-a-flat" and can of lock de-icer.

5. Take it slow. You will need to drive more slowly when the road conditions are bad -- perhaps up to 50% slower-- but don't go too slow, you will need to be moving fast enough to get through the tough snow, and not cause a hazard to the other drivers on the road. When in doubt, pull over and go for a coffee or lunch break and wait until the storm passes over. Better late and safe!

6. Know the car. It is best when driving through the winter weather to be familiar with the vehicle. This is not the time to be driving a friend's vehicle and not know how the car usually handles, and where the windshield wipers are!

7. Know how to recover from skids. On an icy road it is natural to hit the breaks if you start to skid... but be careful. Know if your vehicle has traction control, because the best response may be to break hard OR pump the breaks OR lay off the breaks and gently steer into the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go and don’t touch your to! This is a skill that takes time to learn, and goes to knowing the car!

8. Check the tires. Cold weather reduces tire pressure, so check and fill frequently if needed. Your tire tread depth should be at least an 8th inch, and an investment in good snow tires with lugs may be the best bet if you will be traveling in bad winter weather.

9. Take the rest stop. Winter travel is exhausting and requires you to be alert. Stop frequently to recharge, get food and water and switch drivers often.

10. If you get stuck, stay in your vehicle. If you end up stranded off the road during a storm, it is best to stay with the vehicle as long as you are off to the side, and out of the way of oncoming traffic. Recent tragedies have occurred when a motorist has walked away from their car and gotten lost in the freezing temps. The car will provide shelter and some warmth, and give rescuers something large to find along the road. Make sure your exhaust pipe in clear if you get caught in a drift though, carbon monoxide poisoning can be very dangerous.

Being prepared is key, and you are well on your way, since you are thinking about your winter travel now. Take it easy - bring a bunch of snacks and a safety box -- and you will have a great, and hopefully uneventful drive.

Best of luck!

THE Travel Guru

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