Hit the road or make your flight this winter break with these winter travel tips

The road from Dornbirn to the mountain village of Ebnit in winter. (Credit: böhringer friedrich)

The road from Dornbirn to the mountain village of Ebnit in winter. (Credit: böhringer friedrich)

You’re already making travel plans for winter break, but the seasonal weather can provide extra hurdles for your trip. Whether you’re going to hit the road or just have to worry about whether you’ll make your flight, take these winter travel tips into consideration. If you’re intimidated by that long stretch of highway and the threat of ice and snow, focus particularly on our winter driving tips below.

Airline, destination, and international travel tips

The biggest things to keep in mind when you’re making a big trip in the winter are to plan ahead, and expect setbacks. If you’re flying, book tickets well in advance, so you don’t get caught with the high prices that surround holiday or last minute ticket purchases. If you’re planning a destination holiday – like skiing – advance planning is even more important. A Sioux City Journal contributor noted in “Insider tips for winter travel” on November 10, 2013, “Ski resorts are quite popular in the winter, and reservations tend to fill up fast. If you hope to ski or snowboard, make a reservation as early as possible and then shop around for flights or alternative travel methods.”

If you have to fly to get where you’re going, try to book nonstop flights. Ed Hewitt, writing for IndependentTraveler.com, in “Winter travel tips,” noted that if your first flight is canceled and you get stuck at home, it’s sad, but not as bad a problem as if you get stuck on a layover. As he wrote, “when you’re stuck in a connecting airport in Texas calling hotels and praying for a place to stay, you’re in what we call yer worst-case scenario, pardner.”

If you have to make a connecting flight, Hewitt recommends choosing a southern city that’s unlikely to be hampered by snow. Here are some other quick tips on flights in the winter:

  • Choose a morning flight: it’s less likely to be delayed by problems at other airports.
  • Get your gear out and ready to go through security in advance to save yourself time.
  • Leave extra time to get to the airport. If you normally plan to arrive an hour before your flight, arrive two hours early.
  • Check in with your doctor before traveling, especially internationally. Make sure all your vaccines are up to date – including your flu shot.
  • Pack as light as you can, and consider shopping online and having presents shipped to your family rather than bringing them along.
  • But while you should avoid over packing, do make sure you plan for the weather at your destination. And pack sunscreen – even in the winter, if you’re doing anything outdoors, you need that protection.
  • If you are traveling with gifts, don’t wrap them. Security will have to open them.

Winter driving tips

One of the most important tips for winter travel is to keep your eyes on the weather. Check with the National Weather Service and make sure you’re up to date. What looks like flurries starting out from Boston could be a major snowstorm when you hit Buffalo.

Another sensible piece of advice: tell a friend where you’re going and when you expect to get there. In “Tips for winter travel” at Parade magazine, a contributor suggested, “Tell [a friend] when you expect to arrive and let them know how you plan to get there. And ask them to alert local authorities if you’re late.” So, let them know and keep them updated. You shouldn’t call while driving, but you should check in if you’re delayed or change your plans – which means having your cell charged before you hit the road.

Here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Get your car inspected before you go. Take it to your local mechanic and make sure you know if there are any problems before you hit the road.
  • Make sure you can see – and others can see you – by keeping your headlights and taillights clean in stormy weather.
  • Take it slow, and stay aware. Skip the cruise control if the roads are slick.
  • If you can’t be safe, stay home. If the government shuts down the roads, admit your plans will have to change and make do where you are.
  • Know your route, and keep a map in the car, even if you have GPS. Maps won’t break down; a GPS might.
  • Stock a winter survival kit. This means extra clothes, gloves, jumper cables, a flashlight, blankets, a first aid kit, a tool kit, a bag of cat litter or sand in case you need to pour it on the snow for traction, water, canned food or nutrition bars, a windshield scraper, and a small shovel.

If you get stuck in the snow, stay with – and better, in – your vehicle, where you can stay warm. Check to make sure that your exhaust pipe is clear (you don’t want carbon monoxide poisoning) and wait for help to arrive.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten for winter travel? Tell us in the comments.

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