Saturday, January 9

Winter Road Trip - Driving Tips

As you may have guessed, I'm of the opinion that winter is a wonderful season for road trips and getaways. In fact, amid a dreary, slushy city winter, you need even more to escape for a few days and have some fun... to find a wonderland setting where you can play in the snow instead of struggle through it.

Winter driving conditions can be different than at other times of year, but that doesn't mean you should stay home. A little advance planning, smart packing, and basic information will go far to make your winter road trip easy and enjoyable. Here are a few of my favourite tips on what to bring and how to drive in the winter.

What to Bring In Your Car
The weather might be mild, sunny and calm when you start your trip, but don't assume it'll stay that way throughout your drive. And just because your car will heat up nice and toasty while you're driving, don't forget you will have to get out at some point. 

With this in mind, dress to be comfortable while en route, but keep your warm winter gear within easy reach for when it's time to get out. Have your hat, mitts or gloves, scarf or neck warmer handy to pull on before stepping out into the elements. You'll appreciate them even if you're just stopping for gas. Those few minutes it takes to fill your tank will feel like ages if your hands and face are bare and freezing.

Similarly, stow your winter boots and heavy coat in the back seat of your car and not in your trunk. You probably won't put them on for brief stops, but you want to have them on hand in case of trouble on the road. If you have to get out and push (yourself or someone else) out of a snowbank, you'll be glad for warm feet especially.

Road snacks! No road trip is complete without road snacks but this bears mentioning anyway. If road conditions are poor, you may have longer stretches of driving between breaks, or you may be less inclined to stop along the way. Make sure you have some (hopefully nutritious) munchies in the car so you won't be distracted by hunger as you concentrate on the road.

What to Pack In Your Trunk
Not just for road trips, there are some basic items to keep in your trunk all winter long for all your winter driving. Trouble can happen on city streets and expressways, and you may find yourself waiting some time for assistance if you can't help yourself. 

I learned from my mom years ago—long before I moved from the big city to the country—to be prepared. Here's what Mom and I put in our trunks at the start of every snow season:
  • cat litter (not the clumping kind!) or sand to use for traction
  • a folding shovel to clear deep snow
  • candles & matches for heat
  • a sleeping bag for warmth
  • booster cables and first aid kit (year round)
Winter Driving Tips
Drive for the road conditions. Common sense, but not always common practice. If the road is snowy or icy, reduce your speed and increase the space between you and the vehicle in front of you. Give yourself extra time to maneuver around obstacles, turn corners or brake.

Consider snow tires. Not just for country driving, snow tires increase your grip on any snowy road. They also extend the life of your regular tires. I won't say they're a necessity—I didn't have them for my first three winters here—but I like them now that I have them and consider them a good investment.

Know what to expect on the road. You can check road conditions for major Ontario roadways on the MTO website here.

Get your bearings before heading out. This means looking at a map (online or good ol' fashioned printed one) to get an overview of your route in advance. Many people today rely on GPS navigation systems to direct them where they're going. In urban area, GPS's are generally great. Once you get out into the smaller towns and rural communities, your GPS can lead you down the garden path. Or in this case, the snowmobile trail. 

Your GPS might not know the difference between a year-round residential road and an unmaintained winter recreation trail. Really. We've seen it happen. Whenever possible, get directions from the people who know your destination. If those directions don't jive with your GPS's instructions, don't automatically trust your GPS. Like I tell people, I really do know the quickest, most direct route to my home!

A note about country roads and high beams, applicable any time of year. Most country roads don't have street lights, so switch your headlights to high beams when driving after dark. Just don't forget to switch them back to regular low beams when approaching an oncoming car (or coming up on one heading the same way). You really do not want to blind the drivers you're sharing the road with.

What's it like driving to Fern Glen Inn?
For most of our guests, their route here is primarily on Highway 11. As a high-traffic, four-lane divided highway, the surface is usually clear and dry, except of course, while a snowfall is underway. Since our road (Fern Glen Rd.) is directly off of Highway 11, almost all your driving here is by highway. 

Like many country roads, ours is usually covered with a hard pack of snow. This actually makes for good traction. Plus, we're on a school bus route so the road is well maintained, regularly plowed and sanded.... Come see for yourself!

Your Road Trip Driving Tips
Do you have some tips and advice? What else do you keep in your trunk in the spirit of emergency preparedness? Please post a comment and share with us.

1 comment:

Tracey said...

We have a winter kit for each of our cars that contains an extra hat, mittens, scarf, tin can, candle, matches (to gather snow & melt it to drink), one of those silver emergency blankets, granola bars, peanuts, and a "Contact Police" sign in case we break down. If we remember, we also throw in a sleeping bag and even more hats and gloves (it's a great use for old ones). We also have a small first aid kit in each car. The trick is to remember to put the winter kit in the car every fall!