18 Road Trip Tips for Better Holiday Travel

Cindy Richards Avatar
red Volkswagen in the snow during holiday travel
Winter road trips require some serious preparation. Photo credit: Pixabay

If you’re hitting the road for holiday travel this winter, make it fun and safe for the whole family with a few simple steps. From tune-ups, tires and tube socks to the best apps and maps, these 18 holiday travel road trip tips can make it easier to get through those winter weather moments.

1. Get your car a check-up

No one wants to be 300 miles into a 500-mile trip and have a breakdown that could have been prevented. But it’s even worse if it’s holiday travel and you need to find a mechanic on Christmas Eve.

Before you go, schedule a quick checkup (for $30 or less on average) to have a qualified mechanic check your oil, engine, and wiper fluids, and flag any important maintenance issues.

Read More: A Road Trip Checklist for Your Vehicle: Being Prepared Inside and Out

Tire on a snowy road
Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

2. Make sure you have the right tires for the trip

There are summer tires, winter tires and all-weather tires. How do you know which ones you need?

Visit Michelinman.com to help you decide which tires you need based on the type of roads you drive and the weather you’re most likely to encounter.

3. Pack an old pair of tube socks

Use them to protect the windshield wipers from snow and ice. When you arrive at your destination, pull the wipers away from the windshield and slip a sock over each one. (Bring a third sock if you also have a rear window wiper.) That will make it easier to clean the windshield in the morning.

After you scrape the windows free of snow and ice, take off the socks and put the wipers back to their normal position. There won’t be any snow or ice preventing them from cleaning the windows correctly.

Read More: Why You Should Keep a Penny in the Freezer

4. Buy a good tire pressure gauge

Then learn how to use it. Experts recommend checking your tire pressure every month year-round, but definitely during winter months. That’s because tires lose pressure as the temperature drops. Under-inflated tires are less safe on the roads, especially when the roads are wet and slick.

Tire pressure is measured in PSI — pounds per square inch — and the correct PSI for your tires will be listed on the inside of your driver’s side door or your owner’s manual. Visit Michelinman.com for more detailed instructions on how to adjust and test your tire pressure.

5. Go for cute, comfy and compact

Always drive in comfortable, loose-fitting and breathable clothing – never in bulky boots or jackets.

Wear your heavy coats and boots out to the car, but take them off before you drive away. Taking them off while you’re roaring down the highway at 70 mph is sure to terrorize your passengers.

Likewise, pack light. Remember: Everything that goes into the trunk has to come out of the trunk and you likely already have extra stuff — wrapped gifts, holiday treats and more. As an added bonus, less weight in the car will help you save on gas!

Snow-covered town
Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

6. Pack safely

If you are traveling with gifts, you don’t want to advertise that your car is filled with shiny new things. Keep those gifts out of sight as much as possible.

Use in-vehicle storage compartments, the trunk, or if you’re driving an SUV, keep the packages in non-see-through garbage bags (not bags with store logos) and toss a blanket over the whole thing.

Child eating snack - gluten and dairy free snacks for kids.
Snack often. Photo credit: Stacy Simmons

7. Stay hydrated and snack often

Spending hours in the car breathing in dry, warm air from the ventilation system can leave you feeling dehydrated and sleepy which puts you at risk for drowsy driving. Try to keep the heat at a reasonable temperature.

Bring lots of fluids and hand-held snacks to keep you energized and satiated. These are some of my favorite road trip snack recipes.

8. Winterize your car emergency kit

While vehicle emergency kits are always a must, winter and holiday travel require you to think beyond the Standard Emergency Kit.

Pack items that will come in handy “just in case.” This includes umbrellas, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, duct tape, trash bags, bungee cords, hand warmers, water-resistant gloves, window scraper, blanket, solar-powered battery charger, kitty litter (for traction on slick surfaces), a small shovel for digging out of snow drifts, jumper cables and an extra gallon of windshield washer fluid.

9. Bring DIY de-icer

Mix two-thirds rubbing alcohol and one-third water in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on the icy window to help melt the ice and make it easier to scrape.

The solution can be used to thaw doors and door locks that are frozen as well.

Gas station pump
Photo credit: Pixabay

10. Keep the gas tank at least half full

Stop for a fill-up any time the gas gauge hits half. This will help avoid a frozen fuel line.

It also will help ensure that you never run out of gas and get stranded on the cold side of the road because a long traffic backup ran your tank down to zero.

11. Synchronize bathroom breaks

Try this rule the next time you’re on the road. If one person pees, everyone pees—with no exceptions. It can work with your kids and friends/family alike.

Synchronized breaks make for more efficient road trips and can get you more miles between stops. And they’re even more important in a pandemic. You’ll want to limit exposure to other people and their germs as much as possible.

Winter driving on snow covered roads
Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

12. Travel when other people aren’t

The vast majority of people will be driving on Wednesday evening and returning home on Sunday. The second heaviest travel time? Tuesday evening. So if you’re taking off Wednesday to get a jump on the Thanksgiving Day holiday, AAA recommends leaving Wednesday morning rather than Tuesday evening.

And, if you have the choice, the best days to return home are Saturday or Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving. (If you’re flying, consider holiday flights on the actual holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s day. You’ll save on airfare and save time getting through security at the airport.)

13. Give your road trip a holiday feel

Just because you’ll be driving the same route to Grandma’s house this year as you did last year, that doesn’t mean the holiday travel experience has to be boring.

Give the trip a seasonal feel. Mix up the playlist with Christmas favorites. Name it “The Douglas Family December to Remember.” Play “I Spy” to look for Christmas decorations. Pack holiday-themed snacks.

14. Bring lots of plastic bags

They serve lots of purposes on the road trip, but none more important than becoming garbage bags. It will help keep the trash in the car to a minimum.

If you are dealing with seriously smelly stuff, like dirty diapers or a passenger who tends to get car sick, bring Ziploc bags to lock in those odors.

15. Download the right apps

Two of our favorites: GasBuddy and SitorSquat. GasBuddy will direct you to closest and cheapest gas wherever you are. SitorSquat will direct you to the cleanest restrooms nearby.

Pack a map to avoid navigation-related road trip dangers.
A map is important for those areas where the GPS doesn’t work! Photo credit: Pixabay

16. Bring old fashioned paper maps

They are fun to look at and come in oh-so-handy when your phone GPS announces “signal lost.”

17. Pack a power strip

We are all dependent upon our devices. Keep everyone charged up and happy with one power strip.

If your car doesn’t have enough ports or an outlet, buy an adapter like this one to expand the charging options.

18. Stop often

It might extend your trip for a few minutes or even an hour, but you will all arrive more rested and refreshed than if you did the trip in one long drive with no breaks to get out of the car and stretch your legs.

Read More: How to Exercise Right in the Car!

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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