Family Fun Feature post Lifestyle Travel & Explore

How to survive a family road trip this winter

Car travel with kids doesn’t have to be torture–turn it into a fun (and educational) adventure

Buckle up for a fun and affordable way to travel  

The next school break will be here soon, and you don’t want to let travel costs ruin the fun. A family road trip can be an affordable and convenient way to reach your destination. The bonus is that you won’t have to rent a car once you arrive. Especially if you have a family of skiers and live within 1-2 days drive of a ski resort, it’s easier to pop a ski box on your car and head for the mountains rather than haul gear through an airport. Another perk is that you’ll be teaching your kids invaluable lessons about geography and travel in the process. In 8 Essential Travel Tips for Your Next Trip, we discussed general travel advice, but driving in cold weather poses unique challenges. Here are a few tips to get you ready for the road:

Before you leave, tune up: Get a thorough tuneup, including oil change and  tire tread check. See if you need snow tires or chains for your destination and test your car battery if necessary. (AutoZone will check check batteries and charge them for free.) Our SUV’s car battery died in a ski resort parking lot on a snowy, New Year’s Eve night. After getting a jump from friendly fellow skiers, we drove to an AutoZone which was open till 9 p.m. A nice attendant installed a new battery for us, staying open late to do so. (This is when you teach your kids it’s a good time to tip someone.)  

Pack Car Essentials: Jumper Cables, extra blankets and water, spare tires, car insurance cards and AAA Auto Insurance (if you have), and a case of water are all must-haves. If you’re going to a cold climate, make sure to pack an ice scraper/brush, and make sure your windshield wiper fluid works well below zero. We recently crawled with 10 percent visibility through a  Colorado blizzard with a clogged windshield wiper nozzle. Once we purchased the correct fluid, we survived with periodic pit stops where my husband and I jumped out, and I splashed cupfuls of fluid on the windshield, while he unclogged the nozzle with a paperclip, a solution my teenage daughter had just found online. We used our super paperclip to assist another driver stranded nearby who was suffering from the same problem. 

Be prepared for winter storms: Make sure your windshield wiper fluid doesn’t freeze up.

Fuel up and drink up: If you’re driving through a remote area and don’t know when you’ll see another gas station, fill up! This is not a time to play how-far-can-I-get-on-fumes or cheapest-gas-price games. Running out of gas is not only avoidable, it’s embarrassing.  And be sure to keep the kids happy by keeping them fed and hydrated. Push the fluids (such as water and Gatorade), especially if you’re mountain-bound, to prevent altitude sickness. Pack reusable water bottles for everyone, as well as a cooler for items such as cut-up apples, and veggies and dip. Nonperishables like nuts, beef jerky, granola bars and Crispy Fruit are also great to have. 

Travel Essentials: Non-Freezing wiper fluid, a First Aid Kit, extra water bottles, snacks, car blanket and a brush/ice scraper.

Don’t forget your First Aid kit: Never leave home without a first aid kit in the car. It should have  bandages, aspirin, Benadryl, antibacterial ointments like iodine, etc… If you have time, assembling a kit with the kids is a worthwhile activity and scouting badge. My friend’s husband recently averted a nasty bacterial infection from a cut he got on his foot during a beach vacation because his Eagle Scout son whipped out his First Aid kit and treated the cut with iodine. Here’s a link to basic things to include in your kit.

Apple Maps indicated this state highway dirt road would be a great shortcut. While it was a scenic adventure, we would have been in trouble without our SUV. Always have a paper map on hand to cross check your navigation system.

Maps to rescue: GPS systems aren’t always reliable either, especially in remote areas. We learned this the hard way. Once while leaving a New Mexico ski resort, Apple Maps suggested we take a “shortcut” home on a state highway. As soon as we passed over a cattle guard and pavement gave way to dirt and rocks, I knew something was wrong. Our car started shaking like an amusement ride as we passed through a herd of cattle. It was time to whip out the paper map of New Mexico! There we were on a dotted line road–usually closed in the winter. We were too far in to turn around, so kept going. Soon after, we emerged onto a paved road and breathtaking views of the Canadian River. Terror was quickly forgotten and Apple Maps forgiven.

So this year, don’t let expensive airline or travel costs keep you from exploring.  If “Life is a journey not a destination,” then make your journey count. 

–Patty Yeager

Patty Yeager is managing editor of Smart LifeBites and enjoys dragging her family on long road trips around the United States, torturing them with history audio books and eating at local food joints along the way.