Top tips for winter-weather road trips

November 30, 2018, 5:21 PM · We're just a few weeks away from the Christmas holiday vacation season. Where are you going this year? And how are you getting there?

I was born in and live in Southern California now, but I spent many years living in the Midwest. And, back then, there was nothing more exciting to me at vacation time than driving south in winter weather.

Not only did each passing mile bring me and my family closer to our destination, those miles took us farther from the cold and snow. Waking before dawn in Indianapolis, we would drive across snow-packed highways in Indiana, before the roads began to clear in Kentucky. The snow on the side of the road remained through Tennessee, though, not disappearing until we'd come down from the mountains in northern Georgia. But the cold would linger outside our windows until that amazing moment when we passed the "Welcome to the Sunshine State" sign at the Florida state line and it warmed to the point where we wouldn't need our coats again... until the trip back in a week.

That was when I was a kid riding in the back seat, though. When I had a family of my own, living in Denver years later, I learned that winter driving's a whole different beast from the front seat. That's also when I learned what it takes to navigate winter weather successfully. And you start by thinking ahead.

If you do nothing else to prepare for a winter-weather road trip, get new tires for your car. Fresh tread is the best way to keep your car under control on snow- or rain-slicked highways. Don't just check your tires and head out if they're not yet worn. If you've not installed new tires in the past few months, use this as your excuse to get that new set you're going to have to buy at some point anyway.

Top off your wiper fluid and replace the blades, too. Even if the forecast doesn't call for snow or rain during your trip, all that gunk flying off other vehicles' tires from past storms will dirty your windshield anyway. A clear view ahead gives you the warning you will need if you have to take evasive action on the road.

When it's getting to be time to go, check the forecast to find the clearest route, if you have options. But in general, I recommend to drive south first, then east or west. I've driven countless trips between Denver and Los Angeles over the years. And as beautiful as it might be to drive across I-70 past all those gorgeous, snow-covered ski resorts, the smart move at Christmas is to head south on I-25, then cut over west toward Southern California on I-40 or even I-10. You're just taking too much of a risk on I-70 in the winter. Sure, there's plenty of support in the resort areas. But once you get past those and into Utah, you're really rolling the dice. Especially in Fish Lake going over the pass just east of the I-15 junction. Leave your summer road trips for the sightseeing.

Inside the car, dress in layers. It'll be cold when you head out, but the inside of the car should warm up soon. But if you're leaning against a window, you're going be a lot colder than if you are sitting in the middle of even a well-heated car. Shed the coat when it warms up, but have a sweater or sweatshirt that you can put on or take off as needed. You don't want to end up sweating inside a hot coat, or shivering without it, when spending all those hours in your car. Nor do you want to go fishing through your bags on the road for the right thing to wear.

Beyond that, normal road trip rules apply: Know where you can stop for services ahead; don't eat in the car; think about the bathroom breaks, and bring distractions to entertain everyone along the way, including music, books, and games. Don't trust that a data connection will be there for your phone, either, especially when driving away from major Interstates in the western United States.

I'd love to hear some winter road trip stories from Theme Park Insider readers. Please share some of your outstanding memories — good and bad — in the comments.

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