Each year millions of us hit the road at the holidays. We look forward to a host of seasonal and family traditions. We end up battling a host of traditional road-travel hassles. Here are a few of the biggest holiday road-travel mistakes and ways to break with tradition when it comes to them.
#1: Putting Safety Last (Minute)
Safety should always come first and, at the holidays, when the whole world is traveling at the once, you need more time ensure it. Book tune-ups, oil changes, tire replacement or rotation, and other auto work as far out as possible to ensure getting appointments.
The minute there’s a chill in the air, assemble a seasonal car-travel kit with a portable shovel, a broom, a scraper, de-icer, a bag of kitty litter or sand, heavy-weight waterproof ponchos, a battery-powered lantern, a smaller flash light, blankets, high-calorie non-perishable food items, extra batteries of all types, emergency triangles and flares, a small took kit, and heavy-duty work gloves. Replenish the first-aid kit if needed. Be sure lights, windshield-wiper blades, and the spare tire are in good repair. Don’t forget that jack and those jumper cables.
#2: Not Delegating
Organizing a road trip is a big task in and of itself. Add in all those holiday preparations, and you have the makings of a perfect stress storm. No one person should take on everything (even Santa has his elves). In couples, one of you could handle the holiday chores, say, and the other road readiness—with both of you sharing the packing and route-planning duties. In families, teens and older kids can wrap gifts, help younger siblings pack, or load things into the car. And don’t forget to divvy up the en-route tasks: navigation, handing out snacks, pet care, readying toll money, safe-keeping that extra set of keys.
#3: Careless Packing
With so much going on, it’s tempting to just throw things into your bags and then throw your bags into the car—last minute and with nary a thought. But time saved doing this will get eaten up on the road (trying to find things) or on arrival (trying to find things and running out to buy forgotten underware).
Make streamlined packing lists. If you can’t use something more than once, cross it off or replace it. Opt for double-duty items: mix-and-match ensembles, reversible tops or jackets, multitasking toiletries, etc. When packing the car, separate on-the-road from when-we-get-there stuff. Load the least essential items before the more essential ones. Keep absolute essentials at hand: snacks/drinks, seasonal car-travel items and first-aid kits, important medications, tissues, sanitizers, moist wipes, diapers, etc.
#4: Being Overly Whimsical (or Worried) About the Weather
Yes, you want the proverbial white Christmas. No you don’t want to obsess about the possibility of driving in a storm. It’s all about balance and flexibility. Start by checking the weather, and checking it twice. If it looks to be naughty, adjust your plans before heading out or while on the road.
Brush up on the National Weather Service lingo. A winter weather advisory, for instance, means conditions might be hazardous, but not life threatening “when using caution.” Winter storm watches mean that severe winter conditions might affect your area; these are issued 12–36 hours in advance. Winter storm warnings mean that 4 or more inches of snow/sleet is expected in the next 12 hours, or 6 or more inches in the next 24 hours. Blizzard warnings mean snow and strong winds will produce blinding snow, deep drifts, and a life-threatening wind chill.
#5: Making Haste
It’s hard given that we Americans generally have limited vacation time, but it’s better to depart as far ahead of the holiday and return as late after it as possible. This will not only prevent traveling with the pack and dealing with all that traffic, but it will also allow you more flexibility should the weather turn bad. If the weather is fine, you’ll be able to take your time—maybe getting off the interstates and onto the byways.
You can stop at towns known for their holiday lights, crafts fairs, and other charms, perhaps indulging in a mid-trip gift exchange over a leisurely lunch or a night by the fireplace at holly-bedecked inn. You won’t be as compelled to press on, even if you’re bone tired, and, most important, you’ll be able relax enough to actually enjoy both the journey and the season.