5 things you need to know before embarking on a winter road trip

winter road trips

The idea of a long drive in the middle of a frigid winter may seem like an intimidating logistical nightmare, with all the bundling up, navigating icy roads, and packing for emergencies. But it’s not healthy, practical, or enjoyable to stay cooped up for the entire season. And you don’t want to miss out on all the winter wonderland Canada has to offer! With some careful planning, winter doesn’t have to mean the end of road trips. This preparation checklist will get you back behind the wheel and exploring the countryside.

Make sure your car is up to the task

Before embarking on any long winter journey you need to make sure your car can handle the stress. Don’t try to save money by skipping the snow tires. Yes, they’re pricey, but safety should be your number one priority when you hit the road. Get a full tune-up to make sure your brakes, oil, exhaust system, heater, and defroster are functioning properly. There are also a few key things to look out for that can cause problems in cold weather. Don’t let your gas tank go down to empty. Keep it at least half full so that your vehicle’s gas lines won’t freeze when condensation builds up. Check your windshield wipers to make sure the blades aren’t worn down. You don’t want to risk decreased visibility in a snowstorm. Finally, always make sure you have enough antifreeze in your radiator.

Always check for road conditions

When you’re planning a route for a winter road trip, you need more than just directions. Do your research on the road conditions and adjust your plan accordingly. Of course, weather can be unpredictable, so make sure your passengers keep checking for the latest news while you’re on the road. Traffic and weather updates on the radio are still a great source, but you should also be able to find real-time updates on road conditions on the provincial websites for the ministries of transportation. If you find yourself caught in a storm, try to stick to main roads, which are more likely to be ploughed and salted. We’ve also compiled a list of Canada’s most treacherous roads for winter driving that will help you avoid potential danger, or at least mentally prepare you for difficult driving.

Learn from common mistakes

While there’s always an element of unpredictability in any driving experience, you can reduce risk by avoiding certain pitfalls and driving behaviour that causes accidents in winter weather. Reducing your speed to accommodate snowy and icy roads makes a huge difference. Leaving lots of space between your car and the car in front of you is critical if you have to brake for any reason. In snowy conditions, make sure to turn on your headlights rather than relying on your running lights so the cars behind you will know where you are. You might also want to bone up on common winter-driving blunders.

Pack a survival kit

Your best defence against the dangers of winter driving is to always be prepared. Put together special kit full of items that will protect you in all types of emergencies. Pack things you’ll need if your car breaks down—like a tow strap and jumper cables. Include items like hats and gloves that will keep you warm if you’re stuck without heat for a long period of time. Always bring a fully stocked first aide kit in case there’s an accident. Keep food and drinks on hand so you’ll never be hungry if you have easy access to restaurants. For a full list of everything you might need, check out our ultimate road trip survival kit.

Stay entertained

Winter excursions aren’t only about strict rules and danger prevention. There’s room for lots of fun and entertainment as well. A road trip playlist is a must have—whether you prefer to celebrate the season with Christmas-themed music or escape the cold with songs that remind you of summer. Always pack the car with plenty of books, electronic devices, and travel board games so passengers can enjoy movies, play games, and lose themselves in a great story. Just make sure the fun doesn’t get too raucous, or you’ll risk distracting the driver!