When winter holiday travel is at stake, airports and air travel often receive most of the attention. However, the truth is that most people who travel during winter, simply pack up their luggage in cars and drive to their desired destination.
Before embarking on a journey, drivers should perform some routine maintenance and look at country or state/county laws that could mean they will need to adjust their manner of driving.
House sits can involve long drives between destinations, and often after long, tiring hand-back days, early morning or late at night. Being “driver aware” is especially important for house sitters in a new country, driving on a different side of the road, in unfamiliar cars and unknown conditions.
But, some simple research and preparation will help smooth the way for a stress free journey.
What you need to know before taking to the road
Before you embark on a long drive, you should be sure to have had sufficient sleep, as well as a good meal or snack. Caffeine-rich beverages are not necessarily the best way to remain alert while driving. While you’ll probably feel more alert immediately after drinking caffeine, the effects will recede with time, and you might lose your concentration even when you are awake.
Try to take short stops every few hours even if you still feel alert. You could have a snack, enjoy some fresh air and walk around to stretch your muscles. And if need be, take a quick nap as well.
If possible, try to share the driving responsibilities with another person. This will allow you to watch each other’s backs when driving and enable each of you to take a nap without stopping. If you’re traveling alone, turn on your radio or play some music, and keep your window open. It’s advisable to refrain from using cruise control if driving during the night because having to maintain concentration to monitor your speed, will also help you stay alert.
And if you need to pull over, make sure you are well away from the main road. You should never park in the breakdown lane or hard shoulder lane unless it is an emergency. Check for service areas, or rest areas along the way before you set off.
You should also be familiar with the laws along the route you are using regarding cell phone use when driving. While cell phone use could be acceptable in one country, it may be illegal elsewhere, and as they say, ignorance is no defense. While there may be some countries where it is still legal to converse on your cell phone when driving, it is always safer to use a hands-free device. Check online for the driving laws, emergency procedures and accident reporting in the country you are visiting.
Before setting off, make sure all essential maintenance is carried out
It’s advisable that you:
- Replace the wiper blades
- Check tread depth and the tire pressure
- Refill your windshield washer reservoir
- Perform a battery test
Even when you feel you are a bit behind on your to-do list, be sure to have every aspect taken care of. Do not leave your gate without a brake check or oil change as well, especially if you’ve been ignoring those.
Prepare an emergency travel kit
Your winter emergency kit must have jump start cables, a first aid kit, snow brush, and an ice scraper. Additionally, you should carry:
- Sand, cat litter, or traction mats to get grip on snow and ice
- A small spade
- Blankets, hats, and gloves
- Warning triangles or flares and flashlights with fresh batteries
- Paper towels or shop rags
- Warm clothing
- Basic hand tools
- A mobile phone charger
- Non perishable snack bars and drinking water
- Pet food, water, collapsible feeding bowls and bedding if travelling with pets
Map Your Route
Make sure you are well-versed with the route to your destination and an alternative navigation route as well. Brace yourself for traffic and busy roads. You could use your smartphone navigator to check for heavy traffic in the direction you are heading.
If don’t like driving in traffic, aim to leave later in the evening or at dawn when traffic is lighter.
Keep an eye on the weather
You should be conversant with the conditions you will be driving through and not just the weather at your destination or where you are leaving. You might have to meander mountain passes before you get to your destination.
You could check your favorite weather news or weather prediction site for some insight into the current weather forecasts and conditions.
If you are driving in snow, make sure you have snow chains. In some countries these are compulsory in snowy conditions.
Polish up on your winter driving techniques
It’s advisable to increase your average following distance from the usual three or four seconds to eight or ten seconds. Avoid skidding by applying the gas gentle to gain momentum. Most important of all, just be patient and avoid distraction
Secure your belongings
The holiday season is a prime period for thieves, and a car packed with items in plain view will naturally attract them. To prevent yourself from being a tempting target, put all your luggage in a covered storage area like the boot or trunk.
Keep your kids occupied and safe
Use DVDs, games, books or anything else that could keep your kids occupied and to prevent them from distracting the driver. Remember that your kids will need snacks and you might need to make several toilet stops along the way.
Parents are also reminded to make sure that their kids are buckled in the vehicle using seat belts, booster seats or safety seats depending on their age, weight, and height.
Take a breather every 100 miles or two hours
Adults require some rest as well. Having some periodic breaks during your travel with help you remain alert when you are on the highway.
If you prepare in advance for your winter driving, you’ll have less surprises along the way and a much more enjoyable journey.
BIO – Since being involved in an accident in 2009, Paul Welch has been an active advocate of safe driving. He often attends seminars related to his advocacy. He is also interested in cars and all things automotive.
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