0 In Road Trips

15 Tips for Winter Road Trips

Road with packed snow, about a foot of snow on roadside, forest in background
Photo by Johnathan Petersson, via Pexels

Whether you live in a place where snow and ice cover the roads 3-5 months of the year, or you just want to visit them, winter driving safety should top your priority list.

I’m an old hand at road trips and winter travel—when you live in Montana, you have to be! Unless, of course, you plan to snuggle under a blanket and watch Netflix nonstop for 6 months (or more) of the year. Even going to the grocery store can be a slippery adventure!

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page…

–St. Augustine

My best tips

for winter driving safety:

1. Layers, Layers, Layers! Even if you plan to end up somewhere warm, make sure your wardrobe includes clothes suitable for nasty weather. Always pack layers, rather than just one heavy coat. That way you can adjust as needed. I often wear just a light fleece jacket while driving, but my winter boots, yak trax, a coat that will block the wind, and something really warm, like a packable down coat are always within reach.

Woman sitting on chair made of snow dug into 4 foot deep snow
Hat, scarf, fleece coat with two layers of shirt underneath, snowpants and leggings, wool socks and boots (modeled by my friend Karen)


2. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order. You don’t want to risk getting stranded on one of those days where the frost keeps creeping in from the edges, making your windshield smaller and smaller, despite having the defroster turned up full blast. Check the oil and other fluid levels. A preventive-maintenance trip to the mechanic before you head out on a longer trip can save you a lot of money and headaches. If you are traveling solo, it will also provide some peace of mind.

3. Consider what your car needs: a spare quart of oil, jumper cables, a tow rope, and, depending on where you are going, maybe even tire chains or cables. Even if you don’t know how to use them, the kind person who stops to help you might. I have used sand, cheap clay cat litter, cardboard, and even smashed plastic milk cartons to create traction to get out of a “stuck” spot. Collapsible shovels can be handy, too. Don’t forget your ice scraper!

Safe winter driving means packing and preparing a bit more than in other seasons.

4. Make sure you have a Roadside Assistance plan, know what it covers, and keep contact information handy. There’s nothing quite as nerve-wracking as finding yourself stranded along the side of the road in a strange place, fumbling around in the dark for the phone number for roadside assistance. If your car insurance doesn’t include it (many policies do these days), invest in something like AAA.

5. Do your research. In my 20’s, things like the Internet, Google Search, and Pinterest didn’t exist, so I often just made things up as I went along. Now, it’s so easy to get information and advice, it would be silly not to take advantage of it. For example, I’m taking my dogs along for the first time, so I searched for info on traveling with pets. I found several things I hadn’t thought about. bringfido.com helped me find pet-friendly, no-fee motels, as well as dog parks and beaches where dogs are welcome

6. Prepare for delays–even overnight.Though I’m from Montana, I didn’t realize this until I started heading east in my travels:  during inclement weather, roads sometimes (or often, depending on location) close due to storms and blowing snow.  Across eastern Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, you’ll see fences and barriers used physically close roads. This happens many other places, too.

7. Check the forecast, both where you are, and where you’re headed. Look not only at current weather, but average temperatures and snowfall, online. As I researched possibilities for the Great American December Road Trip, I ruled out parts of Route 66, which initially looked like a lot of fun, due to winter road conditions. I also discovered many attractions and lodging choices shut down in the winter. Make some Plan B’s (and C’s) in case things don’t go as planned. Don’t forget to check road conditions frequently as you travel on Department of Transportation websites.

snow-covered car windshield with the word "snow" written in the snow
Forecast: 100% chance of snow. Photo by skitterphoto, via Pexels

8. Invest in paper maps. Nothing is worse than getting lost in a place with no cell phone signal, and no backup plan! Each state puts out a free highway map that covers both main and secondary roads you can get them through the mail, or pick them up in visitor centers along the way. These are invaluable, and have saved me more than once. Note: make sure your maps are current. Don’t rely on that 1992 Rand McNally road atlas on the bookshelf! It may be fine for getting a general idea of the route you are going to take, but change happens, so you don’t want to depend on it in a crunch! While Google Maps are great, and I love my “friend,” Doris (the Google Maps voice that serves as my guide), there’s nothing like spreading out a paper map to get the “big picture” of where you are going, options in case of road closures, and the location of little towns should road conditions feel too dangerous.

Road map spread out, hand holding a pen above it as if planning a route
If you’re lost and have no cell signal, a good old paper map can be a lifesaver.

Another issue: though I love Doris, she has a singular focus on getting there using the shortest possible route, which may not always be the safest. Recently, she took me down a desolate, dry stretch of desert on the reservation in Arizona. I saw more turkey vultures than other cars. Luckily, I didn’t end up on this road at night, as originally planned, or during a storm. It was even posted “Warning: this road is not plowed or patrolled at night or on weekends during storms.” It may have been shorter, but sometimes staying on the interstate is smarter, even if it takes a little longer. Had I looked at a larger, paper map, I would have overruled Doris and chosen a different route.

9. Plan for significantly fewer daylight hours. This is especially important if you don’t like driving in the dark. Look on the bright side–less time spent behind the wheel gives you the opportunity to actually read that new book you downloaded to your Kindle!

10. Pack water, snacks, and some chemical handwarmers. If you get stranded, whether in a hotel in some dinky town or in your vehicle, you’ll be glad you did. If you brought Fido, don’t forget snacks and water for him, too!

11. Be prepared for anything. Toss a blanket (or two) in your car. I keep extra gloves, wool socks, and toilet paper in my car at all times.

12. Be prepared, but don’t over-plan! Leave yourself time and energy to enjoy being able to make those spur-of-the-moment stops. Sometimes places I find along the way turn in to my favorite parts of an adventure. The best trips are not mad dashes, but leave a little room to discover the unexpected.

Woman folding a fresh fortune cookie over a rod to get the fortune cookie shape
One of my favorite spur-of-the-moment stops was the fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. I had cookies with personalized fortunes in them made for my kids!

13. Especially if you’re traveling solo, let someone know your travel plans. Check in often–it will provide peace of mind, not only for you, but for your friends and family. It’s also a good idea to arrange for someone to make an occasional check at your house. You don’t want to come home to a burst pipe that had an entire week to flood your house!

14. Do NOT use cruise control on snowy, icy, or wet roads. Using cruise control gives you less control, and a slower response time in adverse conditions. If you even THINK the road might be slick for any reason, turn off the cruise!

If you only remember one thing from this list, let it be this one…..

15. SLOW DOWN!!!! If you only remember one thing from this list, let it be this one! If the roads are icy–even if they don’t LOOK icy, but you can feel your car fishtail a bit or just act differently, slow down. The same advice applies to poor visibility–slow down. More times than I care to count, I have driven 10-15 miles per hour, searching for the metal markers at the edge of the road so I knew for sure if I was even on it. I have followed the tail lights, barely visible through the blowing snow, of a semi creeping down the road, to keep me from landing in the ditch. Even experienced winter drivers consider this white-knuckle driving, particularly in the dark. The good news: most weather-related accidents can be prevented if you slow down.

 The most important tip of all:

Have Fun!!

Woman and dog snowshoeing down a trail in the mountains

What about you? Do you avoid traveling on winter’s icy roads? Have you had any scary or unique winter driving experiences? I’d love to hear.

1 In Quotes

Memory and Midlife

Quote: "Memory...is the first casualty of middle age. If I remember right."
Candice Bergen. Black lettering on translucent white rectangle, fern background

I have this feeling. A lot. I go in to the kitchen for something, but I’ll be darned if I can remember what for. Until I get back out to the couch and all cozy again, that is. Or I will spend 15 minutes charging around the house, hunting for my keys, which were in my hand the entire time.

How about you? Ever have those moments of “middle age senility?” Tell me about your funniest memory lapse in the comments.

2 In Changes and Transitions

Decluttering: what DOESN’T work for me

When I try it, the “pull it all out at once” method results in this!

Does anybody else out there struggle with keeping the house clean enough that you don’t feel the need to go into hiding if the doorbell rings unexpectedly?

That would be my response to a ringing doorbell today. I don’t mind doing housework; it’s just that there are so many other things I would rather do. Or I start tidying the kitchen, but when I take something to the laundry room, I realize that I have a load of wet clothes that needs to go in the dryer. So I start emptying the dryer. Then, when I go to the bedroom to get some hangers for the clothes I’m taking out of the dryer, I realize that I didn’t plug my phone in last night, so I go to the living room to plug it in. On my way to the charging station, I trip over my daughter’s “nest” of stuff by her favorite chair. I scoop it up and toss it in her room. By then, I have completely forgotten about the kitchen and the wet clothes, and who knows where I set the hangers down! At the end of the day, I’ve done a million little things, but nothing looks any better. Nothing is finished, and I feel like I wasted the entire day.

‘Tis the season…

Predictably, every January seems to be the time when everyone focuses on decluttering—blog writers, Pinterest pinners, Facebook groups, and individuals everywhere armed with freshly-minted resolutions and determination. This will be the year they succeed at decluttering and stick to a cleaning routine! Basically, all the lists of things to declutter are the same no matter the source. I should know—I have read all of them!

Is there a “best method” for decluttering?

There are, however, at least a couple of different camps regarding the methods we should use to delutter. This post was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Dana White, at A Slob Comes Clean. Her mind works a lot like mine does, and the ways she suggests to tackle decluttering and housework work for me. In fact, when I found her blog, I went back to the beginning and read the whole thing. Some of her earliest posts, when she was figuring things out and having “eureka!” moments, were the most helpful ones to me. Though I achieved my best results by implementing the bite-sized pieces her blog posts give, she does have two books that provide a nice roundup of the information and go into more detail.

For a while, I was a Flylady follower. But after the original excitement wore off, I discovered her system didn’t work for me. I lost interest in monthly decluttering calendars, or worse, forgot I was even using one! Over the years, I have read many books about housework and decluttering. So many of those books are written from the perspective of someone who is already pretty organized and does well with routines and order. For people with similar personality styles, their strategies work well. Though for years I tried to become one, I am just not that type of person!

The life-changing magic of….making a mess?

Even though she is all the rage, looking at some of the tasks included in the Marie Kondo method makes me roll my eyes and laugh. Don’t people have better things to do than fold their underwear and fit them neatly into individual slots in their drawers? Don’t get me wrong—for many people, her methods have truly been life-changing. But for me, they are simply an invitation to create an even bigger disaster than I already have. And worse, in my younger days when I read methods like hers, I felt like a complete and utter failure as a person. I just couldn’t make methods like those work. And with so many people singing the praises of the Kondo method, it had to be true that failing miserably with her method meant I was defective, right?

If I were to try her method of decluttering, which involves pulling everything out into a big pile somewhere, I’d be looking at and stepping over that pile for months. Decision fatigue would set in, and I’d be so overwhelmed I’d have an extremely difficult time even thinking about where to begin.

It’s not me. Or you.

Thankfully, I’ve learned, after many years of feeling like a failure, that it’s not me. It’s not that those methods are bad, either. It’s just that we are not a good match.  It’s kind of like being a teacher. Sometimes someone will say to me, “Oh, you are a saint! I could NEVER be a teacher—I can hardly deal with my own two, much less a roomful!”

At the same time, I’m secretly thinking that I would rather throw myself off a cliff than go mess with numbers and spreadsheets all day (and a mess would be what they would be, after I was done with them) like they do. Teaching comes easily to me. I love it. Ideas for activities and how to get concepts across just magically pop in to my head. But I could never, ever experience those lightbulb moments while figuring out how to manipulate numbers more efficiently, or solve a coding dilemma.

Just as we are all suited to different jobs, we each must find our own way to accomplish things like decluttering and keeping house. Our personalities, attention spans, and previous life experiences all affect what works for us. Sometimes it takes 25 years to figure out what that way is, but there IS a way for each of us to be successful, even if it means we have to invent it ourselves.

Fold my underwear? Ha!

I still look at methods like Marie Kondo’s, but when I do, I’m searching for little nuggets here and there that will work for me, even though the whole method does not. (It’s also like looking at some weird bug under a magnifying glass, wondering, “How do they do that? Why would they want to do that?”) I am an “out of sight, out of mind” type of person. Therefore, some of the things she does to make everything more easily visible might work for me. For instance, she folds bigger things like jeans and pants, and then stands them on end in the drawer. Doing that, instead of stacking them on top of each other, would help me see and remember what I have. I used her folding method to fit more stuff into my duffel bag for the Great December Road Trip. But I know myself—never in a million years will I EVER fold my underwear!

As my Grandma always said, there is more than one way to skin a cat

(though I don’t know why you would want, or need, to skin a cat). This lesson is one that generalizes to other areas of life as well. Realizing, then remembering, that there is always more than one way to do any job helps us to be successful. Consequently, we feel better about ourselves because we feel competent. Sometimes, you just have to hunt for a way that will work for you. If you don’t find one, then come up with one yourself.

Graph paper with colorful New Years Resolutions Heading. 1. Quit making new years resolutions!
Let’s focus on making small, sustainable changes instead. Photo from freestocks.org on Pexels

What kind of domestic goddess are you?

What about you? Are you a neat-nik, or more of a messy? Have you found any books or blogs that helped you master housework and decluttering? What tasks have you learned to do in a way better suited to you than more commonly-used methods? Please share your tips, tricks, and stories in the comments.

1 In Quotes

I’m proud of you

Some days–and even entire seasons–of our lives, the best we can hope for is to hold ourselves together enough to make it through another day. That’s the kind of season I happen to be in right now. The good news is, I know that this, like everything, will pass.

How about you? Are you flying high right now, or is holding yourself together a lofty goal these days? What tips and tricks do YOU suggest for getting through the tough times?

–Ellen

0 In Road Trips/ Uncategorized

Am I Chickening Out?

Travel to somewhere warm sounds good when the trees look like this….

As I planned the Great December Road Trip, I kept finding all sorts of reasons I shouldn’t go. Money. Haven’t been there before. My car is eating oil. But I’ll have to eat out alone! What if I get cold?

One big stumbling block: the dogs. JackJack is a 15 lb. poodle. Lots of people travel with small dogs, so that will not be too difficult. But then there’s the puppy, Moose. A large puppy. At 47 pounds now, 4-1/2 month old Moose is doing his best to live up to his name. What possessed me to get a St. Bernard/German Shepherd cross puppy? Luckily, he’s cute, and he really tries to be a good dog. I decided it might not be a good idea to leave a puppy so young for an extended time, and the price of kennels for that long takes that option off the table. So I really should stay home, right?

Continue Reading →

2 In Musings and Rants

Is My Life Pinterest-Worthy?

Feet on sand with a wave coming up on the toes

            or Instagram worthy? Or worthy at all?

 

Feet on sand with a wave coming up on the toes

This day was…

One of the reasons I hemmed and hawed for so long before starting this blog was because blogs–or the ones I gravitate toward, anyway–tend to be photo heavy. Close-up shots of perfect food, homes that look like they are in a magazine, selfies with flawless hair and makeup. Beautiful people in beautiful homes, with their beautiful, perfect lives.

That’s not me. Continue Reading →

4 In Changes and Transitions

Suddenly, Life Changed…

Selfie, mother with teenage daughter with blue and purple hair leaning on her shoulder. Sandy beach in backround
My youngest daughter and me, 3 months before the crash.

It’s time to get started. For a couple of years, I have toyed with the idea of starting a blog. But what to blog about? I have a lot of interests, but not a lot of time to pursue them. With all my responsibilities for family and work, when would I find time to blog, even if I did decide on a topic?

Then, life threw me a curveball.

Continue Reading →