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Safe Winter Travel Tips

November 23, 2012

Over the river and through the woods, everyone! The next few months will undoubtedly put all of us on the road and in the air, en route to our loved ones for celebrations. It’d be nice if those celebrations *didn’t* occur during some of the most difficult weather months, but since November and December have a pretty permanent lock on the holidays, all we can do is be prepared, be flexible, and be ready with a Plan B when the weather throws a curve ball.

Travel by Car

Prepare.  Make sure that your car is in good condition and you know your route; pack enough water and snacks; and schedule rest stops to refuel, use the bathroom and stretch your legs.  Make sure you have jumper cables, a shovel, a flare or a flashing light, an ice scraper and a cell phone along with its charger.

Travel Kit.  You can’t rely on your cell phone to keep you safe—you may end up stranded where there’s no service, after your phone’s battery has died or at a time when you forgot to take your phone with you.  That’s why it’s important to have a travel kit in all of your cars.  Your travel kit should include things like an empty coffee can, candles and matches, a plastic cup, a red bandana and a whistle, pencil and paper, a first aid kid, a flashlight with extra batteries, plastic garbage bags, candy or energy bars and a large blanket or sleeping bag.

If you do end up stuck, don’t leave your car—your chances of survival are much better if you stay put.  If you have a phone, try to call for assistance.  If it’s an emergency, call 911.  Tell the dispatcher that you’re calling from a cell phone and give its number.  List as many details as you can about your location—what road you’re on, the nearest mile marker, what direction you’re traveling and any landmarks.  Tell the dispatcher how many people there are and explain any injuries.  Stay calm and stay on the line until the dispatcher says you may hang up.

You’ll be sharing the road with snowplows, so be sure to give them plenty of room. Snowplow drivers have a tough job—and people who drive too close to them, are inattentive, drive too fast or go in their blind spots can cause accidents in a split second.  Stay at least five car lengths behind plows.  Stay alert—snowplow operators turn and exit roads frequently with little warning.  Slow down, be patient and avoid unnecessary travel when roads are in poor condition.

Travel by Airplane

Winter air travel, whether it’s to visit friends, family or just to go somewhere warm to get away, can be delightful.  But it can also be a trial if you’re stuck with flight delays that disrupt your travel plans. As we saw with Superstorm Sandy, storms that aren’t even in your part of the country can still cause travel problems at home.  Being prepared can make a huge difference.

Plan ahead.  Check your flight status before you leave home. If it’s already delayed, you can save yourself extra hours in the airport by monitoring the status from home. Once it’s scheduled, leave for the airport early, just in case traffic is bad or there are long lines at the security line or at check in.  Bring reading materials or other entertainment to help you pass the time.  If your plane needs to be de-iced, that can add an extra hour to your departure.

Pack light.  Airlines are becoming more and more strict regarding baggage and weight limits.  Rather than traveling with holiday gifts, you can simplify by shopping online and having presents shipped to your destination.

Focus on health.  Stay healthy while traveling by getting a flu shot this fall and being vigilant about hand washing.  Also be sure to get up during long flights to walk around, stretch and move your body to prevent deep vein thrombosis.  And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

There are many strategies you can employ to make sure that your winter travel is as safe and enjoyable as possible.  If you do run into snags, being prepared for them—especially mentally—will help you to be more resilient and get through the delays and obstacles so that you can more easily switch to “fun” mode when you finally arrive.

Safe travels from the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest.

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