How to make winter road trips an actual pleasure

It’s going to be a holiday season unlike any other. Depending on where you live, you may not be encouraged or even allowed to visit family and friends in other households. This is quite likely going to be the case where I live. But we’re still allowed, encouraged even, to get outside and into nature. This means our family will likely be going on one or more winter road trips – likely to Banff National Park or Southern Alberta over the holidays.

Winter road trips
The key to road trips over the holidays is to be prepared.

Winter road trips

Hitting the open road at this time of year is much different than in summertime. Winter road trips require more careful planning. Weather can change quickly, roads can close and if you’re stranded, you’ll need to stay safe, warm and dry.

I’ll be going on Calgary’s Global TV to talk about all the considerations you should have when going on a holiday road trip, but in case you miss it, you  can watch it below or read on for are my best tips.

Before starting out…

You might be able to make a last minute road trip decision in summer, but in winter, you ought to prepare well ahead of time. Try to map out your journey in advance, so you know where you’re going to stop along the highway for gas and stretch breaks.

I like to use these pit stops to get the wiggles out and save eating for in the car. On that note, you’ll want to load your vehicle up with healthy, pre-portioned snacks and items that take longer to consume – food like beef jerky or dried fruit.

Presidents Choice mixed fruit
Healthy and festive, this is my latest go-to snack.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with President’s Choice Snacking Fruit. It’s super festive with figs, cherries and mulberries in it. I throw it in one of those environmentally friendly reusable plastic bags with some nuts and a few chocolate chips and everybody is happy.

Of course, you’ll also want to get a maintenance check on your vehicle before your journey – so you have time to make any necessary repairs. Just like everyone floods mechanics for winter tires when the first snow hits the ground, expect it to be busy right before the holidays. Be sure to make an appointment well in advance.

Keeping kids active

If you have young kids, try not to automatically hand over electronics. If you do, you’ll be in a habit that’s hard to break. Try to save electronics for later in the day, when nobody’s fresh anymore. That will make the last few hours of your journey more bearable.

Instead of automatically whipping out devices the moment you’re buckled in, let kids simply chill and look out the window for the first 30 minutes – or as long as you can. It’s good for their brains to have this unstructured time, where they can daydream.

When they need to be occupied, I like to have activity bags at the ready. Even older kids love these. Some parents hand it over the minute they’re in the car, others dole out treats every 30-minutes.

In these activity bags you can include little surprises like activity sheets, colouring pages, magazines, new toys, string games, silly putty, etc… You don’t need to drive all over town to find these items. We all have so much going on around the holidays, the next time you’re in a one stop shop like Real Canadian SuperStore, cruise through their magazine, toy and stationary section. You’re bound to find lots of items to amuse the troops.

Winter driving
Be sure your vehicle is road worthy before starting out.

Car games

It’s always wise to have a few games up your sleeve. You could make up or purchase car bingo. You could even try magnetic bingo.

For games you make up on the fly, try the license plate game, where you try and find the license plate that comes closest to your initials or add a little math and have the kids  add, subtract or multiply the numbers found on each license plate as you drive.

You could search for vehicles that match a certain colour pattern. The winner is the first one to find 10 white trucks or 8 red cards. The pattern could be the rainbow (first find red, then orange, then yellow, etc…) or have everyone look for vehicles painted the same colour as the clothing they’re wearing.

For the older set, try the Alphabet Game. There’s actually dozens of variations of this game, but I like the one where you think of a destination that begins with each letter. So A could be Alberta, B is Botswana, etc.. It’s harder if you make the next person think of a destination the begins with the last letter of the place you just called out.

Anything to make the time go by quicker, right?

What to pack?

You know you ought to have a  car emergency kit, plus other essentials like food, water, etc.. When road tripping in winter, it’s wise to also bring:

  • Blanket
  • Winter jacket
  • Winter boots
  • Hat and gloves
  • Candles and matches
  • Shovel
  • Extra window washer fluid 

For some unusual yet handy items, consider bringing:

  • Cookie sheet. Set it across a child’s car seat for a food tray, lap desk or use it for magnet play.
  • Bucket lined with plastic bags in case of carsickness – also becomes a makeshift potty!
  • Soccer ball. You never know if you’re going to be stuck somewhere on your route and for how long. If it’s safe to do so, you could kick around a ball in an empty parking lot.

What are your go-to items and games when road tripping over the holidays?

Holiday road trip
May your holiday road trip be merry and bright.


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