If you are planning a winter road trip, this post is for you! We will share some tips on how to stay safe while driving in the snow and also have some fun along the way. Winter road trips can be a lot of fun, but they can also be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Follow these winter road trip tips and you’ll have a safe and enjoyable adventure!

How do you prepare for a road trip in the winter?

Get a maintenance check

This goes without saying, but anytime you are planning a road trip, winter or summer, you should get a maintenance check to make sure your vehicle is running well. An oil change is also a good idea, but it’s not always included in the maintenance check, so be sure to ask.

Test your car’s battery

This might be an obvious one, and it’s usually included in a maintenance check, but trust me, you might want to double check!

There’s nothing worse than getting stranded in the middle of nowhere (or at least the middle of nowhere to you) because your car wouldn’t start after you stopped to stretch your legs or have a bite to eat.

Check your tires

While it’s a good idea to check your tires anytime you’re heading out on the road, it’s especially important to check them in the winter.

Tires are the most important part of your car and you want to make sure they’re in good condition and properly inflated before driving on snowy or icy roads.

When the temperature drops, tire pressure changes so you want to ensure that the pressure is correct in your tires and that ALL your tires have equal pressure or you won’t have the best traction while driving – and this is VERY important in winter weather conditions.

Check fluid levels and wiper blades

While this is another basic car maintenance checklist item, it’s one you don’t often think of until you’re on the road and need those wipers to be working.

Be sure to check your wipers before you start your road trip; if there are any spots on the windshield that the wipers are missing, it’s best to replace the wipers.

Also be sure to check that the windshield wiper fluid is full and it’s a good idea to have an extra container of fluid in the car, just in case you run out while on the road.

Put on snow tires

In some parts of Canada, you may not need winter tires, but in other parts of the country, it is mandatory to have them on for the winter months. Be sure to check ahead, and even if they’re not required, it’s probably still a good idea to put on snow tires, just to be safe.

Pack smart

While we don’t have a complete road trip packing list (coming soon…..), check below for what you should carry in your car for a winter road trip. The basic winter road trip essentials are listed, as well as some things that are nice to have.

Have roadside assistance

If you’re in Canada, get a CAA membership!  We have been lucky enough not to have to use it on a road trip (*yet!!- I know I’m going to jinx myself by saying that), it’s invaluable to have.

Our car DID break down, hundreds of km’s away from the main city that I knew, and we had to get it towed….on a Saturday evening…not the best timing, but unfortunately I didn’t have a CAA membership then. In retrospect, I SHOULD have got one before we started doing ANY road trips, but I didn’t have this post to remind me, so….=)

What should I carry in my car for winter road trip?

Winter Driving Essentials

Make sure you have basic winter driving essentials, such as a snow brush, an ice scraper, a shovel and extra gloves.

Blanket and Snacks

Pack extra blankets and snacks, just in case.

I’m going to be honest here, I hadn’t actually though about needing to bring a blanket until a friend mentioned it and thankfully we didn’t need it, but I’m glad we had it! 

It also comes in handy to throw over the kids laps when you first get in the car in the frosty morning!

Extra windshield washer fluid

We mentioned this above when preparing for a winter road trip but it’s a good thing to keep extra windshield washer fluid in your car all throughout the winter.

Especially on the highway, you always need to have windshield washer fluid topped up – when those cars or big trucks pass you on the highway, all of sudden you may not be able to see out of your window and if you’re out of windshield washer fluid, your windshield turns into a smeared mess. (Can you tell I’m talking from experience here??)

Jumper Cables

Also known as booster cables, jumper cables are always good to have in the car.

Even if you had your battery checked before the road trip, the cold weather affects your battery and causes it to lose some of its strength.

You don’t want to be stranded far from home, but with a set of jumper cables, you can usually find someone who will give you a boost.

Emergency kit

Again, this is a common road trip essential, whether you’re driving in the winter or summer.

A safety vest, flares, flashlight, first aid kit, blanket and some snacks are all good to keep in the car at all times. Be sure to bring water too! (But don’t leave that in the car overnight in the winter…)

TransCanada Highway in the winter
Trans Canada Highway in the winter

Before you leave for a winter road trip

Check the weather

One of the most important winter road trip tips we’ve got for you, is to check the weather.

While we know it’s probably going to be cold, and you’ve probably checked the weather a million times in the last few days, it’s still a good idea to check the weather before you head out (or while you’re stopped for rest breaks during the days’ drive).

While the weather apps are fairly accurate, the weather can still change at a moment’s notice, and you can run into a huge snow storm that wasn’t on the radar yesterday (Moncton, we’re talking to you!).

The weather can change suddenly, especially in the winter, so be alert and up to date on the latest conditions.

Have a backup plan

It’s always good to have an itinerary, but be prepared to be flexible and have an alternate route in mind or the option to stop earlier than necessary.

If you’re tired or the weather changes, you need to have an alternate plan where you can stop earlier than originally anticipated.

We love to use booking.com to check for last minute accommodations while driving. 

Is it safe to drive across the country in the winter?

Yes!  Well, we think so anyways!

As long as you are prepared, check the weather and drive safely, it should be safe to drive across the country in the winter.

In fact we’ve done a few (not-quite-cross-country) winter road trips from Nova Scotia to Ontario and while it’s taken us a bit longer sometimes due to the winter conditions, it’s been fine!

So make sure you follow the winter road trip tips we’ve listed above and enjoy your adventure!

A few other important winter road trip tips:

Take off the coats

While you want to be warm in the car, you also need to be safe and that means no extra layers and no winter jackets under car seat belts.

This applies to kids as well – if you have thin puffer style jackets, they can often be worn in the car seat, but best practice is to have nothing extra (other than a shirt or sweatshirt) between your child and the seat belt.

Car seat ponchos are a good option (they are worn over the seat belt) or simply put a blanket over their lap.

For the adults, leave the winter jackets and bulky clothes until you reach your destination (have them handy for when you need to get out and stretch your legs, but don’t wear them while driving).

The car will heat up fairly fast, so don’t worry about being chilly while driving.  I often wear mitts and a scarf for the first few minutes until the car is warm, but if your car is warm ahead of time, you might not have to worry about it.

Warm up the car

Spend a few minutes warming up your car and making sure the car is cleared off before you start driving.

The cold weather means your car needs to warm up before putting it into gear, and you can use this time to make sure all the snow and ice is cleared off your car.

Make sure the windshield is clear, even those hard to reach places, the lights are brushed off and also brush the snow off the top of your car.

Once you are on the highway and the car warms up, you don’t want a big pile of snow coming down on your windshield, or even worse, into the lane behind you.

Days are shorter

In Canada, and everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are shorter in the winter and the further north you go, the less hours of daylight there will be.

Also be aware that the sunrise and sunset time will vary as you drive through different areas. Either shorten your driving time each day, or be prepared to drive in the dark. 

Drive safe

As always, drive safe in winter weather. This may mean driving slower, taking turns carefully and being aware while changing lanes on the highway or taking the off ramps.

Be aware of the road conditions and drive safely!

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Do you have any other winter road trip tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Other related family road trip posts and travel tips:


  1. KristinByTheOcean says:

    Roadtrips are the best! This makes me want to plan a trip to the mountains! I’ve never seen snow where I live; only when I drive to see it.

    1. I’m pretty envious that you don’t have snow where you live!!

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