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Winter Travel Survival: 7 Keys For Staying Safe On The Road

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winter travel survival

Guidelines for winter travel survival are crucial because it really doesn’t take all that much snow to make the roads impassable.

I’ve written before about the things you should keep in your car for winter survival. However, I want to talk more specifically about what you can do to survive if you are ever in a situation where you get stranded or go off the road in the wintertime due to bad road conditions. I’ve seen many a car go off the road at one time or another and even driven in situations where the visibility was very bad. In fact, one time I drove right off the road and into someone’s front yard while thinking I was turning down the street. Oops!

Winter Travel Survival: A Snowstorm Can Leave You Stranded In A Hurry

The good news is that this is a short-term survival situation. Snow plow drivers and police know to be on the lookout for vehicles which have driven off the road, as this is a common problem. So, while you might have to spend a night in your cold car, it’s doubtful that you’ll have to spend more than 24 hours there. That is unless the snowstorm is so bad that snow plows can’t clear the roads.

This is a real possibility, especially in the mountains or near the Great Lakes. The city of Buffalo, New York, which sits on the east end of Lake Erie and close to Lake Ontario, has had single snowstorms that dropped as much as 88 inches of snow. Before you dig your calculator out, that’s over seven feet!

Of course, you’re unlikely to find yourself in seven feet of fresh snow. Notwithstanding, it really doesn’t take all that much snow to make the roads impassable. This is especially true if that snow is blowing into drifts. I’ve seen situations where mere inches of snow drifted up high enough to shut down highways, leaving me stranded.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #1: Keep Your Tank Full

When traveling in winter, always keep your gas tank full. By that I mean to see the halfway point as empty and to fill it up when you are approaching that level. If you get stuck somewhere, that gas could provide you with heat and help to keep you alive.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #2: Stay Put

The number one rule, when caught in such a situation, is to stay put if you can. Granted, if your car is on fire, that’s not a good idea. Nevertheless, as long as it is possible to stay in your car, then you stand a much better chance of getting rescued than if you leave it and wander about. Not only is it easier to see, but the police and snow plow operators are looking for vehicles at the outset. They are not on the lookout for people traipsing through fields on foot.

The other reason to stay put is that your car can provide you with at least some protection. Granted, cars don’t have much insulation and so, therefore, aren’t very good shelter. Still, they make for better shelter than being outside in the ice and snow.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #3: Call For Help

If you have any phone signal whatsoever, make use of it and call for help. If you can’t get through, then call or text a friend who can pass a message on to the police or highway patrol for you. Text messages can often get through when voice calls won’t. They don’t require as strong a signal and are affected less by inclement weather.

Of course, someone should have known about the trip you are taking, when you are leaving, the route that you are taking, and when you expect to arrive. If you don’t call and tell them you’ve arrived or why you are late, then they should be making the call for help for you.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #4: Don’t Go Outside Without Tethering

I’ve already said that you shouldn’t leave your car, but let me be more specific. You can lose track of your vehicle within mere feet if you get separated from it in a snowstorm. All that would have to happen is for you to fall and lose your sense of direction. If you couldn’t see your car after this due to the storm, you’d be lost. Chances are against you finding it again if you can’t even see it.

The solution to this is the same one that astronauts use when spacewalking. You need to tether yourself to your car any time you go out the door. Don’t use the excuse that you’re going to keep in contact with the car because you don’t know if you’ll be able to. This means taking a piece of string or rope and tying one end to yourself (like your belt) and the other to the car (possibly the steering wheel). I like using paracord for this since it is strong enough to keep from breaking should I fall.

If worst comes to worst, you can find your way back to the car door simply by pulling on your cord and following it. That act alone could save your life.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #5: Keep Your Car Clear

While I’m not a big fan of leaving the car for any reason, you will have to for a few important things. The first is to keep the tailpipe clear. If you’re going to use your engine heater to keep you warm, then you need to go outside every once in a while to clear the snow from the tailpipe. Otherwise, the exhaust gas could come inside the vehicle and kill you. Don’t assume that it’s clear because of the heat of the gas melting the snow. You should absolutely check the situation out, especially when you first start.

The other thing I’m talking about here is clearing the snow off your car so as to make it more visible. Obviously, this is only important during the daytime. Nonetheless, if rescuers are looking for you, then it only makes sense to make their job easier. Looking like one more snowdrift isn’t going to help you at all.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #6: Keep Yourself Warm

This is the hardest part of the job. Winter weather can make it hard to keep yourself warm, especially at night. While the car will help some by blocking wind, what will you do if your engine won’t start?

In my article about prepping your car for winter survival, I mention taking some space blankets and duct tape along with you as well as regular blankets. The space blankets are for coating the inside of your passenger compartment with a heat-reflective surface. This strategy will help to keep your body heat inside the vehicle. Yet, that may not be enough. Bundle yourself up, huddling together under whatever blankets you have so that you can keep warm.

A couple of large candles can make a huge difference as well. While they won’t really make the inside of your car warm, they can help hold the temperature above freezing. This should be warm enough to help you survive.

Another way you can generate heat is to burn your spare tire. Yes, it will burn, but it will also produce a lot of smoke in the process. As a result, you’ll need to keep the tire outside of your car while doing this. Open a door on the downwind side of the car and burn the tire in the V formed there. But be sure to let the air out of it before lighting it on fire.

Winter Travel Survival Tip #7: Signal Rescuers

Finally, be ready to signal rescuers when they come by. Don’t assume they will see you, especially if you are off the road. Use flashlights, flares, whistles, and anything else you have to attract their attention, especially when you can see them near.

You may also enjoy reading an additional Off The Grid News article: Ice Caves: Surviving Harsh Conditions In A Wild Winter Environment

Do you have any other recommendations for winter travel survival? Let us know in the comments below.


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