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5 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Winter Holiday Road Trip

Written by Suzy Guese

This blog post was updated on July 29, 2021.

Dashing through the snow in your mid-sized SUV on the way Grandma’s house for the holidays has a certain appeal. You don’t have to deal with cramming everything into a carry-on bag, waiting in long security lines, or frustrating flight delays. You are the pilot of your holiday road trip, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few mistakes along the way and face a broken down sleigh. If you want to head over the river and through the woods without incident, don’t make these classic holiday road trip mistakes.

Not Taking Your Car in for a Tune Up


Holiday road trips mean a lot of wear and tear on your vehicle. And of course, something is sure to break down when you are right smack in the middle of your travel day. The oil, transmission, power steering, tires, and brakes should all be given a look over before you hit the road. While you might not think your car needs a tune up, it’s better to be safe rather than stranded in the middle of a snowstorm.

Failing to Check Your Route’s Weather

One of the biggest gambles to a holiday road trip is the weather. Your route can be severely impacted by snow, rain, and ice during this time of the year. You shouldn’t find out about a blizzard right in your path on the night before you leave.

Failing to check the weather well in advance could result in closed roads or bumper-to-bumper traffic ruining your carefully plotted plans.

Check the weather along your route starting a week or so before you are leaving. If that blizzard does seem to be happening, you have ample time to adjust your route.

Traveling on the Most Popular Travel Days


Just as with a flight around the holidays, if you travel by car on the busiest days, you could face sitting in loads of traffic. Steer clear of the busiest travel days around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the few days before Christmas and the day after New Year’s Day are all peak travel days. Expect more cars on the road to add to your drive time or plan to leave a few days before everyone else does.

Placing Gifts in Full View in Your Car

Most holiday road trips involve packing a few gifts for friends and relatives. If you are packing up all the kids to go to Grandma’s house for Christmas, they are going to be snooping in those gifts if they aren’t concealed or hidden. Also it’s never a good idea to leave valuables in full view in your car.

If you stop for gas or something to eat, you could be the victim of theft if your gifts are sitting in plain sight. 

Place gifts in a covered and hidden space to protect from prying eyes inside and outside of your car.

Not Packing an Emergency Kit in Your Car


With cold temperatures, car batteries can take a turn for the worse in an instant, usually at the most inconvenient time possible. Your holiday road trip can seem to be up a creek without a paddle if you don’t have jumper cables in your car. Most road travel emergency kits come with jumper cables, a flashlight, and first aid kit. While you might never use this emergency kit, just having it in your vehicle is the best insurance for your holiday road trip. When and if your battery dies, you’ll have the necessary tools to keep your road trip moving and not delay it anymore than you want.

Do you prefer traveling by car for the holidays? Share your own mistakes and any tips you may have learned from holiday road trips in the comments below!

About the author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at

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