Blizzard on the road.
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40 Tips and Tricks to Make Winter Travel Easier

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Rear view of family with two small children in winter nature, walking in the snow.
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Snow Problem

There are lots of reasons to set out on a winter trip: Maybe you're heading for a ski resort, chasing elusive sightings of the aurora borealis, visiting relatives or saving money with off-season travel. But winter packs a few challenges for travelers, too, with the Virginia snowstorm that stranded drivers on the I-95 for almost 30 hours as a classic worst-case scenario come to life — not to mention the thousands of air travelers stranded by weather delays and staff shortages around the country.

 

Happily, most winter travel issues aren't quite that dire. But when snow, ice and cold temperatures set in, you should hope for the best but plan for the worst. Use these 40 tips and tricks from a wide variety of experts to make sure you're ready to thrive on your next winter adventure, whether you're traveling by road or air. I'll be pitching in a few suggestions of my own, based on more than 30 years living and adventuring in Alaska.

 

Related: Spectacular Winter Destinations Across America for Avoiding Crowds


Tourist family walking through passageway in airport
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Fly the Big Planes

Let's start with air travel. Checking your flight status before you head to the airport is well and good, but can your choice of tickets minimize disruptions, too? Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, thinks it does. He recommends booking your trips in larger planes where possible, because the larger the plane, the less likely it is to be canceled. "Regional aircraft are usually the first to get canceled during inclement weather," he explains.

 

Miller also recommends having a backup plan ready in case your flight is canceled: Know alternative routes and schedules, so that you're already a step ahead if you need to rebook. 

 

Related: What Flight Attendants Want You to Know Now

The wait can be quite long
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Book Nonstop If You Can

Nicole Miller of Early Traveler has another tip to reduce your risk of getting stranded at an airport: Book a non-stop flight whenever possible. With this winter's combination of winter weather and COVID, more flight connections equal more opportunities for a flight to be canceled or delayed. Going nonstop means you only have to roll the dice once, and it eliminates the risk of being stranded somewhere in between your destination and home.


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Sunrise flight
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Consider a Morning Flight

AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmonds offers one more tip for air travelers: "Because of the way routes are structured and crews set up, early morning flights tend to be less susceptible to cancellations and delays. As the day moves along and if disruptions occur, it’s like a domino effect, and flights later in the day will be more directly impacted by changes in the flight schedule."


The takeaway? Consider booking a morning flight to minimize the risk of your flight being canceled and maximize your rerouting options if the worst does happen.


African couple sleep on chairs in waiting room of airport, tired wait for delayed or transit flight
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What If There Is a Cancellation?

Most flights still go through to their destination with no problem. But no matter how cleverly you planned your route, there is a chance of cancellation. AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmonds has some tips to help you minimize any disruptions that do crop up in your air travel itinerary.

 

First, purchase travel insurance to protect you in case of trip interruption; imagine being stuck in one of this year's epic winter travel delays and not knowing that some sort of reimbursement is heading your way.

 

Next, check in online for your flight 24 hours in advance, and keep abreast of flight status as you get ready to head to the airport. 

 

Finally, if worse comes to worst and the flight is canceled or there are significant delays, remember this advice from Edmonds: "If your flight is canceled by the airline or there are significant delays, they will try to accommodate you on a later flight; however, you are entitled to a full refund under federal law." 


You could also consider working with a travel advisor who can advocate for you and help you seek alternative flights or accommodation as needed. While AAA does offer this service, "get a travel agent" is a suggestion that came up over and over.


 

Related: Your Flight Is Canceled or Delayed: What Can You Do?

Long Layover
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Buy the Travel Insurance

Travel insurance isn't only for airline tickets. Michael Millian, GM of the AC and Marriott Fort Lauderdale Airport hotels, offers an inside glimpse at protecting your planned hotel stay:


"Purchase the travel insurance," he warns, "especially if you have an advance purchase rate, because those reservations cannot be canceled. [The travel insurance] is cheap! It's worth it."


Why the emphatic recommendation? "I don’t know how many people tried to cancel on the day of [their reservation] during the holidays because of someone getting sick," he explains. "If you book a room with us, we want to make sure it’s yours. [But] when hotels see a lot of cancellations they start overbooking their hotel, which means someone can be left without a room for the night and even more inconvenienced."


Uber and Lyft pick up location
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Pre-Schedule Your Rideshare

David Angotti, founder of HawaiianIslands.com, might not be your instinctive go-to for winter tips. But he has a great one: Consider pre-scheduling your rideshare to and from the airport. As he explains, "In rideshare apps like Uber they assure an on-time arrival, wait a few minutes for free, and guarantee your rate [when you pre-schedule]." This saves you a lot of time, stress and money all in one, especially if the destination you're traveling to is very busy or underserved. (Goodbye, surge pricing!)


Young couple arriving at the airport
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Consider a Private Lot

If you're taking your own car to the airport, do a little research into which amenities, if any, the airport parking lots offer. It may be worth a few extra dollars to park off-site with a private service/private lot that offers better service in terms of clearing your car of snow and ice, jump-starting or charging a battery that's gone dead in the cold, and even warming your car up for you before you pick it up. 

A woman looking for a car in the parking lot
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Where's My Car Again?

Have you ever forgotten where you left your car at the supermarket or movie theater? Imagine going through that "where the heck is it" process in a crowded airport parking lot, with a layer of fresh snow on your car. 


Or, you can sidestep that process entirely with this tip from Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com. "When parking at the airport, take a picture of your car and any nearby signage," he recommends. That creates a handy prompt to help you find your car when you return.


Miller also observes that many airport parking lots are filling up nowadays — so your life could be even easier if you're able to take a rideshare service or public transit instead of driving.


man adjusting and cleaning wipers of car in snowy weather b
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Wipers Up!

Let's say that you do leave your car in a wintry airport lot, or maybe you've left it outside at home while you escape to warmer weather. Take this common-sense tip from Matthew G. Bailey, founder and editor-in-chief of Must Do Canada: Flip your windshield wipers into the air so they won't freeze to the windshield.


Depending on how long you'll be gone, Bailey notes that it's sometimes a good idea to disconnect the battery from the car. That can help reduce the chances of your battery draining and needing to be recharged — although if it's cold enough the battery may drain, anyway.


Related: 6 Steps to Get Your Car Ready for Cold Weather

Young woman at the airport
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Dress in Layers

Have you ever felt half-frozen on a plane, especially while sitting on the runway or at the terminal? Traveling from home to airport to plane, then back again, can expose you to wildly different temperatures on one trip. Steve Oliverez, CEO of InsanelyCheapFlights.com, has the perfect solution: Dress in layers. This allows you to adjust your clothing to stay comfortable in a range of temperatures.


Woman at the airport
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Consider a Packable Jacket

The big problem with dressing in layers? You need somewhere to put those clothes when you're not wearing them. Paige Haley, owner and author of the adventure and travel blog Paige Outdoors, has a solution. For a long time, she explains, she would just suck up the difference in temperatures between her wintry Midwest home and warmer travel destinations, shivering when she traveled back from the warmer climate. She just didn't want to lug her big winter jacket along on those trips. 


Switching to a packable jacket was a game changer for Haley because it's so easy to stow in a backpack or suitcase when leaving the cold, and easy to get back out when she returns home to the cold.


Beautiful senior couple doing check in at hotel and senior woman handing a loyalty rewards card to receptionist all looking very happy
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Stay on Top of Pricing Trends

Is travel getting back to normal? Maybe: Data from Priceline.com shows that hotel costs are ticking up 18% on average during the first quarter of 2022, while flight tickets are up an average of 32%.


But if you're not too set on a particular destination, you can still get a great deal by chasing the many discounts, deals and fare wars that are cropping up as airlines and hotels vie for your dollars and try to keep their planes or buildings reasonably full. 


That same data analysis from Priceline.com notes that some of the most affordable travel destinations for the first quarter of 2022 include:


Southeast beach destinations such as Florida's Myrtle Beach, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa all land in the top 10 most affordable destinations, averaging roundtrip ticket rates less than $285.


Western cities such as Laughlin, Nevada; Page, Arizona; Buena Park, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Reno, Nevada, fall in the top 10 for affordable hotel rates, averaging under $110 a night.


Hertz car rental
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Skip the Car Rental Lines

So you made it to your destination airport and are ready to get a rental car. "The pandemic has led to [vehicle] shortages and higher prices, especially for larger vehicles during peak travel periods," warned Mark Mannell, CEO of CarRentalSavers.com. Get around this by booking your rental as early as possible, especially if you need a larger vehicle.

 

Even if you have a reservation, you might also encounter long lines at the rental counter. But Mannell has a solution for that, too: Opt in to the free frequent renter/loyalty clubs. That allows you to skip check-in lines and go straight to the garage at many popular rental locations.


Related: 10 Things to Know About Costco Car Rental


Senior man calling for help during snow storm
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Ski and Snowboard Trips

What if your flight was destined for a ski resort? Viktor Dokulevski, co-founder and project manager of Limo to Vail, points out some of the particular challenges for this type of destination, starting with the fact that if you've booked a flight to a ski resort airport, the flight may be diverted to the major nearest city in case of inclement weather. Recognizing this possibility in advance can help you formulate alternative plans if worse does come to worst. 


There's also the hurdle of many car rentals not having appropriate winter tires for traveling into the mountains; consider booking private transport instead. If you do go that route, Dokulevski recommends booking at least two weeks ahead, as this can save you quite a lot of money. You should consider booking your ski or snowboard rental ahead of time, too, to ensure you won't be left out in the cold due to staffing or equipment shortages.


Little boy watching cartoon on digital tablet while driving in car with his dad
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Keep the Kids Warm and Entertained

Is this a family trip? Kyle Kroeger, founder of ViaTravelers, has been to more than 10 countries and 10 national parks with a small child this year alone, so he knows what he's talking about with these tricks to help keep kids comfortable on the road.


Kroeger recommends keeping blankets handy to bundle kids up if (or when...) they get cold, and having a car adapter or external power source on hand to keep tablets charged on a plane or in the car, to help keep your kids entertained.


"Download videos on the tablet that they will enjoy but won't drive you crazy while you are driving," he says. "Tuck them in with their blanket and tablet. When the tablet loses their interest, put on a cheerful playlist to sing along to songs for winter cheer."


Related: Amazing Family Vacation Rentals That Are Tricked Out for Kids

heavy snow storm
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Pack a Road-Trip Emergency Kit

Let's say you're going on a road trip instead of a plane trip. Ellen Edmonds with AAA recommends packing an emergency kit before hitting the road. "A well-stocked emergency kit is a lifesaver if you end up stranded while traveling," she says, and that's even more true during the extreme conditions that winter can produce. Her must-have list includes:


  • Cell phone car charger

  • Flashlight with extra batteries

  • First-aid kit

  • Drinking water

  • Extra snacks and food for travelers and pets

  • Triangle reflectors

  • Winter-specific:

  • Traction aids (sand, salt, non-clumping cat litter or traction mats)

  • Ice scraper or snow brush

  • Tarp

  • Raincoat or winter coat and gloves to keep you clean/dry while working at the roadside

  • Shovel

  • Warm clothes, hats, gloves and blankets for all passengers in your car


Related: 21 Things to Keep in Your Car For Safe Winter Driving


tow truck towing car
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Keep Your Roadside Service Current

Whether you're in your own car or a rental, having current roadside service is another way to enhance your safety. It's not perfect — if lots of other people around you are stuck too, you could end up waiting hours for help. But in most situations, knowing someone is on the way to replace a dead battery, fill your empty gas tank or tow you out of a snowbank is a huge relief.


I personally use AAA as my roadside backup when traveling, but you might also have roadside coverage through your car insurance, your car dealership (if it's your own vehicle), or you can often purchase roadside assistance for a rental vehicle.


Not now!
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Get an Inspection

"AAA suggests travelers visit a trusted repair facility for a full inspection before embarking on a long road trip," explains Edmonds. But even if you can't make it for an inspection, she calls out a few things you might be able to do yourself. "Start by checking the key components of the vehicle," she explains. "We say make a good B-E-T before traveling—battery, engine and tires." 


Other simple checks she recommends include checking coolant levels, and looking fpr warning signs like coolant pooling underneath your car when parked, or the check engine light coming on; ensuring your air filter has been changed per recommendations; checking your battery and charging system; and cleaning any corrosion away from battery posts and cable connections for better performance in cold temperatures.


Female Driver Broken Down On Country Road
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Check Your Tires

Edmonds also recommends checking the tread depth on your tires by inserting a quarter headfirst into the tread. "If you can see the top of Washington's head it's time for new tires," she explains.


Check the pressure on all four tires, too; there's a label on your driver's side door jamb that'll tell you what's right for your vehicle. Keep an eye out for any uneven wear on the tire tread, and make sure you have a spare that's aired up and ready to go.


Related: Tire Installation Cost Comparison: What's the Best Place to Get New Tires?


Young Asian business woman wear facemask using mobile phone at the car parking lot planning to connect her business
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Schedule Your Parking in Advance

Getting to a destination by car is only half the battle. Once you're there, you'll have to find parking. Aman Chheda, lead of Way.com's Airport Parking Division, recommends using a mobile app or other service to reserve parking in advance. Whether you're leaving your car at the airport or just looking for parking during a road trip, this can save you both money and time, as you're not stuck trolling around for the next available spot. 

Snow plow salting street in winter time. Orange truck deicing.
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Plan Your Drive With Winter in Mind

Think all roads are created equal? Think again: As Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com points out, local two-lane roads may not be as well-plowed as the major roads. So stick to the big roads if you can when planning a route through winter weather, and stay open to the idea of finding a hotel to stay at until weather improves if necessary.

Pouring Antifreeze Washer Fluid into Windshield Washer Tank
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Be Ready to De-Ice Your Car

Here's another great tip from Richard Reina with CARiD.com: If the mercury is plunging, ditch the summer windshield washer fluid and opt for a winter-ready fluid that won't freeze in your lines. "Like radiator coolant, washer fluid must be rated to the lowest local temperature to prevent freezing, or windshield washers will not work," he explains. Some winter fluids also help actively remove ice from your windshield, although they're no substitute for getting your windshield defroster — and maybe a good ice scraper – going. 

Blizzard on the road.
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Winterize Your Car for Real

If you road-trip through cold weather frequently, consider investing in proper winterizing gear for your car to ensure it starts and runs reliably during the winter. Reina recommends a battery blanket — a device that helps extend your battery's charge in cold weather and boost its starting power. I'm a fan of block heaters, which warm antifreeze and keep it circulating through the engine block of your vehicle. Oil pan warmers are also great to keep your car ready to run in cold temperatures.

Young woman drive a car in winter
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Bring Your Shades

Winter might not seem like the time to whip out your sunglasses, but Michelle O'Donnell, owner of the Brit Adventures travel blog, quite rightly points out that low winter sun reflects off of snow and ice. This can leave you squinting and even temporarily blinded. She recommends just leaving the sunglasses in your car so you don't have to remember them every time you head out for a winter trip.

Car under snow
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Prep for Winter Traction

Michelle O'Donnell of Brit Adventures has another smart suggestion, gleaned from moving from the UK to Toronto. "My #1 tip is if you know your car will be outside during a snowstorm and you need to go out afterwards, put cat litter or sand under your tires if it is below -7 or -8 Celsius," she writes. (That's 18 or 19 degrees Fahrenheit.) This little trick means that you'll be prepped with better traction when you're ready to move the car.

Winter Driving - Commuter Traffic
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Beware the 'Wreck Pedal'

One of the best tips I ever received for winter driving was to treat the brake pedal as if it's the "wreck pedal." That doesn't mean you never use it. Instead, try to drive in a way that you won't need it, because if you do need to step on the brakes suddenly while winter driving, you're already in imminent danger of a wreck. 

 

In plain language, that means you should leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you, and keep in mind that the "stay back" distances prescribed in driver manuals and websites usually apply to dry, clear roads. It takes longer for your vehicle to slow down on ice or snow, and ice isn't always readily visible, especially at night — so give yourself and the driver in front of you plenty of space as a precaution.

 

Related: 15 Tips and Tricks for Cold-Weather RV Trips

Putting on Snow Chains
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Check Your Tire Pressure

Jen Moyse, TripIt's senior director of product, has clearly spent some time in the mountains during the winter. She writes, "For those headed to northern states or the mountains... Make sure the car you’re renting is equipped with four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, and plenty of windshield wiper fluid. Travelers going through mountain passes should also have snow chains, as they’re required during snowstorms. Check with your rental car provider to learn how to obtain proper equipment for your winter drive."

 

Of course the guidance on checking your tire pressure and having chains or other appropriate traction devices applies when using your own car, too.

 


Woman in sleeping bag looking at Kirkjufell mountain from camper van
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RV Travelers Need Emergency Kits, Too

Cars and trucks aren't the only way to road trip! Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts, points out that winter RV travel presents its own challenges and benefits. He recommends making sure your RV has a full emergency kit that includes water (one gallon per every two people in your party), plus extra snacks and blankets to combat hunger and exposure.

 

Related: 32 RV Accessories to Make Road Life More Luxurious

RV Camper Van Accident
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Be Ready to Communicate

Here's another smart RV travel tip from Joel Holland. He suggests carrying a satellite SOS device like the Garmin Inreach — in case you have the bad luck of an RV breakdown when in a place without cellular service. 

 

"It costs about $10/month for the ability to text friends and family, or click the SOS button to send an emergency request to 911 that also transmits your exact location," he writes. "Think of it as an inexpensive insurance policy that provides tremendous peace of mind when you are outside of cell coverage areas."

 

(Note that prices will vary according to the device and subscription plan you choose.)


Smart apps make for smarter financial planning
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Beware Modified Business Hours

Holland has one more useful tip, although it doesn't apply only to RV users: "Before you head out, call ahead to your destination to make sure they are open and operating." This is because COVID has exacerbated the issue of businesses and attractions having modified winter hours that aren't always reflected in a quick Google search. If a restaurant, store or experience is really important to you, it's worth a quick call to make sure you can experience it as planned.

 

Related: 18 Ways the Pandemic Changed Travel


Young guy driving a luxury caravan in the winter
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Are Your Rv's Storage Compartments Ready for Winter?

Just as your car should be properly winterized before a cold-weather trip, your RV's water pipes and tanks may need some special attention too. "Many storage compartments in an RV are located outside in storage bays or under the RV," warns Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts. "These areas are exposed to the elements and need to be protected in the event of a hard freeze."

 

Some ways of protecting those RV components include an insulating RV skirt (with or without heaters), heat tape or heated hoses for pipes, and adding antifreeze to inner sewage/wastewater pipes in your RV. 


Family on road trip
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What Type of Heating Do You Have?

Another tip from Holland: If you have the option, heat your RV with a furnace, not a heat pump. That's because heat pumps might break if pushed too far; they're not made to heat an RV during extreme (low) temperatures. Need more warmth? Holland suggests using thermal curtains to insulate your windows. 

Parked in the Snow
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The One Thing You Should Never Do With Your RV in Winter

Make sure you don't make this big mistake with an RV during winter: "An RV should never stay hooked up to a sewer connection during freezing temperatures," warns Holland. "Instead, stay disconnected and dump when necessary." You can probably imagine why.


Cleaning my recreational vehicle
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Keep It Clean on the Inside

If you're traveling by RV or campervan this winter, keep things clean inside your mobile home with this tip from A.J. Turner, marketing director for OffHighwayVan.com: "Keep a separate set of slippers within the van that never see snow. This helps keep down the amount of moisture, mud, and dirt that makes its way into the van."


How can you store those snowy boots without creating a mess? Turner recommends keeping them in a reusable grocery sack or bag to help keep any mess localized.


Related: 22 Reasons Why #VanLife Might Not Be for You


Coronavirus gas oil prices dropping man pumping gasoline at gas station wearing medical blue glove as COVID-19 spreading safety protection for touching germs
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What about COVID?

Nobody wants to think about COVID during a trip, but it's still a factor in many places this winter. No matter how you're traveling, Edmonds with AAA has a few suggestions to help:

  • Start by talking to your health-care provider to understand if traveling is the right choice for you.

  • Always consult the most recent CDC guidelines for your destination, whether domestic or international.

  • Before you leave, understand the impact COVID-19 has on cities and states you are traveling through, and if there are any restrictions in place.

  • Contact hotels ahead of time to ensure they're open.

  • Pack plenty of snacks, water and disinfectant spray/wipes.

  • When you have to stop to fill your gas tank, select a pump located at the end to minimize close contact with others.

  • Use disinfecting wipes to wipe down shared surfaces like gas pumps, and use wipes and hand sanitizer to wipe down your hands and credit card after filling up.

Related: I Drove Cross-Country During the Pandemic — Here’s What I Learned

African American boy having PCR test at doctor's office during coronavirus pandemic.
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Be Prepared to Extend Your Stay

Here's a hard reality of traveling during a pandemic: You should be prepared to extend your stay involuntarily. As travel-preparedness expert Cheryl Nelson of Prepare with Cher explains, if you test positive for COVID you won't be permitted to travel. She recommends setting aside extra funds for unexpected lodging, food expenses, and so on, just in case you're forced to stay longer than you expect.


Here's a bonus tip from Nelson: This could be a great time to use a travel agent such as AAA, because they'll be up to date on constantly changing travel information and can help point you toward any need-to-know information.


Mature woman in a mask showing her vaccination passport on her smart phone
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If You've Got It, Flaunt It

Some travel destinations don't care if you've had a COVID-19 vaccine, but at other venues it really matters. "Some cities are requiring vaccine cards to do pretty much anything," writes Millian, general manager of the AC and Marriott Fort Lauderdale Airport hotels. He recommends taking a photo of your vaccine card or scanning it and sending the file to yourself, because if you lose your card, you'll be pretty much out of luck. Many places will accept a digital copy, however, and if you have a photo of your vaccine card or a copy in your email, you can always print it out.

asian female hand nasal swab testing rapid tests by herself for detection of the SARS co-2 virus by tele video doctor instruction at home, isolate quarantine concept
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Do You Perform Well on Tests?

People who've traveled recently warn that if you're not vaccinated and are traveling to a location that cares about such things, you should be ready to take lots and lots of COVID tests. (A recent negative test is often, if not always, accepted as a substitute for vaccination.) With tests being hard to get in some places, you might want to consider packing a few extra tests in your carry-on. That way you're less likely to miss out on activities that matter to you because a test was not available locally. 


Wait staff of a luxury restaurant is welcoming business guests
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Book Ahead

No matter how you're traveling, choosing restaurants or entertainment events spontaneously can be part of the fun of traveling. But with some venues still severely impacted by staffing and supply shortages due to the pandemic, you should really consider making your dinner reservations and buying entertainment tickets before you arrive, Millian suggests. That way you won't be left out in the cold if your favorite restaurant is full or a show is sold out due to limited capacity.


African guy waiting for boarding flight
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Be Ready for Delays

This tip isn't necessarily winter-specific, but it's certainly timely, given all the travel delays this winter. Millian has some ideas to help you keep a level head when delays strike:

  • Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on. This way if your flight gets delayed on a layover, at least you'll be comfortable while you wait.

  • Pack a few things to keep yourself entertained when you have time to kill, too, such as an extra cell phone battery or charger or something to read, and be ready to leave your bags at the hotel and explore the city if you can't check in early due to short-staffing.

These suggestions for preparedness aren't meant to be a downer. Instead, they're the insurance policies that help improve your odds of having a wonderful winter getaway, no matter what sort of curve balls circumstances may throw at you.