Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

Tips to make sure you’re safe on the road this holiday season

The latest numbers are in and according to AAA, the 2021 holiday travel season is in rebound mode with 53.4 million people expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday alone! That’s the highest single-year increase in travelers since 2005.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, the vast majority of those, 72 percent, will travel by car or recreational vehicle. Yet some may travel in a vehicle that isn’t ready for an extended road trip. The last thing you want to deal with on a road trip is to be faced with trying to repair a broken-down vehicle in an unfamiliar town.

Going on a winter road trip requires a little more planning than a road trip during the warmer months. You’ll need to consider the route and RV parks as well as factors such as potential road closures or snowy conditions.

No worries—I’ve compiled eight winter road trip tips that will get you on the right track for your holiday getaway! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Choosing A Route

Choosing a destination is no doubt one of the most fun and most important parts of any trip! The route you’re taking to get there, meanwhile, can be just as vital—while the destination might also count, the journey can be just as memorable.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Park near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a winter road trip, choosing a route can be even more vital. Even Interstates and well-traveled highways can experience closures due to weather conditions. Even if you’re escaping the cold to go somewhere warmer, you’ll likely need to travel in winter weather for at least part of your trip.

Related: Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

A couple of tips that can help: travel on major routes as much as possible especially when traveling in colder areas. While back roads and scenic routes can no doubt make for a memorable trip, they may also be less maintained in the winter and in some cases are closed to winter travel. They’re also traveled by fewer people meaning that if you should run into trouble, finding assistance could require a long wait.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Consider Your Vehicle

For travelers planning to drive over Thanksgiving, here’s one thing to put at the top of your to-do list: making sure your vehicle is ready for a long trip.

Skipping that task could mean waiting a while on the side of the road before help comes.

AAA estimates 400,000 Americans will need roadside assistance during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The three most common issues are dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most vehicle problems like these could be prevented with a pre-trip vehicle inspection. Before you hit the road this Thanksgiving, make sure to check everything from the battery to the tires. That could make the difference between spending Thanksgiving at the table or on the roadside.

Winter months can bring about all manner of difficult weather—rain, snow, ice, hail. When you’re planning a winter road trip, take into consideration the capabilities of the vehicle you’ll be taking when choosing a route. Cars with all-wheel or four-wheel drive may have an easier time driving in snowy conditions.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may be required to use winter tires (more commonly called “snow tires”) or to carry chains. Fitting a set of snow tires may be the best thing you can do to improve your safety margin and reduce your anxiety level on snow-covered roads. Proper winter tires provide far more traction in snow, slush, and ice than even the best set of all-season tires. Being aware of your vehicle’s capabilities will allow you to plan a trip that is both fun and safe! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Assemble a Winter Emergency Kit

If you’re traveling through any colder or snowy areas, you’ll need an emergency kit designed for cold weather. Your winter emergency kit should include basic survival supplies, safety items, car/RV maintenance tools, and winter clothing. These items will help you stay comfortable and hydrated if you ever get stuck on the side of the road or have to wait out a storm.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your general emergency kit supplies should include a first aid kit as well as supplies geared towards cold weather. Emergency blankets, for example, don’t take up much space to pack and can be incredibly helpful in staying warm should you be stranded. Other things to consider packing include flashlights and extra fresh batteries, snow shovel, cat litter (or sand), ice scraper, snow brush, triangular caution signs, jumper cables, toolkit, duct tape, smartphone charger, drinking water, non-perishable snacks for people and pets, paper towels, and gloves. 

Related: Prepping For Snowbird Travel

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Check Road Conditions Frequently

Related to the above tip—road conditions can change rapidly during winter. A clear road one day may experience snow or freezing rain overnight. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check road conditions as frequently as possible. Referencing closures from previous years when planning your route can also add an additional layer of assurance to your road trip.

Finally, check out what sources you can rely on for updates for the route you’re taking before you head out. This way, you won’t need to find a weather station on your radio or app for your smartphone while on the road. 

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Schedule Extra Time

This is a good idea for road trips any time of the year. Planning some extra time will create a helpful safety net should anything unexpected arise. Because there are several additional factors to consider in the winter such as potential snowfall or road closures, this becomes even more crucial when traveling in winter. Consider adding a few hours to your plan each day. Worst case scenario—everything does go according to plan and you end up with some extra time to explore a stop or enjoy your destination. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Have a Backup Plan

Most likely you’ll arrive at your destination with only minor setbacks if any. In the event that a setback delays your journey a backup plan will help ensure you still have a good trip, even if it’s not what you originally planned. Consider cancellation policies when booking an RV park or other lodging as well as the potential for extending your stay if weather or road conditions require it. Also, consider an alternative route as well some activities or stops along this route.

Related: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. On Packing

Packing for any trip can be difficult! There’s always the question of what to bring. While you have some more freedom packing for a road trip over a plane trip, it’s still important to pack efficiently. For a winter road trip, this means that you’ll want to keep cold-weather clothes easily accessible. The last thing you’ll want to have to do is unpack a full suitcase to find a pair of gloves at the bottom.

Consider bringing a bag or bin for shoes/outerwear as well. If you’ve been walking through snow or slush, this is a great way to make sure any runoff won’t result in a puddle on your car or RV floor. Finally, make sure to bring a blanket or two to stay cozy on the trip. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Winter Driving Tips

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it. Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work and allow extra time to reach your destination.
If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your vehicle is prepared and that you know how to handle road conditions. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Resort near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use low gears to maintain traction, especially on hills. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Don’t pass snow plows or sanding trucks (and never, never on the right).

Related: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Keep your lights and windshield clean. Replace windshield wiper blades. Make sure your windshield washer system works and is full of an anti-icing fluid. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. Brake gently to avoid skidding. Learn how to get maximum efficiency from your brakes before you need them in an emergency situation.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch carefully for black ice. If the road looks slick, it probably is. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads as these will freeze first.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads. 

Worth Pondering…

And finally, Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

Methods of Heating Your RV

How to stay warm in an RV during colder weather

In an earlier article we discussed the cold weather limitations of recreational vehicles and things you can do to reduce heat loss plus when RVing in cold weather.

Once the heat loss has been minimized, it is time to consider methods of heating your rig.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s best to use a combination of heating methods when dealing with extreme cold weather while RVing.

A word of caution: Be very aware of the dangers associated with each heating method and take proper safety precautions to avoid an RV fire, asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning, or even death.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make absolutely certain you have a carbon monoxide, smoke, and LP gas detector in good working condition. Change batteries annually.

Never use your oven to heat your RV.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electric space heaters are cheap and can help in reducing your heating costs if you’re NOT on a metered site. Some RV parks forbid these or will charge you extra.

We use our electric heater during the day while at home and the RV furnace at night on a low setting (between 50 and 55 degrees) and in the mornings to take off the chill.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s portable heater models include a variety of safety features that help take a lot of the concern out of using them. A heater equipped with a tip-over protection switch will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over for any reason, and cool-touch housing prevents accidental burns on the exterior. These are useful safety features, particularly in areas with active children or pets.

Space heaters with overheat protection switches function in nearly the same manner. They use a temperature sensor, detecting when internal components become too hot. When an unsafe temperature is detected, the switch automatically shuts off the unit to prevent overheating.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be certain to check for these safety features when purchasing a new electric heater. As a safety precaution, shut off and unplug for the night and when you’re away from the RV.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Educating yourself about the safety hazards that come with the improper use of portable heaters will help you achieve better peace of mind as you keep your RV warm, comfortable, and fire hazard-free during the winter.

Once you have your rig insulated and warm, the next consideration is how to get the moisture out so dreaded condensation inside the RV does not occur.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the course of a day living in the RV, you put a great deal of water vapor into the air space. Showers, dishes, cooking, heating, and our own breathing all contribute and it needs to be expelled from the RV. Left unchecked the condensation can quickly build up on all the windows and some walls and lead to mold.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use the stove vent and fan when cooking, especially when boiling vegetables on the burner top. The quicker you can get the moisture out the better. Use absorbent cloths for removing moisture. Wipe down the shower stall and any condensation that builds up on the windows.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are numerous small portable, dehumidifiers on the market that are suitable for use in your RV. Place one near the shower and in various locations inside the RV and in basement compartments.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs aren’t designed for cold, but you can survive!

But the best advice of all is “The RV has wheels, Go South!

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron

Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Here’s how we handle cold weather in our motorhome

A major benefit of the RV lifestyle is the ability to follow good weather.

Diamond Groove RV Park, Spruce Groove, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can hide out in the south during the winter and cool off in the north in the summer. Plus, you can enjoy spring and fall for several months as you move in between.

Creekside RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But sometimes you get caught in cold weather due to an early winter or unexpected circumstance. The typical recreational vehicle is not designed for use in the snowy, cold, and icy northern climates. Some RV manufacturers offer a “Polar Package”—don’t believe it, mostly marketing hype. There is not a chance it would keep you cozy warm in any “polar” climate.

Angel Lake RV Resort, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even with the cold weather limitations of most RVs, there are things you can do to reduce heat loss plus items you should have ready just in case.

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is not the scope of this article to address winter-proofing an RV for those who are staying long-term in the cold.

Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most RVs have furnaces, but cranking up the heat is expensive and counter-productive if you are losing too much heat at the same time. Look for ways to reduce this heat loss. Of course, you can pull out the sweaters and sweatshirts during the cold so you don’t have to keep the furnace temperature setting as high.

Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you arrive at your destination, try selecting a site that will receive sun exposure throughout the day, and also offer some type of wind break. Position your RV in such a way that the front or rear—and not the side—receive the force of the wind.

Quail Ridge RV Resort, near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved rt, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Windows are a major heat loss in RVs. The first thing is to lock your windows. That extra latch helps close the seals in the window.

Close the blinds when you don’t need them open for the view or the warming sunshine. If you have curtains or secondary blackout blinds, use them.

The Springs at Borrego Golf and RV Resort, Borrego Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use Reflectix bubble foil. It is available from stores like Walmart, Lowe’s, or Home Depot, and comes in rolls. It can be cut to fit into window openings or anywhere you want to add an extra layer of insulation.

The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The foil will reflect the heat back in and the bubbles provide insulating air gaps. It can be used for both cold and heat. When not needed, it rolls back up for easy storage.

Jekyll Island Campground, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you really need to reduce heat loss overnight, bring in your slides. This reduces heat loss from the seals and reduces the exposed surface area. It also reduces the volume of the air inside your RV that needs to be heated. You may wish to retract your slides when dry camping and are trying to keep energy usage to a minimum.

Hidden Lake RV Park, Beaumont, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A goose down duvet is an investment with high returns that’s realized every time you cozily cuddle in bed. A duvet cover is typically purchased separately.

Down is a great natural insulator. It is the very first undercoating of goose feathers. The clusters of down are made of plenty of soft fibers that directly radiate out from the central core of the feather. The structure of down is perfectly created to trap air. For this peculiar characteristic, goose down duvets keeps you suitably warm. It still allows the moisture to escape and is a great product to keep snug yet dry. Goose down duvets is amazingly soft and light.

Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The quality of down duvets is measured by its insulation abilities. The best quality down duvets would have larger clusters of down. Best quality down would be capable to acclimatize according to warmer or cooler atmospheric temperatures. If the thick, fluffy and breathable down can keep the goose so cozy out in the cold, it definitely is a sure winner for you.

Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You won’t need spare blankets for your bed with your down duvet but they add another layer in insulation during your waking hours. You can also hang a light blanket to add an extra layer over the door and the seal around the door.

Palm Springs-Joshua Tree KOA, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clothespins can be used to keep it in place. This especially helps if you need to go in and out the door as a temporary vestibule. More blankets or towels can be used to block any cold drafts.

Keeping warm in our motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fill your fresh water tank and use the pump instead of the city connection. Disconnect the outside supply water hose, drain it, and store it in your water/sewer compartment. Remember to turn on the tank heaters in your RV.

Keeping warm in our motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try to dump your holding tanks during the warmer afternoon since everything is more difficult to work with in a cold morning. Depending on the temperature, you may wish to stow your sewer hose. Using it on an extremely cold morning may result in a cracked sewer hose.

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

A Cool Oasis in the West Texas Desert

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool

In July, on a 100-degree day in the desert, 562 miles west of Houston, the San Solomon Springs Pool at Balmorhea State Park in Far West Texas, is a favorite place for many RVers and other travelers searching for respite from the hot Texas sun.

The water is so clear it’s like jumping into a dream. The water temperature hovers around 75 degrees, refreshingly cool in the heat of the summer and comfortably warm in winter. It is, in the opinion of many, the best swimming hole on Earth.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set against the Davis Mountains where the Chihuahuan Desert transitions into the low, flat Permian Basin, the San Solomon complex of springs gush out 15 million gallons of artesian water every day, feeding a canal system that runs to nearby farms and the town of Balmorhea, 4 miles away.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built walls around the desert marsh to create the pool. Today, more than 200,000 people stop by every year to swim with fish, waterfowl, and amphibians.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The CCC-era structure is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. More than 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day, gushing from the San Solomon Springs. The 1.3- acre pool is up to 25 feet deep, holds 3.5 million gallons of water with the temperature 72 to 76 degrees year-round.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several years ago when we stopped by in early spring on our route west to Arizona, we had the park to ourselves. But on summer weekends so many people cram into the park that volunteers improvise parking in open fields.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I always figured Balmorhea was too far away from major population centers, too in the middle of nowhere, to get overrun. I was wrong. In recent years, visitation has surged. For families between Van Horn and Odessa, Balmorhea is the one affordable place within 100 miles to cool off and picnic.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scuba clubs from as far away as Kansas and Arkansas explore the springs on weekends year-round. Fitness buffs motoring coast to coast make detours for a swim.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For almost three months, during the peak summer season, the pool was closed as staff figured out how to fix a collapsed retaining wall below the diving boards.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closing was sudden and unplanned. During the annual cleaning in early May (2018), Abel Baeza, the manager of the local water district, was directing workers to make repairs in a nearby canal when he heard a noise, then turned around to see the underwater concrete skirting cracking off below the high dive.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 80-year-old pool, like the nearby adobe San Solomon Springs Motor Courts which are closed during a planned restoration, requires constant upkeep. The concrete repairs were an even bigger deal. A dam had to be constructed to hold back water around the damage during the painstaking process.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There are five endangered species in the pool, and this is the only population left of this species of black catfish,” said Mark Lockwood, the West Texas regional director for Texas state parks.

“We can’t just open up the gates, let the water dry up everywhere, build a wall, and put it back together.”

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In early August, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) announced that pool repairs would begin imminently, with the cash-strapped agency forced to find creative ways to pay the estimated $2 million bill. Apache Corporation, the company doing most of the fracking exploration around Balmorhea, which some locals and environmentalists believe caused the damage, offered a $1 million matching grant through the nonprofit Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation.

The Garrison Brothers Distillery pledged a portion of proceeds from its small-batch, $59-a-bottle Balmorhea whiskey. Even for a park as popular as Balmorhea, getting things done these days requires the governmental equivalent of a GoFundMe campaign.

This project is only one of the three major developments underway at Balmorhea State Park. Renovations to the San Solomon Springs Courts and campgrounds have been ongoing since 2017. Once these projects have completed, visitors to Balmorhea will have an enhanced park experience at West Texas’ most treasured oasis.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has established a fund to accept donations towards the structural repairs that are needed to reopen the pool. These donations will help ensure that Texans can continue to enjoy this historic spring-fed swimming pool and unique West Texas destination for generations to come.

The park remains open for day-use only with limited facilities.

The restoration of the San Solomon Springs Motor Courts should be finished by spring. The fallen wall in the pool should be repaired any day now. I’m standing by.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another sunny 70 degree fall or spring day with little wind will do just fine. Odds are, we’ll have the park all to ourselves.

If you wait until next summer, y’all will be waiting in line with the rest of y’all.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Handling Cold Weather While RVing

Sometimes you get caught in cold weather due to an early winter or unexpected circumstance

A major benefit of the RV lifestyle is the ability to follow good weather.

We hide out in the south during the winter and cool off up the north in the summer. We also enjoy spring and fall for several months as we move in between.

But sometimes we get caught in cold weather due to an early winter or an unexpected circumstance.

Our latest introduction to winter resulted from a delay in taking delivery of our new factory-ordered 2019 Dutch Star 3717 diesel pusher.

The typical recreational vehicle is not designed for use in the snowy, cold, and icy northern climates. Even with the cold weather limitations of most RVs, there are things we do to reduce heat loss and stay warm.

Upon arrival at our destination, we try to select a site that will receive sun exposure throughout the day, and also offer some type of wind break.

Since windows are a major heat loss in RVs, we lock our windows. That extra latch helps close the seals in the window. We close the blinds/curtains when we don’t need them open for the view or the warming sunshine.

A goose down duvet is an investment with high returns that’s realized every time you cozily cuddle in bed. A duvet cover is typically purchased separately.

Down is a great natural insulator. It is the very first undercoating of goose feathers. The clusters of down are made of plenty of soft fibers that directly radiate out from the central core of the feather. The structure of down is perfectly created to trap air. For this peculiar characteristic, goose down duvets keeps you suitably warm. It still allows the moisture to escape and is a great product to keep snug yet dry. Goose down duvets is amazingly soft and light.

The quality of down duvets is measured by its insulation abilities. The best quality down duvets have larger clusters of down. Best quality down is able to acclimatize according to warmer or cooler atmospheric temperatures. If the thick, fluffy and breathable down can keep the goose so cozy out in the cold, it definitely is a sure winner for you.

We don’t need spare blankets for the bed with our down duvet but they add another layer in insulation during our waking hours.

It’s best to use a combination of heating methods when dealing with extreme cold weather while RVing.

A word of caution: Be very aware of the dangers associated with each heating method and take proper safety precautions to avoid an RV fire, asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning, or even death.

Make absolutely certain you have carbon monoxide, smoke, and LP gas detectors in good working condition. We change the batteries annually.

Never use your oven to heat the RV.

Space heaters are cheap and can help in reducing your heating costs if you’re NOT on a metered site. We use ours during the day while in our rig and the furnace at night on a low setting (between 50 and 55 degrees) and in the mornings to take off the chill.

Today’s portable heater models offer a variety of safety features that include tip-over and overheat protection Check for these safety features when purchasing a new heater.

As a safety precaution, shut off and unplug for the night and when you’re away from the RV.

Once we have our rig insulated and warm, the next consideration is how to get the moisture out so dreaded condensation inside the RV does not occur. Left unchecked the condensation can quickly build up on all the windows and some walls and lead to mold.

We use the stove vent and fan when cooking, especially when boiling vegetables on the burner top. The quicker you can get the moisture out the better.

We also use absorbent cloths for removing moisture. Wipe down the shower stall and any condensation that builds up on the windows.

There are numerous small portable, dehumidifiers on the market that are suitable for use in your RV. We place one near the shower and in various locations inside the RV and in basement compartments.

RVs aren’t designed for cold, but you can survive!

But the best advice of all is “The RV has wheels, Go South!

Worth Pondering…

I’ve never gotten used to winter and never will.

—Jamaica Kincaid