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Essential winter weather travel tips

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
updated 1:03 PM EDT, Tue November 1, 2011
Caution and preparation are the best bets for travelers who can't stay home during winter storms.
Caution and preparation are the best bets for travelers who can't stay home during winter storms.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Take a fully charged cell phone and a charger if you're heading to the airport
  • Pack essentials in your carry-on in case you get stranded at the airport
  • Carry an emergency winter driving road kit in your vehicle's trunk

(CNN) -- While pretty, fluffy blankets of snow and glittering ice have a knack for making travel treacherous. For those who aren't able to stay put when wintry weather hits, here are some winter travel essentials:

Tips for winter air travel

Consider rebooking. The airlines generally allow passengers to change tickets free of charge when a major storm threatens travel. You might be able to connect through another city unaffected by the weather system.

Sign up for airline alerts and check your flights frequently online before you head to the airport. A flight's status often changes by the minute as the airline works to line up slots and crews and keep planes and runways clear of ice and snow during winter travel disruptions.

Make sure you have a cell phone and your charger in case you need to rebook a canceled flight. Get in line for assistance and try your airline by phone at the same time if you're among hundreds of passengers jockeying for seats. If you can get online, try that, too.

If you're hoping to make your original flight, be sure to pack essentials such as prescriptions, glasses or contacts and other necessary toiletries or clothes in your carry-on. You and your checked luggage are likely to get separated if you end up stranded overnight.

With sleeping in an airport terminal in mind, pack and dress for warmth and comfort. Foam earplugs can be a saving grace.

Airport entertainment and snacks can get expensive, and they're harder to come by in the wee hours. Stow away an emergency book or magazine and some sustenance to keep you going.

Inquire at the gate about food vouchers and sleeping areas. While airlines aren't required to provide accommodations for travel interrupted by severe weather, many airports will provide food and cots to stranded travelers.

Tips for winter driving

A driver's best bet is to stay home when wintry weather coats the roads in snow and ice.

For those who must go out, it's important to plan ahead.

AAA recommends motorists pack a winter driving kit made up of the following: a bag of abrasive material (sand, salt or cat litter), a snow shovel and brush, traction mats, an ice scraper, booster cables, a flashlight, window washing liquid, cloth, warning flares or triangles, a cell phone, gloves and a blanket.

Try to ease your vehicle out of parking spaces without spinning the wheels. Drive back and forth for several feet in either direction to clear a path. Spread sand or salt near the wheels if additional traction is needed.

If you do get stuck, you can contact AAA via phone, iPhone app or at AAA.com.

Iced-over vehicles can limit driver visibility, and ice flying off cars can be hazardous to fellow drivers, so de-ice vehicles before driving.

If you have to drive in conditions with low visibility, go slowly, with your headlights on low beam, AAA advises. Allow at least double the usual following distance between cars.

Never use cruise control on a slick surface.

Steering around an obstruction is often safer than braking suddenly at speeds above 25 mph on a slippery surface, according to AAA's pamphlet "How to Go on Ice and Snow" (PDF).

When you do brake, don't remove your foot from the brake or pump the pedal if you have antilock brakes, AAA advises. Drivers of cars that don't have antilock brakes should keep their heel on the floor and apply firm pressure to the brake pedal to the threshold of locking.

In case of skidding, steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go, keeping your eyes on your travel path. And don't slam on the brakes; you're likely to make it harder to get back in control.

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