Road Trip Survival Guide – Coping with the Weather

This entry is a part of a series. Check out the rest of the Road Trip Survival Guide for more valuable information.

Climate vs Weather – Planning and Preparing

When gearing up for a trip, you plan for climate, but prepare for weather.

Climate represents average weather over a period of time. For example… If I travel to the Olympic Peninsula, I can plan on mild temperatures year-round and a lot of rain. If I travel to the desert southwest, I can plan on hot days, cold nights, and very little precipitation. And if I’m in Wisconsin between September and June, I know to bundle up and prepare for non-stop blizzards. 🙂

Weather, on the other hand, are the actual, day-to-day, hour-to-hour conditions. A thunderstorm could roll through Phoenix, or Wisconsin could have a warm day in March. Preparing for weather usually involves packing some just-in-case items.

And the decision of whether or not to pack a just-in-case item is going to depend on the probability of certain weather conditions and the cost of not packing the item.

  • It is extremely unlikely that it would snow in St. Louis in the middle of July. Therefore, I would not bother to pack a winter coat or snow boots.
  • It is possible that if I remain in Phoenix for the entire month of July, it will rain at least once. But it won’t rain much, and I won’t melt in the rain. So I’d leave out the umbrella.
  • On the other hand, if I go to Chicago in February, it is highly likely that it will be cold and snowy. And if I don’t pack a coat and boots, not only will I almost certainly miss having them, it will also cost quite a bit of money to purchase new ones when I reach Chicago.

Unless you are staying in hotels, hostels, or couchsurfing… If you are camping outdoors or otherwise spending long periods of time outdoors without the benefits of watertight shelter, heat, and air conditioning, then you’ll need to be prepared to cope with both climate and weather.

Surviving the Cold

WeatherKeeping warm in the winter boils down to two things: layers and wool. You will get more mileage out of having multiple thin layers of clothing and blankets than you will out of just one or two thick, bulky layers. Layering up makes it easier to regulate your body temperature, as you are able to add and subtract layers as you cool off or warm up. I also highly recommend investing in at least one authentic, 100% wool blanket or serape. They can be used as blankets or clothing, and dry wool keeps you warmer than any other linen out there. Wool can be pricey and pure wool can be tough to find, but it’s worth the effort to obtain one.

Make sure that if any of your clothing gets wet that you remove it and replace it with dry clothing promptly.

If road tripping and camping in your vehicle, I also recommend that you not sleep for 8 hours overnight. Rather, break up your day into smaller chunks. Try driving for six hours, then sleeping for two hours. Then drive for six, sleep for two, and repeat. By only sleeping two hours at a time, you prevent the cold outside air from really setting into the vehicle’s interior and the engine warms up a lot faster when you get back on the road. Moreover, this cycle will ensure that at least some of the time you’re sleeping, you’ll be sleeping during the day (when the temperatures are presumably warmer and you may also get some greenhouse effects from the sun).

Surviving the Heat

Keeping cool in the summer boils down to three things: hydration, circulation, and shade.

Drinking cold water can help keep you cool, but the most important reasons to consume water is to replace the water your body loses through sweat. Water can readily be replenished at most highway rest areas, if you’re like me and refuse to pay for bottled water. Water from lakes and streams can be purified with filters and chemical tablets if you’re out in the wilderness and far from indoor plumbing or convenience stores.

I recommend carrying one gallon of fresh water per person per day. If you have pets, each one should also be rationed one gallon per day (whether they normally drink that much or not).

The sun is an enormous nuclear fusion reactor hovering out there in space. Not only does it heat our planet, but it also emits high amounts of radiation that can damage our bodies. Make sure that you’re protecting exposed skin with sunscreen. The CDC recommends an SPF of at least 15. Personally, I won’t use a product that is below SPF 30.

Seek shade where ever possible. In the wilderness, tall forests are excellent sources of shade. In urban environments, cozy up next to tall buildings. If road-tripping, consider installing drapes in strategic locations within your vehicle. You might not be able to use them while you’re driving, but they can be useful should you choose to take a mid-day siesta. Drapes can be made very easily with thick, dark linen and rope or a bungee cord.

When parked or camped out, try to find locations with good air circulation. Heavily wooded areas will serve as windbreakers. Try to find open spaces, shores, or mountainsides to make camp. In the continental United States, most winds come from the west / southwest. If camping near a windbreak, make sure that you’re positioned downwind.

If camping in your vehicle, try to park your car facing north or south (or adjusted, as the wind direction dictates) so that air can flow through your windows. Try to park in a location where you feel safe sleeping with your windows cracked. If you need protection from insects, consider fashioning a protective cover for your window out of mosquito netting and strip magnets.

Other Ideas?

Have I missed anything? How do you cope with extreme heat and cold? Do you have questions? Do none of these solutions work for you because of specific circumstances that I haven’t considered? Whatever you’re thinking – I would love your feedback! Help me make this Road Trip Survival Guide the best it can be.

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