We are now well into Spring and cottage season has begun. Unfortunately this means that the roads leading to and from cottage country will be busier, slower and sometimes come to a full stop. Weekends are prime time for this type of scenario. However, in the middle of summer, any day of the week has the potential for traffic jams. Take for instance Thursday July 20, 2017. I had met my sister-in-law in Orillia to drop my kids off for a week. She would be taking care of them while my husband and I took a trip to celebrate our anniversary. We said good-bye in a Tim Horton’s parking lot at 1:30pm. They made their way up to Haliburton and I headed South on the 400 towards Toronto.
I should have arrived back home in roughly 1.5 hours, but traffic came to a stop just South of Highway 89 in Innisfil. I remained in more or less the same spot for 9.5 HOURS!! Longer than most people’s work days. Longer than I usually sleep at night. Longer than the flight I was supposed to take to London later that evening.
The cause of the backup was a transport truck whose load of hazardous and flammable liquid spilled onto the highway. Add to that – there was another accident in the southbound lanes at Rutherford Rd. The section of the 400 where I was stuck spans 12 kilometers between Highway 89 and the next exit at Simcoe Rd 88:
It was mayhem in slow motion. Traffic would roll forward for thirty seconds and then stop for 30 minutes. I was calm at first, but three hours into the ordeal I was crying hysterically to my husband who was already in the UK. By the time I pulled into my driveway at 11:00pm, my ass was numb, I was exhausted and I still had to finish packing for my (rescheduled) 9am flight.
I am still very much traumatized by my ordeal on the 400 highway last summer that it has taken me nearly a year to settle down and write this post. Looking on the bright side – even in the most frustrating circumstances, there usually is one – this was a learning experience and I have some advice to impart. The following are my tips for how to stay safe and sane in case you get stuck on the roads this summer:
- Use a navigation app like Waze. I actually had the app installed on my phone that day, but it was taking a while to load, so I abandoned it and figured “it’s midweek and a bright sunny day. What could possibly go wrong?” Answer: EVERYTHING. Waze is a popular app because you will get real time updates from other drivers around you about any traffic problems on the road ahead. If the problems are big enough, the app will redirect your route to avoid it. Since that day, I never travel long distances without having the app on.
- A phone charger that will plug into your car. As mentioned, navigation apps are great, but the downside is that they drain your phone battery fast because the app is constantly recalculating your location. In addition, if you’re stuck on the road for as long as I was, you will need battery power to contact family and friends to let them know where you are…or if you’re by yourself like I was, to talk to someone to help pass the time or, uh, calm you down when you’re frustrated, hangry and have to pee.
- Ensure that your vehicle has a full tank of gas. You do not want to be one of those people who has to hike 12 kilometers to the gas station at the next exit and then have to hike all the way back with the jerry can to top up your vehicle. Sure, I let my fuel level run low on occasion when I’m around town, but if you’re heading out on any highways – gas up before you go.
- Keep a stock of tissues, a package of baby wipes and/or a roll of toilet paper. These items are good to have on hand all the time for food and drink spills, but you will be especially glad you have them when you have to relieve yourself in the great outdoors. That’s right. Unless you’re travelling in a motor home, you will have to hoof it down to the gas station or find a big tree to squat and pee behind like I did. Also, it adds to the stress of the situation if you’re bladder is going to burst, and you could end up with a UTI, so pull over, grab your baby wipes and go pee on a tree.
- Pack extra food and drinks. This is especially important if you have kids with you. Good items to have on hand include water, granola bars, cereal, muffins, apples, bananas – things that travel well and have minimal packaging. Especially in the summer heat, you need water to stay hydrated and maintain focus. Use stainless steel or glass water bottles. If all you have is plastic, bring along a small cooler to maintain their temperature because hot cars and plastic water bottles do not go together well.
- Baby supplies. If you have a little one in diapers, make sure you have extra on hand. Same goes for food. If you’re breastfeeding, bonus – meals on wheels; however, make sure Mom has enough water and sustenance to keep that milk flowing. Formula feeding? Pack extra. Baby food? The more the better. Kids are also calmer and happier when snacking. Besides, you know what it’s like when you’re hangry – a hangry baby is even worse. There were some great stories of people bringing food and diapers to stranded travelers on the highway, but you can’t rely on that. Be prepared.
- Don’t forget about your pets! If your furry best friend often comes along on road trips then pack for them like you would for yourself: a dish for water, a leash to take them out and stretch their legs, food, treats, chew toys. Pets require the same basic necessities as people do.
- Even if you’re not staying overnight, pack a change of clothes. There’s nothing worse than travelling in soiled garments and if you have kids the likelihood of this happening is tenfold. It’s also a good idea to wear layers that you can take off and put back on as the weather changes.
- Bring along in-car entertainment for passengers and yourself. Colouring supplies, travel board games and books are all good options. Many vehicles are equipped with screens to play videos. If your car doesn’t have a built-in system, then you can achieve a similar and perhaps even better setup using a tablet and mounting bracket. This is the option we have in our vehicle for the kids: [click here] from Amazon.ca. My husband also purchased a splitter for the ear phone jack. By utilizing the Netflix app to download kid-friendly movies and shows, you can create a mobile movie theater for your pint-sized passengers. For this setup, please also refer to tip #2 re: charging cord. Tablets can only play movies if they have battery power. For the adults in the front row, more specifically the driver, screen entertainment is a no-no, but there are plenty of audio options to keep you entertained: flipping through your favourite radio stations, listening to an audio book, or playing tunes from a streaming app like Spotify. There are also tons of great podcasts you can download. If you don’t have any podcasts currently queued up, may I suggest Geeks & Beats with Alan Cross and Michael Hainsworth. I am a little biased as I write for this one, (shameless plug; #sorrynotsorry) but the topics are music and/or technology related, so this podcast has universal appeal. New episodes are released every Wednesday.
- Special considerations for Winter travel: All of the above applies no matter what the season, but if you’re heading out on the road in the Winter, you should invest in a decent set of snow tires, which offer way better traction than the all season tires your car came with. A supply of extra hats, mitts, scarves and blankets is great to keep in your car during the colder months as well. You will be glad to have the option of additional layers should you become stranded in your car with no heat or have to get out of your vehicle.
Have you ever spent hours stranded on the road? What pieces of advice would you offer to fellow road trippers? Whether you have any tips of your own or just want to reach out and commiserate, I’m here for it. Until then, I hope everyone has a safe and uneventful summer travel season.
“Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.”