Many Bellingham residents will hit I-5 for some holiday drives in the next few weeks. This can be a stressful time, so here are some things you can easily do to make the trip safe and festive.

1. Don’t drink and drive

It may be tempting to beat the stress of an impending drive with a hot toddy or two, but don’t do it if you are the driver. Winter often brings driving condition that require even more attention than a warm summer day, but the real reason to not drink and drive is it is never safe, no matter the conditions. 

2. Plan your route in advance

If you know you’re going to need a ferry to get you from A to B, make your reservation or time your route before you leave the house. Same with driving directions. Never try to do this while moving, even if it’s not illegal to use hands free devices (yet). Because these tasks take a heavy cognitive load, just like driving requires, it’s best to focus on the task at hand.

3. Check weather and traffic before you leave

While you’re doing the above, take a moment to check weather and traffic reports too. Remember, cell phones don’t work in every location, so bring along a paper map just in case.

4. Make sure your vehicle is road-ready

The lights, oil, tires (condition and pressure level), belts and hoses, brake fluid, antifreeze fluid and the condition of the battery should all be checked by a professional before leaving.

5. Follow the speed limits

Plan for extra travel time if you’re heading through major metropolitan areas (hello, Seattle!) No one can control the traffic flow, so the best way to stay relaxed is to give yourself plenty of time. Drive defensively (traffic is not the time to catch up on your favorite news app) and don’t respond aggressively to aggressive drivers. It’s much less frustrating – and safer – to let them pass.

6. Sleep well and take breaks

It sounds simple, but a good night’s sleep before departing can help make the trip more enjoyable. Be sure to take regular breaks during long road trips as it can be very dangerous to drive drowsy. Pull over and stop in a safe area if you are tired, or around every 100 miles or 2 hours.

7. Be prepared for emergencies

Keep a blanket, boots, an extra pair of gloves and a flashlight in the trunk of your car. Traction mats, kitty litter or sand can be used to improve traction on icy surfaces. Also, keep the gas tank at least half-filled to prevent fuel line freezing in colder climates. Here’s a list of things of a few more things to have in your vehicle’s emergency kit.

8. Leave your home safe and secure

Don’t forget to secure your home when you leave, and do not post on social media sites that you will be away. Timers to turn lights on and off can give the impression that the property is occupied. If possible, have a neighbor or relative check on the house and even park a car in the driveway. Let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be there.

9. Relax!

Finally, relax. Driving during the holiday season can be stressful. Frustration can lead to poor decisions and risky behavior behind the wheel. However, with the right attitude and some pre-planning it can also be more enjoyable.

While it can be stressful imagining the miles that lay between you and your destination, a couple of deep breaths once in a while along with a positive attitude can go a long way. Remember to relax and focus on what’s truly important: reaching your destination safely and having fun with family or friends.

Need ideas for places to go? Check out a few local holiday hot spots:

The Lights of Christmas Festival

Allied Arts of Whatcom County Festival of the Arts

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