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Tips for worry-free winter travel

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With the area experiencing high levels of snowfall and temperatures plunging below zero, those planning a winter get-away may be thinking twice about leaving the house. To take the sting out of winter travel plans, here are some useful tips for traveling:

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General travel tips

Plan ahead. Waiting to the last minute always leaves a great deal of your trip up to happenstance. Contact a travel agent to book a vacation in advance as soon as possible. Then, you'll be able to avoid peak travel dates, get lower airfare, fly direct (or minimize connections) and fly early or late in the day to avoid crowds and delays.

Constant contact. Keep the travel agent's contact information handy in the event the flight is delayed or cancelled. Rather than spend hours on hold, waiting to speak with an airline ticketing representative, one call to a travel agent is all it takes to start the re-booking process. In fact, many travel agents have 24-hour hotline desks so they are able to start helping their clients immediately when trouble strikes.

Leave at least an extra hour earlier. Give yourself more time than usual to anticipate the peripheral delays that could occur. Remember to bring reading material while waiting in the security line or departure gate. In cities with snow or ice, arrival delays can exceed two to three hours and de-icing procedures can take an hour before takeoff. Security procedures are being ramped up, so make sure you pack wisely and remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids and gels in carry-on luggage.

Consider insurance. Many travel insurance policies cover trip delay and cancellations due to weather.

Winter driving tips

Have the car examined before leaving. The last thing you want to worry about is being stranded after a vehicle breakdown. Take it to the local auto shop for a quick once over, and make sure the tires are winter ready and properly inflated.

Be prepared for a change in course. Before departing, know the route. It's important to be ready for anything on the road that could change plans, including construction, road closings and traffic. Keep the directions and appropriate state map(s) or a GPS handy, in case you need to reroute the trip.

Stay hydrated. Dehydration might not seem very likely, but a Mayo Clinic study shows that up to 2 percent loss of body weight can quickly lead to fatigue and decreased alertness, which could be deadly in icy winter driving. Also, the body requires more fuel in the cold -- so rely on high-energy food including sandwiches, fruit and a thermos filled with soup.

Pack a winter safety kit for the car. Don't leave without the essentials for a safe road trip -- a cell phone (don't forget the car charger); ice scraper; tow rope and jumper cables; sand or cat litter to aid with traction; blankets; flashlights, matches and emergency candles; first aid kit; portable radio; and a good book, in case you do get stuck.

Make frequent rest stops. Winter driving is much more fatiguing than in the summer, so make time to stop and stretch your legs. A few minutes off the road will make a difference in improving alertness when back behind the wheel.

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