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Winter Travel Tips

Wednesday 9 January 2013 - Filed under Writing

Winter Travel Tips
by Marilyn Brandt Smith
First published in the Matilda Ziegler magazine, November 2011

Recent snows in the northeast raise questions. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? Will this be a fierce winter? Ski resorts can’t wait for it to start. In the south it’s one of those “This can’t be happening to us down here!” moments. It’s time to get prepared.

A bucket of hot soapy water, “Dawn” dish washing liquid is recommended for some reason, is a quick trick for melting the stuff on your steps and porch. It can also be a mild preventative between snowfalls or before it ever starts.

Layering clothing keeps warmth in and cold out, and it allows you to peel off what you don’t need depending on the temperature indoors. Start with snug foundation garments; use leggings of your choice if the wind is likely to find its way under your pants or dress.

Some hoods, hats, and scarves have ear flaps. If they’re knitted loosely you might be able to travel safely and receive enough information. You can pin or Velcro those flaps out of your way until you’re finished walking. Good traction is necessary on ice. Bumpy treads that stretch over your shoes or boots can help. These cleats, along with good winter clothing, can be found at sporting goods stores and in major department and discount stores in the north and west. If you are in the south and are planning a cold vacation, you may have to order them from a catalog or online. Unfortunately, the thicker your footwear, the less information you’ll receive about your walking surface.

Wrap ends of scarves into your coat or around your neck for extra warmth. A “turtle” is a neck warmer which can be pulled up to cover part of your face. Mittens don’t offer as much information as gloves, but are warmer. The Maryland School for the Blind sells mittens with a hole for a cane to slip through. This gives you more tactile contact with the walking surface than you would obtain through wool or leather. For more information call 410-444-5000 and ask for the mobility office. They cost about $6.

If you have to dress for success you’ll need an extra pair of shoes in the bag you’re carrying. Don’t hand-carry anything you can toss over your shoulder. You could lose your balance if you start to fall. When you’re at your destination, stuff hand protection into your coat pockets, and your scarf or neck warmer into a sleeve of your coat. They tend to go wandering if not safely tucked away. Of course, if they’re wet, you’ll need to find someplace to dry them. You can buy pocket-sized warmers that produce heat for hours by pulling a tab or shaking the packet. Slide them into your boots or pockets. They aren’t expensive. Sporting goods stores may give you other ideas for clothing and warming options.

There’s not always a way out of walking in the crunchy stuff. A coworker may not be going your way. There’s safety in walking in a crowd, especially if there are streets to cross. A cane can give you additional information about your environment because of the tricks ice and snow can play. Shovelers, snowplows, and natural wind drifts can block crosswalks and hide familiar landmarks. By using a shoulder bag or backpack you can have both hands free, which offers you the option of using a second cane or probe for really tough travel days. Heft one of those old wooden “dog killers,” as we used to call them when we gave them away at the lighthouse in Washington, D.C., with a traditional mobility cane. You can push snow around and clear a path while exploring your environment for drop-offs. Perhaps this is not a strategy you’d normally employ, but it worked in downtown Salt Lake City during a couple of winters.

Each time your mobility cane touches snow or ice with your usual tap or glide pattern, push it a few inches forward before stepping. It may find wind-blown branches, cars where they’re not supposed to be, or the edge of a sidewalk. A shuffle step may not be pretty, but it could protect you from conditions that are confusing. If you travel too fast or don’t use cleats on slick ice, you may find yourself in a horizontal position. It’s no fun getting up. Keep a charged cell phone if you’re out alone. Getting lost in winter weather is scary and dangerous.

If you’re traveling with others in a vehicle in areas where businesses and residences are sparse, be sure there are extra blankets; plenty of fuel; water and snacks; and a charged cell phone handy. Breakdowns could require jumper cables and other quick fixes the driver should know about. Keep a signal light if you’re traveling at night, whether by car or walking.

The Hadley School for the Blind offers mobility tips for children, and may have some that would work for adults too. Check with them at 800-323-4238 or

Get away and enjoy some tubing, sledding, and skiing; or snow-angel and snowball fun if you can. Fresh cold air and softness under your feet create that proverbial “Winter Wonderland.” If you’re a dog guide user, please offer some tips in the readers’ forum.

Play it safe, be warm, be tolerant of delays and confusion. Make a checklist if you need it. The one thing you forget is the thing you’re sure to need.

2013-01-09  »  Marilyn Brandt Smith

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  1. Abbie Taylor
    20 January 2013 @ 7:48 pm

    I remember reding this in the Ziegler but forgot about the hot water and dish detergent trick for removing ice. I’ll have to try that the next time my driveway becomes an ice rink. Keep up the good writing.