My sister and I are considering a road trip to visit our dad in San Antonio TX in December. I want to be as safe as possible as far as road conditions and staying in motels/ hotels or cabins in parks and figure it will take between 3 and 4 days of driving no more than 8 hours a day. There are several routes suggested by Google. It would be great to stop at any national or state parks along the way. What route would you take to avoid potential dicey winter driving?
I’d check the 15 day weather forecast along all routes you are considering and then decide the safest weather wise. I’ve been in some nasty ice storms in northern Texas.
It has been 25 years since I drove in the US, so my info is old, and I don't know how driving the interstates is now, but if I wanted to avoid mountains and the north and mid central plains, I would probably count on taking the (unfortunately) longest route.
I used to regularly drive between San Francisco and Dallas Ft Worth, and between LA and Dallas Ft Worth.
I'd go north to south on the west coast, and then I-10 to San Antonio.
I agree that north Texas when a Norther blows through makes for tough driving, and I'd want to avoid the mountains so that leaves out I-40 and probably I-20.
But I might be wrong
Since you live in Seattle, I'll ask if you have winter driving skills. This is NOT meant as an insult.
If you take the route across I90 to I82 then down thru the Tri-cities to pick up I84 east you'll have the one big pass on I90 then you'll have another pass on I84 near Baker City. I don't drive that area much but I understand it can get a bit hairy. Once to Boise, from there to SLC you'll mostly be concerned about blowing wind creating ground blizzards across those areas. I drove to AZ for a few weeks in winter several years ago and got into a ground blizzard between Tremonton UT and just east of Burley ID that raised my heart rate a bit and I have good winter driving skills and had left my snow tires on. I was driving and my brother was navigating. It was only about 30 minutes but it was intense. From SLC I'd take the longer route and go south on I15 to I40 in AZ. I'd not cut on the diagonal on the 2-lane roads thru Eastern UT/Western CO.
The shortest route is about 2100 miles. In summer you could do that in 4 days, maybe 3 if you are hardy road trippers and willing to do 700 miles a day. In winter I think you will be lucky to make it in 5 days.
I did drive from Central FL to North Idaho in January many years ago. I had no winter driving skills and regular "Florida" tires. The weather gods smiled on my inexperience and provided me with a clear route that week.
There are apps from all the State Departments of Transportation which I'd download. I'd have paper maps and I'd check the weather every night at www.weather.gov for my route the next day to see if anything has cropped up and be ready to change routes.
TBH, I'd fly.
Be sure to check all the states you will be driving through for quarantine requirements. The one I know of now is New Mexico. You are allowed to travel through but, if you want to stop anywhere, a 14 day quarantine is required. Of course any and all of this can change by December.
For 34 years we drove from Southern California to central Oregon every year at Christmas. In the opposite years my brother did the reverse drive. We would be sweating bullets and checking the DOT websites for our two states at https://tripcheck.com/DynamicReports/Report/RoadConditions and https://roads.dot.ca.gov/. Several years we had issues getting over the Siskiyou Pass—would we or wouldn’t we need chains? Some years we even went the LONG way up highway 101 from San Francisco onward. And that’s just I-5. Like other posters we’ve run into blizzards or ice storms when driving from Southern California to Illinois the few times we drove at Christmas.
Given the uncertainty of driving in the winter for such a long distance, I think I’d do what Pam also said, suite up, sanitize and fly.
We did our Honeymoon in December and we drove from south Seattle I-5 and then 101 down California to visit the Missions. From San Diego, 10 is an easy way to get to Arizona and then to New Mexico and Texas. Some of the National Parks and State Parks close accommodations for the Winter Season in the Mountain States. You have to go a ways off the freeways to get to any of the Parks and even if they are open the Recreational Snow Areas may be booked up. I would be tempted to Fly from Paine Field to Tucson for $236 round trip and drive a rental from there. The Southwest has some nice Christmas Traditions.
Indeed, New Mexico has Washington state as “red/high risk” on its map — meaning that travelers coming from there have to quarantine for 14 days.
They update the map weekly on Wednesdays. Who knows what it will look like, or what their rules will be by then (they established the quarantine requirement September 4).
Here is a link to their information page and map
With Alaska Air having direct Seattle- San Antonio flights for less than $300 r/t, I would definitely be looking at flying at that time of year.
If driving, It would be, as already mentioned, south to LA and then across I-10.
If you want to get there in 3-4 days, you will have no time to detour/stop to visit any Parks along the way, even if open.
Pam, I actually chuckled with your question about whether I was a skilled winter driver. It’s a very common perception that Seattleites have a difficult time driving in the snow and, for the most part, I would agree with you there. Although I grew up in New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, I was not old enough to drive then. Now I am and will admit, not very skilled.
Anyway, I was totally thinking the best and safest route would be I-5 South all the way to LA and then East on I-10. But the comment about ice storms in northern Texas concerns me a bit. As far as New Mexico’s guidelines, the way I read it, you must quarantine for 14 days or for as long as your stay “whichever is shorter.” We would literally be driving for about 2 hours from Arizona, through NM to Texas without any stops. So, I think we would be alright under their parameters.
Covid 19 is a huge concern for me since I am over 65 with some underlying health issues and visiting my dad who is 94. My sister and I would be tested before our trip and probably tested once we arrive in Texas. We take all of the precautions to stay healthy and respect our community by wearing a mask, social distance ourselves and sanitize wherever we go. We are weighing our risks always. I am not yet comfortable with flying.
There is a reason for going to San Antonio other than just to visit Dad. My sister will be staying to live with him for a time and she will need to bring some of her household goods with her. No furniture, just kitchen, bath and bedroom stuff and clothing.
We are still mulling over the idea of the road trip and will be sure to check all Covid 19 restrictions and weather and road conditions before we leave. Thank you all for the tips and advice.
If the two of you drive there and she stays for awhile, are you driving all the way back by yourself in January?
No matter what route you take you will go through at least one mountain pass and this is shaping up to be a La Nina year. So I would make sure I had chains and knew how to use them. If you have an AWD car or one without the requisite clearance for chains get autosocks.
Yes, Mona, that is the plan. I am very used to traveling solo and in fact, have driven by myself on short road trips. HOWEVER, my trips have never been in the Winter.
Starting to think of not doing a road trip and will just have my sister fly to SAT.
I'm assuming you're talking about driving on I-10 through AZ, NM and into TX. That will not put you into northern TX.
Look at the map. I-10 comes into AZ due west of Phoenix, goes slightly southeast from Phoenix to Tucson, then goes due east to El Paso. From El Paso, it heads southeast all the way to San Antonio.
I'm not sure where you're getting the 2 hours from. It's a 4.5+ hour drive just from Tucson to El Paso. From El Paso to San Antonio is an 8 hour drive. I've driven this route many times both directions. These are not New England style distances.
And yes, flying Alaska nonstop round trip, Seattle -- San Antonio is the best choice. Your sister could ship her household goods in advance or get the "main" fare and check a bag with them in it for $30. Note that flying time from Seattle to San Antonio is about the same as driving time from Tucson to El Paso.
I stand corrected about having to deal with driving in Northern Texas. I see that now.
The calculation I looked at for how long we would be in New Mexico was 2 hours because I estimated a bit over 2 hours drive from the border of Arizona to El Paso. I may be off a bit on timing; I wasn’t estimating from Tucson, but from the border.
Still not comfortable with flying. My sister doesn’t mind so much, but I’m anxious about it.
Ice storms can happen in Texas and are sure no fun - and some areas are more likely to have ice than snow. However that being said - in general (who knows from year to year for sure?) December is a little early for that since you wouldn’t be going through the Panhandle.
I have also read the current New Mexico regulations pretty carefully and you will be legal to transit, even with an overnight stay. Just no tourist stops, no restaurant except take out, and stay in your room if overnighting. I just returned from a trip passing through NM and most places are strict about masks and hand sanitizer.
I can’t give you any advice on the other roads you would be taking, though.
Edit to add: I40 around Albuquerque had accidents that stopped traffic completely both directions completely for an hour to an hour and a half on both Friday and today - all with no bad weather of any kind!
San Simon AZ to El Paso 195 miles. ( closest AZ point I could find near the NM border)
google shows the 2500 miles from Seattle to SA as 36 driving hours, I think averaging 70 mph is a bit optimistic.
Depending on how much stuff needs to go to Texas, you may want to look at shipping via Amtrak. Its been a while since I have done it, but it was very cost effective at the time
I may be reading you wrong, but it sounds like your concern about flying is Covid related.
Here is a link to info on what Alaska Airlines is doing to keep its passengers safe: https://newsroom.alaskaair.com/2020-08-05-Alaska-Airlines-strengthens-face-covering-policy-No-mask-no-travel-no-exceptions
Personally, I'd be less concerned about flying than about all the potential contacts you'd have if you drive. At least you know people will be wearing masks in the airport and on the plane.
I think it's highly unlikely that the many people, customers and staff, you'd encounter at gas stations, restaurants and motels on a road trip will be as concerned about your safety as the airline industry is.
Your sister should fly and can ship her belongings, kitchen etc., via FedExGround. I use them every year when I travel across country.
We have driven from Seattle to FL and took I-5 south and then took 10 across. This was in the late fall, so we wanted to be careful. We do have a lot of winter driving experience though.
I totally get that you are uncomfortable flying. But one thing to consider is that flying means getting there much faster and not staying in multiple hotels, eating out at multiple places even if it is take out. I have not been on a plane since early February, and would not do it for leisure travel, but for your circumstances I would do it. For instance, a friend of ours was in Germany with us in Jan/Feb and when he got back to the US, he stopped back east to see family before coming home. Problem was, he caught Covid before he left Seattle here, and thought it was a cold when symptoms first started, but as soon as he got back east he ended up in ICU. He was in the hospital for 8 months. He was just released the other week and they debated about how to get home here. Drive and stay in hotels, or suck it up and fly. He flew.
I wish there was a sure fire answer for you. If this were me, and I know it isn't, I would opt to fly and just get it over with and take every precaution I could.
Despite Covid, flying is probably also safer statistically because of the risk of car accidents on a drive that long.
Linda...so glad you were not insulted by the question, lol!! Living in N. Idaho we get the Spokane TV stations and yes, there is a bias that those of us on the East side know how to handle winter and West-siders often don't.
Having said that, I'll also tell you my SIL's sis and husb drive to AZ in January from Edmonds in an RV and they take the route you are considering. They will flex by a day or two if needed to avoid traveling in a storm. They can generally take enough time to dodge storms if needed.
I understand your need to travel to San Antonio and wish you and Sis best of luck. In your situation, I'd probably risk it and just try to leave between storms. Are you AAA members? If yes, I'd get maps and the state guide books they offer so you can have an easy paper reference if you need to hold up a day or so on the way.
There are so many in the Inland and Pacific NW who winter over in AZ in non-covid (and covid) years. We were forecast to have a big snowstorm starting Friday afternoon and our across-the-street neighbors pulled out of their drive at about 10A saying see you in April.... And yes, 7 inches of snow later that day and the next.
Yep, my hesitation about flying is all about the Covid virus. But, I do get the arguments for flying as opposed to driving. It is quite a long drive so I will talk this over with my sis and come to a resolution. I am a AAA member and have used them when I locked my keys in the trunk and when I needed a new battery. Both situations I was either in my driveway at home or the local grocery store so, it wasn’t much of an emergency situation. I fly Alaska Airlines almost exclusively for domestic travel and have found the airline personnel very professional.
We will see. Have to talk with sis. Thanks everyone for your input.
P.S. - there are a LOT of hills in Seattle and we don’t have as many plows as communities East of the mountains do. I’m a whimp driving in the snow.
And, if things remain as they are, you will discover a different world in San Antonio. I'd drive, just cause its an interesting and some times pretty drive.
"I’m a whimp driving in the snow."
Hahaha....well, if it weren't Covid-time I'd volunteer to drive you and Sis to Texas. I'll need sunshine by December...
Linda—your comment about the plows made me giggle, in a good way. During the big snow storms of February 2018, our neighborhood was totally stuck. Someone on our neighborhood Facebook page asked if anyone had seen “ the plow”. It was not meant as a joke, but I’m sure you can imagine all the funny comments from that! Whatever you decide, I wish you a safe trip😊
Hey travel forum buddies, just to let you know, my sister and I decided a road trip To San Antonio was not going to happen. She is flying on Alaska Airlines instead and will hold up in a hotel in San Antonio upon arrival for a period of time and get a test before spending any time with Dad. Thanks for all of your sage advice.
Thanks for the update, Linda.
Best wishes for a smooth trip and lovely visit.
Unless someone is very old or ill, to be as safe as possible. I would implore people will not travel and visit relatives during the holidays. Cases are spiking up again across the nation after Thanksgiving. Zoom chats are just as nice and you can leave when you want.
Please tell your sister to quarantine after she arrives back home as well.
Thanks from a family of health care workers.
Linda, good for her, not so happy for you :(
I'm sitting in the San Antonio Airport right now. My daughter need a break from work so we are off to FL for some beach time.
If your sister needs directions to a good fast test lab, let me know. We have some drive throughs, while a tad pricy, have no wait times and return results the same day.
Luck to both of you.
Thanks everyone for the good wishes.
Heather: my sister won’t be going anywhere after she arrives in San Antonio as she will be living with our Dad. We are also a family of health care workers AND restaurant/grocery store workers who have had a tough time coping. Well aware of the risks.
James E. - in my Google search, I found listings for free drive up Covid tests sponsored by the State of Texas but will PM you with a question. Sis doesn’t necessarily need to get instant test results
because she will be quarantined in a hotel room for some time anyway. Certainly she will want to receive her results within 2-3 days Though.