The size of my purse, the depth of my crock pot, the number of seatbelts in my car. Those are just a few of the things I never really thought about … until I was a mom. Now I get it. The success of any family gathering or outing very often depends on how prepared my husband and I are.
Since half of my family’s waking hours seem to be on the road, it’s extra important (mandatory, really) that we’re prepared. At any given moment, I need some random combination of things – an adhesive bandage, bottled water and earbuds, for example. And I need it NOW, so accessibility is key.
With all this in mind, here are the 10 things I think every busy family should keep in their car:
1. Snacks: First and foremost, I always have a solid supply of nonperishable snacks in the car. There is nothing worse than a carful of hangry little people. Pretzels, raisins, banana chips, crackers, dry cereal, and fruit snacks make allllll the difference.
2. Deck of Cards: For instant entertainment and impromptu competitions, we always keep a deck of cards on hand. “Go Fish!” is our go-to matchup, but we also use cards to decide where we’ll stop for lunches and dinners on long trips; the kid with the highest card gets to choose where we eat.
Bonus: Playing cards are also a wonderful way to practice math equations (so fun they don’t even realize they’re learning!).
3. Wet Wipes: There is no man, woman or child on the planet who doesn’t benefit from a stash of wet wipes. Keep them at the top of your grocery list, and always have some in the car. For everything from sticky hands to muddy feet, they’re a lifesaver.
4. Garbage Bags: My Dad always kept a box of extra-large garbage bags in the trunk of his car. After a rainy soccer game, he’d cut them in half and use them to line the seats and protect the interior from all the mud. I use them the same way today. I also use trash bags to transport wet and dirty clothes and shoes, and tear them into ponchos in surprise showers.
5. Gum: That’s right, gum. A whole assortment of it, in fact. It’s the ultimate cure for the popped ears that come with the peaks and valleys of road trips over the rivers and through the woods. And gum is just what you need when your kids are hungry for supper, but a full-fledged snack will ruin their appetites.
Bonus: There’s a whole lotta fun to be had with a good old bubble blowing contest.
6. Universal Chargers:It’s sad but true. Technology has become a lifeline for our family. (And I suspect we’re not alone in that truth.) For safety, navigation, and music, I always keep working phone- and tablet-chargers in the car to avoid running out of juice.
7. Notebooks and Pens:In an attempt to keep track of important dates and notes, I store three notebooks in my console. One for grocery lists, one for the collective family schedule including homework assignments, and one for bucket-listing the restaurants we must try, parks we must visit, museums we must see. I also have at least a dozen pens in different colors so the kids can scribble or play a quick game of “Hangman.”
8. Extra Pair of Shoes: For us, it’s sandals – slides and flip-flops. They come in awful handy when we take a post-practice detour to a restaurant or store where cleats aren’t exactly appropriate.
9. Blanket: My kids pass out in the backseat of the car on the regular. We always have a blanket or two for naps after a day long day of sunshine or shopping or travel. Don’t you just love looking at them in the rearview mirror, soundly asleep? And quiet, so perfectly quiet.
Bonus: A blanket goes a long way on a spur-of-the-moment picnic.
10. Good Music: Music is what makes driving way more fun than it actually is. Have a collection of tracks that inspires everyone to sing along, or get fired up for the big game, or calm down for bedtime.
That fine line between the Great American Road Trip and a Royal Meltdown? Being prepared. For a busy family that’s always on the go, simple distractions and solutions are essential. Actually, they’re THE reason all of us who love each other still like each other by the time we get where we’re going.