If you are anything like me, chances are you're getting in the car to drive somewhere for Christmas. Whether that trip takes thirty minutes or three days, the last thing you need is to be fumbling around the car for a snack for hangry passengers or a toy to placate a whining child (or adult, no judgement!)
Even if you're not travelling this holiday season having an organized car that is prepared for emergencies, like unexpected traffic at dinnertime, can be a lifesaver.
My job takes me on the road quite often to see my clients. I spend a lot of time in my car, so I have learned a thing or two about the benefits of that being an organized space. Much like the Boy Scouts motto (and Scar's song in The Lion King, one of my faves!) the best thing is to "Be Prepared". Really think through what your needs might be in the car and try to take the necessary steps to avoid problems.
First things first, be safe. Especially in the winter. Make sure you have some kind of emergency kit both for your car and for injuries. If you don't have an emergency kit at least have some kind of roadside assistance program. Our old van had some serious issues, and let's just say that we were super happy that we had CAA to tow us. An emergency kit for injuries is also a good idea. You can buy some that are already packaged, but you can also gather supplies from around your home and put them in a baggie in your trunk or glove box. A few bandages, disinfectant, tweezers, scissors and gauze and you're good to go.
While we're talking about safety, please (please, please) don't touch your phone while you are driving! If you are going to talk on the phone, you need to have a Bluetooth system in place. Not only is it the law to be hands-free almost everywhere, it's also just common sense! As I mentioned, I'm on the road a lot to see clients, especially if it's my first time at that client's home I have no idea where I'm going and rely on Google Maps to get me there. Try using a holder for your phone that clips into the vent or rig one up MacGyver style with 2 hair elastics so that you can see where you're going while staying hands-free (click here for the how-to).
Now let's move on to the important stuff. Snacks. My kids are always hungry. ALWAYS. My father thinks that I have conditioned them to be that way, I think it's because they are healthy growing children, either way, they're hungry and need to be fed. Especially if I am solo in the car I need easy to open, accessible food. Granola bars, squeeze applesauce, crackers (messy but effective), trail mix and gummy candy (for bribing the hungry children) are some of my go-to snack items. To keep it all handy I have this great car organizer I bought last year with mesh pouches and pockets, but before that I just used a sturdy plastic bin. Both work great.
Here are some of the things I typically have in the car: bottled water, pens, post-its, lip balm (I'm an addict), sunglasses, Kleenex, wipes, hair elastics, hand sanitizer, gum/mints, garbage can (click here for my dollar store garbage can hack) and snacks.
These are my everyday-in-the-car essentials. If you're planning a longer trip I highly suggest bringing at least one car-friendly meal. While you'll still have to stop to pee and get gas, having a meal handy means you won't be stuck eating crap and that you'll be the hero with delicious food when everyone is starving and you're in the middle of nowhere.
If you want to stray from the typical sandwiches (which we do because my husband has this thing about the bread getting too soggy) some of my favorites are pepperoni bread (basically a sauceless calzone, delicious and travels well), cut up veggies and hummus, cheese sticks, yogurt drinks and fruit (but be careful with certain fruit if you are crossing the border, we learned that blueberries are a huge no-no the hard way).
I bought these great little trays for the kids that have a spot for food, drink and has built-in cutlery. I'm not saying this is a completely mess-free solution, but it helps. The other thing that really helps are towels under their seats, just in case.
Now that you are all well fed, we need to deal with the boredom of being in a car. So after you have gone through a few rounds of "I spy" you may want to pull out the big guns. The iPad. My kids have to agree on what they're watching so the iPad goes in the middle of them (please don't ask what I'm going to do when the 3rd kid comes) and I have rigged some stretchy headbands with the tablet cover so that they can both see it but not touch it. Make sure you have everything loaded on your tablet before you leave, another lesson we have learned the hard way.
For some lower tech choices, I like having some of their favorite books in the car, even if they can't read, they love to look at the pictures. A magnetic drawing board can also help kill the time. As can a brand new activity book with some fun stickers, colour-wonder markers and paper, and magnetic games or puzzles. Try to avoid activities with small pieces, there are a limited number of times you are willing to pick up things that have dropped on the floor in the backseat.
Staying sane and organized for a road trip really boils down to planning and knowing your passengers. While you obviously can't prepare for every situation, try and think through some of the pitfalls you have encountered in the past and think about how to prevent it moving forward.
Wishing you safe and sane travels!