So you want to visit family for the holidays, but you have a bunch of kids, air fare is expensive, and you have way too much stuff to haul across an airport terminal? Take a winter road trip! Weather be damned. You can do it! I am fresh off of a 16-hour road trip to Pennsylvania with three young kids, and yet I am still convinced that it’s the way to go. Allow me to share my expertise with you in this winter road trip essentials list:
#1 – Minivan
The necessity of a minivan extends way beyond road trips, of course. I shouldn’t even have to mention it on this list, but there are still some poor souls out there who dislike space and comfort and wish to deny their family the luxury of a minivan. Unfortunately, those people will have to rent a minivan and give their family a brief glimpse of the high life – a respite from the agonizing confines of a common car – before ripping it away and returning it to the rental agency. You can’t fit several suitcases, five winter coats, two pack-n-plays and a toddler cot into a car trunk, after all.
#2 – Flexibility
The thing that makes winter road trips trickier than your standard summer trips is the threat of winter weather. You’ll need extra time to account for unexpected weather stops. Otherwise, you might find yourself calling in sick to work from Dayton, Ohio, (didn’t quite happen) or arriving in Pittsburgh hours past bedtime because you were stranded at a McDonald’s in Indiana, waiting out a snow storm. I don’t even book my hotels until I’m on the road, which has been the right move every time. Thanks, Priceline and Hotel Tonight!
#3 – The Patient Parent Riding Shotgun
Oh poor Husband for having to do all this driving, everyone laments. No, no. Driving is the easy job. Answering to the demands of several cranky, stir-crazy tiny dictators is the hard job. It requires an impossible amount of composure, creativity, and limberness (seriously, I have to stretch to inhuman positions to hand things to the back seat every five minutes). Poor Husband has to do all that driving because he can’t handle the passenger seat!
#4 – Your Two Worst Kid Movies
Do you own a lot of really great Disney movies that both you and your children love? Well, don’t even bother. Just grab Caillou’s Christmas and Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 and save yourself the trouble.
#5 – Headphones
You know who’s not in Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2? Oddly, Barbie. But who IS in Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 is Zuma, the talking dolphin sidekick, and you DO NOT want to hear its voice for 73 long minutes, three times a day! I even keep a small bin up front with backup batteries and tape just to ensure that no dead batteries or broken headphones will force me to hear that cursed creature’s voice.
#6 – Books
For when even your toddler can no longer stand to listen to Zuma, the talking dolphin, any longer.
#7 – Snacks Encased in Plastic
It shouldn’t take much effort or movement on your kids’ part to get into a coat before stepping out into the cold, right? Wrong. Your kids will stomp and fall onto every last unprotected Goldfish you bring. Keep everything in a big plastic bin, preferably one that’s difficult to open, and bring binder clips to keep the bags closed tightly. Your floors won’t be a Goldfish graveyard, and you’ll contain your mixed snack explosion mess to the car seats.
#8 – Travel Trays
I just discovered these and now I’m mad at everyone who has ever known about them and not told me. My kids use these for coloring, reading, and best of all, for cleaner in-car meals than I ever thought possible. Chicken nuggets are still thrown, but chicken nuggets will always be thrown. What’s a minivan without a surprise year-old chicken nugget hidden under a seat?
#9 – A Pointless Trash Bag
All of the trash will end up on the floor or in a car seat, and your kids will probably just slip on it while trying to put on their coats (see #7), but you can at least appear to be trying!
#10 – Emergency Blankets
Bringing coats is a given, but it’s also a good idea to keep some blankets in the car just in case… say, hypothetically, your car battery dies on a 30° day when you stop to get beer at precisely that magic “oh, it’s nap time” moment. The chorus of whines is only made more painful by the cold. I imagine.
#11 – Museum Membership Cards
Our Science City membership gets us into children’s museums across the country for free. When outdoor play isn’t an option, this is a life-saver. There’s only so much jumping on a hotel bed that your kids can do before someone is in tears or a neighboring guest complains. For short stops, we go to mall play areas, but it doesn’t compare. Plus, everyone inevitably leaves smelling of nacho cheese (a universal mall playground problem), which doesn’t make for a pleasant car ride.
#12 – Hamilton Soundtrack
Sitting in the car with your kids for a prolonged period of time, you KNOW you’ll need the one thing that bridges the generational divide. The only thing that is guaranteed to calm my kids. The tantrum stopper… founding father without a father. I suggested Christmas music once, and they went berserk.
#13 – Family and Friends
Most importantly, you’ll need family and friends to be visiting in the first place. The kind of people who will pick your family up when your car battery dies (hypothetically!), meet you at semi-awful tourist spots, play with your kids while you sleep in and allow you to take over their bedrooms. Why would you do this to yourselves otherwise!?