It's officially fall in the Midwest, so I know that winter and snow are right around the corner. My family and I live in a fairly rural area, so I'm on some pretty quiet country roads for quite a while driving between my house and town or work. This winter will be our second winter in our current home- and last year, I was pretty nervous as the snowy season approached.
As a way to calm some of my anxieties about travelling alone with my two kids, I prepped my van for a few different scenarios that had me worried. My fears were that the snow would cause me to become stranded and that I'd have to either walk to safety or keep us safe in our van until help arrived.
Here's a list of the items that I keep in the van either year-round or specifically during the winter months:
A portable potty chair: This winter, I'll have both a four-year-old and two-year-old who are potty trained. So, the safety net of going to the bathroom in a diaper is gone. We generally have the mini van’s third-row of seats flat to give us plenty of room and storage. We keep a small portable potty chair in the back of the van at all times with a roll of toilet paper. The kids use that potty frequently frankly, and I've never once had urine spill out in the back of the moving van. Our van potty is an older version of this Summer Infant brand potty.
Food that won’t freeze and make a mess: In a sealed Tupperware type container, I stuff food that won't quickly spoil or freeze. My kids love fruit and veggie pouches, but I definitely don't use those in our winter supplies. I believe that those pouches will freeze and then split. Instead, I focus on mini muffins, granola bars, and single-serve cracker packages.
Warm extras for the kids: With the rules regarding kids and car seats, my kids generally wear a fleece jacket in the car seat rather than their thick winter coats. I tried a poncho, but my daughter hated it. Sometimes, I remember to grab their winter coats to have in the van. But other times, when I know we're just running a quick errand, I know I don't always remember to grab them. This winter for my oldest, I bought her a $6 coat at a consignment sale. For my son, I looked through clearance sales this past spring and bought him two brand new winter coats (same size) for $8 each. Each child will also have a spare coat, hat, and gloves packed in the van. These items never leave the van the entire winter. They're my emergency items.
Dry options for adults: In my hypothetical scenarios, I figure that if we're trapped in the van in a winter storm, there's a good chance that I'll walk outside in the snow to survey how badly I'm stuck. I want to make sure we can get dry if we're snow-covered and wet. For my husband, I have a hat, gloves, and dry socks. For myself, I have a hat, gloves, socks, and a pair of old but thick pyjama pants. Again, I'm not packing away our favourite gloves, but I definitely want to make sure we have a spare that's dry in the van.
Stroller: This one may surprise people, but given the fact that I live in the country and because I always jump to the worst-case scenario, I want to make sure that if I'm alone with both kids, I can get them both to safety. I could definitely walk home carrying one child if necessary, but there's no way that I could carry two kids for any sort of distance. Our nice, single stroller is almost always in the van, and I know from experience that I can get both kids to fit if necessary.
A blanket: The blanket in the van is large enough to cover both kids across their car seats. Additionally, I can get the blanket to create some cover atop the stroller if I have to take the kids outside and walk. The blanket also fits in my emergency bag with the coats.
Flashlight: I also keep a small flashlight in the bag with the coats and warm extras.
Cell phone charger: This one may seem obvious, but I didn't always keep one in my car. With my old cell phone, I didn't even own a car charger! But now, there's one in the van at all times.
A snow scraper or two: I keep two different snow scrappers in the van during the winter. Sometimes they can get lost under a seat or they break. Sometimes, I like one for the snow and one for the ice. Hey, a girl likes to have options!
A tool kit: My dad bought a tool kit for me to keep in my car when I was 16 years old. At the time, I remember saying “I don’t know what to do with these things; I can’t fix the car if it breaks down!” He said to me in response, “But someone else might.” His rationale at the time was that either he or a good Samaritan might be able to utilize those tools to help me. My husband has an extensive set of tools in all of our vehicles; and actually, on our most recent road trip, he changed a brake pad and rotor in an auto parts store parking lot. My husband’s tool kit includes wrenches, sockets, alan keys, a series of screwdrivers, a C clamp that was purchased on the road to change the brakes, and a secure and trustworthy jack stand. Check your jack and verify it works. My husband had a jack stand from the car manufacture break with a car on top of it. Luckily, neither my husband or the car was hurt when it came crashing to the ground.
Jump Pack: We keep a small battery-powered jump pack in each of our vehicles year-round. This jump pack has successfully jumped all of our vehicles at some point (vans and large SUVs). It's rechargeable by simply plugging it in inside the house. This is something that my husband is good about keeping up to date, especially with the change of seasons. The benefits of having a jump pack verses jumper cables are that I don't need another vehicle to give me the jump. I don't need to ensure that a second vehicle and my car are able to be nose to nose. A jump pack is a great option for self-reliance.
There are a lot of other items that you could keep in your cars, but I would prioritize based on how much storage space you have, who's riding in your car most frequently, and what kind of roads you drive on. If you're going to be on a long road trip for the holidays, consider bulking up your emergency bag just in case.