A mom’s guide to getting ready for winter travel

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Guest post by Kris.

Flashback to 2001, when my husband and I were traveling 4 hours to visit family for Christmas.  Out of nowhere, mild snow flurries became a full-on snowstorm so fast that the road crews couldn’t keep up.  We were stranded on the interstate at night—along with hundreds of other travelers—with no forward movement for over two hours.  As newlyweds it was a small inconvenience and an excuse to kiss between Christmas carols on the radio.

Flash forward to 2012.  Two children and a (prepper) lifetime later, I realize that minor inconvenience today could result in a major meltdown—or worse.  As a relatively new survival mom, I now carry items to ensure the comfort and safety of my family should my car (same one from 2001, plus about 195,000 miles) leave us stranded.  Please note:  NONE of this was on my radar at the time.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about that snowstorm the first morning I had to scrape ice this fall.  I’m now carrying:

Car kit Fix-a-Flat, jumper cables, spare tire, extra keys, tow rope, and basic tools

72-hour kit — Food and water enough for the whole family, plus the basic fire-starting and survival tools you’d keep in a bug-out bag.  Even if we don’t need to survive for days, a kid-friendly snack can be a big morale booster.  Boredom plus low blood sugar equals meltdowns and multiplied stress.  That’s math I’d rather not attempt. (P.S. My husband says carrying water is important, anyway, in case of an overheated radiator.  Who knew?)

Complete first aid kit — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve doctored up other people’s kids at t-ball or soccer games from this trunk kit.  I added some Celox just in case.  And for my little guys, I got a version with tooth preservation gel.  They only have two permanent teeth between them, but I’d really like to keep them.  And if that snow storm causes a pile-up or ditch slide, we’ll have a few resources in case ambulances can’t get through.

Coveralls and blankets — I found these on clearance last summer and bought them a size up for the kids.  In space bags, they nestle at the bottom of a clear bin in my trunk.  I have also included a small case of “Hot Hands” instant warmers (like my husband takes hunting) just in case the battery dies or I run out of gas.  Speaking of which…

At least a half tank of gas at all times

Waterproof hiking boots — I also have wool socks and snow shoes for the kids, in case we end up walking.  Snow is sporadic in our area, so we don’t need these on a daily basis throughout the winter. Spare gloves and hats were $1 each at the dollar store.  I got several identical sets so when we lose gloves one a time we don’t have to toss the remaining one; there’s always a matched pair.  My five-year-old thinks I’m magical.

Lock de-icer and spray de-icer for the windshield — The slushy stuff can freeze fast when you’re immobile.

Power inverter and charger for the cell phone —  I carry my laptop back and forth to work, so charging it could be a useful source of information in a prolonged stand-still. Plus, I can always pop in a DVD (stashed in the glove box) to minimize fighting in the back seat.

Yet another flashlight — They double as entertainment for restless kids.  With one in my purse, one in the BOB (Bug Out Bag), and one in the glove compartment, we can make our own shadow puppets without cramping each other’s style.

Cash in small bills — This makes sense for any scenario.   It might useful to buy gas from someone who would be willing to part with their spare can.  (Hubby won’t let me drive with a full gas can in the trunk.  Something about my lack of braking when I turn.)

Loaded pistol — “Helpless” mom with car trouble on the interstate?  I refuse to be a victim.

Baby wipes and Kleenex —For runny noses, tears,  and emergency bathrooming.  An empty mason jar means Little Man and Ladybug will have a “Plan B” should we be stranded.  I hate to think about anything more serious than a tinkle urge…maybe sacrifice the space bag?

I know I’m missing a back-up communication plan if the situation is more serious than a snowstorm.  What other ideas should I incorporate?  Any ideas for upgrades as my kids get older?

41 thoughts on “A mom’s guide to getting ready for winter travel”

  1. For me, standard equipment should always include toilet paper, a few diapers ( they can be used for other things besides babies), femine products (pads are best-they double as medical sponges), and a good old fashioned pad of paper and pencils. And don’t forget a small bag of kitty litter in case you get a little stuck.

      1. Make sure the kitty litter is the old fashioned kind…not the clumping flushable kind! The flushable kind will just turn to slick clay when it is wet…this won’t help at all…even better add a little salt or oyster shell (chicken grit).

      2. I’ve used kitty litter for years. It provides weight in the back end of my all-wheel-drive car, and I’ve used it multiple times to get out of both ice and several inches of snow. Make sure you also have a knife to open the bag and a scoop (which I like better than a shovel for this). Sprinkle it liberally around the front of each tire (assume that the car isn’t going to pull straight) and then pull out steadily and keep going.

      3. Original clay kitty litter does help give you traction! It’s also useful if you drive a car that is rear wheel drive (hey my first car was a 72 4 door skylark) to weight the trunk.
        I would add a smaller sized snow shovel they make ones that have extendable handles. A few stereo cans and a terra cotta pot they’d fit down into, or any alcohol heater which you can make yourself. Something white to hang off your car in case you have to abandon it. Around here if you have that police will not tow you for at least 24 hours provided you are off the road otherwise they may ticket you and tow you. A small empty gas can. A coffee can with toilet paper & baby wipes in it and several small waste bags (if you use shopping bags make sure there are no holes!) then at least if #2 comes up you have something better than a mason jar or space bag, I’d go for a plastic one with a good lid.
        A blanket for each person even if its just a cheap fleece throw. Large tarp, if you are stranded for a long period of time you can use it to put over your car and then when the snow stops you can pull it off and the snow or ice will not be encasing your car, just stuck to the tarp. Vinegar, I use it to help deice my windshield when hubs takes my scraper (more often than you’d think!). Long range walkie talkies so if someone has to hoof it to find gas or anything else and your cell doesn’t work you can still communicate. EXTRA batteries for everything! Glow sticks and lots of em.
        My kids ages range 11 to 2 boys and girls, I have cards, rubix cubes, mind teaser puzzle stuff, word search books, plain paper and colored pencils (ours are in a round canister with a sharpener in the lid) glow sticks, a bag of small toys, blocks and Polly pockets, I have a coffee cup I can plug into the outlet in my can to keep coffee a certain temp, it was fantastic for warming water for bottles when my youngest was a baby (never used it for coffee though)
        If add antifreeze and break fluid and fuses to your car kit along with a couple sham wow type towels. An old cell phone that still works but is no longer on a plan can still be used to call 911 as long as you can power it on. A comforting book could help too, I keep a second copy of my kids favorite bedtime story in my car so when they need settled or comforted I can read it to them.
        Since my youngest is not quite 2 I keep an umbrella stroller, a sling carrier and a child harness always in my car. I hate the harness but if I need it and can’t carry her or push her I want to make sure I can keep track of my crafty lil ninja girl who at this age is exceptionally good at Hide n seek.
        I know its not always the best idea but a spare set of car keys hidden under your car may be a life saver, not everyone has on-star. I’ve broken my key in a door lock that happened to be my ignition key and also dropped my keys in a large drainage grate in a parking lot.

    1. Yup, I was going to suggest all of those toiletries until you beat me to it. Good list! The only other thing I would add is a travel john. They are inexpensive and they have the gel in them like diapers so they won’t leak. They have saved me many many times, because there are some places in the country that you can drive for miles without a place to stop. Even though you can just make a spot in the dirt it might be a bit cold for a child or just too dangerous to stop on the side of the highway with cars flying by.They can be found on amazon, just do a search on TravelJohn-Disposable Urinal.

      1. Great suggestions! We keep those toiletry items and a folding shovel as part of our 72-hour kit. I hadn’t thought about diapers, but a box of adult diapers could be useful (and less cumbersome) than a mason jar, huh? I’m definitely going to try the kitty litter this winter. I’m praying we forego the ice storms this year because we can’t dig our way out of those! Thanks for the tips!

    1. There are insulated containers you can buy at retailers like Cabela’s and REI. You might also consider buying a shoulder strap water carrier and storing it by your purse so you get in the habit of carrying it to the car and back into the house. Another option is to store water in an insulated ice chest or something similar.

    2. I’ve had good luck with heavy-duty plastic apple juice bottles when both pop and water bottles crack. Just leave a little room for expansion. I’ve kept them in both the trunk and the backseat and never had a problem. We’re Zone 5, so this might not work for the midwest or really mountainous regions.

  2. How about a pre-paid cell phone in the glove box? Gives another comms options besides your cell phone that you might have left at home, for example. And try to get a pre-paid phone on a completely different network than the phone you currently use.

  3. Susanne@babyhuddle

    Wow what an incredibly useful post this is! I think I may become addicted to your blog! Awesome advice 🙂

  4. Yes kitty liter is a life saver when you are stuck. Just put it in the front of the tires, and hopefully, drive off. Has worked for me many times. Also add a tow strap, so a good person can help you get out of the ditch with their car or truck.

  5. Excellent article and list!
    It’s amazing to look back, before we were Survival Moms, and see how far we’ve come.

    I can’t imagine leaving home without all of the items you listed; even if it’s just to church or the grocery store!

    Prepared NOT Scared! 😉

  6. OK maybe I’m stating the obvious, but you forgot to mention chains. (The spikey things for the bottom of your boots are a nice to have too.) And if you’re not sure you’ll make it back up the driveway after going to the grocery store a plastic sled is very helpful!

    1. AB,
      I live in the deep south. Snow storms and icing conditions are rare…to say the least.

      One item I keep in the back of my vehicle is a collapsible wagon. It can carry up to 150 lbs. and is surprisingly compact.

        1. You’re lucky. They banned chains in our state before I started driving 30 years ago. We’d have a lot fewer accidents and towing incidents if they’d bring them back.

    2. We’re in the midwest where the old saying holds true–“If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few hours; it’ll change.” We often have a few inches of snow one evening that melts by the next afternoon, so chains aren’t the norm here. But I bet lots of people should keep them!

  7. Living where you can easily end up in a blizzard and trapped in a car overnight, we’ve always kept a large can filled with with supplies including a candle, matches, string, and chocolate. You pre-punch holes at the top of the can, attach the string and you can hang the can from the hanger hook in your car. If you pour water into the can you will then be able to heat the water with the candle so you aren’t drinking something cold which will lower your body temperature. Pack tea or hot chocolate in your can as well as cups to use.

    Because we have to drive 20 miles into the closest town through a wooded area with no homes, we have always made sure our kids and we are always prepared to walk if stranded – warm clothes, boots, hats and mittens. Also if you can, keep a blanket or the warm clothes in the heated car so they are already warm if needed.

  8. Half Acre Heaven

    Yes, kitty litter does work, plain old cheap stuff in the bag. Another thing I’ve done when I’ve been stuck in snow was use my floor mats for extra traction. As long as you haven’t dug trenches spinning your tires for too long you can just tuck the mats under your tires in the direction you want to go and ease out of the slick or soft spot. In my experience, the carpet ones work best, carpet side down.

  9. This may be a bit extreme for the average person, but if all cell phone services are down, or you are in a place with no reception, a VHF/UHF 2 way radio. Yes, you are supposed to have the FCC Ham radio license for it, as I do. But either way, in an emergency, they can go a much further distance than a CB radio. I have a Yaesu car/mobile one, that I use as a base radio, in my home. It is the same size (or smaller) than your average CB radio. I can get 2 way communication at least 50-60 miles out. Just a thought.

    1. Survival Grandmom

      Spoken like a true Ham! I suggest a simple CB radio that plugs into the energy socket and the antenna sits on the roof with a magnetic clamp. I used to be a bucket mouth in the heyday of CB but don’t use it much anymore since coming to the city. I still see double truckers on the big rigs so you could get someone.

      I have been caught in more snowstorms than I care to remember, but my “magic carpet bag” as the kids referred to it (reference Mary Poppins) was always up to the occasion. In addition to all the things you people mentioned, I carried camping toilet paper and an empty paint bucket with good lid for those times it is more than a tinkle. In addition, I had an ax for those freezing ice storms, and a small Colman with packets of hot chocolate, tea and soups. I would have killed to have a Solo stove (which I have now and a bag of dry twigs).

      It is understood one watched ventilation with fire. and it is amazing how much heat you can generate with a candle. Of course we all had extreme cold overalls and down filled full length coats but when I tell you we were living 2 degrees sound of the Arctic Circle, you will understand the extreme.

      It was a shock to move to the city and find out how many people didn’t have a clue about survival except how to get to the deli. I am still shocked when I read prepper blogs and find what I simply consider common sense to be considered a revelation. Oh well, happy surviving, and God bless us, everyone.

  10. EPIRB and SPOT DISTRESS SIGNALS: As one gets older or for ones eldery parents or grandparents a good thought is an EPIRB (near the coasts and, I believe, inland navigable waterways) or SPOT (inland). EPIRBs are available from Marine Supply stores like West Marine. There are a variety available staring at about 300 dollars. When activated they fix your position by GPS and alert the Coast Guard and, possibly, the S&R teams in your area. YOU MUST RESEARCH THE AREAS WHERE EFFECTIVE AND CAUTIONS BEFORE BUYING AND USING: SEE CAUTION BELOW. As the stories below show it is possible these older couples would not have died if they had an EPIRB or SPOT on their person and high-powered flashlights and Marine strobes to signal their location, even thought they couldn’t move from their cars (due to car damage, physical limitations).

    WARNING: for the EPIRB and probably the SPOT as well if they are activated when there is no immenent danger to health or life you may be cited or fined. This is because they are treated as ‘life or death’ emergencies and personnel, vehicles and aircraft are mobilized until the source of the distress call is found. These are not to be left where children below the age of reason might activate them.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/12/AR2011011206138.html Elderly couple found frozen to death after getting lost during drive

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/catskills-car-crash-kills-elderly-couple-cell-service-madeleine-morris_n_1509354.html Arthur And Madeleine Morris, Elderly NYC Couple, Killed In Catskills Accident After Failed Cellphone Calls For Help

  11. I would include a couple each of clean unused ziplock bags, kitchen trash bags and the larger yard trash bags. They take up almost no space and have multiple uses, ie, rain/wind ponchos, contain/controll vomit, diapers, direct use as a toilet, cut open and use as a light tarp, or clean space for sitting or medical attention. It’s hard to clean a wound when everything else is wet and or dirty. Also include an extra, sharp folding knife, a bit of paracord, a firestarter and duct tape.

  12. Andrew J. Jackson

    I’m toying with the idea of a ‘hotbox’ made from a .30 caliber ammo can filled with candles, fire starting tools (matches, lighter, etc) and a metal cup to melt snow. A variation on the candle in a coffee can (because coffee can’s aren’t cans anymore and because they always end up getting smashed in my car and spilling the contents…what do you think?

    1. Survival Grandmom

      Look up Solo stove on the net. much more compact than an ammo can, and it is double baffled so much more efficient. Keep a small bag of twigs and a small bag of charcoal (for longer cooking). I don’t sell this product, but have tried everything and this is my recommendation.

  13. Never throw out those old fabric baths mats. They work great for tire traction in snow. When you free yourself, pick up the mats, wash and use for another snow day. Four take up no room in the car and weigh next to nothing.

  14. Stealth Spaniel

    When I lived in the Sierras, winter was a survivalist mindset. The city of Placerville did not plow our area, and most cell service did not work. I never went anywhere without chains, kitty litter (for weight & traction), an ice scraper, spare tire, tools to change a tire, flares, 3 sets of gloves (1 invariably got wet, 1 got filthy doing something, so I needed the 3rd pair for warmth!), a warm hat or ear muffs, a polar fleece blanket in case I got stranded, boots that could handle the snow & some fur lined boots that never left the interior of the car, several pairs of ski socks and wool socks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a thermos of hot water for tea or chocolate in instant packets, and a baseball bat. Our little “burg” had all the modern amenities, but getting there took you through paved over mule trails that were isolated, twisting, mountain roads with no side rails. The first year, a newbie always wiped out their car-me included. You were a much wiser driver next snow season! 😀

  15. One thing I never see mentioned in these lists is dishwashing gloves – even heavier sanitary gloves like nitrile would work as an extra barrier against wetness. We’ve always lived in places where severe wintry weather was an “event” and keeping up with gloves and the like was a little hard. When the kids were little and we did get enough snow to play in, it seemed that the good snow gloves were always missing pieces. I finally got smart and started keeping a bag of dishwashing gloves around and, as mentioned, several sets of $1 gloves, so that the kids could always go out and play in the snow. I”d also put their sock feet in bread or grocery bags before putting on their shoes to keep their socks dry. Redneck, yeah. But I bet a lot of redneck engineering is going to keep people alive one day. I really like the idea of keeping a box of trash bags in the car as well, and all for the same reasons.

  16. Back when I was a service technician I traveled all over the state of Colorado in all kinds of weather. Even today there are many areas in Colorado where there is no cell phone coverage, so if something happens you maybe on your own.

    Years ago I started carrying a coffee can heater. You can make one with a coffee can, toilet paper and isopropyl alcohol. Fortunately I never have had to use it, but according to the the folks at Montana State University it is safe to use in your car.

    Here is the link.

  17. This post was interesting. I’d add an addendum myself though: The first thing on the list is a car-kit, and in that kit there are a few things that don’t seem to make as much sense as it seems at first. 2 come to mind.

    1) The fix-a-flat is bad news. You’re better off with a little portable air compressor. fix-a-flat can cause problems with your tires down the line and some mechanics refuse to work on tires that have had fix-a-flat used on them. They insist on replacing the tire rather than repairing it, and it even has a warning on the can that says to make sure and tell your mechanic the stuff has been used. In any case you’ll get more diverse use from a compressor or pressure tank filled with air anyway. You can get them relatively small, so it doesn’t take up as much space as you might think.

    2) Extra keys – This one confuses me for the simple reason that I can’t think of any situation in which you’d need an extra set of keys INSIDE the car. I suppose if it’s just a house key this makes sense, but if it’s an extra car key, i agree that you should have one, I keep my extra car key in my wallet so I always have it with me no matter where I go. Cuts down on the possibility of forgetting it or accidentally leaving it at home or in the car making the chance of being locked out virtually zero. Now, I could loose my wallet of course, and I considered that. So I started thinking on this and remembered something my Dad used to use. It was a magnet he stuck up underneath the car with the extra keys in it (actually sometimes that’s where he’d just leave his keys when we went hunting or fishing). That way the car can be locked and safe, and if he ever forgot about it the magnet was stuck in a secure place and was strong enough it wouldn’t come loose.

    Anyway, these are just suggestions. I’m no expert, just a dude who thinks ahead (sometimes).

    another note: it also might be important to point out that the “lock de-icer” should be carried with you, since…as with the keys…it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if you leave it INSIDE the car.

    And my last note: As far as secondary communication goes, you already have two forms of communication in the car that I can see. A cell phone for phone calls, and if the signal for phone calls is bad then you can use the cell phone to text, and your laptop. You can get a mobile card for your laptop that operates off a cell signal and uses the 3 or 4g from a cell tower. You might be thinking that if you don’t have cell signal there’s no sense in this, but the truth is that voice and internet operate independently on a cell phone. I characteristically still have 3g even when I have no bars of voice service. Alternatively, you

    If you’re regularly in the middle of nowhere and cellphone service is unavailable, you could try a satphone. They charge per minute, but you can just get the phone for emergencies and keep it in the car. I think the phone itself is about the same price as the new iphone, except it uses a satellite signal. I’m not sure about the reliability but my uncle has one and swears by it. He takes it when he goes on week long hunts in the Rockies and says he’s never had an issue with it.

  18. Diapers for those gotta go I had to drive long distances across town when mine where little and unwilling to stop in questionable gas stations I pulled Ives applied diaper and did my business gross I know only had to do this 2 times but very glad I had them

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