| Parenting Tools | Family Management

Creating a car 'go kit'

Last year, with my youngest son heading off to kindergarten, I traded in my minivan for a Toyota Camry. I figured that my days of hauling strollers and extra diapers were over, so I wouldn’t need all that space.

And I was right — sort of. It’s true that I’m no longer hauling huge pieces of baby gear around, but one peek in my trunk and it’s clear that I’m still prepared to feed and clothe an army at a moment’s notice.

That’s a good thing. With families on the go, every parent needs to be prepared. For me, that means two kinds of kits in my car at all times: one for safety, the other for sanity.

Safety first

Carol Dunn, community disaster education program manager for the American Red Cross, says, “When I do safety kits, I always think in terms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

For life, Dunn says, be sure to pack bottled water (a big bottle for each person in the family), nonperishable food that is high in protein and low in sodium, emergency blankets and extras of any essential medications.

To preserve liberty, Dunn recommends a change of shoes and extra warm clothing, gloves, hats, and a first aid kit. Make sure you pack enough of each item for everyone in the family. As for the pursuit of happiness — see the “Sanity” section below.

What does Dunn (a mom) keep in her trunk? “I have a case full of Ensure and a case of those hand warmers they use for skiing.” Dunn figures she has enough for her family to last several days, or enough to share with anyone else who might be stranded.

Sgt. Kristene O’Shannon of the Washington State Patrol recommends keeping flashlights and spare batteries, water and food for at least two or three days, roadside flares or reflective triangles, extra oil, a can of air to inflate flat tires and a good tool kit.

O’Shannon also suggests investing in a jump pack rather than relying on jumper cables. This will allow you to restart your car even when there’s no one else around. Other important items: writing material so that if you need to leave your car you can leave a note, and up-to-date maps of any area you’ll be traveling in. “I bought a separate cell phone battery and keep it charged and in the car,” says Sgt. O’Shannon.


Now that safety has been addressed, we can tackle the pursuit of happiness, or “How to keep your 6-year-old from driving you crazy while waiting for his brother to finish his piano lesson.” Every parent who has rushed from a dentist appointment to soccer practice only to get stuck in traffic knows that having a well-stocked car is sometimes as essential as safety equipment.

Some items you might want to stash in a sanity kit include puzzle books, Mad Libs, a joke book, and electronic games. Don’t forget easily accessible snacks and drinks, because a hungry kid is a cranky kid.

Plastic bags, such as trash bags or large zip-top bags, always come in handy, whether for storing souvenirs picked up at the beach or for stashing wet clothes. A soccer ball or Frisbee is a good idea for those times when you and your little ones need to burn off some energy.

Kelli DeKay, mother of two and a seasoned carpooler from Kenmore, keeps a full ream of paper and plenty of pens and markers on hand — not pencils (leads break) or crayons (they melt on hot days). She also keeps blankets, a container of baby wipes, sunscreen and antibacterial lotion on hand. DeKay stores extra clothes and pajamas for her children in nylon drawstring bags, which she hangs over the back of each child’s seat. She changes the clothing in the bags by season, so they’re always weather-appropriate and the right size.


To make a car “go kit,” you can use something as simple as a box with a tight-fitting lid, or you can check online for a product designed just for this purpose. There are several cool ones available that fit on the seat right next to your child. I keep safety gear in the trunk of each car, and put sanity savers in a backpack that can be moved from car to car or even brought along on airplane flights.

You’d think with all this gear I’d regret going from a minivan to a smaller car. But I’ve managed to fit all the essentials into my Camry, so I’m just as prepared as ever.

Jennifer Donahue is a freelance writer. She lives in Kenmore with her husband and two sons.

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