Taken in Orem, Utah; Photograph by  IM_1251, flicker

Taken in Orem, Utah; Photograph by IM_1251, flicker

As my family prepares for the 2,000-mile round-trip drive from Wyoming to California for the holidays, I’m using all the spare change I’ve got left after gift-shopping to procure some essentials for the journey in our Subaru Outback. With a six-year-old, books on CD are a must, and maybe we’ll even take the portable DVD player and some movies.

But neither books nor movies will help much if our “simple” drive home for the holidays turns into an adventurous road trip.

The “mom” in me shines in these moments (or should I say, “rears her ugly head”?). Instead of excitement, I start worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Maybe it will dump snow on Donner Summit, and we’ll get stuck in hours of traffic due to road closures or an accident. Maybe we’ll get stranded somewhere on a “scenic” old route that bypasses Interstate 80—my husband always insists on taking these old highways after seeing the movie Cars. Maybe the zombie apocalypse will begin at the exact moment we hit the road, and we’ll spend the rest of our trip avoiding a gruesome death or conversion to zombies . . . okay, maybe not.

So without further adieu, here’s what I’m making sure to pack in our car.

Mummy bags rated to negative temperatures: We’ll be climbing several cold and snowy mountain passes on our way. I’d hate to get stuck up there without warmth. Down bags compress pretty well too, so I can stuff them between the piles of bags and gifts.

Extra warm clothing in bright colors: Regardless of how warm we can make the interior of our car (especially with those handy dandy seat warmers), frigid temps await us on the outside. I realize we’re going to sunny California, but that’s not going to stop me from bringing at least one down jacket and some fleece layers, hats, and gloves, for all three of us. The bright colors are so help (and hopefully not a zombie) finds us.

Shovel and Windshield scraper: The scraper is to keep the snow off our car when we get stranded, again so we can be found. The shovel is to dig our car out of the embankment we may plow through, or the deep drifts we may sink into, on that “scenic byway.”

Chains or kitty litter: Our Subaru owner’s manual recommends against chains, so I’ll pack a bag of kitty litter for traction. But if your vehicle is compatible with chains, pack them (we recommend the cable chains-they’re easy to install). Also make sure you know how to install your chains before a layer of ice builds up on the road and you have to put them on.

Food and water: We’ll be carrying a ton of food anyway, just to avoid having to eat fast food all the way out West and to appease the picky little eater in our family. But I’ll be packing a little extra in case . . . of the zombie apocalypse!!!!

Fire starter kit: This is for the “stranded and lost on a snow-covered two-track road” scenario. The more seasoned survivalist may need nothing more than a box of matches, but I carry a lighter and kindling in the form of a small bag of greasy potato chips (which can pull double duty as food!). Better yet, just buy a firestarter kit online. If you are stranded and seeking help, add some greenery to your fire after you get it going to make it smoky.

Charger for cell phone: If you’re still writing your letter to Santa, ask for a solar-powered charger so you don’t have to rely on your vehicle. ‘Till then, just need to remember to pack our car charger.

Extra tire and jack: Who among us is driving around without a spare tire, or with a “spare” that is actually a totally bald tire that won’t last ten miles? Guilty as charged. Make sure you have a proper spare, or better yet, a full-sized tire, in the back, along with your tire-changing tools (jack, wrench). Also make sure you know how to change your tires before you hit the road.Knife: This is a multipurpose tool that is useful for many, many things. Need to cut some greenery for a smoky fire? Use the knife. Need to put that poor dying animal you just hit out of its misery? Use the knife. Need to slice that squirrel you’ve been cooking over your fire because you ran out of food and you’re stranded? Use the knife. Need to defend yourself against the zombies? You get the picture.

Towel: Besides helping with the “oops! I thought I was just sweating but I actually peed in my pants” moments in the back seat, a towel has other value. Here, I will just quote Douglas Adams from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

A towel . . . is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. [A]ny man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is ,is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

Happy holidays, and safe travels!