Top 10 Things Every Parent Should Keep in the Car

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Last week reminded me that it was time to (re)stock my car with some essential items. One of the girls came down with a stomach bug and nearly got sick in the car. Fortunately  I had a few things to help until the inevitable happened, and by that time we were coincidentally at the pediatrician’s office, where they gave me the best thing ever. Which brings me to number one on my list:

1. Plastic bags  (and preferably some hospital-grade barf bags like this!)

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The nice thing about these is that they’re molded to fit right around the mouth and they can hold A LOT. So older kids can use these pretty efficiently should the need arise. But if you have a toddler, you may have to wing it with regular old plastic bags. And you’ll want a few of those anyway for your regular kiddie trash, i.e. wrappers, gum, dirty wads of Kleenex, and fallen french fries. And also to put the used barf bags in.

2. Antibacterial wipes

My minivan does have a built-in DVD player, but until the day they start making them with a sink in which to wash hands, we’ll have to make do with some antibacterial wipes. For tough jobs involving any sort of bodily fluids I prefer Clorox wipes (go ahead & call me a germaphobe), but otherwise Wet Ones or something similar will do.

3. Hand sanitizer

After you finish cleaning up car barf on the go, you’ll want to get those pesky microbes off your hands, and everyone else’s, too. So get thee some Purell!

4. Baby wipes and Kleenex

For less worrisome or minor yucky things (“Mommy, I have a booger!”), I always keep a pack of baby wipes or Kleenex handy. I vote for baby wipes because sticky hands are quite common.

5. Bottles of water

I don’t love plastic, so I don’t buy bottled water on a regular basis. Don’t get me started on how we can “just recycle” (that’s another post). But I will buy a few bottles to store in the car. I often hand them out to homeless people I encounter while we’re out and about. And the rest stay in the trunk or center console for times I hope we’ll never need them, i.e. if we get a flat tire, have an accident and need to wait for a tow truck, or there’s a traffic jam. Because inevitably that’s when at least one of your kids will decide to throw a tantrum because of thirst.

6. Snacks

See # 5. Kids are always whining about being hungry or needing something to munch on.  Also, I keep a bag of high-protein snacks in the car year round for handing out to the homeless. For my own brood, I stock potable applesauce (it’s more fun to drink it and less mess for me), Goldfish crackers, and granola bars in my ride.



7. Cell phone charger

If you have my kind of luck (which is to say no luck at all), you’ll find yourself stranded with screaming kids, no gas in your car, and your cell phone will be dead so you won’t be able to call AAA for reinforcements. I keep my charger in my  minivan all the time, and whenever I head out I usually plug it in just to be safe.

8. Medication for you & kids

You never know when two Advil could save your sanity. Or some Benadryl could convince your toddler to nap instead of scream in her carseat. In all seriousness, I keep Children’s Advil with me, too. Just be sure to check the label because sometimes extreme temperatures can affect the medication. I stash it in my purse or baby bag just to be safe.

9. Towels (or an old blanket or two)

You might have to make friends with the cold, wet, or dirty pavement so you can change a tire or dislodge a giant tree limb stuck to your vehicle’s underbelly. Or you might need to drape it on the lap of a sick kiddo in transit.

10. Hand warmers

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My husband introduced me to these when we moved to KC and went to a Chiefs game when it was snowing. I’m sure I’m a worrywart, but I do have some of these in my car as well. It would suck to get stranded with a dead battery and kids with chattering teeth. You can find these at most drugstores or on Amazon.




Do you keep some (or all) of these in your car? What would you add to the list? 

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  • Stacey

    I grew up in Wyoming and now live in Utah and in the winter I also keep jumper cables, sidewalk salt a shovel and gloves in the trunk. You never know when you might get stuck!

    • Erin Margolin


      GREAT additions to the list! I already have gloves and a scraper in my car, but salt and a shovel and the jumper cables are wonderful ideas, too! So glad you chimed in here and thanks for reading!

  • Valerie Rind

    This is a great list, Erin, and you’re so generous to give stuff to homeless people.

    One addition: The “Life Hammer” that you use to smash a window to get out of the car in case of an accident. It also has a knife to cut seat belts if you or a passenger is stuck. It’s terrible to think about the possibility that you might have to use it, but I’m glad I’ve got one in my car.

    • Erin Margolin


      I’ve heard of those and I need to get one. Before I had kids I thought it was kind of silly, but now that I’m a mom myself, I want to have one just in case. You never know. I hope i’ll never need it, but I’d rather be prepared! Thanks so much for reading and suggesting this!

      • Valerie Rind

        Hi Erin,

        I always thought it was a bit far-fetched also — like what were the chances of my car going over a bridge and plunging into the water? But I read about a woman who used the hammer when another driver was stuck in a car accident and she saved that driver’s life.

        Good to have, but I hope we never have to use them!

  • Kerstin Auer

    Awesome advice and great list. I need to look into getting those bags in #1, we use plastic grocery bags and one had a hole in it once (not as funny as you might think ;) ). Yes, our kids are pukers…
    I used to be as well when I was younger and I remember one time my mom didn’y have a bag, so she made me take off my jeans, tied a knot in one leg and I puked into that… good times :)

    • Erin Margolin


      OMG, your mom’s a GENIUS!!! I’d never have thought of that, to tie the jeans leg? And yes, I always check for holes in ours before I stash them in the car as part of our reserve. But I’m used to checking because I also scoop dog poop constantly and THAT is NOT fun— when there’s a hole in that bag. UGH!! xo

  • Jenn Hethcoat

    When we travel (or during soccer/baseball season) I keep a Baby Bjorn potty in the car. No lie this is the BEST decision I’ve made. My kids are all potty trained but I’ll take emptying that thing over a porta potty at the ball field or lugging three kids into a rest stop by myself. I keep a ton of plastic bags in an old Lysol wipes container (yeah, I decorated it a la Pinterest….) which keeps them from floating around the car…they work for “larger” potty sessions :). We also have used the potty for car sick kids in the mountains. I clean it out with Lysol or Clorox wipes and we are good to go.

    And that potty, when placed on a seat in the van, may or may not work for an adult who may or may not be traveling off the interstate through Utah on her way to California from Kansas by herself with three kids who are sleeping after she drank lots of tea and soda to keep awake. You know, in theory.

    • Erin Margolin


      YOU ARE MY HERO!! What awesome ideas. I should’ve mentioned in here that when my twins were potty training, we kept a small potty in the car as well. They are eight now, so we don’t need it, but I have a two-year-old who will be embarking on that “journey” soon enough. Love that you’ve also used it, and yes, it works well with the wipes and plastic bags. Great idea to put the plastic bags in the empty wipes container, too! THanks for reading and adding your suggestions!

  • Elaine A.

    I try to keep some type of recepticle that the boys could tee-tee in if need be. Also? My almost 10-year old would die to know I said “tee tee” in reference to that. LOL. Great list!!

    • Erin Margolin


      When we were potty training the twins, I kept one of those little plastic kiddie potties in the trunk. I suppose I’ll need to do that with Piper soon enough. NOT READY!!! LOL

  • Leigh Ann

    I may not have thought of all of these, but I totally agree! I always have wipes in the car. And I learned the hard way about the charger. But I have never thought to keep some Advil or Tylenol in the glove box. And I need a reminder about the sanitizer!

    • Erin Margolin

      Leigh Ann,

      Just call me a germ freak, seriously! The girls each have a little bottle of Purell santizer that hooks right onto their backpacks (like a little keychain). So it’s always handy, especially when they need it (at school!). Thanks for reading!

  • Andrea

    I rarely carry anything like this in my car anymore, but I should carry the snacks because my kids and I get carsick. I would add a flashlight, napkins or paper towels, gum, a couple of straws, and plastic ware. Because sometimes a spoon comes in handy when you need it.

    • Erin Margolin


      Perfect additions– although my kids love gum, so that’s usually in my car anyway. And a flashlight is a really great idea, going to add that as soon as I get home later!! ;-) thanks for reading & adding your thoughts!

  • Alison

    Great list, Erin, these are awesome!

    • Erin Margolin

      Thanks, Alison!! And so glad you had fun on your trip to France! Hope the flight home was smooth! xo

  • Lady Jennie

    My goodness Erin! You are so prepared! I’m going to pin.

    • Erin Margolin


      Hardly! The comments here have helped me see I left a few key things out– things like a flashlight, gum, paper towels, one of those Life Hammers, and a set of jumper cables, to name a few. I am lazy about the last one though because I have a service through Toyota that offers roadside assistance. I know that’s not foolproof, and if I’m ever alone on the road w/ the kids, I should probably be MORE prepared in case something like that falls through or takes too long… thanks for reading!

  • Sarah Heleringer Reinhart

    yep yep yep. especially bags and wipes! essentials for sure.

    • Erin Margolin


      I’m addicted to wipes and bags. It’s kind of problem. You could maybe kinda sorta almost call me, um, a WIPE HOARDER. Oops.

  • amandamagee

    These are all great. A spare pair of socks and underwear, because kids. Things happen.

    • Erin Margolin


      YES! I totally left off extra clothes. But you’re spot on. Thanks for reading & adding to my list!

      • amandamagee


  • Tammy Soong

    SO good. I might throw in paper towels. I have a disturbing puke story that basically ran through an entire roll…