It never happens to me. Like ever. Because I’m completely devoted to my minivan-whisperer (Kyle the mechanic). When Kyle says jump, I ask, “how much will that cost?” Then I pay it and for four beautiful years Kyle has kept me off the side of the road.

Until last week when my radiator hose exploded blowing antifreeze all over the engine.

And there I was with my husband where I was never supposed to be: on the side of the road.

Was I lucky? Boy, was I!! I was swimming in luck because my kids were safely at home and we’d broken down just seven miles from our house on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Plus we had money for the repairs!

That said, I don’t want you on the side of the road this season. If you’re traveling over the holidays take the following to heart:


Become a “contraveler” — which is contrarian + travel. Traveling over the holidays – or any time in the year, really –- requires contrarian travel which means drive, take the train, or fly when everyone else is enjoying their Santa Clausmopolitan or dreaming of sugar plums.

Yes, I’m suggesting that you travel when Santa is en route – either on Christmas Eve (the second best time to see the lightest traffic) – or on Christmas morning itself (the very best time to see the lightest traffic).


If you’re driving, assume that something completely nutty will happen — and prep for it.

In that vein, my minivan — Old Blue — takes her holidays in our garage while I rent a car through (yes, you must be a member and, yes, the car rental prices are awesome). A friend cancelled the rental she’d planned on using and instead went through Costco Travel. Saved $70.

Here’s what all traveling-long-distance cars must have:

  • You might feel like you went overboard, but really, who cares who makes fun of you? Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle. Google the topic and you’ll find must-haves like flares, jumper cables, a quart or more of motor oil and so on. Rest assured you haven’t gone overboard, you’re just an incredibly prepared genius.
  • Stock a gorgeous first-aid kit and include: thermometer, tweezers, small scissors, Band-Aids, red washcloth (so the kids don’t see blood and panic), Neosporin, Benadryl, and Tylenol. Spend 15 minutes reading up on first-aid and download the American Red Cross first aid app.
  • Pack food provisions as if you’re stocking up for a long Dakota winter. Here’s the thing: you don’t want to get stuck on the road (because of backed up traffic or a popped tire) with hungry kids on your hands. Right? Right. So, liberally pack the car with lots of healthy food that will fill little tummies. If someone doesn’t shout, “wow, you sure packed a ton of food!!” you haven’t done your job.


Also, bring extra blankets, pillows and back-up batteries for your devices.


Quick story: One summer I wasn’t paying attention to the weather when the boys and I were visiting friends in Virginia and – holy cow – a storm straight out of Oz careened down on us. In June!! For the record the kids and I were five minutes from our hotel and barely made it back in one piece. (No joke.) I learned then and there to always watch the weather.

When we lived in California I rarely payed attention to the weather, but now that we’re in – what I call – Big Weather Country, I check the weather site daily.  Here’s my favorite go-to that I’ve trusted for years.



But the most important holiday travel skill is: don’t cry over spilled eggnog. I’ve been travel writing (with kids in tow) for twelve years now. You’d think I’d be all, “Lalalala, traveling is so easy and magical every single moment.” Friends, I can’t speak for other travel writers, but my trips are still fraught with the inevitable.

Instagram and selfies aside, travel is hard work. Gifts you’d planned on giving for months will be forgotten at home. Your parent’s dog will plow into the chocolate you wrapped for your dad’s gift, and require an emergency vet visit. The 15-year-old will tell the six-year-old all about Santa.

My point: eggnog spills. Planning to have the “most magical holiday” doesn’t take into account that real life is messy. When things go beautifully: smile and make a toast. When things go down hill? Smile even more and count the many ways in which you’re incredibly lucky. (Your “lucky list” propels you out of the doldrums in a nano-second. Perfect this skill and you’ll be soaring over the — inevitable — holiday mishaps.)

Because the kids take their cue from you. When you’re managing life’s spilled eggnog with focus, understanding and a smile, guess what they’ll do when they’re adults?

Merry Christmas, Guys!!


Adventure more. Panic less. Travel writer wants to shout it from the rooftops every not discussed method for safer, saner family travel. Read me before you take off!

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