Staying Happy in the Passenger Seat and at the Dinner Table

Dawes Arboretum: Cabin Path

This is actually a state park, but it’s also one of the only snowy road photos I have. Bonus: Not one bit of traffic!


All week long I’ve been hearing about the high numbers of Americans expected to travel for Christmas (despite the winter storm being predicted—so far as that goes, most of us will believe it when we see it!). Where, oh where, are the transporters we were promised so long ago? Surely someone is working on them, but in the meantime, it seems the majority of America’s Christmas travellers will be hopping into the car and, most likely, hitting the interstate.

As you probably expect, my suggestion to those of you about to travel for Christmas is to avoid the interstate, which everyone will admit is duller than dirt—particularly for passengers (at least the driver will be occupied with the driving). Driving along old state highways and US routes usually doesn’t take much longer than the interstate, and they’re certainly more engaging than the interstate.

"I think we should go here, here, and here."
Even on a short trip, you’ll pass farms, old houses, natural beauty, and of course through small towns, too. Interstate driving can dull the mind and tire the spirit, and there’s rarely anything of interest to talk about afterwards except things that tend to put a damper on Christmas dinner. We prefer our guests actually enjoy their drive a little bit…and maybe even see something beautiful or fascinating along the way. With people asking for directions to our house—well, I haven’t even offered interstate information. Isn’t interstate-mapping what the internet is for? (Yes, I’m that mean, even at Christmastime.)

Still, many of you have no choice in the matter. You’re hitting the road soon, you don’t have a lot of sway so far as the route, and you’re the passenger, too! What can you do to make that interstate trip more enjoyable? Let me offer a few suggestions!

Speed Dial

      • Music   Doubtless already one of the top things on everyone’s list. As you play whatever, remember: Some of our grandparents’ cars didn’t have radios. So let’s start by being grateful! Now, by December 26th, all of the wonderful Christmas carols and songs we love so much will be gone for another year (well…ten months, but in my household, there’s a moratorium on Christmas music until after Thanksgiving dinner). Milk Christmas travel for all it is worth—load up your MP3 player (do we still use those? I remain rather fond of mine) with holiday tunes or find the local 24-7 Christmas music station. Might as well get into the right spirit, don’t you think? Barring that—if you can’t take it, or need a break—there are tons of excellent sermons and lectures available for free download all over the magical internet. Take advantage of this. (Yes, I’m That Person, I know.)

Route 66 Java Stop

      • Beverages   Spiked ones in preparation for traffic/family/inappropriate-for-Christmas discussion-related tension allowable for passengers only, my friends. In all seriousness, feel free to stick an umbrella or candy cane into that hot cocoa for extra cheer. Don’t forget tea! I have a stainless infuser that fits perfectly into my  fabulous, amazing, wonderful thermos* that keeps my tea at the perfect temperature for hours and hours—and unless you slam on the breaks, the infuser will actually ride pretty nicely on the dashboard upon being inverted. At least so long as the kids aren’t tossing things around…
      • A Book   A real book (still my favourite kind, as one can’t scribble marginalia into a Kindle), an e-book, a magazine, the newspaper. If you don’t get carsick, this is a must-have no matter the format! That said, try to choose something lighthearted so the driver and other passengers may interrupt you without frustrating your chain of thought.
      • Crafts   My penchant for in-car embroidery is well known. Other automobile-friendly crafts include classics like crochet and knitting—I’ve no doubt people have knitted while travelling for at least a century, and perhaps even in wagon trains crossing the continent. If you’ve a steady hand and small project, even some papercrafts can be worked on—the more Christmas-y Apron Firethe better, of course!
      • Games    Being children of the 80s, we’re fond of Mad Libs* (hey, it’s for passing the time in an entertaining fashion!) when on the road. License plate bingo, I Spy, and many other car games have been around for decades for a reason—and they’re free!
      • A Blanket   Make sure it’s nice, though smallish ones are best in a car—even a pashmina will do. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about being snuggled beneath a blanket, even a lap blanket, that feels luxurious, comfortable, and soothing even when stuck in bumper-to-bumper Christmas traffic. Bonus: If, God forbid, you should find yourselves stuck or in an accident, a blanket is something you may need (as Northerners and Midwesterners know, a blanket in the car is a wintertime must just in case).
      • Small Notebook & Pencil   Not only do we all come up with brilliant ideas right before sleeping and while in the shower, how many times has your mind wandered onto something fantastic while you’re in the car? Yup. You’re welcome.
      • A Nail File   Because I never, ever fail to crack one of my nails by smacking my hand into something while in the car. Protect those stockings, ladies. Make sure a file is in the glovebox!

Roast apples, anyone?

    • Healthy Snacks   Nuts, cheese, beef jerky (or is that just me?), fresh fruit or sliced veggies, even rolled-up lunchmeat & cheese with thinly sliced veggies inside; you’re likely to encounter some less-than-ideal foods on the Christmas table (unless you’re eating here). It’s best to ingest a few undoubtedly good-for-you things beforehand—you’ll probably feel better physically as well as mentally! Also, better several slices of cheddar than the also less-than-ideal but still oddly tempting selection at the only filling station open for miles (though more and more do offer at least fresh fruit). Honestly, sometimes being celiac is a bonus…!
    • Small Camera    That way the family will HAVE to believe you when you tell them about that cheeky old sign you spotted, or the Santa sleigh being pulled by Guernsey cows.

And finally, most importantly…

    • Patience and Good Cheer   These are things I practice daily, and they’ll surely come in handy while on the road. Let us all admit that Christmas, despite its true meaning, can be and often is an incredible stressful and often frustrating time, with emotions and memories brimming over in a sometimes unintentionally discordant cocktail of reactions. To maintain an even keel for yourself, and help those around you do the same, do your best to a) remember everyone else is dealing with similar things and b) remember why we celebrate Christmas, and all of the joyous trappings of the season rather than the frustrating ones. Believe me, the “focus on the good parts” can be difficult, but once you get into the habit this becomes much easier and helps things go more smoothly.
      So Very Merry! When the turkey slides off the platter onto the floor (not that I know anything about such events), decide you’ll start laughing about it this year, not five years from now when the sting is gone. (Besides, it’ll wash. Perhaps with white wine, but it’ll wash.) Forget the pie on the roof of the car? Trust me, that is a *greatly* funny story to tell once you arrive, and no one will seriously complain about lacking pie, though they may rib you a bit (if they do complain, you may ignore them). When your sibling grabs all of the pins they know to needle you with and starts stabbing away, smile beatifically, just like all of those angels on Christmas cards, and walk away. Should your toddler niece knocks her irrevocably staining berry mush onto your skirt, shrug and begin planning the applique you’ll cover it up with should it not come out (and stay tuned, I intend to share my miraculous stain remover with you once my sweater is out of the wash) while making a note to wear dark colours next holiday.
      Make “Patience and good cheer!” your motto, your mantra, and I promise you’ll get through all of the crazy, all of the emotions, and yes…even the traffic.

Well, those are my suggestions for serenity in Christmas traffic and beyond. What about you? How do you stay joyful in the passenger seat…or in the face of unnerving family meetings?Deck the halls...Affiliate links—it doesn’t cost you anything extra to purchase through them, but I do earn a few pennies toward my next Canon!


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