Survival Plan for a Road Trip

[Update 4 May 2010]

After the crazy storms that careened through the South last weekend, I’ve decided to add an item to my automobile emergency kit.

Normally it takes 30 minutes to get home from town, but Saturday, May 1 it took an hour and a half. The rain was coming in torrents, and instead of soaking into the ground it was just running across the fields and roads in sheets. When the wind gusted visibility was lousy. Plus there were trees down and debris everywhere, so I was dodging, stopping, backing up… it was crazy. I had the whole family in the car.

When we finally got to the road we live on and started down the hill, a tree was down, completely blocking the road. So I turned around and tried the longer way home. About a mile from the house the road was flooded — no way through. So I turned around again and tried the longest way home. This route got us all the way to the driveway, and right in view of the house I had to stop again. The driveway was flooded. The creek had spilled over its banks. I was pretty sure I couldn’t risk driving through in the minivan, but we were so close, so I got out to test the depth. I waded into the water, but when it got halfway up to my knee I stepped back out. There was no way I’d risk it.

We went to the neighbor’s house, and he offered to keep our van at his place and drive us across in his big 4×4 truck. We all squeezed in and got safely home. [Thanks, neighbor!].

The next day my wife was asking what we would do if for some reason we absolutely had to cross that rushing water on foot. Suppose the engine flooded and we had to tote the two babies through the water, all while keeping tabs of the three older kids. She suggested we keep a rope in the car so we could rope together and get everyone safely through.

New automobile emergency item: 100-foot rope.

[The original article follows]

Survival planning and emergency preparedness for road trips used to be a matter of course, but in a day with roadside assistance, credit cards, and cell phones, people have lost a bit of their self-reliant mindset. Sure, if your car breaks down you’ll probably have no trouble getting a tow and a motel. But if a hurricane is on the way and 10 million people are evacuating from the gulf, you’ll be sleeping in that broken-down car. Are you ready for that?

You certainly can be, and if you’re traveling with family, they’re counting on you to take care of them. But take heart; emergency preparation of this kind is easy, and if you ever have to actually use it you’ll gain a ton of points in the hero column. Makes up for working late and missing your son’s Little League baseball game. :)

Road trip preparedness planning

Emergency planning is just one small additional step in planning your trip. You know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and when you’re coming back. Suppose you’re traveling from Winston-Salem to Gulf Shores. All you have to do is imagine what emergencies might pop up along the way. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math. A fairly likely scenario is a breakdown at night on a rural stretch of road with no cell phone reception, and guess what; you’re camping for the night. I’m assuming that the next day you’ll be able to flag down a passing motorist or find a nearby house. No problem. If you’re prepared with a good vehicle emergency kit.

Road trip kit contents

  • Water. Stock at least a liter of water per person. Use plastic bottles not quite full so they can freeze without bursting. Test it in your freezer first. Freeze, then thaw and check for leaks.
  • Shelter. A tent large enough for the family is your best bet. Practice pitching it before you need it, or you’ll be getting some really bad vibes from the direction of your wife while you fumble around in the dark getting her nest ready. Do it quick and be her hero.
  • Food. You can last for a few weeks without food, but why not keep everyone happy? Kids love MREs even if their meal isn’t all that tasty, just because it’s fun. We make pemmican and it’s fun too, although MREs have more of a cool factor. Whatever you decide, just make sure you have enough for everyone to eat something before they go to bed and when they wake up the next day, so at least two meals per person. When we travel, we usually take a cooler full of picnic foods anyway, so we might get along without even breaking out the emergency stock.
  • First aid. You should already have a first aid kit in your car, but if you don’t, get one!
  • Self-defense. Most of you carry a gun anyway, but it’s worth mentioning. There are as many opinions about which gun to carry as there are people who carry, so we’ll save that discussion for the discussion forum. Carry something, though. You’re the only defense you have out there, and your wife and kids are counting on you.
  • Protection from the elements. If it’s cold you’ll need appropriate clothing and sleeping bags. I know it’s bulky, but if that’s what it takes to be prepared, it’s worth it. You can put two tiny tots in a single bag to save space, and they’ll keep each other warmer at the same time. Be sure you can start a fire — it’ll keep people warm and boost morale.

Other considerations

  • Ham radio. If you’re out of cell-phone range, a ham radio will probably still get you in touch with someone who can call a tow service or a friend, but depending on the time of day you break down you might still have to set up camp. It’s a good thing to have, but it won’t do miracles.
  • Lighting. Always check the flashlight batteries before you leave home, and keep an extra set. You’ll need light to make camp after dark.
  • Travel in extremely remote areas. Depending where you’re going, a breakdown can be life-threatening. I’ve driven through parts of the West without seeing a house or another car for hours. Imagine breaking down out there without water.
  • The pack itself. You can store food, water, extra diapers, the tent, and a few other items in a large duffel bag. The best part is, once you have your pack, you can just leave it in there for months, and it will always be there.

One last thing — enlist the family. If you’re traveling with friends, like a multi-family trek, get them involved too. My kids love to prep. When I have grandkids I’m going to be the old prepper. Being prepared is the goal, but the process of preparation is what gets you there, and it’s what you teach the next generation. Make it a way of life and they’ll be way ahead of the game.

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