Road Tripping: Part 5 of 5: Be Prepared

We’ve covered a lot during this week – how to plan a road trip, how to keep kids occupied & happy, adding educational value to road trips, and how to pack. So you’re all ready to go, what else is there? This particular article is going to address something that I feel very strongly about, and that’s BEING PREPARED. And, I feel I must apologize, but this will be the longest article out of the series. Preparedness is something I feel very strongly about, and my passion translates into having a lot to say on the topic.

What would you do if, you’re in South Dakota with no cell signal, and your GPS receiver is not picking up a satellite signal?

What would you do, if you came out of a restaurant to find you had a flat tire?

What would you do, if some shady character starts harassing you – and it starts to escalate?

These are just a few possible scenarios that can happen; and they can happen anywhere, irregardless of if you’re “on the road,” or not. Knowing what to do, or even better, knowing what how to AVOID these situations is key.

Our family’s on-the-road preparedness tool kit includes:

  • Preparedness on the Road
  • Personal Preparedness

First, let’s talk about preparedness on the road. Is your vehicle road trip ready? A quick trip to your mechanic or service station can answer this question. If your car is due for an oil change, go ahead and have it done prior to your journey. Let your mechanic know how far you plan on driving, and ask them to check your air pressure, fluid levels, and do a quick go-over of the vehicle. Have him check the spare tire, and check that the necessary tools are there. Do you know how to check your tire pressure, fill a tire, check your fluid levels, and change a tire? If not, now is a good time to ask. A good mechanic will take the time to show you, if you ask. Are your lights, flashers, and windshield wipers in good working order? This short trip to the service center may save you some trouble down the road. Also, is your car clean? A clean car gets better gas mileage, so you may want to do a quick wash before you head out on your adventure.


Some of our emergency car kit contents

Even if you’re not preparing for a road trip, everyone should have an emergency car kit that is suited to the climate. You can buy kits that are already assembled for you, at just about any major retailer – Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or auto parts stores such as Advance Auto Parts. Amazon also has some here. Or, you can assemble your own. I have several pre-purchased kits, but have added to them with flashlights with batteries, foam tire sealant, duct tape, jumper cables (heavy duty kind, not the toy car-looking cables that come with some kits) , reflector triangles, flares, and a multi-purpose tool.

We do most of our major traveling in the summer time, but in the winter I’m always sure to have an ice scraper/brush on hand. Whenever I’m talking about winter car kits, I’m always reminded of a trip I had taken to Pennsylvania, in March of 1993. My mother had just died and I was driving home from the funeral, back to Alabama. I didn’t make the best decision in when I left, because a major snowstorm had just blanketed most of the eastern United States. Anyway, I was halfway through Virginia when traffic came to a full stop. It was still freezing cold outside. Now, my dad had always taught me to keep at least 1/2 tank of gas in my car, so I was good there. Nevertheless, after 20 minutes, traffic still wasn’t moving. Prior to my leaving, my dad had given me this huge wool blanket to bring back home, and I had that with me in the car. So, I was able to turn the car off to save gas, and still stay warm with this blanket. Thank goodness for dad! My point being – if you’re traveling in winter, or in cold climates, keep a blanket in the car for everyone.


Our car first aid kit. The anti-itch cream seems to be missing.

In addition to an emergency car kit, have a stocked first aid kit. Like the car kits, you can buy first aid kits already put together in a handy container, or you can assemble one. I prefer buying a ready-made one and adding our own “stuff” to it. In our kit, I’ve added sunscreen, a large bottle of ibuprofen, a tube of antibiotic gel, a tube of anti-itch cream, and extra Band-Aids.


You might be thinking all of the above sounds like a lot – and it is – and how in the world do you fit all of that in your car? Fortunately, most of these items can be packed in a relatively small amount of space with some ingenuity. To add to this, it’s always a good idea to carry water and some form of snack food – we prefer protein bars, but obviously you will have your own tastes.

Our first aid items are in the plastic bin, and we always carry wipes, paper towels, and a working flashlight.

Our first aid items are in the plastic bin, and we always carry wipes, paper towels, and a working flashlight.

Everything stashed neatly in the "hidden compartment" in my SUV

Everything stashed neatly in the “hidden compartment” in my SUV

Aside from the car, what other things can you do to be better prepared? A military friend of mine told me about the PACE plan, and I realized that although I haven’t been in the military, I often use a very similar approach to planning: Primary, Alternate, Contingent, and Emergency. Basically, have 4 ways to do something. Take navigating, for example? What current means do you use to get from Point A to Point B? On our road trip, I had a Garmin Nuvi (Primary) at the time, and I had a smartphone (Alternate). In addition, I had all the road maps (Contingent) for the states we were traveling through, PLUS the American Automobile Association (AAA) tour books which contain maps as well (Emergency). We were leaving Devil’s Tower National Monument, which is really in the middle of nowhere, when my Garmin lost the satellite signal. So, no navigation on the GPS. There was NO cell signal, so NO alternate GPS via my phone. Fortunately, I had the maps (Contingent), which got me to where we needed to be for the night (Gillette, WY). My point to this story is:  have a backup! Have a backup to your backup! And, then have one more just to be safe.

In a perfect world, there would be no car trouble of road side breakdowns. However, that’s not the case. Should you break down, what is your course of action? Do you have one? Most car manufacturers today provide a roadside assistance you can call. Alternatively, AAA membership also provides roadside assistance. I use my AAA membership primarily for the maps & tour books, but that towing sure is nice to have if needed. This is also one of the primary reasons I limit my driving to day time – should I break down, I prefer it be in the day time, not in the dark of night.

Now, let’s talk about personal safety:

“Be aware of your surroundings; trust your instincts, if something seems shady, it is shady.” – Jacob Simmons, Center Manager at Tiger-Rock Martial Arts of Huntsville

This short quote sums it up quite nicely. If you are AWARE of what’s going on around you, you can usually avoid potential trouble.

Have you ever been somewhere, and suddenly felt a sense of unease? That’s your intuition trying to tell you something. Have you felt that way, and immediately told yourself, “don’t worry about it, nothing will happen?” You must train yourself to listen to that intuition. If something is shady, it IS shady. Get yourself out of there and to safety. Know the “safe” places to text – in your home, a locked car, hotel room, etc…NOT walking through a parking lot, or standing on a sidewalk. Be fully engaged in your surroundings. Look around parking lots to spot potential trouble. Bottom line: BE AWARE.

You may, like me, have children. For a short period of time, I would get really frustrated with my kids every time we would go anywhere because it seemed so chaotic getting in and out of the car. They’d get out of the car, and go in different directions. We’d leave a store and I’d be trying to drive the shopping cart full of groceries, and keep up with 2 kids. I’d finally had it. I had a serious conversation with them, and I trained them on getting in and out of the car quickly and efficiently. We have had speed drills on getting in the the car, and OUT. When they get OUT of the car, they know where to go (ie which side of the vehicle). You may be thinking, wow, that’s way overboard. Let me share another personal story, which led to these drills. My family was out at lunch one day, it was during the week at a popular Chinese buffet. It was in a heavily trafficked area. When we were leaving to walk to the car, I spotted this shady guy walking quickly towards us. I told myself, oh, it will be fine. The guy proceeded to demand money, we refused and he practically got in my face. He then SPIT on my car, and the whole experience really shook me up. After that, I resolved to have better awareness and the skills necessary to deal with such a situation. When walking between your car and your destination, don’t dilly-dally! Be aware and get to where you’re going in a confident and quick manner.

Most cars nowadays have auto-locking doors. If yours doesn’t, make sure to always lock the doors. Ladies, never put your purse in the passenger seat. Stow it somewhere out of sight, even when driving. It may seem obvious, but don’t leave anything of value in plain sight; I’ve known several folks to have smashed windows because of an iPhone charging in the car.


The children have apparently gotten into my rations of protein bars…one is missing!

Personal safety isn’t just limited to getting to and from your car. If you are planning on being outdoors for any period of time,  consider taking a small back-pack stocked with items tailored to your location. Ours contains a small first aid kit, a sting & venom kit, ponchos, protein bars, waters, and…a bear bell.  Some folks laugh at our bell, but I didn’t want to take any chances! Note that we don’t do multi-miled hikes, just short “walks” that may take 30 minutes or so, and we always stick to the trails. If you’re more adventurous, and go “off trail,” pack your bag accordingly.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! This article is not meant to be an end-all to preparedness. Instead, it’s goal is get you started and inspire you to put together your own materials, specific to your family’s needs.

Roadtripping Part 1:  Planning for Success

Roadtripping Part 2:  Keeping Kids Occupied, Connected, and Happy

Roadtripping Part 3: Educating Kids On the Sly

Roadtripping Part 4: Take the Stress Out of Packing

Roadtripping Part 5:  Be Prepared


©2015 Stacy De Smet

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