Hey girls, be road savvy!

November 9, 2008
Don't just stand there, girlfriend!

There's more to a good roadside emergency kit than outstanding cleavage.

One of my favorite memories of my Dad was his endearing ritual whenever I left for a considerable road trip. Returns to college after visits, or weekend expeditions to the Sierras, for example. I’d be raiding the fridge for last-minute snacks, and he’d be circling my Blazer with a  bottle of Windex and tire gauge, making sure The Beast was ready to go. He’d check my oil and antifreeze, wash my headlights and scrape the dead bugs off my windshield, and more often than not he’d tuck a $20 where I’d find it, just in case.

I miss him a ton, and think of him every time I call AAA…even though he made sure I knew how to change a tire before I got my license, and insisted I carry a good emergency kit that includes the following essentials:

  • flares
  • first aid kit
  • flashlight
  • folding shovel
  • Thomas guide
  • Matches/Fire starting Supplies (note, if you have fresh flares, you’ve got a backup)
  • snow scraper (in winter)
  • tire chains (in winter)
  • Rain-X Wipes (in case you lose your windshield wipers)
  • Duct Tape
  • 2 quarts motor oil
  • $20+ cash
  • water
  • blanket
  • raincoat or poncho
  • Wool cap
  • Work Gloves
  • paper towels
  • tarp
  • jumper cable
  • Red Bandanna (tie to antennae as a signal, also handy for carting around lumber or oversized stuff in everyday situations)
  • Tow Strap and/or Come-Along

No wonder I had to drive a full-sized truck! Nowadays I keep most of this stuff in waterproof river bags in my car-top carrier, along with a couple old sleeping bags and a few extras I’ll mention below.

I always made sure I had something to eat; crappy snack food is the highlight of any road trip. When portable cellular phones became somewhat affordable later in my college career, he was thrilled when I added a clunky bag phone to my car kit, and even offered to foot the bill.

Today, I’ve modified my kit a bit to include a Garmin GPS system with tons of road maps, Rain-X wipes, cell phone car charger and in addition to old-fashioned jumper cables, a combo power source/jump starter/compressor. I use it all the time, and in fact used it last week when I discovered a flat tire while on break from work.

Good thing, too. It occurs to me that, in spite of years of off-roading, I personally haven’t changed a tire since I was 16 and my dad was there to coach me. I’ve been lucky; my flats–infrequent as they were–occurred on well-traveled public road, either in the company of a strapping beau or within range of AAA.

Looks like it’s time for me to get familiar with the flimsy portable jack in the back of my sports wagon. I still spend a lot of time on rural or unpaved roads (with or without my dear and capable beau) but no self-respecting, self reliant woman’s gonna sit and cry if her tire blows out 20 miles from civilization because she can’t remember how to do this simple deed.

I’m not going to give you a tutorial, since this page will do it better than I can, with video, and anyway I have to go let my dog out. She’s had cataclysmic diarrhea and I’m afraid she’s in for another round. Note to tin-foil hat-wearing, emergency-prep-minded self: This is a reminder that switching a dog’s food too suddenly is NOTHING you want to mess with when there’s no good supply of water, and your patience/paper towel supply is limited.

But before I (and my dog) go, I want to remind you to make sure you have the above basic necessities in your vehicle at all times. Before heading out for a major road trip, you might want to augment your kit with an indoor-safe portable car heater (or make your own, as per Ron Fontaine of SurvivalTopics) additional food for you and your passengers, plastic baggies and toilet paper and–this is important–stuff to keep you or your kids entertained in case of breakdowns or long

(we interrupt this program to let the dog out. We now return to our regular programming.)

road-closures, such as one I encountered over the Christmas holiday one year when, for four hours, my dog (thankfully, her intestinal fortitude was in its prime) and I sat on the side of the highway several miles outside Weed, California among hundreds of truckers and other holiday travelers because there were three inches of new snow on the Siskyou Pass, and everyone knows that Californians don’t know how to drive in snow. That was an experience. Out of the blue, a buddy of mine loaned me a hand-held CB radio he’d found at The Bins, and I was able to monitor the chatter of the truckers down the line–fine entertainment, especially since I got few stations on the car stereo, and I was bored to tears by my own CD collection.

This non-survival situation DID challenge my supplies, and since there were no roadside amenities–not even concealment on this flat, barren plateu–I was forced to contemplate means of relieving myself away from the view of all the other roadsters who were just as devoid of entertainment as I. Perhaps carrying all these supplies in a gamma-seal bucket might be an option for shy travellers? (Don’t forget the baby wipes and trash bags!)

A bright bandanna or reflective tape, with a note, is better.

A bright bandanna or reflective tape, with a note, is better.

Here are a few more tips that might help you get out of a tricky traveling situation:

  • Stuck in mud or snow? Use a floor mat under your tire to provide traction. Might not work on the first try, but in most cases, you’ll succeed!
  • If you’re stranded in deep snow, make sure your tailpipe is clear so you don’t get a backup of carbon monoxide. Check it frequently if you’re staying put. Otherwise, snow on your car will provide added insulation. A tarp and shovel/spade will improve any wet weather dig-out or chain-up situation, trust me.
  • In really harsh winter emergencies, the foam in your car seats can provide excellent insulation for your clothing. You can use a tire, worst-case-scenario, or siphoned gasoline to light an effective and very toxic signal fire. (Stay away from the smoke, and don’t start a grass or forest fire!). Bring all your emergency essentials from the trunk or car topper into the main compartment to reduce trips outside.
  • If you leave your vehicle for any reason, be sure to leave a note where rescuers will see it. Tell them when you left, when you were stranded, where you went and when you expect to be back. I suggest writing a short note on reflective tape with permanent ink affixed to your antennae, with another on your dash.
  • Inform a friend of your intended travel route before you leave, and plan to check in with this person upon arrival. Which leads to…
  • If you tend to take unexpected or scenic routes on a whim, take the time to text or call a reliable friend with as much information as you can. Include mile markers, road numbers or names, even GPS or map coordinates.
  • If you use any type of portable indoor-safe heater, you’ll still want to crack your windows for cross-ventilation. NEVER burn anything inside your car unless you’re sure the fumes won’t hurt you; you may be better off making shelter and a warming fire outside of your car.
  • Always carry water in your car, and rotate your supplies regularly.
  • Consider carrying easy-to-prepare meals and snacks in your car, such as Mountain House, Mainstay, candy bars or trail mix bars.
  • Bring along a food-safe metal container in which to boil water or melt snow.
  • Bring along extra prescription meds if you require them, and keep an extra pair of prescription glasses on hand and/or a spare set of contact lenses. Bring along saline fluid if you wear lenses!
  • Got kids? Bring spare formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and maybe some extra disposable gloves.
  • Oh yeah. Hand sanitizer!

Another important tip. If you are stuck on the side of the road, trust your instincts. Unless you’re completely convinced otherwise, only allow the assistance of a stranger if you cannot raise help on your cell phone, and even then, simply ask the stranger to put in a call for you when THEY can get phone service.

Here’s a story that explains the exception: Once, my engine blew out along a major highway, and a family of three pulling a tow dolly were right behind me. As it happens, they had just delivered a vehicle to their son, and were heading home. They offered to tow me 300 miles back to my home, since it was on their way, and after careful assessment of the situation, and after calling a friend of mine to give him their plate numbers, truck model and the given names of the family, I agreed. I bought them dinner after they cheerfully unhitched my car in front of my house, and promised them I’d do something soon to “pay it forward,” the theme of a movie that we’d discussed on part of our shared journey.

I regret losing the contact info for this family, but they’re up in Seattle, and I think of them often.

Now, for more tips:

  • Keep your vehicles in the best condition possible, and be prepared for the worst.
  • Never let your fuel tank get below a quarter tank, and fill up more frequently if possible. This will also let you stretch your legs and prevent road-weariness. It’s also a good time to give your car a quick once-over, too; tires properly inflated? Chains on right? Oil, antifreeze and caffeine levels up? CHECK!
  • Practice changing your tires on an annual basis, and consider carrying a full-size spare in your vehicle. Regular spare tires tend to be rated only for a few miles.
  • Always budget for an extra night’s stay in a motel room when traveling. If you’re stuck with a really shady motel, insist on viewing the room before you pay for it. BELIEVE ME. I’ve rejected motel rooms with broken door locks, broken windows and horrible sanitary situations. I’ve often opted for car-camping in public forests or maintained campgrounds because I honestly felt more secure.
  • Be VERY wary of highway rest stops, especially at night. Opt for a well-illuminated service station for pit-stops or quick naps.
  • Keep a basic survival kit, similar to any you’d take with you in the woods, in your car. This should include a FireSteel, signal mirror, emergency blanket, basic first aid, hand saw and multi-tool. These items are available at my Amazon store in the BOB categories! Shopping through my Amazon portal helps support this site, as well as my own preparedness budget, so thanks in advance if you choose to stock up with me!

Happy Traveling!