On the Road Again (Hopefully)…

Staying Safe While Traveling Involves Planning and Stocking the Right Supplies

On the Road Again (Hopefully)…

By Jim Cobb — For many, summer means vacation. Even homesteaders need to get away once in a while. Here in the United States, many families opt for the good, old-fashioned road trip. Even with today’s gas prices, it is often cheaper to drive than it is to fly. For my family of five, unless I were able to find an absolutely stellar deal on airfare online, it would cost me around a thousand dollars or so to fly us all to one of the Disney resorts and back.

Personally, unless I’m in a hurry to get to my destination, I much prefer driving to flying anyway. We live in a beautiful country and I like to take the time to see as much of it as I can. One of the goals on my bucket list is to drive from Chicago to Los Angeles, following as closely as I can old Route 66.

If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best, get your kicks on Route 66.
— Bobby Troup, 1946

When we talk about travel safety preparations, our focus is on getting us back on the road in the event of a breakdown as well as keeping us safe and secure if we’re stuck for a while. First and foremost, we need to have a way to call for help if needed. If you don’t already have a cell phone, consider investing in an inexpensive “pay as you go” one. Either way, your phone should have the ability to make calls, send texts, and go online. This gives you options for communication. In some areas, you may find that while you can’t get a strong enough signal to place a phone call, you’ll still be able to send a text or get online and send a message through social media.

I also highly suggest picking up a car charger for your cell phone. How many times have you picked up your phone to send a text, only to find you’re on about 12 percent battery? A phone with a dead battery isn’t going to be of much help to you if your car breaks down.

If you spend a fair amount of time on the road regularly, you might consider signing up for a roadside assistance program. Many of the larger insurance companies now offer it as part of their auto insurance policies. AAA is another option, of course, one with many benefits for travelers. Do your homework, though, and make sure you completely understand what these programs will and will not cover. For example, while the program might dispatch a tow truck to your location, they will most certainly limit the distance for which they’ll pay for the tow.

If you are planning a lengthy road trip, either purchase maps for the area or print them out from a website. GPS systems, for all the convenience they offer, are not perfect. While you’re on the trip, take the time to teach your children how to read road maps and plot driving routes. This is a skill that is rapidly being lost due to the advent of GPS.

Any time you hit the road, you should have some basic tools and supplies with you, just in case. When assembling your tool kit, keep in mind that even if you don’t know how to make basic repairs, someone else who stops to assist might have the skills but lack the tools themselves (see sidebar chart, “Vehicle Kit Musts”).

The Flat Tire

Probably the single-most common breakdown situation involves a flat tire. With that in mind, make it a habit to routinely check the pressure of your spare tire. If you’ve not used it at all, you might want to take out the jack and give it a test run. Some models can be a little tricky and it is better to learn how the jack operates from the comfort of your driveway than on the side of an interstate highway. In a pinch, Fix-A-Flat or a similar product can sometimes get you back on the road quickly but don’t ever look at it as being a permanent solution.

The Dead Battery

Particularly in areas of the country that experience decidedly frigid winters, a set of jumper cables, also called booster cables, is a necessity. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been approached in a parking lot by someone who needed a jump-start but didn’t have cables. As with most things in life, there is a right and wrong way to jump-start a car. Start by attaching a red (positive) cable to the positive terminal on the working battery. Next, connect the other end of that same red cable to the positive terminal on the dead battery. Then, connect the negative cable to the negative terminal on the working battery. Right here is where many people go wrong—connect the other end of the negative cable to a grounding point in the car with the dead battery, such as a bracket or a bolt, preferably a distance away from the battery. Start the car with the working battery and let it run for a minute or two, then try starting the other car. If it doesn’t start right away, let it charge a bit longer and try it again. If it doesn’t start within a matter of minutes, though, you likely have bigger issues than just a dead battery. Remove the jumper cables by reversing the procedure for attaching them.

Waiting for Help

In the event you’ve broken down and it will be a while before help arrives, you and your family will appreciate the forethought you had to stash some supplies in the trunk, just in case. Nighttime even in the summer months can get a little chilly so keep a blanket or two on hand. In our minivan, we have a small blanket stashed under each seat. We also keep a few snacks in a cooler. We only use the cooler because it is a handy storage container, not because we’re trying to keep the snacks on ice 24/7. But we’ve also found the cooler to be useful if we come across a great deal on refrigerated or frozen foods but we’re not headed directly home from the store. Snack items include things like graham crackers, dried fruit, and trail mix.
I don’t recommend storing drinking water inside the vehicle for long periods of time, at least not water stored in plastic bottles. High temperatures, such as from the interior heating up in the middle of summer, can cause chemicals to leach from the plastic into the water. Either use non-plastic bottles or just grab a bottle of water when you leave the house.

Children will need something to keep them occupied, too, as will the adults. Just a few bucks at the dollar store will net you puzzle books, pencils, perhaps a game or two. While we’re thinking about supplies for our kids, let’s be sure to include a change of clothes for the younger ones. You’ll have to swap it out every few months, of course, given how quickly the children seem to grow. But every parent likely has at least one story about how a complete change of clothes became necessary for one of their children. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, be patient because it will.

A brightly colored bandana or flag should be in your stash of emergency supplies. Tie it to the antenna or another location on the vehicle as a signal for assistance. Remember, too, that your vehicle is far larger than you and thus will be easier to see in bad weather. Unless the vehicle is damaged or located in a very dangerous spot, it is far better to stay with the car than to risk being hit while walking on the side of the road.

It sounds like an awful lot of stuff, I know, but all of those supplies, including the tools, won’t take up too much space. I picked up a laundry basket at the dollar store and that works great for keeping everything together in the trunk of my car.

Whether you’re getting your kicks on Route 66 or just visiting Grandma Sally up north, make sure you have emergency supplies in the vehicle, just in case.

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