By now everyone is aware that I was out of town for a week. I drove my family almost 1300 miles round trip from our home in Southeast Louisiana up to Gatlinburg, TN for a long overdue family vacation. On top of packing phone chargers, socks and underwear, and the usual vacation junk I had to ask myself "What else do I need to bring to be on the safe side?" Below is hardly an all inclusive list, and I invite everyone to leave me a comment with what you feel I may have missed.
A. Tools - We had our share of mechanical hiccups during the week, unfortunately nothing I could have reasonably packed would have saved us (we hit a piece of road debris that took out a tire.) I did pack a couple of screw drivers, duct tape, electrical tape, and a set of ratchets and sockets. I figured anything outside of the minor repairs allowed by the above was going to be a setback that would require find a mechanic shop. The two items I DID NOT pack were a multitool (I have no justification, I just didn't think about it) and a roll of Rescue Tape (an absolute Godsend if you develop an issue with a radiator hose or heater hose on the road, unfortunately I haven't purchased a roll yet.) The point isn't to do major surgery on your car on the side of the road, but to at least have the basics to make a minor repair and get off the highway to the next town. Add to the above a small amount of basic fluids (oil, water, etc.) and make sure your tire pressures are all spot on before getting on the road.
B. Medical - I make a regular habit of carrying a small IFAK in all of my vehicles. That, plus a bag in my overnight bag of Excedrin, Benadryl, band aids, and other various remedies for minor ouchies is just good prior planning. After an experience where poor foot care cost me dearly, I also pack extra socks at the expense of extra underwear or other clothing (I can live without underwear and double up my shirts if I have to, lack of clean and dry socks is nothing to play with.) It would also go without saying that if you are prescribed any daily regimen of drugs I would make good and sure you have more than you expect to need. Pills get wet, or lost, short trips become long ones, all sorts of things can crop up.
C. MULTIPLE map sources - The modern smart phone has lulled a generation of young men and women into an incredible false sense of security in this country. We always assume we can just whip out that cell phone, chat up SIRI for a minute, and she'll happily direct us to whatever our heart desires. UNFORTUNATELY the realities of rural areas and mountain driving knocked out our cellular reception multiple times, and while GPS requires only a reasonable line of sight to the satellites orbiting above our heads, many map programs populate their maps on the fly using cellular data. No data, and you still have GPS coordinates but no map and no directions. I made a point of having a GPS program (Navmii from the iTunes App store, I'll review it in the future) loaded on my phone with on board maps. A handheld GPS would serve the same function. So would a road atlas or an old fashioned map. If your option takes batteries, have replacements or a way to charge them handy.
D. Protection - Some people espouse pepper spray (or bear mace in the area I was in). I believe in a little more direct method, and packed my 9mm and my 357 magnum revolver. Holsters, extra ammo and mags, and a rag to clean them with came along as well.
E. Cash - See C, debit cards and electronic transactions have lulled a generation into poor habits. I brought a couple hundred dollars cash with me and spent nearly all of it before we came home. Whether for the convenience (a few times I put up cash with the rest of my family to cover a group bill) or necessity (some places where using a card is difficult, sometimes people get finicky about out of state credit and debit cards) in any situation short of SHTF cash will always be king. Do not clean out your checking account, but don't leave home without a reasonable amount of cash on your person.
Last but certainly not least is to practice good OPSEC (operational security) and situational awareness. Don't tell EVERYONE on Facebook you're going to be out of town for a week. Hell, don't tell anyone you don't trust with all of your worldly possessions either. It may sound paranoid, but "family gone for a week" is an engraved invitation for a burglar to break a window and help himself to anything he wants. He knows you're not home, and today's society is not as watchful as they once were, so he's unlikely to deal with a nosy neighbor if he is even a little careful. While you are at your destination, keep your head up and eyes moving. There is a whole segment of criminals that happily prey on tourists above locals, and no matter how strong your Grey Man kung fu is you aren't going to be able to completely blend in. Local customs and language will out you fairly quickly as someone "not from around here." Watch your back, particularly in moments of vulnerability such as fiddling with key cards at your hotel door, fiddling with your smart phone, or pulling cash or cards from your wallet. Be aware and be safe.
MOST of the above comes second nature to me, and the little foibles I ran into on this trip poked a few holes in my vacation preps. I'll be better prepared next time, that's the whole point. Leave me a comment or head to the Facebook Group to let me know what I missed. - Phil Rabalais