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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

May 22, 1998

Traveling utilizes many forms of transportation and being prepared makes travel in foreign countries, on camping trips or during cross-country excursions much more enjoyable.

But travel isn't always a pleasant experience. Last winter, I viewed with horror and pity as TV showed landslide, hurricane, tornado and flood victims beating hasty motorized retreats ahead of the worst of it.

As I watched, I ruminated on how "catastrophe travelers" should get prepared and what special travel items should be included to see them through those first few "aftershock" days before a return trip is possible. In a similar guide some time ago, we covered the usual emergency equipment: flashlights; fire extinguisher; flares; pocket utility knife: first aid stuff: small tool kit; largest available vehicle complete with a full tank of gas. On further contemplation, however, I've come up with a few other things that you might want to pack away in odd corners of your own designated emergency tourer:

ROAD MAP - Almost every pickup and auto carries a street map in the glove box or door pocket but after a few uses, it gets wadded up and illegible. Make sure that yours is folded correctly and get a new one if it's needed. Get a state map while you're at it, too. Your current maps may be out of date and if you get emergency evacuation instructions over the radio, you may not be able to find and follow an updated route.

CASH - Credit cards are OK but if things really got rough and you had to buy something during a crisis, the seller might only take cash. Ask some of the survivors of the hard-hit areas after the Los Angeles earthquake how much they had to pay for a few gallons of clean water. I always have a couple of hundred bucks in small bills stashed away in the house so that we can grab them and run if we have to.

BEDDING - Many of us have had to spend a night sleeping in a car and know that it can get very cold. A couple of old, heavy, but durable blankets stored in a plastic garbage bag in the trunk could make an evening or two in the back seat tolerable if not pleasant.

SPARE KEYS - At a recent out-of-town gathering of our large family, the keys to one of our rental cars disappeared during the hullabaloo. We got another from the rental outfit but a key shop may not be handy during the maelstrom of a flight to avoid a natural disaster. Many of us keep a spare key hidden some place in the vehicle superstructure but I also carry a spare set of all our keys underneath the front seat.

FOOD - My sister-in-law Barbara surprised me last week when we were going to the aforementioned family shindig when she pulled a hiker's "energy" bar from her purse. She always carries a couple in case she gets stuck in a line somewhere. If your designated vehicle has room, a couple of cans of beans or some other protein might be needed to keep up your energy but don't forget that you'll need the can opener on your utility pocket knife to get them out.

WATER - In our small camper van we keep a gallon of drinking water in a heavy-duty plastic water jug I bought at the shop where we get our bottled water. Unlike the thin plastic containers that milk is often sold in, mine is tough enough to take some bouncing around without coming apart at the seams.

MATCHES - A dozen matches in a sealed container will come in handy if you have to camp out for a bit at a campground out of harm's way. If you have to start a fire in a barbecue pit, it's unhandy to have to rub a couple of sticks together. A couple of disposable lighters will also work well.

SMALL RADIO - I'd like to think that the battery in our van will never run down and disable the radio - but who knows. A pocket model would keep us up on the latest emergency instructions.

EXTRA CLOTHES - One heavy coat per passenger is a minimum requirement and coating them with a water-repellent spray help keeps them dry inside. Don't worry about what they look like - you won't be a contestant in a fashion show. A two-dollar plastic-enveloped parka/ raincoat (complete with built-in head covering) stuck in the pocket of each coat might come in handy too.

CELLULAR PHONE - You won't need to call your stock broker if the roads are washed out by a flood, but disaster centers might be reachable if the phone systems are still operating.

MEDICATION - If there's special medication that you have to take to keep you going, it can't hurt to keep a couple of spare doses in your disaster vehicle. If they're time-dated, check them periodically to make sure the date isn't stale.

SPARE SPECTACLES - My eyesight is 20/500 without my specs and one of my worst nightmares is to be caught without them. I keep a pair of ugly industrial-framed prescription glasses in our van just to make sure I'm never stuck without the ability to see what's going on.

My mother used to say travel broadens a person. She also said that you can never be too prepared for a trip and she always took more than was needed. It was also her theory that if you stayed prepared for the worst, misfortune would pass you by out of spite. I'm not the superstitious type - but you never know.