You are driving through Furnace Creek, Death Valley. The hot sun is relentlessly baking the asphalt to a gooey tar, and the temperature is hovering at a hundred ten degrees Fahrenheit. Your car overheats, gets a flat tire, or simply runs out of gas. You are in a serious predicament. Do you have the necessary skills and supplies to survive such an ordeal? If you are going on a cross-country road trip, you need to be prepared for every possibility.
In the event of your car overheating, you should be carrying extra coolant, water, and some radiator Stop-Leak. You should know the basics: check the coolant reservoir and refill if necessary; wait until the car has cooled down completely before attempting to open the radiator cap with a rag; look for a leak or a busted hose; and remember, you can drive an overheating car as long as you keep a close eye on the heat gauge and pull over before it gets into the red.
Everyone should learn how to change a flat tire. Familiarize yourself with the location of the spare, the jack, and the lug wrench. Practice changing a tire in your own driveway. It also helps to carry a can of tire inflator, which will temporarily seal a leak until you can get to a garage.
Running out of gas is the most preventable emergency. Fill your car when it gets to the half-tank mark. Pay attention to a road sign that reads, Last Chance Gas for 300 Miles. I guarantee you, they are not kidding. Carry a spare gas can in your trunk, along with a sturdy pair of walking shoes in case you have to walk to the nearest gas station.
If your car is relatively new, you probably have a Roadside Assistance plan. Keep the numbers handy, and always have a charged up cell phone to make the call. If you have an older vehicle, you might consider joining the AAA (American Automobile Association) or the CAA if you live in Canada.
In the event of a breakdown that may leave you stranded for a period of time, you should always carry extra drinking water and high energy snacks like granola bars or peanuts. A sunshade is indispensable in extreme heat, and extra blankets or a three-wick emergency candle will keep you warm in the colder temperatures.
Other scenarios can present themselves on a cross country trip as well. Maybe you stopped at a roadside diner and scoffed down some bad hamburger meat. Eight hours and five hundred miles later, you are throwing up and having a serious case of the runs. Although a roll of toilet paper or some napkins are a godsend at that point, you should also be carrying a first aid kit. It should include over-the-counter medications like motion-sickness or anti-nausea pills, Imodium for diarrhea, and headache remedies like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. While you’re at it, you might also throw in some sunscreen, bug spray, and lip balm. There’s no law against being comfortable, especially if you’re running into the woods with the runs.
Maybe you’re driving along a straight stretch of Texas highway. The music is cranked up, your hair is blowing in the wind, and you’re singing along to Billy Talent’s Rusted From the Rain. You pass into Kountz town limits, not noticing the sign that reads, Home of the Big Thicket and the sudden drop from a double nickel speed limit to a mere forty miles per hour. The locals don’t call it Home of the Big Ticket for nothing. You should be aware of different laws in each state, particularly regarding seat belt use and speed. Fines can be quite high for certain infractions and getting pulled over by a state trooper is no fun at all (especially if you are driving through Texas). Make sure you pull as far on to the shoulder as possible, remove your sunglasses, turn the car off, and keep your hands on the wheel as the trooper approaches. You will be required to produce a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Make sure you know where these documents are located, and wait until the trooper asks before reaching for anything. If you are polite and cooperative, you may get off with a warning only.
Now let’s say you’ve stopped at a convenience store in Winchester, Kentucky, to stock up on potato chips and moon pies. You are short of cash, and your credit card is declined. Somehow, you spent more money than you intended, and now you’re almost broke at a decidedly inconvenient distance from home. Proper planning and a pre-trip budget would have been a good idea, but failing that, you still have some options. You can call someone to wire some money directly to your bank account or to the nearest Western Union. Or pool all of your remaining money for gas and make a beeline for home. Minimize the use of air conditioning and drive a bit slower than the posted speed limit to maximize your fuel economy. But a loaf of bread and some peanut butter, and refill your water jugs at rest stops. If you are within a day or two of your next paycheck, you could sleep in the car for a couple of nights at the rest stop.
What if it’s late at night and you really have to pee from drinking too much Gatorade? The rest stop on I-95 is pretty empty, but you don’t really think about it. Coming out of the restroom, you encounter a menacing stranger. He grabs your arm and holds a knife to your throat. Maybe he wants your purse. Maybe he wants your car. Maybe he wants you. Security is important when travelling cross-country. Thieves often target out-of-state cars looking for money or purchases, and predators look for lone females. There are some things you can do to minimize your risk of being targeted. Always stow maps and guidebooks out of sight – ditto for purchases and luggage. Be aware of your surroundings when entering and exiting your vehicle, and always remember there is safety in numbers. Drive with your doors locked at all times, not just in areas like south central Los Angeles or the seedy side of Tampa, Florida. If someone is following you on the road, or tries to signal for you to pull over, drive to the nearest police station or garage and ask for assistance.
It’s always a smart idea to have a travel itinerary with a specific arrival time at your ultimate destination. If you have a breakdown, an accident, get lost, mugged, abducted by aliens, or stuck washing dishes at Denny’s to pay off your debts, someone should be aware that you have gone astray. Aunt Edna in Idaho can’t report you missing if you didn’t tell her you were coming, or if you gave her a vague arrival time with four or five days of wiggle room. Keep in touch at regular intervals. Call if you are running behind schedule. It could make all the difference between three days lost at Yellowstone or only one. Remember, chance favors the prepared mind.