Many of us no longer live near our families. That means that sometime during the holidays, like Elvin Bishop, we ‘gotta put on our travelin’ shoes.’
Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that Something Will Happen on the way there — or back. Here are ten things you can do ahead of time that will help you travel easier.
*Keep a copy of your license and/or passport in a safe place — somewhere accessible. If you lose your passport in the U.S., you can immediately apply for a new one via this page. (Use the forms on the link.) If you lose your passport overseas, you’ll have to contact a U.S. Embassy or consulate.
*Don’t lose it in the first place, by keeping it in a travel pouch on your person. Zip cloth pouches can go around your waist or under your shirt, with minimum fuss. Keep most of your cash there, as well, and you won’t have to worry about pickpockets as much. Speaking of:
*Put your wallet in your front pants pocket, rather than the rear. You’ll be more aware of it there. If you’re more apt to keep your money in a tote or purse, make it a strappy one — and wear that strap diagonally across your chest. One of my bosses lost a bag to a motorbike-riding thief in Rome, while walking across the plaza — he literally ripped the strap right off her shoulder. Ouch.
*Minimize cash carried, by using a credit or debit card to make withdrawals. Some companies charge more than others to do this — check with yours ahead of time to minimize fees. Include your credit card info in the ‘safe place’ mentioned. In fact, call the credit card people ahead of time with your vacation plans, if you don’t want your card denied for larger purchases.
*Travelers’ checks are good…but in some places, they’re no longer accepted that much. Nor can you easily find a location to cash them. Make sure before you go. They’re easy to use in places like Puerto Vallarta or La Paz, Mexico, for example — but forget it if you’re traveling in more rural areas of the Baja Peninsula.
*Keep a secret stash. That 20-euro note or Franklin bill may pay for a taxi or emergency meal, if you suddenly run out. (Or, God forbid, have the rest of your cash stolen.)
*If you’re driving, set a quarter-tank rule…and stick to it. If you fuel up as soon as possible when your gas hits 1/4 tank, you’ll never run out. Don’t wait for the ‘low fuel’ light to go on — you may be out in the boonies, with the next gas station 40-50 miles away. The Brick and I learned this the hard way one motorcycle summer near Elko, NV. We literally coasted into town on fumes. Thankfully, our one-burner cookstove ran on gasoline, so we could pour that into the tank, too. Otherwise, it would have been a long, hot 5 mile or so walk.
*Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle. Items should include a flashlight (critical if your lights go out!), blanket, some kind of long-lasting food source (like candy or energy bars) and bottled water. Keep a thick candle and matches in an empty coffee can: it provides a surprisingly effective heat source in a stalled car. Flares will help mark your vehicle; a small bag of kitty litter and shovel helps you dig out if you get stuck. Also helpful, especially if you’re traveling in the mountains or desolate areas: a tow kit, chains and a portable battery charger. The Brick also stashes a small toolkit, a box of liver treats and a cut-down water gallon container, along with a full one. (We have dogs who get thirsty and hungry enroute.)
Cellphones, especially if yours has a GPS app, are not only important — but essential. Keep a charger in the car, and yours will never go dead. (Getting coverage all the time — well, that’s a different matter. If you travel a lot, make sure your cellphone plan covers as much ground as possible. So far, Verizon seems to have the most comprehensive national coverage for the U.S.)
*Your glove compartment should be stocked, too. Do you know where your vehicle registration is? Insurance card? You should — plus contact numbers, in case you need to call. Keep them in a case, for easy access. (A restaurant gift card or small amount of cash doesn’t hurt, either. One blogger, whose car was vandalized, kept her valuables stashed in a small tampon box. The thieves never thought to look inside!)
*Know where you are. Keep a map or travel atlas in your vehicle. Pay attention to exit and mile markers. If your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the insurance company or police (remember that cellphone?) are bound to ask. Being specific will let them get help to you faster.
One final thing: don’t try to save a few bucks, and omit towing coverage. (It’s generally available on your insurance, or through reputable companies like AAA. The latter gives you access to maps and travel discounts, too.) You may not use it for years. But sooner or later, you’ll be stuck on the side of the road, bone cold and wishing desperately for someone to come and help. There’s no uncertainty, either; your company will know who to call. That repair truck or wrecker’s flashing lights will be one of the most welcome sights on a dark, discouraging night.
Don’t ask me how — but I know. You will, too.