A Florida Vacation, or SHTF?, by Z.P. Wilson

Greetings from Michigan, where the summers are glorious, and the winters long and cold. My wife and I have lived here all our lives, and have endured the seasonal cold by hunkering down at home with books and television. During our work lives, I often told her that when we retired, we would travel to warmer places when the snow flies.

We retired last year, so this was the first winter to put my idea into effect. I rented a house in Florida for the entire month of February. As we made plans for what to do and what to bring, a worry slowly crept into my brain—what to do if the Schumer Hit The Fan (SHTF) when we were far from home?

The Incomplete Prepper

I am the prepper in our family, and though my wife supports my efforts, she leaves most of it to me. I admit that I am an incomplete prepper. We’ve store food, cash, and ammo, but compared to some of the preppers I have read on this site, I am an amateur. Still, I think that any preps are better than no preps.

So I started thinking about various scenarios that could happen when we would be 1200 miles from home, in a large city with only the supplies we brought with us.

No matter the SHTF scenario, my primary concern was getting us home as quickly as possible. We planned to drive to Florida in my vehicle, a Ford Escape, which is a mid-size SUV. Here are my (admittedly incomplete) preparations for the journey.

Emergency Kit One

I have a small toolbox (about 8x8x16 inches) that’s in my vehicle for emergencies. It has basic tools and supplies for repairs. I’m not a master mechanic, but even minor fixes require tools, and it’s better to have them than not have them.

Before we left, I inspected the contents, added a few items, and this is what it contains:
–Socket wrench set, in both English and metric
–Socket extension
–Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers
–Set of open end wrenches
–Gorilla gloves
–Set of hex wrenches
–Small and large visegrip pliers
–Two large screw clamps
–Needlenose pliers and channellock pliers
–Large clamping hemostat
–Zip ties
–Small bag of various sizes of nuts, bolts, screws
–Couple of small pieces of rubber hoses, to repair brake lines, fuel lines, etc.
–Small length of exhause pipe, for repairs.
In addition to the above, I was able to stash in the spare time compartment these items:
–Jumper cables
–Can of fix-a-flat
–Two bungee cords
–20-foot length of nylon rope
–8×10 folded up tarp
–4-way universal lug wrench

Why an additional lug wrench, in addition to the one that comes with the spare tire? Because the factory-installed wrench is usually lightweight, and will bend or break if you apply too much force. You don’t want to rely on it in an emergency.

And a note on jumper cables. I’ve jumped many vehicles many times, but designers of modern cars seem to be making it more difficult to do so. The battery in my SUV is in the back of the engine compartment, next to the firewall. It has a plastic cover over it (easily removable), but clamping the cables to the battery terminals would not be easy. [begin curmudgeon voice] I believe car designers are deliberately making it harder for do-it-yourselfers to work on their vehicles. My wife’s former car had the battery hidden in the trunk! [end curmudgeon voice]

Even a simple thing like jumping your car, or jumping another car, could become an ordeal if you don’t know where the battery is or can’t get the cables on the terminals. Know where the battery is on your vehicle, and do a run-through on attaching the cables.

Emergency Kit Two

Several years ago, I filled a small canvas bag with additional emergency items. I haven’t used it for a while, so I dug it out of the garage to have a look.

Most of the items were still relevant; a few were not. I discarded the latter, added some more, and this is what it now contains:
–Emergency radio, battery-powered with solar charger
–Small first aid kit
–A tow strap
–Several rain ponchos
–A multitool
–Gorilla gloves
–Roll of duct tape (of course!)
–Four personal water filters
–H95 face masks
–Roll of toilet paper
–Emergency tire inflator

The tire inflater had been given to me by a friend more than ten years ago, so I did a trial run. I deflated a tire, then plugged the inflator into the cigarette lighter. After screwing the inflator hose onto the valve stem, I turned it on. Within a couple of minutes, it had completely reinflated the tire. So I packed it up, confident it would work if needed. Another lesson learned–if you’re unsure of your equipment, test it first. Replace it if necessary.
These two emergency kits went into the back of my SUV, in addition to a couple of blankets. I’m sure the readers of this fine blog can think of a hundred other items that would be valuable in an emergency, but space was at a premium. Still, I felt better and a little more confident as we set off.


Thus prepared, if only imperfectly, we departed for the sunny south. According to Google maps, the drive is about 1,200 miles, and takes about 18 hours. With breaks and traffic, the actual drive would be three to four hours longer than that. We took a leisurely five days to get there, stopping to see some sights along the way, which meant driving only about four or five hours each day.

We checked into our rental on Feb. 1, unpacked, got some groceries, and settled in. Compared to Michigan in February, the weather was terrific. Temps in the 70s and low 80s every day, with little rain. But that’s when things started to get interesting, prepper-wise.

The infamous Chinese balloon story broke in the media. The balloon first entered Alaskan airspace on Jan. 28, then crossed over to Canada on January 30th. It re-entered our airspace Jan. 31 over Idaho, and continued its slow drift across the country. The balloon was first spotted by the public on Feb. 1, which triggered a debate about what to do about it. People asked why the Biden administration was doing nothing about intercepting or shooting down a foreign balloon that could be gathering intelligence. On Feb. 3, the Chinese government admitted the balloon was theirs, but claimed it was a civilian weather balloon. Should we believe the Chinese government was telling the truth? Yeah, right.

The Biden administration dithered while the balloon traversed the entire continental U.S., when it left our airspace off the coast of North Carolina on Feb. 4. Only then, did our Comatose-in-Chief give the order to shoot it down. The Chinese called that act a violation of international law and threatened some kind of response.

The situation never reached the level of tension as, say, the Cuban missile crisis, but it did raise the question in my mind, what if some sort of hostilities break out? Should we bug out of Florida, and head home? How much domestic chaos would result if World War III erupts?

At the same time, we learned that on Feb. 2, a solar vortex broke free from the sun and started circling the polar region of the sun. Astronomers said it was the first time such a vortex had been observed. When we preppers hear about something like this, we immediately think of a Carrington event, when a solar flare hits the earth and fries most of the electronic infrastructure. Such an event would obviously throw a huge monkey wrench into our vacation.

How about a third potential disruption? On Jan. 27, the Memphis police department released body cam footage of the beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man who was stopped on Jan. 7 by five members of the Memphis police department, all of whom were also black. Nichols tried to run away; the five cops caught him and proceeded to severely beat him. Nichols died three days later, and the body cam footage showed he was unarmed and posed little threat to the officers. Despite all the participants being black, the lamestream media turned it into a racial confrontation. The video and the media reporting incited demonstrations in many cities.

How great would the unrest grow? Would it reach the level of rioting that happened in 2020 after George Floyd’s death? These were not pleasant thoughts as we slept in a rented home in a large city, 1200 miles from home.

There were a couple more disasters that happened about the same time. On Feb. 3, a freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The train was carrying hazardous chemicals, which started leaking. The authorities on site came up with the brilliant idea of burning off the chemicals, which caused a toxic mushroom cloud to spread over the area. On Feb. 6, a huge earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, causing massive damage and many deaths. We were certainly living through interesting times.

Strategies for getting back home

The preparations I made before the trip, and the supplies I brought with us, were only the first half of a successful return home during a SHTF scenario. There was also the task of figuring out the best way to get home.

The tactics depended, naturally, on the situation. In case of riots and civil upheaval, we would not want to drive I-75, the fastest north/south route, which goes through several major cities. We would want to take a more rural route on state highways to avoid urban areas. This would make navigation more complicated, which is why I always travel with a road atlas. I find it is easier to chart a route by looking at a printed map, instead of scrolling and scrolling through a map on a smartphone app. Everyone should travel with printed maps. Who knows if your devices and navigation apps will work?

My main concern was a grid-down disaster, caused by a Carrington event, an EMP, Russian or Chinese hackers, or whatever. Depending on the severity of the disruption and the geographic area, such an event could make it very difficult to get home.

With no electricity, could we gas up the car? Would some gas stations have generators or other means to pump gas? Would our phones work, or would we be unable to communicate? Without electricity, civil order would probably be maintained for a few days, but when food shelves were empty and gasoline gone, how long before rioting and violence breaks out?

I always kept the car filled up, never letting it fall below half a tank. But even with a full tank, we would only be able to drive a little more than 300 miles. Would there be operational gas stations along the way? Did we want to set out, unsure whether we could fill up?

I would rather be safe than sorry, so I started to do some math. The car gets about 25 miles a gallon on the highway, which means for a 1200 mile trip home, we would need about 48 gallons. Round up to 50 to make sure. With 15 gallons in the tank, we would need an additional 35 gallons to get home.

My plan was to buy seven 5-gallon gas cans, and try to find an operating gas station to fill them up. Packing them in the back of the car, we should be able to get home. If we found an operating gas station along the way to top off the tank, so much the better.

In a grid-down event, everything depends on speed. I would have to get the gas cans fast. I would have to fill them up fast, while gas was still available, and before any sort of rationing was imposed. We would have to get on the road quickly, while civil order was still being maintained.

Would we take the interstate, or the back roads? I’d have to play that by ear. Would we try to make the drive home in one long drive? A 20-hour drive would necessitate my wife and I driving in shifts, and driving part of the time at night. It’s hard to perceive threats or trouble in the dark, so I figured it would be best to do the trip in two days, during the daylight.

It goes without saying that we would not be stopping for leisurely meals along the way, which meant we would have to pack some food and water in the cooler. With the gas cans in the back, we would most likely have to jettison some stuff we brought with us. So long, golf clubs. But the two emergency bags I packed were coming along.

A Happy Ending

In the end, no crisis emerged to cause us to leave early. We had a great month in Florida, enjoying the warm weather, and visiting various attractions. At the end of the month, we packed up and headed north, planning to take three days, or about 6-7 hours of driving each day.

And that’s when the unexpected emergency happened. Not a big one, but enough to change my get-home strategy.

We learned that a large storm, packing snow and freezing rain, was headed for the midwest and Michigan, scheduled to arrive on the afternoon of our third day on the road. I didn’t relish the idea of driving through a snowstorm our third day, so the second day we drove ten hours, to get within a four-hour drive of our home. On the third day we got up early, gulped down some breakfast, and headed off. We stayed ahead of the storm, arriving home before noon.

Our country and our times seem to be getting more and more chaotic. But we still intend to travel a lot in our retirement, and there will always be the possibility of some sort of disruption to upend our carefully made plans. Now that I have more time to think, I’m sure I’ll change some of the items in the two emergency kits, and consider various strategies and tactics for coping with various events that may take place while we’re away from home. I don’t have all the answers, and I welcome the thoughts and ideas of the smart and capable people who read SurvivalBlog.