I recently had to travel for work to a large, Midwestern city with a population of about two million. I needed to spend two weeks there working with a team to help recover an IT development project that had gone “south”. I could have traveled back home for the middle weekend; however, I didn’t want to spend all the extra time traveling, waiting for connections in airports, and so forth, so I stayed in the city.
For fun, I decided to spend that weekend seeing what I could put together for a get home bag, with a target of spending under $100, as a challenge. This was in early fall, so I would need to account for warm days and cool nights but not worry about winter extremes.
The city I was in was a bit over 500 miles from home and further if I traveled secondary roads. The parameters of my challenge were to support a trip home via the roads using my rental car, with a contingency that I might have to go by foot or use an alternate means of travel for up to 100 miles. I would not stay in hotels or eat in restaurants. I figured I would also allow the use of the clothes and accessories that I usually pack when I travel rather than try to outfit fully from scratch. That might be a challenge for another article.
I like to think of myself as thrifty, though my wife has a couple of different words for it. One of my favorite hobbies is bargain hunting. I was into buying inexpensive and reselling at a profit long before eBay or Craigslist came into being.
When traveling for more than overnight, I check one bag and have a small carry-on and a laptop case. I get a rental car if I am someplace for a week, and I also usually upgrade to a four-wheel drive vehicle. I have found that most of the time you can upgrade for free if you ask nicely at the counter. On this trip, I had a Jeep Wrangler.
First, let’s take inventory of what I brought.
On my person and in my pockets and laptop bag, I had the following:
- Jeans and a sports coat
- Mechanical wristwatch
- Wallet with ID, credit cards, and emergency cash
- a pair of current issue tan Army boots that I wear when I fly (I find them comfortable and wear them because they take up too much room in the bag. Now with TSA pre-check I don’t even have to take them off for screening.)
- Cell Phone with AC and car chargers
- Rechargeable external cell phone battery (I have a couple that were giveaway items at various conferences. These are each good for three charges of the phone. I have an automatic reminder on my calendar to use them to charge my cell or tablet, then recharge them every three weeks.)
- Eton FRX3 hand-cranked AM/FM/Weather band radio that includes a built-in flashlight and a cell phone charger, which I purchased for $15 new at a pawn shop. I also have the right adapters to charge it from my laptop to avoid all the cranking. If you have one of these, be sure to read the instructions. They usually tell you to only crank for a few minutes before giving the mechanism a break to cool down. That’s good advice.
- Key ring with Photon micro lite, p-38 can opener that I got in basic training back in 1976, Swiss Key folding scissors/knife, and Craftsman four in one screwdriver. It also has a brass grommet from an old wool 48 star American flag. It was given to me when the Boy Scout troop I was leading retired some old flags during a camp out.
- Sun glasses (clip on)
- Spare glasses, with small screwdriver and spare screws (giveaway items from conventions)
- Small first aid kit (bandages, tweezers, triple ointment antibiotic, needle, hand cleaner)
- Aspirin, Advil, and Pseudo-ephedrine,
- Maglite 2AA cell flashlight (doubles as impact and compliance weapon, like a kubotan) In 30 years of flying with one, I have never had security look at it twice.
- Surefire flashlight and spare CR123 batteries
- Small sewing kit
- Assorted pens, pencils, notebook, including a “tactical” pen that can be used for impact and pain compliance
- GPS and printed maps of the area and of how to get home
- Password protected thumb drives with various files including scans of important personal papers and “survival” manuals
- Laptop and tablet
- Reading material
In my carry-on bag, I had the following: (This bag is primarly intended to provide me with what I need for a day’s worth of meetings if my checked bag gets lost or delayed; if it hasn’t turned up by the end of the first day, I would buy clothes for the rest of the week.)
- Two pairs wool socks and trail runners (light hiking boots)
- Medium weight polyester khaki hiking pants
- Poly long-sleeve T-shirt (silk weight)
- Light weight long-sleeve shirt
- Waterproof windbreaker with hood ($1.00 at a garage sale)
- Polyester polo shirt, fleece jacket, t-shirt, and baseball cap with company logo (free)
- Larger first aid kit
- Water bottle (has to be empty going through airport security, but I fill it up once past security) I have a $20 one liter Sigg aluminum bottle that I picked up for 50 cents at Goodwill years ago
- Lifestraw water filter (good in case I am in a location with questionable water as well as for bushwhacking
- Mini DOP kit with razor, deodorant, and toothbrush
- A half dozen granola bars and a Dak one pound canned ham from Walmart (You never know when you’ll get stuck overnight in an airport)
In my checked bag, I had the following:
- A week’s worth of business clothes and dress shoes
- DOP kit
- Reading material
- Small hand ax (I purchased for $1 at an estate sale)
- Swedish Mora knife (I purchased for $0.50 at an outdoor flea market in Las Vegas) with a sheath made from duct tape
- Small Wenger Swiss Army knife (This becomes daily carry once I’m out of the airport.)
- Bucklite folding knife (This is everyday carry, unless I am in a city that prohibits carrying locking knives; this was $5 for me at a pawn shop.)
- Leatherman multi-tool (was just $3 at a pawn shop)
- 100 feet of paracord
- Fiskars pruning saw (light weight, blade slides into handle)
- 8-in-one screwdriver (torx, phillips, and straight bits, also two sizes of nut driver)
- Small Zeiss (10 x 24) binoculars (I purchased for $5 at an estate sale)
- Two-sided diamond sharpening stone
- Boy scout compass (I purchased for 50 cents at garage sale)
- Magnesium fire starter with striker [Editors note: Make sure you try it before you depend on it. The cheap chinese junk ones have a habit of not working when you need them.]
- Nalgene bottle wrapped with duct tape with stainless cup (a lot of the above fits in the bottle)
- Frogg toggs rain jacket and pants (made of fabric, not plastic) about $20 at Walmart
- Army surplus Gore-Tex parka
- Portable Aqua water purification tablets (bottle of 50)
Note that I don’t have a lot of money invested in the bug-out-type stuff in my checked baggage. This is because I don’t want to be out a lot of money, in case my bags don’t show up, although I will say that in 40 years of flying I have never had any bags lost, although a couple of times they were delayed a day or two. I have also noticed that once I started packing a hand ax, I tend to get the little note from the TSA that they have opened and inspected my bag on just about every trip. Maybe I need to start including a note to them along with a candy bar thanking them for keeping the skies safe when I fly.
In the past, I have packed a gun in my bag following the applicable airline and federal regulations. Lately, because of the chances of theft and other hassles, I have stopped doing that. On trips of a week or more, I will mail a rifle to myself in care of the hotel a few days in advance of the trip. This is legal, under federal law. In this case, I mailed a Ruger 10-22 with extra magazines and 200 rounds of ammunition to myself and planned to mail it back to myself at home at the end of the stay. The barrel has been shortened to just over 16 inches, and I have an aftermarket folding stock to allow for a smaller package. I used to mail myself a Charter Arms AR-7, but I find the Ruger to be a bit more accurate. I also include a copy of the FAQ from the ATF website explaining that this is a legal practice, just in case someone who thinks they know better raises a stink.
So, after taking stock of what I had, I had to decide what I needed and figure out how to fill the gap, and do it for under $100.
There are a lot of novels all with different scenarios under which you may need to get home during a period of disruption of normal activities (aka TEOTWAWKI). Some of these include EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse), CME (Coronal Mass Ejection), terror attacks, natural disaster, governmental action, and others. I am not going to consider a specific situation in this article.
Figuring roads that permitted travel would do so at a slower than normal pace, maybe needing to travel on secondary roads plus the assumption above that I needed to plan for 100 miles on foot, I decided that I had between one and two weeks of travel that I needed to accommodate, which included a (maybe optimistic) 20 miles per day by foot.
With this in mind, I needed to address the following categories of supplies
Items To Buy:
- CB Radio and Antenna
- Fix a flat
- Mosquito repellant
- Water jug (5 gal)
- Drinking water (bottles)
- Lighters and matches
- Kerosene lantern
- Trekking poles (ski poles)
- Para cord for trip wires and stakes
- Camp stove
- Pots and pans
- Bow saw
- Jumper cables
- Plastic storage bin
- Back pack (Arc’Teryx)
- Eating utensils
- Cooking utensils
- Garden trowel
- Toilet paper
- Cow bells