I’m both a family man and a business traveler. When I’m on the road, my primary mission is to do the best job I can and get home again. In the event of an emergency, that mission immediately reduces down to get home as fast as I can. Most families have emergency plans that assume that the family or group will be together. But what happens if one or more of the group can’t be there? When you’re on the road, your primary mission in any catastrophic emergency is to get home to your family and support system. You can’t fulfill your part of your community/family emergency plan if you’re not there to do it. For those in a position similar to mine, I offer the following suggestions. These suggestions are preparatory in nature for the start of any catastrophic situation and carry the following assumptions: Trouble comes unexpectedly. Chance (luck & fortune) favors the prepared mind. And in periods of catastrophe, while good will may abound – predators abound as well.
- Make sure that your family has an emergency plan that includes what to do when you’re not home. Have primary, secondary and tertiary meet spots, as well as innocuous signals that will tell the other parties if they’ve left and where they’re going.
- Don’t tell strangers or your casual neighbors (anyone not in your network) how long you’ll be gone, even inadvertently. (Not even in your church as a prayer request!) My usual spiel goes something like this: “yes I travel for business, but with us trading vehicles and the garage, you can never tell which of us is home.” and: “I don’t have a solid schedule, it’s just a day here and the next day I’m there.” Also: “Not telling” includes you generous souls who leave your garage door open all the time. You may think it’s not a big deal because nothing ever gets stolen. But are you sure that you want undesirables to know that your family is there without a critical part of their survival plan? (You!) And don’t think that someone isn’t taking inventory and will notice if you aren’t home. If you are gone and there is something that someone needs bad enough on the other side of a garage door – then the door is coming down. Once past the garage door, don’t think they’ll stop before checking out what they can get out of the house proper.
- Have a “get home bag” and keep it with you. This is usually just your three day bug out bag (BOB) bag kept in the car. Though you might specialize the bag somewhat I’ll still call it BOB. Keep your BOB with you. It’s your friend. You don’t want your friend to get lonely do you? Not too long ago backpacks, and especially camo backpacks were unusual and drew a lot of attention in the business world. Not so much anymore. Even in airports, (which I strongly suggest you avoid), it is not unusual to see men in suits with camo accessories. In any event, my Kettlebell draws more attention than any backpack.
- Do not under any circumstances use BOB as your travel bag. They serve an different purposes. The get home bag is to get you home. It has no room for your work laptop, or even an extra change of socks for the trip. The next thing you know – you’ll either leave BOB home or use it to live out of. I’m sure your luck will be better than mind, but I expect that about the one time I used BOB as a travel bag TEOTWAWKI would happen and I would be in the middle of nowhere with half-used resources.
- Stay fit. The road is a great place to break your diet and get weigh over your target weight (pun intended). If “it” happens, you may end up walking home at least part way with BOB on your back. Better to do so when you’re in good shape. Pick the diet that works for you and stick to it. Carry your workout equipment and routine with you if you can. Exercise equipment varies widely from hotel to hotel; but my Kettlebell is always the same. I was at a national brand upper scale hotel and found that 4 of the 6 machines didn’t work at all, and due to liability issues, you can pretty much forget about free weights in any hotel chain. Take responsibility for your own equipment and work out in your own room. From personal experience, I know that this more than doubles the likelihood that you will actually exercise. An additional advantage is the when working out in your hotel room, you never need worry about who is watching you. While I prefer the Kettlebell, other great options include elastic straps, weights that fill with water, and mats for stretching and yoga type exercises.
- Don’t fly unless you absolutely must. Drive whenever you can. Airlines will make you leave or check all of your goodies. Unfortunately, the days of carrying even a pocketknife or multi-tool on a plane are gone forever; and (again) while your luck will probably be better than mine, my luggage is lost or late at least once per year. In 2008, I flew cross country with my company training materials checked in the plane. But it was hot that day and when I changed planes, they left my luggage on the ground to save enough weight to get the plane in the air. I was told that they could deliver the luggage “tomorrow” but I needed the materials by 7am the next day. So I sat in the terminal for 6 hours hoping my bags would show up on the next flight. BOB will do you no good if you are in Sacramento and BOB is in Los Angeles. So for business expediency, I have adopted a 4 hour rule: I will always drive if I can drive there within 4 hours of the door to door flight time. This is the equivalent of a ~500 mile radius. If the trip difference is less that 6 hours, I will usually drive, with my current location, this is the equivalent of a quarter of the US.
- If you must fly, try not to share rental cars with people outside your your own geographical locale. In the event of another airline emergency, the flights will be grounded and if you don’t already have a car or rental then you probably won’t get one. I was 800 miles from home on 9/11. I had to fly out to the job site, but fortunately already had a rental car and was able to drive home. Typically I shared a rental car with another manager three states away in the other direction; fortuitously, we had for this “one exception,” acquired separate cars for this trip. Had it not been for that exception, the other manager and I would have been flipping a coin for the right to take the car home. I have never broken this rule since.
- If you can legally carry a concealed handgun do so; and carry whenever you can. You never know when trouble is coming and just like your BOB or Get Home Bag; it will do you no good at home or locked in the trunk of your car. And let’s face it, if you knew when and where trouble was coming, you wouldn’t be going there in the first place right?
- Know your surroundings. Sit where you can see what’s going on, don’t just look around, look around continuously. Know who and what is around you. This applies not only in restaurants, but in hotels, businesses, and even (or especially) on the road. Use your eyes, ears and nose to let you know what’s going on. While on a business trip to Milwaukee in the late 1990s I found myself sitting in a regional chain family diner during the late lunch period. The activity in the kitchen changed and we noticed that the smell of food was gone. My coworker and I got up, paid our bill and left the building. As we pulled out of the lot a fire engine (the big one with the pumps, ladders and such) pulled into the lot entryway and parked, blocking most everyone who was still inside.
- Be everybody’s friend on the road. The waitress, the hotel clerk, the gas station attendant/clerk. Learn to tell a joke that doesn’t offend anyone. Smile at everyone. You want to be that friendly guy that doesn’t look like he’ll harm a flea. Don’t be the victim or the strong man. Both are targets for criminals, the victim for the opportunity to exploit, the strong man for his ability to interdict the criminal’s plans.
Driving Tips for the Business Traveler:
- Don’t park “nose in” to a parking spot. If you nose in, you have to back out. In the case of an emergency, you may need to fight traffic to back out and may not have have the luxury of the time to do so. Also, if you back in, then you have the opportunity to make sure that no one is following you. By the way, this includes your own house! Every year, I hear several stories about people who are robbed or worse by predators who follow the driver into the house through the garage door. Turn around, double check your surroundings and then open the door and back in. Close the door and then get out. My more paranoid friends will add that once you back in, put the car in drive until the door closes. This way if predators come to get you, you can go forward out of the garage and away from danger.
- Don’t park where you can’t get out. This includes areas near fire hydrants and dead end parking lots. If I have the choice, I don’t park on the same side of the street as the hydrant. Emergency vehicles will block you in. Losing your vehicle to a crime scene or other emergency makes it difficult to drive home.
- Be willing to walk away. Travel is like a delicate negotiation, if you’re not willing to walk away, then you increase the odd that your costs will be higher. Be flexible. If you can’t abide by the rules, be willing to walk away. I’ve been known to drive a few miles out of my way for special food: Great ice cream in Cincinnati Ohio, the best prime rib in Milwaukee Wisconsin, incredible Carne Asada in Childersburg Alabama, and “can’t get them anywhere else”Green Chile Rellenos in Albuquerque New Mexico. Actually, I’ve been known to take a hundred mile detour or more for great food. But more than once, I’ve driven through or past the lot even after a detour because either it didn’t look right, or I couldn’t park so I could get out. I’m probably paranoid. But I’m also very alive and haven’t lost any stuff.
- Be willing to walk. Sometimes in order to comply with the park only where you can get out rule – you end up passing up the closest parking places. You can wear a jacket or hat if you don’t want to get wet. Walking in to the building gives you the added advantage of time to check the place out inconspicuously. As with the previous tip, be willing to change your mind to go back to your vehicle and drive away. It something seems wrong, it probably is.
- Don’t park under a street lamp and not in the dark either. You’ve got up to a couple grand in your emergency bag. The light makes is easy for criminals to see, the dark makes it easy for them to operate. Pick the middle ground if available.
- Don’t show your stuff (Keep your mobile office hidden). If you mobile office is your life, don’t expose your life to others. A lot of traveling professionals have near bleeding edge toys: laptops, PDAs, scanners, printers, GPS, etc. If you look like a traveling advertisement for the consumer electronics show – don’t be surprised when people try to take it from you. Discretion is not only the heart of valor, but of security as well. Discrete does not mean to take all of your valuable stuff from the passenger seat and move it to the trunk whenever you stop for meals. I was at a truck stop in Ohio once where this guy did exactly that; and the entire truck stop watched him do it. Get creative and only have the stuff you need available when you stop. Keep the goodies hidden!
- This should be obvious, but: Keep your gas tank full. The questions you need to consider is: How many fuel stops will I have to make before I get home? If I have to turn around right now, can I make it back the way I came, or around an unexpected detour? I’ll confess to have broken this rule a time or two trying to get the cheapest gas or stop at my favorite diner. It almost cost me big time when an accident on the interstate made me take a 15 mile detour through no-man’s land. I made it to a gas station, but it could have easily gone the other way.
- Lastly, keep your car in good repair. Don’t skimp on tires or fluids. Especially in inclement weather. One fluid that everyone forgets until they run out is washer fluid. Keep an extra gallon in your car. I shared mine a few years back with a sports car that ran out in middle Kentucky. It was the worst storm of the year and the station had run out of fluid to sell.
I think everyone here knows that preparedness is a much a matter of mind than stuff. And once everything goes south, this will be on everyone’s mind. But I tend to view survival as as 24/7 issue: not just getting ready for when “it” happens, but anticipating that “it” could come at any time. And being ready. Blessings to you and yours.