Survival To Go, by JMD – Part 2

In my checked bag, when flying, I put a small zippered case that contains:

  • A Gerber Folding Sheath Knife, which is a good trade-off between size/weight and capability. I’ve found that most people (LEOs in particular) tend to be a lot less suspicious of folding knives than fixed-blade ones.
  • A Boker Plus Credit Card Knife. I put this in my pocket if I’m going out for an evening and I can’t bring my EDC kit, because it’s completely unobtrusive in a front pocket. It’s not necessarily the most robust knife in the world, but it’s the same size as a credit card and has a decent blade. If you’re in a particularly nasty part of the world, where something like kidnapping is a real possibility, you can attach it to the inside of your belt in the back with a length of Gorilla tape; you can easily reach it with your hands tied behind your back, and no one will notice it even if the kidnappers pat you down.
  • A knife sharpener for the evenings in your hotel room, which are a good time to keep your knives up to snuff.
  • A Leatherman Wave Multi-tool. In an urban environment, sometimes pliers and screwdrivers are as important as a knife.

When my checked bag arrives at baggage claim, I immediately transfer the small case (containing the items above) from my checked bag into my backpack so it’s handy. (Just don’t forget to put it back in your checked luggage before you check in for the return flight!)

I also keep a small Esbit stove and some cut up fatwood in my checked bag for heating up water when everything’s out. (Note: smoke alarms in hotel rooms continue to function even during a power outage.) Also, note that you CANNOT legally pack Esbit tablets (or any other fire-starting chemicals) in either your checked bag or your carry-on, but pieces of wood are okay.

Tips and Lessons Learned

In addition to having the kernel of a survival kit, it helps if you know and do the right things. I’ve collected a number of tips and things I’ve learned over the years that might be useful for improving your comfort/safety/survival when traveling:

  • Develop a basic worst-case route plan for getting home or to a meeting place prior to your trip, and share it with your spouse/relatives/friends. If possible, as soon as you know a disaster is about to hit, communicate your current location, planned actions, and planned destination(s) back home.
  • Dress to blend in. Use a standard backpack (Swiss Gear, Outdoor Products, Columbia, et cetera). Do not carry an OD military tactical molle bag, and don’t dress in camo or tactical vests. That tends to gather a lot more of the wrong kind of attention from people, especially when going through security.
  • If I’m going out for an evening (dinner/bar/et cetera) where I can’t take my kit with me, I always have the Boker credit card knife in my pants pocket, the Schrade tactical pen, and the H2O filter in my shirt/jacket pocket and the dog tags/whistle around my neck. It’s better than nothing if I can’t get back to the hotel immediately when a disaster hits. In some countries, man purses (murses?) are acceptable wear in more formal business settings, and they can provide you with a lot more carrying capacity for a travel EDC.
  • Request a second floor (or whatever floor is the one above ground level) hotel room. (In some countries, this floor above the ground level is called the first floor.) There is less concern about break-ins or flooding than on the ground floor; compared to rooms on higher floors, there are fewer stairs in the event of a power outage/fire and it’s easy to break a window and climb down on a sheet-rope in case you’re trapped in your room during a fire or after an earthquake.
  • When traveling in a foreign country, always keep your passport in a hidden pocket on your person, preferably in a waterproof bag, along with some local cash. If you have to bug out of the country during an emergency, it’s your ticket into your country’s embassy; you may not have time to get back to your hotel room to grab it.
  • Before you travel, locate the camping/outdoor/Walmart/Cabelas/Bass Pro/REI/gun/et cetera stores nearest to your hotel, work place, and along the route between the two. In a SHTF situation, you won’t have to waste time Googling for the closest stores (assuming cell/Internet service is even available). Also consider spending some time online on the prepper boards a find out what stores the local folks favor. You may make some new friends in the process that can help out in an emergency. I met some great prepper folks online while preparing for a trip to Hong Kong, and I had a fun night out drinking with them!
  • Try to be discrete about the fact you’re prepared. Laying in your hammock, eating hot oatmeal under your warm fleece blanket, during a winter storm in an airport/bus terminal/train station that’s lost power and heating, in front of a crowd of cold, hungry people (especially with children) is sure to draw the wrong kind of attention.
  • Maintain physical contact with your bag at all times when you’re around other people, especially while sleeping. Keep an arm through one of the straps, use your bag for a pillow, or sleep on your side and hug it. If you’re a heavy sleeper, get a movement alarm for your bag and set it while you sleep.
  • If an emergency situation is developing, immediately fill your water bottle from the closest clean source. I’ve been in situations where water went out in an airport while stuck there for two days, due to severe weather and frozen pipes. Also, grab some spare toilet paper and paper towels.
  • If you’re in an airport and you can’t string your hammock, head to the baggage claim area and check where they keep unclaimed luggage. If it’s accessible, you can lay a bunch of bags/suitcases out on the floor side by side and make a bed for the evening. It’s slightly more comfortable than a cold, hard floor. If it’s a true SHTF situation, the abandoned bags can be a good source of supplies/materials.
  • Most business-class hotels do a good job of taking care of their guests during an emergency by providing shelter, food, water, medical, and so forth. You should only leave your hotel if the situation becomes untenable, such as all of the hotel staff bugging out, which is a good indication. If you’re staying at a Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere, you’ll probably need to do a lot more prep yourself.
  • If you have to leave your hotel room (even temporarily) during an emergency, take your kit with you. The batteries that run the key card locks in most hotels may or may not work for any length of time, and you might not be able to get back into your room. I’ve had this happen on several occasions, even though there wasn’t an emergency. Security had to get the maintenance people up to my room to change the batteries on the lock so I could get back in.
  • If cell/Internet coverage goes out during an emergency, turn off the cell and WiFi radios on your cell phone to save the battery; then, turn them on once an hour or so to see if it’s back. Better yet, power your cell phone down and just turn it on occasionally for checking your navigation or cell coverage. As soon as you have a signal, send a status message to your primary/secondary contacts, including any updated plans or destinations. Create a plan document on your device and update it regularly, so you can quickly send it if service is only available for a short time.
  • Be careful about bringing your knives into any customer work place when travelling. If it’s even a potential issue, leave it in your rental car (stuck up under the seat or dash or in the trunk but not in the glove box!); you might also ask Security to hold onto it while you’re visiting. Also, never show it off anywhere!
  • Know the local knife laws. In some facilities/cities/countries, certain (or in some cases, any!) knives are illegal. While a foreign prison might afford you food, shelter and (questionable) medical care, it’s generally not most people’s first choice.
  • Traveling with business associates can make for tough decisions in an emergency situation. If you’re stuck somewhere for a while, the security and companionship of a known group can be a good thing, but you might feel obligated to share your resources. If it’s most likely going to be just one night and you’ve got enough, you can impress your co-workers with your preparedness. If you’re concerned, make an excuse about wanting to explore or needing some personal space for religious reasons (or loud snoring) and tell them you’ll see them in the morning.
  • I never try to travel with a gun any more. Yes, you can put them in your checked luggage (as long as you declare it), but the hassle and attention you get, plus the overhead of protecting it along with the hassles of local laws, makes it a nightmare. If a SHTF situation occurs while you’re on the road, try to be one of the first to the closest local gun store/police station/National Guard armory and acquire or buy one. If it’s a true national/global TEOTWAWKI situation, most gun stores won’t be worrying about background checks, but you’ll probably need to use those gold bars, since cash most likely won’t be worth much.
  • Take your kit with you when heading out for work every day and, if possible, keep it in the front seat with you when in a rental car; you may need to grab it fast and get out. Make sure you have easy access to the Gerber hook knife (for your seatbelt) and the glass breaker in case of a serious accident.
  • If you’re forced to travel a long way to get home after a major disaster, consider locating an off-road bicycle. You can make good time, power without gas, remain relatively silent, and usually fix problems fairly easily; it’s important to practice riding a bicycle with a fully-loaded backpack to get comfortable doing so, as it can be harder than you think.
  • Think trains. If it’s a local or regional emergency and you can safely evacuate the affected area, trains are most likely to keep running in adverse conditions that will limit aircraft and road vehicles, and you don’t have to spend hours behind a wheel. I use an Android app called RailBandit that covers most of the passenger train systems in the U.S.
  • If it’s a SHTF/ TEOTWAWKI situation and you’re on foot/bike/motorcycle trying to get home, following train tracks can be a good choice. They’re generally isolated, easy to travel, and typically pass close to a lot of warehouses and such, which can contain supplies that haven’t been delivered to stores yet. Obviously, stay off the tracks if the trains are still running.
  • Apply the same prep habits to your rental car you do with your personal vehicle, including keeping the gas tank at least 3/4 full at all times, so you don’t have to stop for gas if you need to bug out or get stuck in a blizzard.
  • Most countries offer a 911-like emergency service (and most are staffed with English speakers), but they typically don’t use the “911” number. Learn the local emergency number.
  • Memorize the location of the closest friendly embassy/consulate when you’re in a foreign country, and program it into your phone’s mapping software. (You don’t want to try to ask directions to an address in Tokyo during an emergency.) Also program in their phone number(s).
  • When traveling overseas (at least if you’re American), find out where the closest U.S. military base is and memorize/program its location as well. Even a small U.S. military liaison office can offer assistance in national emergencies, and you might be able to hitch a ride back to the U.S. in an evacuation situation.
  • The best seats for fast egress during a flight emergency are aisle seats near the front or rear of the aircraft. That’s where the flight attendants/pilots are during an emergency landing, and they’re more likely to get the doors open quickly than the panicked masses in or near the over-wing exit rows. Even if you’re sitting in the window seat next to the exit door, you might get swamped by panicked people before you can get the exit open.
  • If on a plane and you’re told that you’re going to make an emergency landing, put on any outer wear you have with you, grab your carry-on backpack, make sure you have easy access to your goggles and a filter mask (in case you have to move through smoke), and stick the bag under the seat in front of you. When you get up to evacuate, sling your pack on the front of your body with your arms through the straps (assuming it’s not a water landing and you have to put on your life vest). If you have a belt strap, clasp it behind your back. Yes, they tell you to leave your bags behind, but if you’re in a true emergency situation, they’re not going to make a fuss as long as it’s not interfering with your or other passenger’s movements. (Hence, the reason to have it in the front of you, so you’re not banging it into other people.) Also, if the landing is in the wilderness, you’ll be glad you have it.
  • If you travel to a lot of out of the way places that are far from civilization, consider carrying a Personal Locator Beacon for local or regional emergencies. Get a 406 MHz one; they work anywhere in the world. Another alternative is the DeLorme inReach SE; it allows you to send 160-character text messages via satellite from anywhere in the world, so you can stay in contact with your family while you’re trying to get home. You’ll need two of them, since they only work with each other, and they require a monthly subscription service.
  • If you travel to one place frequently or will be staying there a long time (I had a project where I was commuting from Boston to Dallas every week for nine months), consider stocking an evacuation cache near your destination. If there are woods or open lands nearby, use those. If you’re in a city, consider renting a storage locker, preferably somewhere between your hotel and work location, or in a small town along your most likely route home. Also check with your hotel, if you’re going to be staying there a lot; they’ll frequently agree to hold onto a small cache suitcase for you when you’re not there. (Please don’t ask them to hold onto a large, camouflaged waterproof tube!) If you’re working at a customer site, ask them if you can leave a bag there.
  • One of the most useful skills you can possess, during an emergency in an urban environment, is lock picking. Trying to knock down the door to the gun store, like they do on TV, is a great way to injure yourself, and smashing them in can be noisy and attract unwanted attention. However, keep in mind that possession of lock picking tools is illegal in most places, unless you have a locksmith’s license. That being said, if you still want to carry a set, look for one of the credit card punch-out kits, and practice at home until you’re reasonably competent. DO NOT put it in your carry-on, as TSA (and potentially the local police) will want to have a very long and uncomfortable conversation with you when they find it.

Being prepared for a disaster while traveling requires a lot of up-front planning and thought, along with the right tools and supplies. As with home-based prepping, waiting until a disaster actually happens is a good way to end up dead, but being prepared across a lot of different locations can be difficult. One additional recommendation is to carefully document and save all of your planning work for each trip, since you never know when you might be going back. If you return to the same location in the future, you can simply update your existing plans, instead of starting from scratch every time.

As with any prep work, my kit and plans are constantly evolving. If you have any ideas, comments, or suggestions, I’d appreciate hearing them.

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