Traveling Prepared – Part 2

I closed the previous post with a checklist of items to take with you when traveling by plane.  I think it is worth discussing some of these items in a little more detail.

The Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without:  This is a given.  Whenever you leave home, you don’t want to be without these items.  This is especially true for any trip that requires air travel.  For example, you definitely don’t want to be staying in an unfamiliar place without a flashlight with you when the lights go out.  A couple of these items (Swiss Army knife/multi-tool and Res-Q-Me/vehicle escape tool) need to go in your checked baggage; the rest are best carried in your carry on bag so you have them at hand.  I also usually pack my stainless steel water container in my checked baggage, although you can take them as carry on as long as they are empty when you go through security.

Backup Photo ID – as discussed in the previous post, personally, I carry my passport when I travel as a second ID and in case I need to travel overseas unexpectedly for professional or personal reasons.  This comes up often in my field.  I recall working with someone a few years ago who lived in Minnesota but was on a personal family vacation to Texas when the Ica earthquake in Peru struck.  A decision was made to send him to Peru to assist in the response.  Poor fellow was late arriving two days because he had to fly back home to collect his passport before being able to depart for Peru.  In the disaster and emergency response business, days can definitely mean lives.  So personally, my passport is always at hand when I travel.  And if you live or are traveling anywhere near a US border, you might elect to evacuate (or be evacuated) from a disaster into a neighboring country.  But in any event, having a second photo ID card, carried somewhere other than where your primary photo ID is carried (your wallet) is prudent in case your wallet is lost, stolen or misplaced.

A full change of clothes in your carry on bag – I promise you will never regret having the ability to change your clothes before your reach your destination and retrieve the rest of your clothes from your checked luggage.  Have you ever spilled a drink (or had one spilled) all over yourself on an airplane?  Or worst case: Have you ever had your kid (or someone else’s) throw up in your lap?  This is all foreseeable.  And if your checked luggage does not show, you will have a clean change of clothes with you until it does or you can replace it.

I always travel in what I call my traveling outfit.  I don’t find travel a good way to keep myself or my clothes clean and presentable.  Airplanes are hot before they take off; and cold afterwards; cabs and other forms of public transportation taken to and from the airport are often dirty.  Airports themselves are often dirty – especially baggage claim areas.  It is hard to eat and drink on flights without spilling a bit on yourself – especially in cramped coach seats. So by carrying on a clean set of clothes in my carry on bag, I am assured of being able to change out of the soiled-on-arrival traveling outfit into something more presentable, even if my checked baggage is lost or delayed in arriving.

A Pack Towel in your carry on bag – I must admit that I first got the idea to always pack a towel in my carry on bag from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  But it was a good idea.  A towel, like an empty bag, has literally hundreds of uses – especially while traveling.  It can be used to help wipe up those nasty spilled drinks that fall onto your lap.  It can be used to provide a clean place to sit.  It can be used to dry your hands if the airplane restroom runs out of paper towels.  It can be used to dry your body if you need to wash more than just your hands (see spills, vomit, etc.).  It can be used to help staunch bleeding in the event of an accident.  A good pack towel almost deserves to make the list of things you should never leave home without!

MSR Packtowl

MSR Packtowl

And by a pack towel, I mean one that is designed for camping or travel – is quick drying, folds up small.  The one I carry is an MSR microfiber Packtowl Personal made of polyester and nylon and comes in a convenient pouch.  I am also a huge fan of the As Seen on TV ShamWow and typically pack a large and small one in my bag as well.

ShamWow !!!

ShamWow !!!

An Extra Empty Bag – We start from the premise that you should always have an empty bag with you.  But when you travel, you should bring an extra empty bag with you – something to serve as a day bag for excursions that you put things in that you want to take with you (camera, extra clothing, towel, etc.).  When we travel, we carry more with us when we go out because we are not at home and often do not have access to our things that we are used to having around us.  So we need a bag to carry these things in – and this is usually distinct from the bags that we pack in.  But once we put things in a bag, it is no longer an empty bag… so we need to remember to take two empty bags when we travel.  A backpack is perfect for this purpose.  So one of our empty bags that we take when we travel should be a backpack.  The one I take with me is one of the Lands End foldable backpacks.  My second bag is either an eco-tote or a kivu keychain backpack.

Medications and Prescription Drugs for the duration of travel plus at least one day – like clothing, packing medications and prescription drugs that you take regularly is something that you obviously need to pack.  I always try to bring with me at least one day’s extra supply, because you never know when you might miss a flight, or find your flight – the last of the day – cancelled.  It might be wiser to bring even more with you in case you have to delay your return home for longer, but I’m not prepared to set this as a rule.  If your return home is delayed for any reason more than a day, it is likely you will have the time to visit a local drug store and get your medications or prescriptions refilled as needed.  But having one or two extra days with you allows you to be prepared for these simple delays without causing you to miss a regular dose or having to make an extraordinary trip to a pharmacy.

Thus ends this second part of Traveling Prepared that focuses on travel by air.  The third part will focus on travel by car.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #9: What’s In Your Wallet

What is it: A wallet is usually made out of leather, and is designed to fit into pocket or purse.  It serves to carry your money, credit cards, identification and other important documents.  I’m calling this entry “What’s in your wallet” rather than just “wallet” as what’s important here is not the wallet itself, but what is in it.  In order to be Living Prepared™, you need to have three things in your wallet, which you carry with you at all times.

These three things are:

  • Photo ID: Driver’s license or other official government-issued ID card showing your face, name and address.
  • Proof of Insurance: Originals or photocopies of health & auto insurance cards
  • Means of payment: Credit Cards, $100 Cash & ATM/Bank Cards

That’s it.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  The hardest thing for me is to maintain a minimum balance of cash in your wallet.

Utility on a Daily Basis: A wallet is like your keys – it’s pretty essential all the time.  If you find yourself leaving home without it – you usually turn right around to go get it.  It’s just impossible to get through a day without identification, money or credit cards these days.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Usually.  But not as much as I should be.  Putting my wallet in my pocket is a part of getting dressed.  But keeping cash in the wallet is harder.  At the moment, I have no cash in my wallet.  None.  I gave it all up to our babysitter, who we pay on Friday’s and I didn’t get the opportunity to get to the ATM beforehand.  It’s now Monday night, and I have been able to survive through the weekend on credit cards and my wife’s cash on hand.  I’ll stop by the bank tomorrow, I hope.

Keeping a minimum balance of cash in one’s wallet is hard hard hard.  Even if your hide a few 20s somewhere in the wallet – you always know it’s there – so it’s always easy to use rather than stopping at the ATM when your time is tight.  This is something that takes time and patience and dedication to accomplish.  I am still working on it.  And this is something to revisit in a few months.

So, just for kicks – here’s what I found in my wallet today:

  • New York State Driver’s License
  • Credit Cards
  • NYC MTA Metrocard with $$ on it
  • Costco Membership Card
  • 3 Doctor’s appointment cards for appointments since past
  • AAA New York Membership Card
  • Hertz #1 Club Membership Card
  • Bank ATM Cards
  • 2 Starbucks Cards both with $$ on them
  • Expired auto insurance identification card
  • Current auto insurance identification card
  • Health Insurance Card
  • 2 Staples Reward Card (same account)
  • Voter Registration Card
  • 4 local merchant purchase club cards (e.g. grocery stores)
  • 4 wallet sized photos of my kids
  • No cash

Not bad.  Only had to weed out the doctor’s appointment cards, expired auto insurance card and extra Staples Reward card; the rest stayed.  Usually, it is also stuffed with receipts but I recently went through and shredded most of those.  Now I need to get to the bank for some cash.

Criticality after a disaster: If your wallet carrying all of your essential papers and documentation and means of payment, you are Living Prepared for the next disaster.

Identification is essential to have with you at all times and that means a government-issued photo ID – such as a driver’s license.  This serves as proof of identify and your residence address, which you might need in order to gain access to your property after a disaster.  If you drive, you have a driver’s license and it serves this purpose.  If you don’t drive, get a state issued picture ID card that will serve the same purpose.

I don’t recommend carrying your passport with you wherever you go out as you should only need this in a real worst case scenario, and it’s just not healthy mentally to live that way.  The exception to this would be if you live close to the Canadian or Mexican (or other international) border where evacuation across the border might be more foreseeable.

Proof of insurance for yourself (health) and your vehicle (auto) is something you do not want to be caught without.  Keep any medical (health/dental/vision) insurance cards in your wallet (with two-sided color photocopies in your go-bag and household emergency kit).  Also carry copies of any insurance information for your children if the information differs from your own.

I also recommend not leaving your auto insurance cards in your vehicle only – make a copy if necessary and keep one in the glove box of your vehicle and put one in your wallet.  Your auto insurance insures not only your car but you, and if you find yourself driving someone else’s car, you will want to have your proof of insurance with you in case you are in an accident.

Means of Payment: Credit cards can be used to purchase most anything these days.  Even for small purchases at fast food restaurants and grocery stores.  I recommend, if you can both a Mastercard or Visa and an American Express card – all three if possible.  All have no annual fee versions for those who qualify.  You will find that there are places that don’t take American Express (not just the Olympics) and others that only take American Express.   I think there are even a few that only take the DiscoverCard – but not as many.  But you will find that network outages do occur – especially following disasters, and it may not be possible for a merchant to accept a certain card.  So you are best off with three or four different ones – and all issued by different banks.  (It doesn’t do you any good to have a Chase Mastercard and a Chase Visa if Chase’s network is down – neither will be useable). So diversify.

Of course, you will likely find that after a disaster that cash is most useful.  It requires no electricity or telecommunications or computer networks to use.  That is why I strongly recommend an ample supply of cash being available to you at all times.  I store cash in waterproof pouches in a couple of different locations (go-bag, household emergency supplies, in fireproof safe) where I can get to it in an emergency.  But you never want to be caught out of your house and out of cash.  This is why I recommend keeping a minimum balance of $100 in your wallet.  This is a good amount – enough to get you out of a jam, buy supplies, take a taxi a long-way across or out of town, maybe get you on a bus or feed you and your family for a few days.

Finally, ATM/Bank Cards will help you get more cash when they are working and you can get to them, but you should not count on ATMs working in the immediate aftermath of a disaster due to likely failures in power and telecommunications.

You might also consider carrying a blank check in your wallet, which is another means by which a merchant can extend you credit if they trust that you can cover it; but after a disaster, I wouldn’t expect to find a personal check to be universally accepted.

So unless you want to start sewing gold coins into the linings of your clothes, which I don’t recommend, a combination of different credit cards issued by different banks, a minimum balance of cash, and ATM/Bank cards will give you pretty redundant and diversified means of payment in your wallet.  And that’s what you are looking for.

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The Living Prepared Scorecard:  What’s in your Wallet

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

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So, carry a wallet with you with ID, proof of insurance, and diverse means of payment.  If you do, you will be Living Prepared.