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.

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UPDATE: Never Leave Home Without…

I always intended to write a summary and concluding piece to the list of 10 things you should never leave home without.  Coming a couple of months after the last post was written lends perspective to the exercise.  The intent of this blog was always to validate that the advice given is practical.  If I can’t practice what I preach, then I need to rethink again what it is I am recommending here.  In addition, the perspective of the current “concern” over Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) and a change in season to Spring adds another valuable reality check.

So, here’s my item-by-item review of the list and how I’ve done with it and how I feel the utility of these items holds up:

Bag (Empty)

There is no question in my mind that an empty bag belongs on the list and at the top of it – alphabetical or not.  I have struggled at times to remember to bring one with me.  Honestly, the larger eco-totes that I recommended – like the Staples eco-easy tote, do not fold down to a size that fits in a pocket.  You really need to have another bag to put an empty one in.

Kiva Keychain Backpack

Kiva Keychain Backpack 1/2 size of Wallet

The bag I mentioned in the original post but had not tried out yet – the Kiva Keychain Backpack – is really an excellent solution.  It packs down to an incredibly small size (about half the size of my wallet) that fits in a (front) pants pocket easily.  I try to carry one of these bags with me all the time in that way.  When expanded, it forms a smallish backpack – certainly large enough to carry several items in an emergency, and the material (like parachute nylon) seems pretty strong and durable.  The only issue I’ve had with it is that if you put some heavier items in it, the adjustable shoulder straps tend to slip, but there is no risk of it opening and the bag dropping as it is a closed loop strap.

Flashlight

Maybe it’s just me, but I still find a reason to need a flashlight on a daily basis and I carry two Photon LED flashlights with me all the time – one on my keys and another on a chain around my neck.  I’ve been using the newer Photon Freedom-style lights, and I like the push button on-off much better than the old style (either hold it down or flick a tiny toggle switch to keep it lighted).

LRI Photon X-Light

LRI Photon X-Light

Honestly, the cheapest X-Light micro (at under $10) is sufficient.  So I repeat my advice to get a bunch of these – and pass them around – attach one to your briefcase, regular backpack, go-bag, etc., give one or two to each family member.  It will help you and them to be Living Prepared.

Glasses/Sunglasses

Never leave home without them.  And if I do, I always end up regretting it.  The other day, I was getting out of my car; it was raining.  I had a hat on, as I always do, with my sunglasses perched on the top, as they usually are when I’m not wearing them.  A man walking his dog was passing by, and he paused as he looked at me to comment, “With the hat and the sunglasses, you are ready for anything.”  Amen.

LifeSecure Safety Glasses

LifeSecure Eye Shields

Mindful of the fear of Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) many people have, protecting your eyes with glasses (sun or clear) or a eye shield can help prevent you from being infected by particulates spewed into the air by people close by who cough or sneeze in your general direction.  I recently ordered some Eye Shields from LifeSecure Emergency Solutions to keep with my household emergency supplies.

Keys

Keys.  Enough said.  Just try going out without them.

I did figure out that two of the small lock keys actually fit the padlock on the cellar hatch outside the front of my house – so one of those has been returned to my keychain.

Smartphone

Still attached to my hip.  Still without a GPS.  I think the GPS functionality that is available is useful, but expensive (both for a GPS-enabled Blackberry and for the service that gives it functionality), and I can’t justify it at the current time.

Stainless Steel Drink Container

Usually still attached to my hand – with tea in the morning, and increasingly a Klean Kanteen for water in the afternoon as the weather is getting warmer.  (We had a mini-heat wave of several days in the high 80s/low 90s in April in NYC).  It’s honestly hard to bring along sometimes without having a bag (not an empty one) to carry it in.

I’m beginning to think of recommending carrying a “mostly” empty bag with you – which provides a means to carry along those items that otherwise do not fit on your face or in your pockets – such as a drink container.  That solves a lot of problems of bulging pockets – especially in the summertime…

My regular backpack I keep stocked with a number of useful items – such as a couple of pens, a folding knife with serrated blade, some Zyrtec (for allergies), and epi-pen (if the allergies get really bad), a larger LED flashlight.  I put a glass case in it to carry whatever pair of glasses (sun or clear) I am not wearing.  If I go out without this backpack, I still have my 10 items with me.

My biggest problem with my double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container is that it does too good a job at keeping my tea hot.  I like my hot drinks warm, not scalding, and it takes hours for my tea to cool enough such that I can enjoy it.  When I have the opportunity, I leave the top off to let it cool down so I can drink it more quickly.  On the plus side, this has cut down dramatically on my caffeine intake, which is probably a good thing.

Swiss Army Knife / Multi-Tool

I still use this multiple times every day and would be totally lost without it.  Just yesterday I used the scissors to cut a reply form off to return to my daughter’s school, the Phillips head screwdriver to replace a battery in my son’s toy train, the small knife to open a package received in the main from Lands End, and the magnifying glass to read the small print on a label.  Oh yeah, and I used the reamer to make an additional hole in a belt I have (I lost 15 pounds due to the chicken pox and some of my clothes are hanging off of me now!)

One reader recommended a different model – that’s a bit less expensive but still has all of the important survival tools.  For me, I use all of the tools on the Swiss Army Champ – including the tweezers – which I’ve used twice in the last week to remove a splinter from my finger and my daughter’s foot.  I even used the pin within the last week to help open up a bottle of Gorilla Glue that had crusted over.

Vehicle Escape Tool

As noted in the original post, this is something you don’t use on a daily basis, and I’ve never used mine.

I did have the opportunity to demonstrate the functions of the ResQMe that I carry on my keychain to two very nice gentlemen from the TSA at JFK Airport, just before I handed it over to them before getting on a flight to Florida a few weeks ago.  I kind of had to tell them that they should be taking it away from me – both because of the seat-belt cutter blade, which although shielded, could be removed from the casing by breaking it open – thus weaponizing it – as well as for the glass breaker, which, although I am not sure it would break an airplane window pane, I would not want to try.  So I was without a ResQMe while deathly ill from the Chicken Pox in Florida.

I got another one out of my stock and have returned it to my keychain.

Wallet

Again, it goes without saying that you need to carry your wallet with you when you go out.

What I need to report on is how I’ve done with keeping the $100 cash in it and not pilfer it when I run out.  I must report positively that I’ve had great success.  I positively have forgotten that I folded up 5 twenty dollar bills and slid it into a side slot behind the credit cards in my wallet – unless I’m thinking about this post.  The credit cards, ID and proof of insurance are easy to maintain.

Whistle

Again, something I don’t use on a daily basis but am glad to have with me.  Mostly, I wear it on a lanyard underneath a shirt – but if visible, it’s a good conversation starter.  As pictures in the original post, I also use the neck lanyard to carry a Photon LED flashlight and a USB drive – which another reader also suggested carrying.  My SanDisk Cruzer holds a ridiculous 16 GB of data.

Honestly, the neck lanyard can be bulky either on top of or underneath a single layer T-shirt when the weather is hot.  So I have honestly gone out from time to time without it.  It’s an item that can be put in your briefcase, backpack or other bag that you carry things in (or the proposed “almost” empty bag alternative), and it also fits into a pants pocket.  So while I try to wear it habitually – I must admit to forgetting it occasionally.

What’s Missing?

USB Drive:

For the digitally inclined and data dependent, a USB drive – the larger the better, is a good thing to carry with you.  I carry one and will load it up with important files from time to time.  More often, it’s used for exchanging data (photos, files) with someone.  In an emergency situation, if you work with computers at all, having a USB drive with you could be extremely valuable.

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

So if it fits your personal and professional profile, a USB drive is definitely something to consider adding to your list of things to never leave home without.  I do like the SanDisk Cruzer because it contains software to allow you to install and run applications directly off of the drive rather than having to install it on the hard drive of a computer.  So, for example, you can use your Skype account from any computer you can use and plug your drive into, if you have Skype installed on the USB drive.

Hand Sanitizer:

This probably should have been on the original list.  Very useful for cleaning your hands while you are out – especially after riding on public transportation or before eating anything on the go. Also essential to have if you are out with kids.  I usually have a bottle with a pump around the house, but decided to stock up a but because of H1N1.  The 2-oz. bottle size is really convenient for taking with you and I got one for everyone in the family.  The small bottles cost about a dollar at any drugstore and I plan to refill them from the larger (and more economical) bottles I have in the house – especially one big one by the front door so everyone can use it upon entering the house.  When buying Hand Sanitizer, remember to always check the “drug facts” on the bottle to ensure that it contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol.  Any less and it will not be effective as an antiseptic.

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Pack of Tissues:

Another item inspired by H1N1, I think this item also belongs on the original list.  Tissues are incredibly useful things, even if you or your kids do not have a cold.  They can be used to wipe up things, or wipe off things that you don’t want to touch with your bare hands as they may be dirty or infected.  (Use hand sanitizer afterward anyways).  You can use tissues to dry or clean off your glasses if they get wet (though a glass cleaning cloth is better and won’t leave link on the lenses).  Like water, or bags, tissues have hundreds of potential uses during times of emergency and normalcy.

Summary and Conclusion:

I feel pretty strongly about the original 10 items on this list… and now I’m up to 13 with the USB drive, hand sanitizer and pocket pack of tissues.  I started out this project by stating that I didn’t like top 10 lists and I wasn’t going to be bound by a number; that it was a starting point and an important attempt to place some limit on a list that if it becomes exhaustive becomes less practical and less achievable.  And making this practical and achievable is a key part of what I am trying to accomplish with this blog.

I am still tracking a few challenges with the list.

Mostly, it’s a lot of stuff to stuff into your pockets (keys, wallet, extra bag, hand sanitizer, tissues, flashlight) – especially in the warm weather – or wear around your neck (USB drive, flashlight, whistle), hang on your belt (smart phone, Swiss army knife), or hold in your hand (stainless steel drink container).

A lot of this can be carried alternatively in a backpack, briefcase or other (not empty) bag that you carry with you.  Many of us do carry such bags when we go out – but not every time.  My concern is having these items on your person is that they are always with you – and never left at home.

Changing the empty bag to a “mostly” empty bag – or empty of everything but these 12 or 13 items – may be a solution – as long as you always take this mostly empty bag with you.  I will report in a couple of months on how I am addressing this challenge, and will reconsider again the list of items never to leave home without.

In conclusion, I hope that these posts have proven useful to your own thinking about how you should be Living Prepared™.  I am not so arrogant as to think that everyone has to follow my advice to the letter.  I hope that you learn from my advice and my experience and make it your own.

It’s Flood Awareness Week: Are you Living Prepared™?

warning-sign-yellowMarch 15-21, 2009 is National Flood Safety Awareness weekFEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program’s website has some great resources to help you estimate your potential flood risks as well as information about how you can get flood insurance.  By entering my address into their “One-Step Flood Risk Profile”, I was able to get an instant assessment of my home’s flood risk (“Low to moderate – Hoorah!).  You will also get a list of insurance agents in your vicinity which offer flood insurance through this program (and you can call them directly through Skype if you have the internet explorer or firefox plug-in installed – very convenient!)

Visit the FEMA Map Service Center and check out the official flood maps for your home – called FIRMS for Flood Insurance Rate Maps – (mine is not at risk for flooding – but I knew that – living at the top of Park Slope by the park as I do).  You can view the maps online without having to buy them.  Don’t miss NOAA’s floodsafety site – they have a ton of useful resources and information about flooding for National Flood Safety Awareness week as well, including a link to the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service, which includes lots of real-time data on maps, and links to their RSS feeds.

Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service

Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service: River Observations 3/16/09

So, take the time this week to be Living Prepared™ for National Flood Awareness Week by:

  • Educating yourself
  • Assessing your risks
  • Taking steps to protect yourself & your property, including getting flood insurance if you need it

The Floodsmart.gov website section on flood preparedness – Before a Flood has some decent recommendation on steps you can take to prepare for a flood:

1. Safeguard your possessions.
Create a personal “flood file” containing information about all your possessions and keep it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box or waterproof container. This file should have:

  • A copy of your insurance policies with your agent’s contact information.
  • A room-by-room inventory of your possessions, including receipts, photos, and videos.
  • Copies of all other critical documents, including finance records or receipts of major purchases.

2. Prepare your house.

  • Make sure your sump pump is working.
  • Clear debris from gutters and downspouts.
  • Anchor any fuel tanks.
  • Raise your electrical components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers, and wiring) at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation.
  • Place the furnace, water heater, washer, and dryer on cement blocks at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.
  • Move furniture, valuables, and important documents to a safe place.

3. Develop a family emergency plan.

  • Create a safety kit with drinking water, canned food, first aid, blankets, a radio, and a flashlight.
  • Post emergency telephone numbers by the phone and teach your children how to dial 911.
  • Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Know safe routes from home, work, and school that are on higher ground.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be your emergency family contact.
  • Have a plan to protect your pets.

This is also a good time to order a vehicle escape tool – if you haven’t already done so.  I recently replaced my ResQMe with a new one for two reasons: First, I had been carrying this ResQMe around for a couple of years now and the belt cutter looked a little rusty.  I was concerned that it would not be as sharp as I would want it to be.  Second, and more importantly, it had fallen off of my keychain and was lost.  This was a bit disconcerting as I had read some reviewers of the ResQMe that were concerned that the tool could become dislodged from one’s keychain during an accident resulting in a car going into the water.  But I think it takes a really good tub to pull loose and I snagged mine on something.

ResQMe

ResQMe

I also ordered and have now received the Victorinox Rescue Tool – and boy, am I impressed.  This is a professional tool for a rescue worker as much as for an individual.  As I suspected, it is a bit large to carry around on a daily basis, especially with the bright red belt pouch with neon yellow trim.  It is also not quite as purposeful to use on a daily basis as the blades are long, sharp and locking.  I wouldn’t want to use this to trim threads from my daughter’s sweater.   One nice feature is that the flat-head screwdriver blade also locks, making it possible to put a lot of torque onto it and making me wish that the phillips head screwdriver locked as well.  It’s going in my emergency kit though, where I know where to get at it when disaster strikes.

So, be Living Prepared™ for National Flood Awareness Week!

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #8: Vehicle Escape Tool

ResQMeWhat is it: This is an interesting entry, as for me it is really for a single product – the ResQMe manufactured by NOV8 – a smaller version of their LifeHammer.  And it really has no purpose or utility on a daily basis, outside of the peace of mind it will bring you.

This little device will get you out of a car by doing two things: (1) slicing through your seat belt and (2) breaking a side window so you can get out of the vehicle.  Chances are, you will never ever need to use a ResQMe, but if you do, you’d better have one with you – that works – and that is easily accessible.

From their website: “ResQMeTM attaches to your keychain with a detachable clip. Pull the clip away from the product to reveal the cutter (blade). Hook over seatbelt and pull. To activate the window breaker, simply push the black head against a side window until the concealed spring-loaded spike releases and shatters window.”

It’s pretty easy to use.  I recommend testing the window breaker against a piece of scrap wood (if you don’t have access on a junkyard so you can try it out on real automotive glass) so you understand how it works and the force required to activate the spike.  You should note a pretty noticeable hole in the wood.  Be careful, as it will also put a pretty sizeable dent in your skin if you activate it against yourself or someone else.

Victorinox makes a “Rescue Tool” – that includes a glass breaker and a seat belt cutter, as well as a locking blade and some other nifty features, but it doesn’t include everything I want out of my Swiss Army Knife/multi-tool (see previous entry).  However, I’d love to be able to combine these two items (then you’d only have 9 items to bring with you) – but I have read that the Victorinox Rescue Tool is a sizeable item – not considered a “pocket knife” so may be better suited for a glove box or go bag.  It may be an option for you based on your own requirements for a multi-tool.  I’ll let you know after mine is delivered in a few days.

There are also a couple of models manufactured by Swiss Tech, for more money than the ResQMe, but the consumer reviews I have read about it on Amazon.com makes me want to steer clear of this ResQMe imitator.

And even if the Rescue Tool works out, there is no reason not to get a ResQMe for your keychain as well.  Redundancy is good.  And remembering that for items that you should never leave home without, they should be easily carried.  The ResQMe is keychain sized, and for me that makes it easy to carry and impossible to leave home without.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Not really.  Carried on a keychain, it can serve as the keychain itself.  But other than that, it doesn’t serve much purpose unless you find yourself needing to cut a lot of straps.  For the purpose it may serve you after an accident, however, I believe it is worth carrying with you at all times.

My Keys

My Keys with ResQMe (upper left)

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Yes.  I carry a ResQMe as a part of my keychain.  You will note it in blue in my posting about keys.  It is always with me.

Criticality after a disaster: Most of the people who are fanatical about this product – including the manufacturers – are worried about being in a car that falls off a bridge or otherwise into the ocean or a river, or is caught in a flash flood.  And sure, it works for that and there are some cool videos on the ResQMe website with rescue workers using this tool to break windows on a submerged schoolbus.  That certainly pulls all the right heartstrings.  But for me, I think it just as likely to be needed in the event of a more conventional vehicular accident, where damage to the vehicle prevents you from unfastening your seatbelt and with the risk of fire – FIRE – making you want to make a quick exit from the vehicle.

As you will note from the video – after breaking the window, you will likely need to remove the broken glass, which if you don’t have anything to protect your hands, might lead to some cuts, but if you need to get out of the car quickly, that’s a small price to pay.

The LifeHammer serves the same purpose as the ResQMe – it has a seatbelt cutter and a hammer designed to break automotive side window glass.  (Windshields are coated with a coating that prevents them from shattering – thus never try to get out of a car that way – use the side or rear windows.  This is where the Victorinox Rescue Tool – with its glass saw – may have a place).  But a LifeHammer is too large to carry around with you everywhere.  Keep one in the glove box or other easily accessible storage compartment reachable from the driver’s seat.

Again, redundancy is a very good thing, especially in an emergency.  You may be travelling in someone else’s car, a taxi, or may be unable to open the glove box.  So having a ResQMe on your keychain improves the chances that you’ll have this lifesaving device when you need it.  The ResQMe comes in two- and three-packs and costs under $10 each.  Pick up a bunch and give them to everyone in your family and others that you care about.  They make great gifts.

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The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Vehicle Escape Tool

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

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So, carry a ResQMe Vehicle Escape Tool with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared.