When I drive to my  home in Falls Church, VA from my client in Dupont in the evening, I try to get out by 5:30.  If I’m successful in that, I can usually make it home in about 30 minutes.  If it’s between 5:35 and 6:30, it jumps up to around 45 minutes.  Add a little inclement weather and we’re talking an hour, easy.

Last week when DC had its little mini-blizzard in the evening it took me 6 hours to get home.  6 hours!  To drive 12.1 miles.  And I was lucky!  Some people were in their cars for over 12 hours.  Some broke down, ran out of gas or just got frustrated and either camped out or abandoned their vehicles all together. And it’s not just in DC.  My friend in Chicago had a 14 hour commute this week when the blizzard hit that included her having to walk out in one of the worst snow storms in that city’s history (luckily she traveled prepared and made it home safely).

When I was sitting in stopped traffic on I-66 last wednesday, I noticed a man walking down the side of the road heading towards the exit.  He had obviously abandoned his car already and was deciding to make it to wherever he was going on foot.  He looked miserable, and with good reason.   He was wearing a light fall jacket, what looked like a button down, khakis and loafers. That was it. He didn’t even have a hat on.

Seeing this man, so completely unprepared for the weather that had been forecasted all week, gave me a moment of pause to think about how I prepare myself for the (un)expected that might come along.  Maybe it’s because I’m from Akron, Ohio, where we have two seasons; winter and the Fourth of July.  But seriously  man, you get stranded in a winter storm there, and it’s serious business.

So anytime I travel, even if it’s just driving around, I always try to think of “what if?”?  What if my car breaks down in bad weather?  What if I have to walk 12 miles to get home and the weather is total shit?  What if I go off the road and I have to spend the night in my vehicle?

Now, no one can be prepared for everything.   It’s not practical to prepare for any and every contingency. But you can easily be prepared for most things, short of the zombie apocalypse,  you might encounter with just the following:

A “Get Home Bag”-  In this bag you should ask yourself,  “If you needed to abandon you vehicle and hoof it back home, what you would need to carry?”  In my get home bag (just a cheap backpack) I carry:

  • a pair of trail old running shoes
  • an old fleece
  • a pair of retired jeans
  • pair of winter gloves
  • pair of wool socks
  • a wool hat
  • a couple of cheap rain ponchos
  • an old baseball cap
  • a couple bottles of water
  • some granola bars
  • extra charger for my cell phone
  • flashlight
  • head lamp
  • a small roll duct tape
  • a pocket knife
  • a leatherman multi-tool
  • a wearable reflector (the kind runners wear)
  • a roll of paratrooper cord

This may seem like a lot of stuff, but most of it you probably already have in your house.   The rest can be purchased REALLY cheaply from REI or a sporting goods store.

In addition to my get home bag, I also carry the following:

  • A first aid kit- my truck came with one, but you can buy simple first aid kits for less than $15.  I also put an extra bottle of Tylenol and some antacids in mine
  • Roadside emergency bag – Jumper cables, small tool kit,  and roadside reflectors
  • Hand wipes – Ever changed your tired on the side of the road before?  Your hands get mighty messy.  Also good for when you spill gas on your hand
  • Extra snacks – I always have a couple of granola bars or trail mix in the car.  Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a little snack

And, not to sound like your Dad here, but it’s not just what you carry in your vehicle, but also how maintain your vehicle as well:

  • Try to keep up with regular maintenance.  Proper maintenance like regular fluid changes,  can prevent catastrophic (and expensive!) failures down the line.
  • Check out your tires.  Are they properly inflated?  Do they have enough tread on them?  Are there any cracks or bulges on them?  If you’re in doubt, take it to a reputable tire center (Don’t know one?  I highly recommend Currys).
  • Spare  tire.  Speaking of tires, have you checked your spare lately?  Does it have air?  Do you have the jack and other tools needed to change it if you had to?  Do you know how?
  • Gas.  I always try to maintain at least half a tank.  If nothing else, it saves me from having to buy overpriced gas in DC out of necessity.   Also, you don’t run out of gas in a traffic jam.

Ok, so that sounds like a lot of shit to have/do.  It really only takes about 30 minutes and maybe $30-$40 worth of stuff (less car maintenance) to make you and your vehicle 1000x more prepared for what bad fortunes may come.  And when it does, you’ll thank yourself for it.