Taking a Road Trip?
Safety Tips for Women Traveling Alone
by Courtney Caldwell
Sponsored by Bridgestone Tires and U-Haul International
The journey of traveling alone, whether it be to visit a friend or moving from coast to coast can be fraught with a whole host of danger zones if one doesn't do their homework first. I've traveled alone many times across the country and learned the hard way that preparation is key and to expect the unexpected.
Leaving the northeast to drive 3200 miles cross-country in a 17’ U-Haul truck alone was quite the adventure. However, as in all missions, nothing is accomplished alone. Had it not been for the generous support of Bridgestone Tires and U-Haul International, the return to Southern California after a 14-year absence, and the birthplace of Road & Travel Magazine 25 years ago, might not have ever happened.
The main goal of the drive-instead-of-fly trip was to offer tips to women of all ages on how to travel alone safely. While taking road trips can be one of life’s most fun and exciting experiences, whether alone or with a bunch of girlfriends, it can also prove to be a dangerous sitting duck situation, with you as the duck that's stuck.
Both Bridgestone and U-Haul are proponents of safety on the road, each involved in numerous marketing, advertising and promotional venues to shed light on the importance of personal safety on the road, whether across town or across country. They are both also huge advocates of helping turn our planet into a more sustainable environment. Read more about Bridgestone's efforts here. And for U-Haul's mission, click here.
Another goal of the trip was to honor the famous and well-documented journey of a Shoshone teenage girl by the name of Sacajawea; who helped lead the historical expedition of Lewis & Clark throughout the northwest Rockies in the 1800s. Not only did she know the lay of the land to help lead them through treacherous terrain, Sacajawea also knew where the most abundant food supplies were (as they had to hunt for their meals – no Burger King quick stops here). She also led them away from competing tribes who would have killed all the members of the expedition had they crossed enemy territory. Some they did run into held back as having a woman on the team was seen as a sign of peace. In addition to leading the journey to safety, the 16-year-old carried her infant son on her back during the entire expedition. Sacajawea is one our nation’s first female leaders, well before the suffragette movement in the early 1900s, but for her it was all in day’s work. Click here for more info on Sacajawea.
The trip overall was uneventful save the 1000 miles of headwinds I hit starting in Oklahoma, which never stopped until reaching Southern California. That was brutal and a lesson learned. High winds can have a significant effect on handling a high profile vehicle. In fact, the wind pushed hard on all the high profile trucks on the road making us all look like we were driving drunk. If someone were driving drunk it would have been impossible to tell as all the trucks on the highway were swaying in soft unison like a ballet troupe performing Swan Lake.
The winds were the only part of the journey that I hadn’t planned on or expected. I did research the national weather map for conditions across country during the month of May but nowhere did it show Route 40 west to Route 44 southwest would have such high winds. I still don’t know if it was an anomaly or a normal everyday occurrence. I expected strong winds in the higher elevations where it's common but not 50mpg wind gusts. So expect the unexpected.
The weather otherwise was the Goldilocks of the trip, not too hot, not too cold, near perfect every mile except for the winds. A more southern route may have proved less daunting.
May can be a tricky time of year to take a road trip… the good news is that traffic isn’t too bad as kids are not out of school yet so roads aren’t too congested with summer travelers. Also, the heat of the summer hasn’t quite hit so needing the vehicle’s air conditioner is far less meaning less gas.
However, the bad news is that the center of the country is known as tornado alley many of which begin whipping up during May so keeping an eye on your drive route every morning before you leave your hotel is important as tornadoes can pop up anywhere at anytime. Local weather reports, wherever you are, should give you some advance warning of areas to avoid. Having a plan B for using alternate routes is always a good idea. This should be part of your early planning. The last thing you want on the road alone is a surprise turn of events, with no back up plan in place.
So with that, my first tip to female travelers is to do your homework ahead of time. Plan your trip in finite detail. Do not do anything by the seat of your pants or you may lose your pants along the way. Don’t laugh, there’s no shortage of dangerous situations when traveling alone, especially for women. The best defense is offense… plan your route carefully and stay on the main freeways where there are many well-populated family travel centers along the way. You can also kill three birds with one stone at these stops; gas, bathroom and food. Fewer stops mean fewer opportunities for a predator to find you. If you don’t think it can happen to you, then think again. More than 100,000 women and children go missing in the United States alone every year many of whom are never found. The majority of predators seek out women or children who are alone.
Avoid distractions when out of your vehicle. If you need to call or text someone, wait until you stop at the rest stop and do it from your locked vehicle. Do not walk and text at the same time. The distraction from your surroundings makes you the prefect target for someone interested in doing harm... anything from purse or key snatching to kidnapping.
It’s important to let your family know the route you’re taking. That said; turn on your phone's GPS so that you can be tracked by police or EMT's in case of an emergency. What if you slid into a ditch where no one could see you from the road? Your GPS will help them locate you. OnStar is also another great personal bodyguard. Just a few years ago, one had to buy a GM vehicle to have access to OnStar but today they offer it as a separate navigator, which can be applied to almost any vehicle on the road. The great thing about OnStar is if you get knocked out during an accident their advisors are automatically notified and send help immediately to your location. And if you get locked out, they can unlock your vehicle remotely no matter where you are, which means less time outside of the vehicle. U-Haul also provides roadside assistance when you rent as well as rentals of navigation systems.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a built in navigation system then buy a portable navigation; one that provides turn by turn speaking directions of your route so you can keep your eyes on the road. I also printed out directions for each day's journey. It's good to have both in the event one or the other is wrong. I noticed my Garmin had an issue with forks in the road, leading me in the wrong direction at least three times. The Google Map directions I printed before leaving helped get me back on track quickly. Again, a back up plan!
There are other advantages to having a nav that speaks to you. Controlling your vehicle and dodging traffic in unfamiliar territory can be distracting and daunting enough especially if you hit unexpected detours or construction barriers. I hit a few road construction detours so narrow that the truck barely fit. So, every ounce of your attention needs to be focused on the road ahead.
I carried a cooler in the U-Haul that contained small bottles of juice, water, and quick snacks. Ice refills were easy at each hotel every morning. Most hotels have ice machines, which are not only free, but this also prevents another stop during the day. Having the drinks and snacks handy also helps keep you hydrated and your energy level up.
Driving long distances can be physically and mentally tiring. The lines in the road can be memorizing making you feel sleepy especially if you're out in open flatlands. Opening your window and turning on the radio to help you stay awake is a fallacy. The best way to keep yourself alert is to plan your daily miles carefully, driving only during daylight hours, when you're more likely to be most alert and the view ahead is clear. Night driving can lead to not only more unseen obstacles on the road, as well as headlight glare, it's also the favorite time of day for most predatory behavior, as nighttime provides cover from witnesses. So, plan your miles for each day accordingly... as well as your stops, in a manner that will provide the most safety for you personally, and get you to your hotel before dusk.
For nights on the road, I reserved Homewood Suites and other Hilton suite brands that included kitchens. These were all done before leaving to ensure I had reservations. Each morning before leaving, I called that night's room to confirm, which is a good practice whenever you travel. Reservations can get screwed up sometimes, an issue you don't want to face after a long day's drive.
Homewood Suites are nationwide and affordable, and include a fully cooked breakfast, a great healthy way to start off for a long journey. The kitchenettes also allow you to cook your own meals at your own leisure, and without having to leave the room. Welcome fluffy slippers and jammies! Staying in also provides the time you need to prepare for the next day's drive. Refilling on gas first of day provides peace of mind from running out to where the next station may be. Prices do vary across country, some were $3.25 per gallon, stations in the middle of nowhere were $5.00 per gallon as they know you have no other choice so filling up 'in town' near your hotel is the safest bet.
One can never be too cautious on the road especially when traveling alone. Remember, you're away from familiar turf so there are no neighbors or friends to call for nearby back-up. You're on your own when you're on the road so plan, plan, plan. Better to over-plan and not need it than to under-plan and need it.
Make sure that if driving a U-Haul truck that you learn everything about driving it. Don't assume it's like driving your car. If unfamiliar with how to drive a high profile vehicle, ask the U-Haul manager for a tour inside and out as well as a lesson in handling a large vehicle, which should include how to take wider turns, distance needed to allow for a full stop (longer for a large vehicle), and how to be aware of its height when driving underneath bridges and/or even a drive-through burger joint. Click here for details on renting and driving a U-Haul truck.
If you're driving your own vehicle, make sure to bring it to a trusted and honest mechanic before you leave to ensure all things are working properly, including brakes, oil and windshield washer fluid (you will be wiping many bugs from your windshield). Most importantly, make sure you have four road worthy tires on your vehicle that will endure the mileage of the trip and anticipated weather conditions. To find out about which tires are right for your trip, visit Bridgestone Tires.
Keep in mind, that when a man breaks down it's an inconvenience. When a woman breaks down it can be life-threatening. Do the homework, stick to your plan, don't allow distractions to get in the way of your focus or surroundings, and most of all, be aware of stranger danger. It's not just a rule for kids; it's a rule for women everywhere.
(If you haven't seen the movie TAKEN with Liam Neeson, then rent it - a must see for all women and parents with daughters). TAKEN2 will be out soon).
In closing, I want to add that traveling alone or with friends can be one of the most unique and life-learning experiences of a lifetime. It's a personal growth adventure that is well worth the effort. Just sayin' .... if you go, plan smart, think smart, and drive smart.
Road & Travel Magazine is committed to the safety of women and their families on the road as is U-Haul and Bridgestone Tire, both of whom we want to thank for their participation and support in helping us to get the message out to women that your personal safety on road matters!