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Women Traveling Alone - Focusing on Your Personal Safety

Traveling Alone – What Women Need to Know Before They Go!

Sponsored by U-Haul & Bridgestone Tires

by Courtney Caldwell

Driving around town is an everyday occurrence for most of us. Errands, going to and from work, picking up kids at school or soccer, grocery shopping, visiting family and friends, a girls’ night out… you know your area like the back of your hand.

But, what about driving into territory beyond your borders? Do you have a fear of driving outside your comfort zone? Do you worry about getting lost or even worse, followed?

The number one reason women stick close to home is fear of the unknown, what to do, what not to do, how to keep yourself safe on the road in unknown territory, never mind where to begin in the planning process of a big road trip. Whether you’re planning a cross-country or cross-town move, the very first place to begin your journey is with your homework and advanced planning.

I recently embarked on a 3200-mile cross-country journey, driving a 17' U-Haul truck, and yes, all alone. When I tell people of the road trip, they look at me dazed and confused, and then after a short pause ask, ‘you drove alone?’ That one question in itself speaks volumes to how much education is needed for women, and many men, on how to plan a road trip with fun, not fear.

Doing your homework and pre-planning are essential in making your journey safe and sane… whether across town or across country. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80, as long as you carefully plan out every detail of your trip's route, hotel stays, gas stops, navigation, and every detail of your trip, you'll arrive at your destination safely.

U-Haul Moving TrucksIt was such an honor to have
U-Haul as our ‘Women Traveling Alone’ road trip safety sponsor for a variety of reasons one of which was their connection and support to a young Shoshone Indian girl named Sacajawea, who served as an interpreter and guide on the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1804. Her heroism in numerous life-saving contributions helped lead their two-year journey to a safe and successful conclusion.

"U-Haul is thrilled to be in partnership with Road & Travel Magazine as the "Women Traveling Alone" road trip safety sponsor.  We have many products and services available to assist with a cross-country trip; from a new Trip Tracker App to share with friends and family to an economy fuel gauge in our trucks which will help you to save fuel and protect the environment," stated Joanne Fried, director, Media and Public Relations, U-Haul International, Inc. "U-Haul was co-founded by a woman - Anna Mary Carty Shoen, and we definitely keep women in mind when manufacturing our equipment and selecting the products at our stores. Safety is our number one goal when renting equipment to our customers, which makes this partnership a perfect fit."

Sacajawea, just a young teen at the time, not only provided guidance for hundreds of miles through the tough terrain of the northwest Rockies, then known as the Louisiana Purchase territory, she also demonstrated extraordinary courage and strength during numerous life-threatening events, often emerging as the hero who saving lives and supplies from devastating weather, potential enemy threats, and from capsized canoes. Sacajawea became known as the first woman to be included in a democratic vote on the all-male crew, sharing her knowledge and experience as to which route to take for most access to hunting for food and safe shelter in the wild.

In honor of Sacajawea, U-Haul painted her mural on both sides of our moving truck to celebrate her accomplishments and help shed light on her exceptional contributions to the beginning of what shaped the U.S. today. Her story is one of bravery and the true meaning of persistence.

Her contributions were chronicled by Lewis & Clark in their personal diaries naming Sacajawea as the only person on the expedition who never complained or panicked when confronted with dangerous or devastating circumstances. Level-headed and fierce, she faced each event as it came, contributing significantly to a successful and safe outcome.

Sacajawea was married to a Frenchman twice her age, who had traded her for goods and supplies with a tribe who had kidnapped her at 12 (away from her Shoshone family and friends). While little is known about her husband’s contributions to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Sacajawea’s accomplishments earned her a place in American history. Add to that, her journey included a pregnancy, childbirth in the wild, and then carrying her infant on her back during the expedition. The baby boy nicknamed Pompey, spent the first two years of his life living right along side his brave mother.

Sacajawea’s story is one of true courage and inspiration. It is with great pride that I have the opportunity to share her story with our readers as I traversed the U.S. in my 17’ U-Haul truck with her mural painted on each side, sharing her tale with everyone I met along the way.

Bridgestone Tire Sponsors 2011 International Car and Truck of the Year Awards - Presented by Road & Travel MagazineWe'd also like to extend our deepest thanks and gratitude to long-time partner and sponsor, Bridgestone Tires, for their support of tire safety and helping people understand how to choose the right tires for their vehicle. As one of the leading tire companies in the world, Bridgestone is committed to not only helping women stay safe on the road but also to keeping our environment clean with their One Team One Planet message. Bridgestone Americas is dedicated to achieving a positive environmental impact in all of the communities it calls home. This commitment includes efforts such as developing tires with improved fuel economy, manufacturing products and providing services in an environmentally responsible way, and establishing wildlife habitat and education programs.

“At Bridgestone, we recognize traveling safe and smart are synonymous with one another and it all starts with the basics, like making sure the only thing that connects your vehicle to the road  is properly maintained,” said Angela Patterson, spokesperson for Bridgestone’s Teens Drive Smart program. “It’s one of the most fundamental rules of tire safety to monitor your tire pressure each month, but most all drivers neglect to do so. And it’s one small thing that we as female drivers should be extra conscious about so that we avoid being unnecessarily stranded on the side of the road due to tire related issues.”

That said, the Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804 didn't travel the rough terrain on the Rockies by car or truck. They walked, pulled sleds led by dogs, used canoes and hunted for their food. And Sacajawea lived no differently while serving as their guide other than the fact she was carrying a baby on her back. They all wore moccasins and animal skin boots to traverse the snow-filled mountains. Today, we're extremely fortunate to have the opportunity and choices offered by companies like U-Haul and Bridgestone to provide the vehicles necessary and safe tires to support our needs to get across town or across country in any terrain, safely and warmly. How lucky are we?

If Sacajawea, as a young teen on foot carrying a papoose on her back in sub-zero weather can travel across borders, then traveling across country in a heated truck on safe tires is a walk in the park.

So let’s get started. If you have a road trip coming up or would like to, if you have a move coming up and fear what’s ahead, if you’re venturing out for the first time on your own, then please let us help with these following tips to keep you safe on the road.

Homework & Planning: Once you’ve made the decision that you’re moving or driving to unknown territory, begin the planning process. Start with the destination. What is your final destination? Once you know that, you can start planning your adventure from there.

How do you want to get there? Are you driving a car or a moving truck? If moving you must decide what you’re taking along to determine the size of the truck you’ll need to fit all your belongings.

If you’re taking a car, make sure it’s in perfect working condition. Don’t wait until you get on the road. Bring it to a reputable mechanic, someone you know and trust, and have them give a good healthy check up before you leave. Let the mechanic know how far you’ll be traveling and ask which extra supplies you should have in your trunk in case of a breakdown. RTM also provides a list of ‘must-haves’ in your trunk at all times.

What size vehicle will I need? There are many one-way moving van companies available but we chose U-Haul for many reasons. First, they’re the only one that has what’s called ‘Mom’s Attic’, extra space that hovers over the cabin of the truck. This allows for small boxes and personal items that you want to keep tucked away. We love that. U-Haul also offers trucks of all sizes and will help you make that decision with details on their website.

The second reason is their support of the military and war vets. In fact, It was a WW11 war vet that founded U-Haul in 1945. Sam Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, recognized that need and acted upon it. Their visionary approach spread the cost of ownership among many users, facilitating the mobility of the populations of the U.S. and Canada. The covered wagon of the pioneers morphed into orange U-Haul trailers. In the process, an industry was born.

And third, they have thousands of locations all over the U.S. which includes storage space so they make it quite simple to arrive at your destination and put things in storage at the same drop-off location until you’re settled into your new digs.

And last, their support of Sacajawea and women in general, not to mention kids with annual coloring contests with young winner’s murals painted on local moving vans. What parent or kid wouldn’t be thrilled with that?

It should also be noted that if you choose a U-Haul vehicle for your moving needs you also have access to their 24-hour emergency roadside assistance program for any problems that may arise while traveling on the road.

Additionally, U-Haul trucks feature a fuel-economy gauge. More information on that feature can be found here. They also provide a Trip Tracker program, newly released with some reservations. I used it for the first time on 'Women Traveling Alone" cross-country safety tour and it was a fantastic support tool.

Face the Fear: Driving a large vehicle is a daunting prospect for many women and mainly because it’s not something they do everyday. But the truth is, and I speak from a 5’1” perspective, driving a high-profile vehicle is a great deal of fun and empowering. One of my favorite things about driving a large truck is the high seating profile that allows you to see everything around you clearly providing a stronger sense of security on the road. So think fun, not fear, and face it head-on.

Your local U-Haul will help determine the size truck you need. In fact, while there, ask to take a truck for test drive to get a feel for it. Once you’re in it, your fears will fade away as you learn quickly how easy they are to drive.

Plan your route. Let’s say you’re going from New York to Los Angeles. There are many ways to get there, many interstates that are safe and direct, however, some are shorter, provide better gas mileage for your vehicle, and provide easier access to roadside services such as hotel chains and restaurants.

If you’re traveling alone, the best route to take is the most direct and the safest. You don’t want to make it too obvious that you’re traveling alone and never tell anyone that on the road. Although tempting, sightseeing alone on the road is not a good idea as it opens you to potential predators. However, the high-seating position of the truck will provide views to things that you otherwise may have noticed from a car.

Which route is best? One of the most direct routes to take from east to west is I-70 across the farming states. Yes, it’s pretty boring territory, very flat, but excellent on gas. From there, if you’re heading to Southern California, take the I-70 to I-44 west, then transition to Interstate 40 west, also known as the famed Route 66, which is an excellent way to travel for many reasons. You’ll avoid the Rockies, which are absolutely beautiful, but will drain your gas tank with their massive mountains, especially if you’re driving a truck that gets only about 10MPG. The southwest route also provides exceptional scenery as well.

Get AAA: AAA is your best roadside assistance friend. Breaking down on the road is the last thing you want to happen when traveling alone but if it does happen, AAA is a well-established national company with roadside support in thousands of towns across America. One call and usually within an hour they’re at your side. When waiting roadside, stay in your car with the doors locked, and don’t accept help from would-be good Samaritans who may stop to offer. In the event of a breakdown, call your family or friends to let them know where you are.

Share your journey details: Sharing the details of your trip, such as your route and hotel stops is an important element to your safety on the road. For any reason, should you deviate from your plans, call family and let them know where you are. Once you’ve determined which route you’re taking and at which hotels you’ll be staying, make a comprehensive list of your route and the names, addresses and phone number of each hotel and give that list to your family. Call them each night when you arrive to ensure their peace of mind. Remember, no matter how well planned the trip is or how independent you may be, they will still worry about you.

GPS Tracking: Most cell phones have GPS tracking on them. It’s a very simple tool to turn off and on. Make sure you understand how to turn it on and talk to your phone provider on how your family can track you online. My cell phone provider also monitors my location with a pinpoint locator which can locate my phone right down to the building I’m in. I gave my family a link to the security company website so that they could locate me any time of day or night and know exactly where I am at all times.

Why do you need to do this? For practical safety reasons. In the event you detour off course, drive into a ditch, or disappear, whether by choice or not, they can find your last location, which gives them a great starting point to find you, saving everyone time and stress. But keep in mind, if you do detour on purpose, let them know.

Choosing a hotel: There are many options for choosing a hotel chain along America’s Interstate’s but for women the one you choose matters for personal safety and budget. Sticking with a hotel chain along your route is best so you don’t have to veer too far off your planned route, ending up in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Also, many chains such as Hilton’s Embassy Suites or Homewood Suites, offer fully-applianced kitchenettes, which allows you to park after a long day’s drive, get into your room to relax and ready for the next day. You can make your own dinner at your own leisure without the worry of finding a local restaurant and conspicuously sitting alone, never mind the additional expense. What I personally love about suite hotels is that they’re very female-friendly.

Make reservations in advance: Don’t wait until you get on the road to find a hotel each night. This can put you in a very difficult and dangerous situation. Once you choose your route, research which hotels are along the route. Each hotel website offers location finders making it easy to plan your stops. What could happen if you wait? What if every hotel you stopped at was booked? What if you end up having to drive much further than you planned because you can’t find a hotel with a vacancy, which throws off your plans? What if you can only find a vacancy in a fleabag motel? So, planning ahead with confirmed reservations is your best and safest bet.

Driving hours: As much as I love to drive it can be tiring after several hours on the road. Everyone is different. Some people can drive 1000 miles in a day; others only 200 and they’re toast. For women, it’s best to do all driving during daylight hours. Plan your route and the miles you want to drive each day so that you arrive at your hotel each night while it’s still light out.

Keep in mind, if driving a U-Haul moving truck, you must allow time to find the best parking spot for the truck. Keeping it close to the hotel in a well-lit area is best. Also, backing it up close to the building will help deter would-be thieves from having access to the back of the truck.

You may even want to call ahead to your hotel to let them know when you’re arriving and ask where the best place is to park your U-Haul for the safety of your belongings as well as for your personal safety. Some hotels offer to send out a bellman to meet you at your vehicle not only to help spot you for parking, but also to help with your overnight bags AND escort you into the building safely. If they don’t offer, then ask. However, if you keep your schedule during daylight hours, you may not need such a service. Once you check in, be very careful not to expose your room number in any way. If the front desk hands you your key and says your room number out loud, ask for another room and ask him or her to write it down instead of saying it. Most hotels know today that it’s not safe, especially for women, to expose their room number.

Reduce environmental footprint - Save gas: When driving long distances or larger vehicles it's important to remember that the faster you go the more gas you'll use. So keep in mind as you plan your route and how many miles you'll drive each day, also plan to stay within the speed limit and stay to the right on 2-or more lane roads to allow cars to pass on your left. By reducing your speed, starting and stopping slower, you'll not only achieve better gas mileage and save money, you'll also be reducing your environmental footprint. This issue is important to all of us but our sponsors, Bridgestone and U-Haul, are international companies contributing significantly to help this cause.

Food for thought: Carry a cooler in the cabin of your vehicle with the basic necessities such as water, snacks, juice, etc. This will prevent unnecessary stops along the way. Also, hotel suite chains like the Hilton Embassy Suites or Homewood Suites offer fully cooked breakfasts as early as 6am. It’s a great way to start your day, with a full breakfast, and a few pieces of fruit for the road to keep your energy up. Most offer sit down restaurants with ‘cook to order’ breakfast, which you can eat there or take to your room. It’s not only a savings but another personal safety tip.

Go Stealth: Prevent drawing attention to yourself. The less conspicuous it is that you're traveling alone, the safer you'll be. For example, don't wear bright clothes, low cut tops or shorts while traveling alone. Don't stop at truck stops or talk to strangers about your journey, especially that you're traveling alone. Stay low key and when necessary to pull over for gas, choose places that have restaurants and gas stations together with a lot of people around. Use inside restrooms when possible. At these all-in-one places, you can grab snacks and gas in one stop and save time.

Most importantly, stay aware of your surroundings at all times, who's nearby, who's watching you even if it appears innocently. Take your phone with you and make sure your truck doors are locked and nothing shows that would temp a would-be break-in. Keep a small blanket in your truck to throw over your cabin contents when parked.

When gas or restaurant stops are necessary, park as close to the door of the building as possible to reduce walk time and do not park near fences or wooded areas. Do not use your phone or text while walking as this keeps your head down and significantly reduces your awareness of surroundings making you a perfect target for a robbery or possible attack. Walk straight, erect, briskly and look confident in your stride as this show of confidence usually scares off attackers as they don't want a fight. They want an easy target.

And last, when walking to and from your vehicle, keep at least one key on your key chain, preferably the longest one between your forefinger and middle finger so it sticks out as a potential weapon. A quick stab to the eye or neck on an attacker, especially in broad daylight with a lot of people around, will send him scurrying like the coward he or she is. I qualify he or she because we all assume men are always the attacker but sometimes it could be a woman so be aware of all. And sometimes they work in tandem to distract you because women tend to trust female strangers more than they do men so be aware of all around you, not jut men. More safety tips.

Stay organized: At the end of each day’s drive expect to be tired. Hundreds of miles of white lines on the road, the tires humming, the sitting up for hours upon hours, will take its toll both mentally and physically. So, start and end each day with a plan.

For example, at night once in your room, organize your notes for the next day’s drive. Text or call your family to let them know you're in your room safely. Call the next hotel to give them your estimated time of arrival the next day, and again where the best place is to park your truck. Get rid of old lists and make new ones if necessary (in case things change and they always do). Lists add to your sense of confidence and security on the road for what’s coming up next. And you'll sleep much better as the lists help alleviate worry. Ask the hotel clerk where the closest gas station is as well. And most important, get a good night’s sleep, you’ll need it.

Each morning after breakfast, when you’re at your freshest and most alert, fill her up! That means your body and your gas tank. You don’t want to start your day with a low tank and then find yourself having to pull over at some sleazy rest stop because your gas tank is almost empty or you're hungry. Also, a good breakfast provides fuel and energy for your body and brain, keeping you more alert on the road.

Use navigation equipment: Most vehicles come with built-in navigation today but in the case of a moving truck, you can either rent a small navigation unit from them or buy your own, which can run anywhere from $80 - $500. I have a Garmin Nuvi, which cost about $100 and has become my new best friend. If you can work your cell phone you can work a Garmin as they’re similar in ease of use. All you need to do is plug in the address of your destination, in your road trip case, each hotel address and from there, it will guide you with a voice (so you never have to take your eyes off the road to look a map) every step of the way, right to the door of your hotel. It’s one of the smartest purchases I’ve ever made giving me peace of mind no matter where I go.

When preparing for the next day’s journey just mount it on your dashboard (in a place that doesn’t block your view) and push the favorites icon (where you’ve saved all your hotel destinations) then choose your location and off you go. It’s just as good as having your own personal navigator sitting next to you. Take it inside your hotel each night. Do not leave either the Garmin or mount exposed on the dashboard overnight. It's an invitation to thieves. In fact, make sure you take all your valuables with you into your hotel room so nothing is visible in the cabin of the truck.

Many portable navigation systems also have Bluetooth so you can pair it with your cell phone so in the event a call comes in, it comes through the navigation on a speaker system so you never have to pick up your phone or take your eyes of the road. Having a navigation system, whether a Garmin or a Tom-Tom, or the GPS on your cell, will help take the fear out of traveling alone… and make your journey one you’ll never forget for the rest of your life. What great stories of adventure you'll have for family and friends! 

Click here for additional travel and moving tips from U-Haul.

To read the entire history of Sacajawea and her amazing story, click here.

Courtney Caldwell is a 15 year veteran black belt instructor in the Korean art of Taekwondo and is considered an expert in safety and security, especially educating women and girls on self defense and awareness of surroundings. For more info, click here.