Emergency Preparedness Lessons Learned

Julie and I were out of town all last week for a large family reunion (yes, in case you didn’t know, we are sister-in-laws). We drove about 2000 miles round trip on a fun adventure all around Alberta, Canada.

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Well on the way home I had quite an adventure. We were traveling in our minivan which has over 150,000 miles on it but we had just had it checked out and were feeling confident that it would make the trip. On the way home on Friday things were running just fine and then all of a sudden the van completely overheated and started shaking until we stopped running it and let it cool down. We were about 20 miles from the nearest town and 60 miles from a major city in an area that had zero cell phone service and with our two little kids in tow. NOT a fun experience.

We stopped and ate at the town while we let the van cool down. Then we headed out again hoping to get to the city and pray that some kind of mechanic or auto parts store might HAPPEN to be open on Fourth of July weekend. We were able to get some new hoses which we thought were the problem but then on our way out of town it overheated again. Each time we tried to let it rest and cool down it ended up sucking the battery down to the point we would need a jump start to get going again. We were hot, miserable, and tired … just wanting to get HOME.

We finally gave up on fixing the car around 2 pm on Saturday after spending the night in Helena, Montana and ended up renting a u-haul to tow the van home. The only problem was it only had three seats so our kids had to share the middle seat and squish into the front of the u-haul cab with us and no car seats … EEEK. We made it home around midnight at the end of July 4th and missed all of the festivities. It was kind of sad but at least we made it home safely.

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Emergency Preparedness Lessons Learned

What we were glad we had:

  • Treats, drinks, and entertainment for the kids
  • A spare jug of coolant and bottles of water to help us limp into town
  • A map of Montana so we would know how far the next town was (we normally don’t carry maps with us but we had already gotten lost on this trip once so we happened to grab one)
  • A small tool box my husband insisted we bring
  • Cell phones and iPhone when we got to Helena (helped find the auto parts store and arrange the u-haul when we needed it)

What we wished we had:

  • Jumper cables (we ended up buying another set after the 3rd jump we needed, and this is maddening because we have about 5 sets at home we had just forgotten to stick in)
  • The repair manual for our van
  • Spare cell phone chargers (my car charger stopped working)
  • Printed directions/maps for the whole trip instead of depending on an iPhone that did not get service a lot of the time
  • Hand fans to use when we couldn’t run our air conditioner
  • Stuck with the caravan plan we had originally intended
  • Taken the larger highway route instead of the “backroads” shortcut

Does anyone else have any advice for what could make a breakdown less traumatic? I’m SURE this has happened to more people than just my family!


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  • light29id

    Being in the Military, growing up on a farm in SD and the wife an Air Force brat from MT, we both knew that preparation can solve a lot of headaches on the road. We've traveled from San Diego to Billings and from Washington DC to Billings many times. We always traveled with extra spare parts (fluid, cables, belts, hoses etc). In addition we had duct tape, 550 cord, food, blankets, water and shelter. Also you need at least $500 in cash or Travelers Checks, some remote places don't take credit cards and and ATM isn't always around the corner. Having a good tool set (the Craftsman Mechanics 230 piece is my choice) is invaluable. You might also consider a power converter in the vehicle with a portable fridge.

    The wife and I always had the kids with us so we had to be prepared if something happened.

    One other thing I always carried was a handgun. Some people think that it's excessive but I love my family.

  • Anonymous

    Being in the Military, growing up on a farm in SD and the wife an Air Force brat from MT, we both knew that preparation can solve a lot of headaches on the road. We’ve traveled from San Diego to Billings and from Washington DC to Billings many times. We always traveled with extra spare parts (fluid, cables, belts, hoses etc). In addition we had duct tape, 550 cord, food, blankets, water and shelter. Also you need at least $500 in cash or Travelers Checks, some remote places don’t take credit cards and and ATM isn’t always around the corner. Having a good tool set (the Craftsman Mechanics 230 piece is my choice) is invaluable. You might also consider a power converter in the vehicle with a portable fridge.

    The wife and I always had the kids with us so we had to be prepared if something happened.

    One other thing I always carried was a handgun. Some people think that it’s excessive but I love my family.

  • light29id

    Being in the Military, growing up on a farm in SD and the wife an Air Force brat from MT, we both knew that preparation can solve a lot of headaches on the road. We've traveled from San Diego to Billings and from Washington DC to Billings many times. We always traveled with extra spare parts (fluid, cables, belts, hoses etc). In addition we had duct tape, 550 cord, food, blankets, water and shelter. Also you need at least $500 in cash or Travelers Checks, some remote places don't take credit cards and and ATM isn't always around the corner. Having a good tool set (the Craftsman Mechanics 230 piece is my choice) is invaluable. You might also consider a power converter in the vehicle with a portable fridge.

    The wife and I always had the kids with us so we had to be prepared if something happened.

    One other thing I always carried was a handgun. Some people think that it's excessive but I love my family.

  • Jane, That's a great tip. I have started documenting my family's history including trip info on a personal blog but it's also helpful to have it in a printable format. I love that you are using your Food Storage Made Easy Binder for that purpose. That is exactly what we created it for … emergency preparedness info all in one place and printed out.

  • I am so sorry you all had a rough trip back but at least you are all o’kay. I want to share with you all my little lesson learned About 12 yrs ago when I first met my husband and we started taking trips together I started learning a few tips and tricks. My Dear sweet FIL told me to make up a list after our first big adventure. I did and after every trip since then I add to my list revamp it I even keep a road trip journal. This has helped me pack for our trips and be even more prepared. It was a military thing for my FIL. I was told to think of it as a SOP (standard operating procedure) for our trips. Even after 12 yrs I find I learn something new after every trip. I would in the past frequently lose this sheet of paper but I keep it in my Preparedness binder that I got from foodstoragemadeeasy.net. At least you have a great list to start with next time. Glad you all are home safe,

    • Jane, That’s a great tip. I have started documenting my family’s history including trip info on a personal blog but it’s also helpful to have it in a printable format. I love that you are using your Food Storage Made Easy Binder for that purpose. That is exactly what we created it for … emergency preparedness info all in one place and printed out.

  • I am so sorry you all had a rough trip back but at least you are all o'kay. I want to share with you all my little lesson learned About 12 yrs ago when I first met my husband and we started taking trips together I started learning a few tips and tricks. My Dear sweet FIL told me to make up a list after our first big adventure. I did and after every trip since then I add to my list revamp it I even keep a road trip journal. This has helped me pack for our trips and be even more prepared. It was a military thing for my FIL. I was told to think of it as a SOP (standard operating procedure) for our trips. Even after 12 yrs I find I learn something new after every trip. I would in the past frequently lose this sheet of paper but I keep it in my Preparedness binder that I got from foodstoragemadeeasy.net. At least you have a great list to start with next time. Glad you all are home safe,

  • That’s quite an adventure. I’m glad everyone made it home ok. I work for AAA and just want to suggest that motorists carry an emergency kit in the car. The kit usually holds things like jumper cables, reflectors or flares, flashlight, etc. You can get them at most AAA offices or sometimes big box stores. Also, if you have a laptop with you, you can contact AAA roadside assistance online (no phone service needed) as long as you can connect wirelessly. AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner is online as well so you can create your own maps, review different routes, add hotels or other stops to your map, and print it before you leave home. If you’re driving in the winter you’ll need different things in your emergency kit such as a shovel (for snow) and a space blanket for warmth. For more tips on staying safe while driving (or if you break down) see http://www.AAA.com/publicaffairs and click “On the Road”.

    • Janie, Yes I’m ashamed, I have a full car emergency kit in my OTHER car that I neglected to move over to the vehicle that we took on the trip. Silly me. Thanks for the extra tips!

  • Janie, Yes I'm ashamed, I have a full car emergency kit in my OTHER car that I neglected to move over to the vehicle that we took on the trip. Silly me. Thanks for the extra tips!

  • That's quite an adventure. I'm glad everyone made it home ok. I work for AAA and just want to suggest that motorists carry an emergency kit in the car. The kit usually holds things like jumper cables, reflectors or flares, flashlight, etc. You can get them at most AAA offices or sometimes big box stores. Also, if you have a laptop with you, you can contact AAA roadside assistance online (no phone service needed) as long as you can connect wirelessly. AAA's TripTik Travel Planner is online as well so you can create your own maps, review different routes, add hotels or other stops to your map, and print it before you leave home. If you're driving in the winter you'll need different things in your emergency kit such as a shovel (for snow) and a space blanket for warmth. For more tips on staying safe while driving (or if you break down) see http://www.AAA.com/publicaffairs and click “On the Road”.

  • Samuel Peery

    Jodi,
    I felt so bad about not being able to come help you. We should have caravaned. I even have AAA which you can use for other people as long as you’re with them. I’m sad you missed out on 4th of July festivities but glad you made it home safely.

  • Samuel Peery

    Jodi,
    I felt so bad about not being able to come help you. We should have caravaned. I even have AAA which you can use for other people as long as you're with them. I'm sad you missed out on 4th of July festivities but glad you made it home safely.

  • AAA has saved us more than once. They also have a route planning service, and many hotels have AAA discounts.

  • AAA has saved us more than once. They also have a route planning service, and many hotels have AAA discounts.

  • Shana

    I would like to suggest a “jump box” in addtion to jumper cables. They are very affordable and Sam’s Club carries them.(other places probably do too.) They cost about 50-60 dollars and hold a charge for quite a long time- you can jump your own car off ( much better than waiting for someone to come along to help in this day and age) plus you don’t have to worry about having your car in the right position in a parking lot to be jumped off. It also can charge a cellphone.It also has a compressor to put air in your tire! I am glad you got back home! Oh I just thought of something else, having something like Triple AAA or Sams Roadside service would be good too. That way if you need a tow or gas it could come in handy.

    • Ah yes, my husband actually has one of those jump box thingies at home too. I am so mad at myself for not being more prepared for this trip. AAA would probably have been a good service to have as well since we were driving an older vehicle. Great tips!

  • We had AT&T and Verizon phones and neither worked in the location we were. Although we could have found a payphone at the small town and used AAA if we had it …

  • Ah yes, my husband actually has one of those jump box thingies at home too. I am so mad at myself for not being more prepared for this trip. AAA would probably have been a good service to have as well since we were driving an older vehicle. Great tips!

  • Shana

    I would like to suggest a “jump box” in addtion to jumper cables. They are very affordable and Sam's Club carries them.(other places probably do too.) They cost about 50-60 dollars and hold a charge for quite a long time- you can jump your own car off ( much better than waiting for someone to come along to help in this day and age) plus you don't have to worry about having your car in the right position in a parking lot to be jumped off. It also can charge a cellphone.It also has a compressor to put air in your tire! I am glad you got back home! Oh I just thought of something else, having something like Triple AAA or Sams Roadside service would be good too. That way if you need a tow or gas it could come in handy.

  • Stacey W.

    If you have roadside service coverage with your car insurance company, they’ll come to you and help fix or tow the car. I get this and it comes to a couple of dollars a month – worth it if you drive an older car / van (which I do). This wouldn’t have helped much with no cell phone coverage, though. My husband has suggested we keep a prepaid cell phone on another cell network for emergencies when our network is down or unavailable, but another network might be available, but we haven’t done this yet.

    • We had AT&T and Verizon phones and neither worked in the location we were. Although we could have found a payphone at the small town and used AAA if we had it …

  • Stacey W.

    If you have roadside service coverage with your car insurance company, they'll come to you and help fix or tow the car. I get this and it comes to a couple of dollars a month – worth it if you drive an older car / van (which I do). This wouldn't have helped much with no cell phone coverage, though. My husband has suggested we keep a prepaid cell phone on another cell network for emergencies when our network is down or unavailable, but another network might be available, but we haven't done this yet.

  • HW

    We keep a pair of jumper cables and tools for changing a flat tire in each car so they are always available when we need them.

  • HW

    We keep a pair of jumper cables and tools for changing a flat tire in each car so they are always available when we need them.