The Boy Scouts of America have a pretty good slogan, however rote it may be:
Always be prepared.
While I never even got past Cub Scouts (I got bored), I like to think that the idea of always being prepared summoned the Don Quixote in me: I grew up a dreamer & idealist, always ready for random trials, tests of merit, and big adventure.
A post I wrote earlier gave readers a list of car essentials for just about any situation, but there were a few holes in the list that I'd like to fill in with the latest additions, ranging from no-stress scenario to something a little crazier:
Lazing Around Town
I've had several experiences in which I was driving somewhere, saw a patch of grass, and immediately pulled over just to go lie down in it for a half-hour or so. The more I did it, though, the more I realized that I should prepare ahead of time, instead of simply appearing out of thin air and collapsing to the ground in my street clothes like a drunken vagabond. Bring these along for max-relax:
Sunscreen/Chapstick: My bloodline is thick with German & Scotch-Irish ancestry, so if I'm in direct sunlight for longer than a few minutes, you can be sure I'll be complaining about sunburn later. Having spent the last few years surfing the California coast, a bottle of sunscreen is now on my truck's permanent list of essentials.
Extra sunglasses: If they aren't on top of your head as you're looking for them, you might have lost your sunglasses…again. Fear not, though, because an extra pair can be had for the price of a cup of coffee.
Blanket/bedsheet: Marvelous for improvised picnics as well, setting out a regular old blanket brings playground-rules real estate to the foreground: once you're comfortably atop it, it's forevermore your spot. Until you leave. Plus, it keeps allergens & bugs at bay as you're trying to get in a quick snooze.
Frisbee: Forever branded the activity of hippies and barefoot college kids, tossing a frisbee is a great activity for a low- to no-breeze day. Variations like Ultimate and Disc Golf are wildly popular, too. Plus, it's way cooler than a hacky-sack.
It's no secret that ditching work to go for a hike is totally worth the trade-off (unless you get fired), but some outings happen more spontaneously than others. Keep these items in your trunk for all the times your friend calls and asks if you've ever been to the Punch Bowls:
Wildlife protection: I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, which has over 250 miles of maintained trail within the city itself. Moose sightings are almost guaranteed. Bears are less-so, but I've been too close for comfort before. Having some form of defense/deterrent in your vehicle is as valuable as anything.
Hiking/mud shoes: It took me a while to figure out that the only places I used my mud shoes were also where I had to drive, so it made little sense keeping them at my apartment. Pack 'em away, and you'll always be ready for a jaunt in the mountains.
Doggie bags: Not from the Chinese take-out, unfortunately. Leave no trace is an apt rule for playing outside, and pet owners know it extends to their dogs & cats, too. Having a few of these around could mean the difference in avoiding a citation from a park ranger or police officer.
Swimsuit: If your jaunt takes you anywhere near a lake, ocean, or river, statistics show that 67% of swimsuit-wearers went for a swim, and 83% of those people reported to "have more fun than if they had not gone swimming." Actually, I just made those numbers up. It's not hard data, but who doesn't want to go for a swim?
Road Trip Entertainment
Road trips are marked by rolling landscapes that usually change slowly, and impatience and ennui can quickly become a trip's mood if the travelers aren't properly prepared. Keep a few things handy to keep conversation and stimulus alive:
Deck of Cards: It's likely that playing cards during the drive will induce motion sickness, so this is better left for picnic tables, cafés, and home gatherings. They work in a pinch, too, in case you need to start a fire—just make sure you keep the Jokers handy.
Audiobooks: Music, if listened to long enough, can become unbearable. So can silence. Add some new ingredients to the mix and grab an audiobook or two. Most books are good for several hours of easy listening, and by the time you reach your destination, you might have a better idea of why everyone was so excited about The Hunger Games.
Podcasts: Like audiobooks, these five-minute to one-hour-plus shows are of the talking heads variety, usually around a central theme or idea. Classics like Click'n'Clack: The Car Talk Brothers and current hits like Freakonomics are usually free to download, giving you an impressive library of audio clips.
Road Trip Bingo or Scavenger Hunt: A bit more for the kids than the adults, paper games like these turn an otherwise-singular objective into a treasure hunt. Oh, the things we do for a rush of dopamine…
If you're a hardcore overlander (my application is still pending on this one), you know that all roads don't lead to Rome, and when you look in the right places, the best roads happen where one would least expect it. "Good roads lead to bad fishing," goes the saying, and it's easy to substitute "fishing" for just about anything else synonymous with "quest" and "adventure." Here's a short packing list:
Road Flares: it's the familiar scene of so many movies: a dark country road, or a drive with an endless horizon. Accidents happen in remote places for a variety of reasons (falling asleep at the wheel, wildlife on the road, etc.), but visibility for oncoming traffic is often hampered by blind corners or dark skies. Road flares are a universal sign of distress, prompting other drivers to proceed with caution or prepare to get out and help.
Fire extinguisher: A fire scenario away from a water source can be terrifying—better still are CO2-based fire extinguishers that blanket the area in oxygen-deprived foam: the perfect solution for electrical fires that result from a car's bad wiring.
Shovel & 2x4 Combo (for snow or mud roads): My entire driver's education course was done in the middle of an Alaskan winter, and the rule about driving in Alaska in the winter is that the more you do it, the more likely you are to get stuck in loose snow & ice. A metal shovel will help you dig for grip, and if the snow's too deep, you can wedge the 2x4 under the tire for a makeshift traction plank.
Regional Topographic Map: This might be a little too Bear Grylls for the larger audience, but having one of these (and knowing how to use it) will tell you ahead of time what kind of roads you're getting yourself into. Coupled with a multi-day weather outlook, you'll be able to gauge which roads haven't been washed away in the changing seasons.
Toilet Paper & Hand Sanitizer: If you're road-tripping through the Andes mountain range or overland through the Sahara, you can probably bet that a nicely-lit gas station bathroom with TP and sani-wipes are a far-flung fantasy. Better bring your own.
What about you? How do you keep your car stocked with necessities? What would you add to this list?