What If the SHTF When You Are Travelling?

What If the SHTF When You Are Travelling?

I thought this post/topic may be very fitting for the 11th anniversary of September 11.

On that Tuesday, I was on a business trip.  A company organized this 3 day cruise for 1000 technology executives on the QE2 out of New York.  You had to get invited, but it was free.  The catch was that 2000 vendors had paid $5-25k to be a part of this cruise as they were guaranteed a captive audience for these 3 days.  Each meal was scheduled with different vendors that wanted to speak to you and since we were 100 miles from shore, no cell phones and Internet worked to distract the participants.

You can imagine what happened next.  Tuesday morning, 2 planes crash into the World Trade Center.  Probably 50%+ of the IT leaders on this boat were from New York and many of them had offices in the towers.  We were too far out to get cell coverage and this British boat only had 1 TV station, the BBC.  Instantly everyone was panicked.  We had F16s flying around the ship to see who we were and they closed all ports in the US.  Now what are we going to go?

Finally Tuesday night, the captain says that they have permission to dock the next morning in Boston (we started in New York).  That morning, everyone gets off.  I go to the Boston Logan airport (site that several of the hijackers left from), check into the airport hotel and figured that flights would resume momentarily!  I guess I was more naive than stupid or arrogant.  I didn’t realize how our world had changed and what this meant.

After talking to my boss (ironically, I worked for the airline), he said the flights would take days to restart.  I found the bus station, bought a ticket, waited 6 hours and hopped on an 8 hour bus ride to Cleveland (I bought a ticket all the way home-a 24 hour ride).  On the way, I made friends with a guy who was going to Chicago.  We decided to get off the bus and rent a car in Cleveland and drive to Chicago.  In the mean time, my wife found me a car from Chicago to Minneapolis.  I got home on Thursday afternoon to a almost hysterical spouse that couldn’t stop hugging me and crying.

Not only does this experience stick with me, but just this last weekend I traveled 8 hours by car to attend my grandma’s 90th birthday.  It got me thinking, what would I do if the SHTF when I am 8 hours away?  My kids are with me, but my wife was not.  What would I do?  With so many people that travel for their jobs and/or vacations, I thought this may be a great discussion.

I began to think about and explore ideas on what to do if the SHTF when we are travelling.  For the sake of this discussion, I am NOT talking about a localized event such as a flood, hurricane or other.  While these can be devastating, the rest of the country is still doing its thing and if you get far enough away from the problem, life is pretty normal.  This post is not meant as a “must do” itemized list, but more of something to get your planning juices flowing to think about what you would do in the event of something major like a Zombie Apocalypse or TEOTWAKI:


  • Have manydiscussions well prior to your trip with your family/other people in your prepper band about this scenario.  Discuss items like:
    • When to go to the bug-out location.  What will be the trigger or who will make the decision.
    • If you are the primary prepper, make sure the people left behind know where everything is and at least somewhat how to use it.  You don’t want to have 1000 rounds of ammo buried somewhere, and no one but you knows about it, while your family is struggling to defend itself.
    • What is your remote communications strategy to keep the family/group informed of what is happening?  Our plan is that we will leave voicemail on each others cell phones, send text, send email.  We will also try to contact designated family members, friends, and neighbors, giving them details/updates so they can relay to the other family members if they connect with them.
    • We discussed how to leave messages that can be found at our primary home and/or the bug-out location for any family to inform them where we are, but not give away all details to others.
  • Immediately prior to the trip, discuss details that pertain to this trip such as:
    • If you are traveling by car versus plane, the above plans may change.  For example:  if I am driving, I am coming to my primary location no matter what and can then divert to my bug-out versus, if I took a plane to my destination, I may need to walk or get a ride to the closest family member or friend in that part of the country and then figure out a plan from there.
  • Do both your immediate family and someone else have details about where you are going and staying?  During Katrina, most neighbors didn’t know who was home and who was not.
  • Have you packed some or all of your bug out bag?  Even if you are flying, throwing in some extra food bars and water may be a life saver.
  • If you are driving, are you bringing your pistol?  If so, do you understand the gun laws in the states you are passing through and how to travel with your handgun?  You don’t want to be sitting in jail during the end of the world.
  • Do you have good maps of where you are going and everywhere in between your destination and home if you needed to walk or borrow a vehicle?
  • Understand the geography of your destination if possible.  Think about what you would do if you had to get home by some other means such as walking.
  • Did you pack walking shoes?

Consistently During Your Trip

  • Try to keep abreast of the news, especially if something is starting to simmer such as a riot or an economic situation.  I have found that monitoring Twitter on my phone gives me very quick and accurate snapshot of what is happening, plus I can roll back the tweets for 24 hours if needed to insure I catch everything.
  • Keep in touch with anyone in your family that is home.  While you don’t need to know every time they go to the bathroom, make sure you have a general idea of where they should be at all times.  If you can’t reach them by phone in a disaster, where do you even begin to look?
  • If you are doing day trips or traveling more than a couple miles from your travel bags during the day, consider packing a BOB in case you can’t get back to your hotel/stuff.  Alternatively, if it is not too much trouble, repack your suitcase each morning and just throw it in the truck of the car.  Then you can leave from where ever you are.
  • Keep some cash on you or easily available.  Just like how you should keep a bunch of small bills in your BOB, keep some with you when you travel in case the ATMs go down.
  • If you are traveling by car, keep your gas tank as full as practical.
If the SHTF During Your Trip
  • Make a decisive decision to immediately get home.  Most people will be in shock and will take a while to figure out what is going on.  If you already secured your transportation and anything else you need, you will be way ahead of the curve.  You want to be the first to rent a car, buy extra gas, go stand-by on a plane.  I made this mistake on 9/11.  A bunch of people on the ship from my part of the country decided to immediately rent a car and drive home. I should have gone with, rode comfortably with 4 other people and gotten home easily instead of taking 36 hours of buses, rental cars, and no showers.
  • If this truly is a TEOTWAKI event, spare no expense to get back to your family/home/bug-out location.  If you need to spend $1000 to buy a plane ticket that will get you home in 2 hours, do it.  If the disaster is bad enough, your family at home needs you and $1000 is nothing compared to their safety.
  • If you are driving (your own car or a rental), go to the nearest big box retailer.  Buy a case or two of water, extra food and 2-3 extra 5 gallon gas cans.  Fill up the car and the gas cans and then continue to fill the car along your trip before it gets below 1/2 a tank.  Also buy food along the way to replenish your supply.  In a disaster, power outages and transportation problems will immediately impact your ability to get gas and/or food along your route.
  • If you are travelling by plane, consider losing some non-essential items such as some clothing, briefcase, books, impractical shoes, and anything else that you can repurchase if life gets back to normal.  Use this extra space to get your bag small enough to carry onto the plane (who knows if baggage claim is working at your destination).  Pack water and food into your carry-on, in case you get stranded on the runway or elsewhere.
  • I’m not sure how to say this, but be cautious of authority.  They are human and they don’t always have your best interest in mind.  Remember how the police confiscated all the guns from law-biding citizens during Katrina?  Look how that turned out.
  • At your first opportunity, take out a larger amount of cash from your account. In a true TEOTWAKI event, you may not have access to your money any time soon.  Further, in an economic disaster, your money may never be available if there is a run on the banks.  Plus, early in a disaster, normal people will still take cash, where later in a full economic collapse, paper money will be worthless and you will need to resort to barter.
  • As the disaster sinks in, non-prepared people will begin to get frustrated and angry at the situation and start pointing fingers at who should be fixing this problem.  If possible, stay in the shadows.  Do not engage or even be in the same area if possible.  When travelling by car, consider staying off the major road and avoiding all towns.  This can also help if you have a soft heart and would have a difficult time NOT helping.  Stopping to help someone can make you a target or victim.
  • Keep your cell phone charged.  If this means sitting on the floor of the gas station for an hour next to an outlet, then do it.  You never know if/when you will need it and when you will get another charge.  This one was terrible for me on 9/11-My phone died about 20 hours into my journey home and it left my wife frantic not hearing from me for many hours until I could recharge my phone.
  • Continue to execute your pre-discussed plan for communications and bug-out location.

These are just some ideas to get your prepping juices flowing.  My prayer is that you never get in a situation where you are travelling when the SHTF. I hope you are sitting at your bug-out location with family all safe, fully stocked, locked and loaded.

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