How to Deal with a Travel Emergency


Last Updated on February 18, 2024 by Grant

In February 2021, we went to South Texas to visit a couple of National Parks sites and generally enjoy warmer weather. We’ve wanted to do this trip for a while and February seemed like a good time of year for it. It would be an escape from the cold in Georgia and avoid the Spring Break crowds.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

As we began planning the trip, we built our itinerary to avoid the predicted snow and ice in North and West Texas. We headed to South Padre Island, about as far south as one can go in Texas. Thankfully, we did not get any winter weather, but we were still caught up in the rolling blackouts and water outages. While our experience was mild compared to many folks in Texas, it did make us think about what we should have with us whenever we travel just in case we get caught up in another travel emergency on the road. 

A lonely stretch of the Extraterrestrial Highway going through central Nevada.
There is not much out on the Extraterrestrial Highway. Imagine being stranded on this lonely highway. When we drove this road, there were hours we didn’t see another vehicle or have cell phone service.

While winter travel is an obvious worry, there are several other kinds of disruptions that can strike, from weather to natural disasters to simple mechanical failure. Anytime power and water are disrupted, groceries are delayed or the ability to travel is disrupted, you need to be prepared to endure or get out.

So, here are our tips for enduring a travel emergency. Note: we are not survival experts but rather road trippers who spend a lot of time on the road in just about every condition.

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Travel Emergency Tip #1: Be Flexible

We have said this many times when talking about winter road trips but it bears repeating: be flexible in your travels and, most importantly, your mindset. You never know what will happen in the world which might cause you to lose the ability to travel to your destination or enjoy your destination when you get there. 

Winter weather can easily snarl travel in an area for a few days, depending on how severe it is. If the area is remote, it might take even longer for roads to clear.

Check out our article on preparing for a winter road trip.

In the summer, wildfires out West are another common issue that delay travel or require evacuation from an area at a moment’s notice, as well as prompting blackouts.

In the late summer and fall, hurricanes lash the southern coast of the US, crippling infrastructure. Typhoons can do the same in the Pacific.

You have to be prepared for snow when visiting national parks in the winter.
Snow can quickly snarl travel, especially in mountainous areas.

Internationally, volcanic eruptions can spew lots of ash into the air and completely ground air travel for days, even weeks.

So, what does being flexible mean? 

It means having the ability to change your plans at a moment’s notice. Being flexible means understanding that the service disruptions you are experiencing are even worse for the folks who live in the area. It means working with people to make things better. Most importantly, it means being as self-sufficient as you can be in the event of a travel emergency. 

Which brings us to tip #2.

Travel Emergency Tip #2: Be Prepared

When a travel emergency strikes, how quickly things go bad will surprise you. Anything longer than momentary disruptions in basic services, like electricity, water, phone service and internet connectivity, can have a significant impact on what’s available and what’s not. 

When we were staying on South Padre Island, we had power and water early on but, by the second day, had lost water. We were lucky. More than half the island did not have power. Most of the cell phone towers were down. The internet was down for large parts of the island. 

When is the last time you saw a closed Walmart like this one in Port Isabel, TX?
All of the Walmarts in town were closed due to the power and water outages.

That meant most of the restaurants were closed. The ones that were open couldn’t process credit card transactions. Even in the greater Brownsville area, we found extensive closures due to either power or water outages. No Walmarts were open. More than a few grocery stores closed their doors. There were long lines at gas stations. 

As we moved north towards Houston, we found ourselves in even more disrupted services. Many hotels were without power and water and closed accordingly. That meant the open hotels had very few rooms if any. We found a grand total of one hotel that had power and was accepting customers. That said, the hotel did not have water when we made our reservation.  We figured it was still better than driving all night or sleeping in the truck.

This hotel was closed despite accepting reservations online.
We found a hotel online only to find it completely closed when we got there.

The lack of water had another serious impact: restrooms at the open gas stations and restaurants were completely closed. Combined with the lack of open public restrooms due to COVID, this situation got uncomfortable quickly. 

Again, the folks who lived there had it a lot worse than we did. 

So, as a traveler, how do you prepare the complete disruption of services? The answer is to have a travel emergency kit… a duffle bag you fill with gear and toss in your car and mostly forget about until you need it. 

Travel Emergency Tip #3: Gearing Your Emergency Kit

In terms of gearing your kit, let’s talk about your biggest priorities in any emergency situation: water, food, shelter, warmth and health.


You can survive without food for several days but you can only go about three days without water, so your first priority needs to be finding fresh water. Since no power generally means no water treatment and no ability to pump water into water towers, having the ability to treat water from other sources is really important. 

A LifeStraw Flex with its filter
The LifeStraw Flex will allow you to fill the water bottle with just about any fresh water source and start drinking.

We got a LifeStraw Peak collapsable water bottle in a Cairn box and it is perfect for travel emergencies. It does not take up a lot of room, will hold 22 ounces of water and you can use pretty much any freshwater source. One thing to note is it does not kill viruses but it does take care of parasites. You can easily use a cloth to cover the opening to filter out particles. 

I suggest getting one each for the folks who typically travel in your car. 

LifeStraw Peak Series Water Filter – 1L, Dark Mountain Gray, Protects Against Bacteria and Parasites, Ultra-Compact and Versatile
  • Protects against 99.999999% of bacteria (including E.coli, Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), 99.999% of microplastics, silt, sand, and cloudiness
  • Enhanced microfilter performance: Our re-engineered membrane and custom backwash accessory means better performance against sand and silt, maintaining great flow over the long haul
  • Ultra-compact, our reconfigured filter is tiny but mighty with a super packable kit that doesn’t sacrifice weight or space
  • Extreme durability: 2x thicker, premium materials make it tougher and ultra leak-proof
  • Highly versatile means the collapsible squeeze bottle system is designed with every occasion in mind; Use as a bottle, squeeze water through it into cooking containers or other drinkware, use as a straw, remove the filter to use as a storage system, or connect to other Peak Series systems


For us, food is not that big of a concern because we typically take plenty of hearty snacks with us on the road, like Clif Bars and beef jerky. 

That said, we always travel with a 2,400-calorie emergency ration bar. By itself, it won’t last long in a survival situation but, combined with what we normally travel with and rationing, we can make it for a few days without food. 

An ER Bar ration bar
This ration bar can feed one person for three days and can last in your car for five years.

I think we should add an additional ration bar to the truck after seeing how quickly things got bad in Texas. I think one of these per person who travels in your car should be enough, especially if you travel with snacks like we do.

ER Emergency Food Provisions – 3 Day Supply – 2400 Calories for Survival, Disaster, Earthquake Kits
  • Guaranteed 5-year shelf life
  • Approved and certified as a 3-day survival supply by the U.S. Coast Guard and US Department of Homeland Security
  • Each packet contains six individual, ready-to-eat 410 calorie rations; requires no preparation
  • Durable, zip-close re-sealable packaging; withstands extreme conditions and temperatures (-22F to 149F)
  • No trans fats, cholesterol, coconut, tropical oils or nuts


One of the things most susceptible to disruption is communications. When the internet and phones are down in an area, you will find most businesses can’t accept credit cards at all. 

Having cash quickly becomes essential for acquiring supplies like food or fuel when communication is disrupted. 

Bonnie scooping some rice from her plate in a Mexican restaurant just after the power went out.
Bonnie enjoying lunch in the dark after the power went out… You can see the emergency lights on behind her. We had to use the last cash we had to pay for this meal.

While we were in Texas, we could not find many open stores or restaurants and even among the ones that were open, many could not accept credit cards. We quickly exhausted our emergency cash supply.

When we found a functioning ATM, we got out $200 in cash and we recommend everyone travel with $100 per person in your group. While I don’t like keeping cash in our vehicle, we do keep it in our travel emergency kit.


If you are traveling by car, your shelter is traveling with you. It may not be comfortable but you can safely sleep in your vehicle if needed. The biggest issue with sleeping in your car is keeping warm. In the winter, keeping a couple of blankets in your vehicle is a great idea but they can take up a lot of space. 

An orange space blanket is a great addition to a travel emergency kit.
This orange space blanket is great for keeping you warm and is good for emergency signals.

That’s where space blankets come in. These lightweight metallic blankets reflect 90% of your body heat back to you. These are reasonably cheap and take up very little space. Having used a similar blanket while I was in the Army, I can tell you that they work well, especially in wet environments. 

Get at least one for each person and I recommend getting them in bright orange so the can be used as a signal. 

ANLOKE Emergency Blankets Mylar Thermal Blanket (4 Pack) of Gigantic Space Blanket 82 * 52 in. Survival Blankets Heavy Duty Camping Gear,First Aid, Silver+Orange
  • ★BEST QUALITY★–Durable and advanced aluminized dual-sided emergency mylar thermal space blankets, survival blanket,waterproof and windproof ,Thickness: 30 μm,it retains up to 90% of your body heat. Perfect for First Aid Kit, bug out bags, go-bags, and home/auto emergency kits.

Taking Care of Your Health in a Travel Emergency

Once you take care of the essentials of survival, it’s time to start taking care of your basic health needs, like first aid and cleanliness. Believe it or not, keeping clean really helps cut down on disease and improves morale. A good first aid kit can keep a minor wound from becoming something life-threatening. 

Toilet Kit

We take finding a “public” restroom for granted in this country. It seems every gas station and restaurant has a restroom available to the traveling public as long as you make a purchase. But what happens when COVID closes restaurants to everything but drive-throughs? How about when water shortages force gas stations to close their restrooms? What do you do then?

We got TP Kits a while back for our daypacks when we hike. But, after a trip across the Southwest where we didn’t find an open restroom for more than a hundred miles, I made sure we had a few of these kits in our truck as well. 

TP Kits make great holiday gifts for travelers and hikers.
The TP Kit has five tissues and two wet wipes in a resealable package, perfect for travel and the trail.

TP Kit contains toilet paper and a wet wipe in a biodegradable, resealable package. This will allow you to take care of business and pack out the paper in a sealed package for later disposal. The kits are small and easy to pack. Take at least a couple for every person on your trip in your travel emergency kit. 

Body Wipes 

We originally got these no-rinse bathing wipes for days when we were boondocking in our camper. This would allow us to clean off without having to haul water for a shower, perfect for an overnight stop at a Walmart. 

But the travel emergency uses for these became very evident after not being able to get a shower for a couple of days on our trip. While not as good a hot shower, these will get the funk off and are easy to pack. 

Body Wipes (5 Packs) 50 XL Shower Wipes Body Wipes for Adults Bathing, Traveling, Camping, Gym, Car, Elderly, Bedridden – Bath Wipes – Disposable Washcloths for Adults No Rinse
  • Perfect Body Wipes for Women & Men On-the-Go: Worry no more for times when a bathroom, a shower, or a decent water supply isn’t available because the PIPA MINT wipes for adults are here to rescue. Our no-rinse cleansing wipes for adults are the perfect alternative to a normal bath when you’re in a hurry, after a practice or game, after a workout session, or when you’re traveling for long hours. Quickly enjoy a fresh & clean feeling when you have the PIPA MINT wipes for adults wherever you go.

First Aid Kit

Having a first aid kit is important no matter what kind of traveling you are doing. Indeed, being able to take care of small injuries on your own is critical to being self-sufficient during a crisis. Having a good first aid kit will help make sure that small injuries do not become life-threatening in the absence of immediate medical treatment. 

If you have more advanced training, a good first aid kit can also be used to keep a person alive even after more serious wounds. 

MyMedic Advanced and Basic kits. The kits are relatively compact and have a lot useful gear, including an emergency whistle and paracord on top of the medical gear.
MyMedic Advanced and Basic kits. The kits are relatively compact and have a lot of useful gear, including an emergency whistle and paracord on top of the medical gear.

We use MyMedic first aid kits. We have a couple of their Solo Kits, one regular and one advanced. I carry the advanced kit because I got advanced first aid training in the Army. These kits are very well-stocked for needs while on the trail and we like them a lot.

If I were to get just one kit for my car, I would certainly get the Auto Medic Kit. It has everything you need for a travel emergency kit while on the road. It even includes a space blanket and a whistle. 

That said, do not get more first aid kit than you know how to use. For example, both the Advanced Solo Kit and the Auto Medic Kit contain a Rapid Application Tourniquet System, which should not be used if you do not have training on how and when to use it. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Once you have taken care to the immediate needs of water, food, shelter and health concerns, it’s time to make a critical survival decision: should I stay or should I go?

For some travel emergencies, it is better to stay put, like if your vehicle is stranded or you are lost and low on fuel. It is easier for rescuers to find you if you just stay put and that is my recommendation in almost all situations.

For us in Texas, it was better to stay put for a while to allow the ice to melt further north. After the roads were clear, it was time to go. We were an unnecessary burden on the infrastructure and taking away from the people who live there.

You can drive most of the dirt roads in Custer SP.
What happens when you get stranded on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere?

If you are in a situation where you need to walk away from your vehicle, stick to established roads! Don’t travel off the road unless you really know what you are doing. Even then, don’t go off the roads. That’s how folks get lost. 

Your emergency kit should have gear to help you endure and call for help as well as tools to help you get yourself out of the situation, including walking out if needed. 

So, let’s talk about the gear you need to endure a travel emergency by staying in your vehicle or at a hotel for an extended time without power.

Solar-Powered Battery

When the power is out, having a battery backup is great but having a battery that will charge from the sun is even more useful. 

We got this battery pack from Cairn and we leave it in the truck at all times, clipped so that it gets sunlight on a regular basis. We can use this battery to charge our phones and other small devices, like the rechargeable headlamps below. 

Having the ability to charge a device without access to electricity is essential in a travel emergency.
This solar-powered battery has a meter to tell you how good the light is for recharging and how much juice the battery has.

Being able to keep a phone charged, if you can get a signal, can allow you to call for help and provide lifesaving information, like your precise location, to rescuers in a travel emergency.

Even if you are not staying put, you can use your phone’s GPS features along with downloaded maps like Gaia for navigation (if you had the foresight to download maps ahead of time). This battery has enough power to keep our iPhone 12 Pros topped off.

This power bank is an upgrade in terms of capacity from ours but is pretty heavy.

Power-Bank-Solar-Charger – 42800mAh Portable Charger,Solar Power Bank,External Battery Pack 5V3.1A Qc 3.0 Fast Charger Built-in Super Bright Flashlight (Orange)
  • Solar power bank portable charger uses strong professional ABS material, Chemical resistant, heat-resistant, and has super surface hardness, high elasticity and toughness. IP67 waterproof,drop-proof and dust-proof, so you no longer worry about damage caused by water/drop, the powerbank can work in extreme environments. Solar battery bank with more than 1600+ charging life cycles, it is very reliable and durable.

Charging Cables

This is a no-brainer but I am always surprised at how many folks travel without extra charging cables in their vehicle. I suggest making sure you have cables for all the possible connection types you have. At a minimum, you should have two each of micro USB, USB C and Apple Lightning cables. Even if you don’t have all of those connections, one of your passengers might or you might meet someone along the way who desperately needs one. Amazon sells some great cables for a very reasonable price.

Battery Jump Starter

So, my mom got me this gizmo one Christmas and I thought, “Sure, OK. Maybe this will have some value.” It’s not that I didn’t trust my mom’s judgment, it’s just this device seemed too good to be true. A compact battery that jumpstarts a car? Yeah, right.

It’s amazing. While we have never had to use it to jump our own vehicle, we have used it several times to jump other vehicles and it has worked every time! So, we keep it in the truck and check the battery every so often to make sure it is fully charged. 

A Halo Bolt battery jump start system is essential for a travel emergency kit.
This Halo Bolt can jumpstart a car and recharge from both your car and a normal power outlet.

The ability to jumpstart yourself in a cold environment is an amazing thing, especially if you are in a remote area. Imagine coming back to the trailhead after hiking in the winter only to find a dead battery and an otherwise empty parking lot! 

The battery will even charge a laptop, so it is a pretty stout addition to your emergency kit. Once you jump your car, you can recharge the battery from your vehicle using the 12V adapter! 

HALO Bolt 58830 mWh Portable Phone Laptop Charger Car Jump Starter with AC Outlet and Car Charger,usb – Grey
  • PORTABLE PHONE, TABLET, and USB POWER BANK: Never run out of battery! Two USB 2. 4V charging outputs means this iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or iPad Portable Charger powers multiple devices at once. Comes with Car Charger so you can keep your Bolt powered while you’re in your car
  • UNIVERSAL MOBILE LAPTOP and PHONE CHARGER: Keep your Mac, PC, phone or tablet charged when traveling or use as a backup during a storm. 120V AC wall outlet powers your laptop on the go
  • PORTABLE EMERGENCY CAR JUMP STARTER: Battery trouble isn’t an issue when your universal power bank includes enough power to jump start your car, truck, boat, motorcycle or lawn mower, jumper cables included. Perfect for drivers who don’t want to wait on the side of the road for a tow truck

Cell Phone Booster

Compared to the other items on this list, this is a pretty expensive addition. A cell phone booster uses an antenna and a signal amplifier to take a cell phone signal that is barely there and turn it into a usable signal. 

The WeBoost Cell Phone Booster on in the back of the truck.
The WeBoost Cell Phone Booster on in the back of the truck.

This is especially useful if you travel in remote areas and get your vehicle stuck. While it will not magically create a signal, it will make a very weak one useful. 

I would not travel off major roads out West in the winter without one of these in your vehicle. While they are pricey, they can save your life if you are stuck off a rarely-traveled road. 

weBoost Drive Reach – Vehicle Cell Phone Signal Booster | 5G & 4G LTE | Magnetic Roof Antenna | Boosts All U.S. Carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile | Made in the U.S. | FCC Approved (model 470154)
  • Reaches The Farthest Cell Towers And Boosts Signal For Multiple Devices
  • Compatible With All U.S. Carriers, Including Verizon, At&T, T-Mobile, And Us Cellular
  • Supports The Latest In 5G Technology, Providing The Best Speed And Service Possible On Any Smartphone
  • FCC approvedWith 50 Db Max Gain – FC ID PWO460061
  • Weboost Provides Expert U.S.-Based Customer Support Through Our App, Chat, Phone, Or Email, And We Guarantee Our Products With A Two-Year Warranty

Light Sources

When the power goes out in a travel emergency, having portable light sources with you is highly important. They are also excellent for use as a signal at night if you are stranded. 

We recommend having at least a headlamp per person in your car. While you can use ones that are powered by a battery, we like rechargeable headlamps so you can recharge them with your solar battery. What makes headlamps great is they are hands-free. 

We just picked up a pair of cheap, rechargeable headlamps on Amazon for a great price. Now, these aren’t the best headlamps out there but they will do just fine in an emergency. They have several light modes, including a white flood and a red strobe, which is valuable as an emergency signal. What I really love about these is a charge indicator, so you know how much juice you have left. 

Tinmu Headlamp and Goal Zero Crush Light are perfect for a travel emergency kit.
This headlamp and lantern are rechargeable and are perfect for an emergency.

These aren’t the headlamps we would take on the trail but the are just fine for casual use in an emergency. 

We also recommend taking this collapsible portable lantern. If you are stuck in a hotel room, this will be a lifesaver. You can charge it with a battery or it has its own solar panels, freeing up your solar battery to charge other devices.

The lantern will last for six hours on medium power, which is 24 lumens. It is not the brightest light in the world but it packs down to almost nothing and will charge using its own solar panels or you can use the solar battery to charge them. 

Goal Zero Crush Light Solar Powered Lantern
  • HOW TO USE YOUR CAMP LANTERN: Please note that the Crush Light ships in Demo Mode. To take it out of Demo Mode, press and hold the on/off button for 10–15 seconds.
  • PROFESSIONAL-GRADE POWER: Our camping light and lantern is built to last and field tested in varied environments. This collapsible solar-powered lantern is a lightweight companion for any adventure, providing 60 lumens of usable light on high and a 35-hour run time on low. It also features a soft candle-flicker mode for ambience.


When road-tripping, I always take several tools with me to handle adverse conditions and I recommend you keep these tools with you at all times: a collapsible shovel, a hatchet, a multitool with pliers and an extraction tool

A shovel is very useful in digging tires out of soft dirt, mud and snow. This shovel Inunio collapses down into a small carrying case and includes several emergency tools like a whistle and knife blade. It even has a saw blade on one side, which can be quite handy. This is a major improvement over the entrenching tool I used in the Army.

iunio 35in Folding Shovel, Camping Shovel, Survival Shovel, Heavy Duty Carbon Steel Military Style Entrenching Tool, Collapsible Spade, for Camping, Off Road, Car Emergency (Premium E-Tool)
  • Portable Folding Shovel (35-inch Length) – It is designed and produced according to self-driving experiences of many experienced outdoor sports lovers and any kind of outdoor enthusiasts: RV Camping, Cadets, Scouts, Hikers, Hunters, Fisherman, Gardeners, Gold Digger, Off-roading, SUVing, Backpacking, Expeditionists, Tent Camping, Pop-up Camping. This camping folding shovel is assembled practicability, functionality and security in it.

A hatchet can be used to chop up firewood for signaling and keeping warm or useful as a hammer if it has a flat head on the back. I have a hammer in the truck, so instead of a hatchet, I have a Ranger Tomahawk, which is perfect for light chopping duty. This isn’t designed to cut down trees but rather to cut up branches to use for firewood. It came with a compass that will do just fine for basic navigation.

M48 Tactical Tomahawk Military Axe – Green/Black with Compass & Sheath | 3 ⅞” Cast Stainless Steel Axe | Piercing Spike | Nylon Cord Wrapped Fiberglass Handle | Camping and Tactical Gear | 15” Length
  • COMBAT FIELD AXE – This hawk is securely attached to the handle with three bolts and is great to handle with the no-slip ridged grip featuring a lanyard hole
  • LIGHTWEIGHT TACTICAL TOOL – Three weight reducing holes in the axe head along with the 30% fiberglass handle keep this piece of equipment light and easy to use
  • RAZOR SHARP – A 3-⅞” precision cast 2cr13 stainless steel blade is highlighted by an upswept blade and needle-sharp piercing spike on the back end
  • COMPASS & COVER – The durable nylon sheath comes with a snap-on cover to protect the ax head while moving through the fields or forest along with a compass to help keep you knowledgeable about your location

A good multitool has a plethora of uses and should have pliers, a knife blade, scissors and a variety of screwdriver heads. I keep one in the glove box and use it for all kinds of things. 

Gerber Gear Suspension 12-in-1 Needle Nose Pliers Multi-tool with Tool Lock – Multi-Plier, Wire Cutter, Crosspoint and Flathead Screwdriver Set, Small Scissors – EDC Gear and Equipment – Gray
  • 12-IN-1 MULTI-TOOL: Features spring-loaded needle nose pliers, wire cutters, serrated and plain edge blades knife set, cross driver and flat head small screwdriver set, can opener, bottle opener, trimming scissors, tool lock, and lanyard hole
My travel emergency tools include a Iunio shovel, a Gerber multitool, a Ranger Tomahawk and an extraction tool.
These are the emergency tools we keep in our truck.

Lastly, an extraction tool has two special features: a glass breaker and a seatbelt cutter. This tool should be kept where the driver can get to it in the event of an accident. This tool will allow you to extract yourself from a car when you can’t open the door or window or get the seatbelt to come loose.

These tools will allow you to extract yourself from a lot of situations and quite handy to have. 

Swiss Safe 3-in-1 Tactical Knife for Military and First Responders – EMT Orange
  • SOLID DESIGN: Built for EMT & EMS Paramedics with High Performance Steel Blade, Lightweight Aluminum Handle, Pocket Clip

Parachute Cord and Duct Tape

Parachute cord, alternately paracord or 550 cord, is a staple in just about any survival situation.  It was originally designed as a lightweight rope for parachutes and it has hundreds of uses. There are seven smaller strands inside the core of the cord that you can use for all sorts of things. Having about 50 feet or so in your emergency kit will buy you a lot of versatility for not a lot of money.

HERCULES Type III Paracord 550 Paracord Rope Parachute Cord, 50′ Neon Orange Paracord for Camping Rope, Survival Rope
  • HERCULES 550 nylon paracord rope is tough. Made up of 7 inner triple strands and tested for a minimum breaking strength of 550 lbs.

The other cheap thing you can toss in your travel emergency kit is duct tape. Like paracord, it is incredibly versatile in terms of making repairs and waterproofing items. I recommend getting either silver or orange as you can use it for signaling as well. 

One trick you can use duct tape for: if you have to leave your vehicle, use it to mark trees along your path, both as breadcrumbs for you to get back to your vehicle and for rescuers to follow your trail.  

Duck Brand 1265019 Color Duct Tape, Neon Orange, 1.88 Inches x 15 Yards, Single Roll
  • Make your next quick fix stand out
  • Excellent for repairs, crafting, and imaginative projects
  • Tears easily by hand without curling and conforms to uneven surfaces

Packable Daypack

So, you have all of this gear in your vehicle but what happens when you have to abandon your vehicle? It could be that your vehicle is stuck on a paralyzed highway or you simply need to be able to walk out with your basic supplies following a natural disaster.

That’s where having a packable daypack comes in handy. We got this small daypack from Eagle Creek several years ago at a conference. While it is not the most robust daypack out there, it packs down to next to nothing. We have since found a great replacement from Amazon which packs down to nothing as well.

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack
Eagle Creek Packable Daypack

We keep two of these in our truck in case we need them. We have been surprised at how useful having a couple of bags in the truck is for just dealing with everyday loose items. Having a backpack makes it a lot easier to keep your hands free as you walk out of whatever situation you are in.

Check out our reviews on packable daypacks here for other options.


We keep packable raincoats in our vehicle at all times. It really sucks being caught without a raincoat normally. In a travel emergency situation, having an outer layer that is both wind- and waterproof is essential. Wind and rain/snow will sap away your body heat rapidly, even in the summer. 

If you don’t travel with rain gear all the time, we recommend picking up a couple of durable, packable ponchos, at least one per person who normally travels with you. 

I really like these emergency ponchos because they are made of the same material that space blankets are made of and will reflect a lot of heat. They are also orange, so they are handy for use as signaling equipment as well! 

Go Time Gear Emergency Survival Life Poncho – 2 Thermal Mylar Space Blanket Rain Ponchos – Use in Camping, Hiking, Survival Gear & Bug Out Bag – Includes Survival Whistle & Paracord String (Orange)
  • KEEPS YOU DRY, WARM AND ALIVE IN EXTREME CONDITIONS: This 100% waterproof poncho has sealed seams and windproof material to keep you protected from wind, rain and snow. Engineered to be your layer of protection against harsh and unpredictable weather, the poncho reflects up to 90% of your body heat keeping you warm, dry, and protected from the elements.

Paper Map / Atlas

We never travel without a Rand McNally spiral-bound road atlas. Even though we use Ford Sync GPS for most of our navigation, we know sometimes we just need to plan things out on a map. Being able to see other driving options on a map makes it so much easier to pick routes in our travels.

A lot of folks don’t have an independent GPS system or device in their car and we understand. We used our phones for navigation for years before we got our latest truck. But what happens when there’s no cell phone signal. Sure, there are GPS apps that can download maps in advance but most folks don’t think about that BEFORE the emergency happens. 

Bonnie checking out our Rand McNally road atlas.
Bonnie checking our road atlas for a better route.

Having a paper map, even a small state map from the atlas we have, will allow you to navigate major highways without a GPS. Even if you need to leave your car behind, you can take the paper map with you. Don’t want to take the whole atlas? Tear out a page and just take what you need!

Rand McNally 2024 Midsize Easy to Read – 100th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
  • Rand McNally (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages – Rand McNally (Publisher)


I learned how to use a map and compass exceedingly well when I was in the Army. I can navigate pretty much anywhere using a good map and a compass. But I know most folks don’t possess that skill. 

Still, having a compass will help you navigate both while driving and walking. At the very least, you can orient yourself with the map. Road maps always have north at the top of the page, making it pretty easy to figure out which direction you need to be going on the road. 

Explorer compass in my pack to use with any trail maps we get.
I always carry a Silva Explorer compass in my pack to use with any trail maps we get.

You do not need a super expensive compass unless you plan on navigating off a road. A simple compass will help you determine which direction to go at a crossroads and confirm you are going the right direction. That’s all you need. Remember, stay on established roads! It makes it a lot easier to get help!

Explorer 2.0 Compass, Clear, One Size
  • Declination scale inside the capsule
  • Night use / Luminous markings enables night time navigation up to 4 hours once activated by daylight/flashlight.
  • Red/black N/S lines in capsule ensures easy and safe settling
  • Waterproof
  • DryFlex Rubber grip allows easy handling of the compass/great grip

Fire Starter

In a pure survival situation, staying warm is staying alive. Even if you are stranded with your vehicle, starting a fire can keep you warm and provide a signal to folks looking to rescue you. 

I keep a ferro rod in my pack and my truck. This rod allows you to strike it with metal and it will shower the ground with sparks, igniting dry kindling. The problem comes when you don’t have anything dry to use as kindling. 

X-Plore fire rod on a wood deck.
This fire rod can spark a fire, has a simple compass and an emergency whistle built in.

This is gonna sound dumb, but a bag of Fritos corn chips will work just fine as tinder and do not cost much at all. Another simple item you can use for tinder is duct tape. Just tear it up into small pieces and use your ferro rod to spark it into a fire.

This rod comes with a basic compass and a built-in whistle. My biggest recommendation is to use a knife when striking the rod… You will get a lot more sparks.

Swiss Safe 5-in-1 Magnesium Ferro Rod Fire Starter Survival Tool – Flint & Steel Striker, Compass, Paracord & Whistle – Emergency Kit for Backpacking, Camping, Hiking – All-Weather – Navy, 2-Pack
  • Trustworthy No Matter the Forecast: Our meticulously designed magnesium ferro rod is your upgrade from the traditional flint & steel. It creates fire starting with over 16,000 strikes at a scorching 5,500°F. Whether caught in rain, snow, or wind, rely on this indispensable kit to provide warmth, cook meals, and signal for help. Its unmatched reliability makes it a must-have in every adventurer’s pack

Whistle/Signaling Equipment

Most auto hazard kits contain flares and reflective triangles to signal to drivers that a road hazard is ahead. Those work well for that purpose but what if your vehicle is off the road?

A whistle is much louder than your voice and you can do it for much longer than you can shout. Many survival implements have whistles built-in. Or you can buy them quite cheaply. My recommendations: 1) Make sure it has some sort of clip or lanyard so it won’t get lost easily. 2) Make sure it does not a have a pea or ball. A whistle with a pea (think the whistle your coach used in PE) can fail when wet and the ball can be dislodged, rendering it useless.  

Many of the items I link above have whistles included or built-in. Just make sure you have one.

Bright orange is quite visible from above and definitely indicates that you are having an emergency, which is why I recommend choosing that color for the space blankets/ponchos so they can serve double duty as a signal.

At night, a strobe on a headlamp, like the one I recommended, or a lantern is a very effective emergency signal, as is a campfire! 

Now that you have your kit put together, it’s time to talk about making it work for you.   

Travel Emergency Tip #4: Make a Plan

While the above kit will help you out significantly, as soon as you are in an emergency situation, you need to start making a plan how to use what you have to self-rescue. You cannot rely on others to be able to help you. 

Professionals will tell you if you are lost or stranded, the best thing is to remain with your vehicle and do your best to attract attention to yourself and I agree. This kit will help you stay put for several days if needed. 

But what happens when you are in a position where staying put isn’t viable, especially after a few days?

Due to water issues in the Houston area, the bathrooms at Buc-ee’s were closed. While no electricity or heat can be overcome, not having water in an area gets bad very fast.

That’s when it is time to make a decision on how to get out. All of the tools you have will help you. Use your map to establish your route direction and your compass to keep you going the right way. Stick to established roads. Don’t take shortcuts. If you have to take a detour, make sure you make your way back to the main route as soon as possible. Highway crews are far more likely to keep major routes open in all but the most adverse conditions. 

Most importantly, don’t panic. I know that is easy for me to say but, when you panic, you make poor decisions. 

Travel Emergency Tip #5: Keep an Eye on Supply Levels

If you are able to keep moving, especially by car, keep an eye on your food, water and gas. As things got worse in Texas, we found gas was hard to find and open restaurants even harder to find. 

We recommend not letting your supply levels drop below half until you are well out of the affected area. Once food, water or gas gets down to half, it’s time to start looking for more.

Cars lined up to get gas in South Texas.
Folks lined up to get gas in South Texas.

Honestly, we had our best luck at gas stations a bit off the beaten path but they are also the ones least likely to get additional shipments of fuel. 

Finding food was equally as hard. We had a good supply of snacks with us but finding meals without breaking into our emergency supplies was hard.  Water was even tougher. Because so many municipalities had problems with their water supplies, bottled water and open restrooms were hard to find.  

Travel Emergency Tips #6 and #7: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Kit and Don’t Forget to Restock

For a lot of folks, having an emergency kit is kinda like having an insurance policy… even if they have it, they won’t use it when they need it, thinking a worse need will come along. That’s one of the reasons why I made sure to include mostly non-consumables. 

This kit is there to help you solve your problems while out on the road. If you aren’t willing to use it when you have a problem, what use is it?  

Builtright velcro panels help keep your vehicle organized.
Built Right velcro panels work really well for organizing our emergency gear.

Once you are out of the emergency, don’t forget to restock your emergency kit. It may take a bit of time to get all of the consumables back up to snuff but don’t forget to do it. 

Lastly, some of the items in your kit have rechargeable batteries. The batteries lose charge over time. Every now and then, check your batteries to make sure they are fully charged. I suggest setting the reminder to be the same as when you change out your air filters or batteries in your smoke detectors. 

What About Traveling Without a Car?

Obviously, when traveling without a car, carrying all of this gear is not practical, necessary or even legal, especially when traveling by plane. 

Still, you can have serious issues while on a trip, like our friends who were stuck in Puerto Rico for several days following a hurricane with no water or power. The situation for many of those travelers got pretty dire long before they were evacuated. 

So, what do you take with you when not traveling by car?

I would focus on carrying light, easy-to-pack items that will help you take care of the essentials. 

Filling up a Crazy Cap at a horse trough.
Filling up a CrazyCap at a horse trough.

CrazyCap makes stainless steel water bottles that have a UV light built-in for sterilizing questionable water. It is great for travel and would be good in a disaster, provided that you take a solar-powered battery pack with you to charge the cap after about a week’s worth of use. 

What makes it a good choice is you can use it as a normal water bottle and only use the UV sterilization feature as needed. 

Again, we recommend taking a rechargeable headlamp with you, as well as a space blanket. Both are light and provide the essentials of light and warmth if needed. 

A USB-rechargeable head lamp we got from Cairn.
A USB-rechargeable headlamp we got from Cairn that we travel with.

Food is a little trickier but you can certainly take several smaller emergency bars as long as they remain sealed. I would also recommend a good first aid kit but make sure you let TSA know the kit is in your carry-on before you go through security. 

Also be sure to keep some cash, in varying denominations, with you. Once the power goes out, credit cards and ATMs may be useless.

Beyond that, a couple of body wipes and TP Kits should round out everything you absolutely need to travel with. 

Final Thoughts on Preparing for an Emergency

Emergency kits are one of those things that you hope you never need but are quite glad to have if you do need them. 

These suggestions are designed for the everyday traveler for all sorts of emergencies. Obviously, if you are traveling in the winter or into backcountry areas, that requires additional equipment to travel safely. 

Getting close to Medano Pass
Breaking down in the backcountry can be an emergency but not if you are prepared!

I am by no means a survival expert and this guide is designed to provide you with options and capabilities, not training on how to use the gear. There are plenty of folks out there who run survival blogs that can teach you digitally how to use your gear. 

All that said, we cover thousands of miles every year in all kinds of weather. This is how we handle adverse situations and the gear we carry to aid us when bad things happen. We hope this helps you develop your own emergency kit and gives you a good mindset for how to self-rescue if the need arises. 

Travel Resources

What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

How do you deal with a travel emergency? What do you do when services are disrupted? Check out our recommendations for a travel emergency kit.

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