More Than a Safety Dance

I get asked, a LOT, if I’m scared to travel on my own with only my four-legged companions.  It never really occurred to me to be scared to travel.  I don’t think of myself as above-average in the bravery department and initially I had felt a degree of trepidation but that was about being on my own in case something happened, like some mysterious part in the car broke.  But I’ll tell you: if you want to feel like a total badass, get out on the road on your own.  There is something so empowering about being out there and having to be completely self-reliant to make you feel like you can take on the world.

Trust Your Gut

Your survival instinct has been around for a lot longer than you have been and has kept a weak and defenceless species alive, so when it’s telling you that something is wrong, trust it!  Take a second and figure out what may be wrong and if you still have that feeling in the pit of your gut, move on.  Yes you may miss something but there are so many people who say “I had a feeling and I ignored it…”

Don’t be an Ass on the Road

I credit the fact that I have never had any major catastrophes on diligent pre-planning and maintenance of the car.  In bad weather I slow down and keep lots of distance between the cars ahead of me.  Those two things will go a long way to keeping you safe on the road itself.

Watch Your Feet

If you go out for a hike, take care where you put your feet; a rolled ankle can be a minor inconvenience but if you lose your footing and cause serious damage, the consequences can be much more extreme.  I was once hiking through the Adirondacks on a leaf-covered trail.  Everything looked pretty good but the leaf cover camouflaged a small depression and when I was watching the dogs, I wasn’t watching my feet and rolled an ankle.  It wasn’t too bad but it was unpleasant.

Road Trip 2015-spring edition 036

There’s something out there

Dress for the weather, both wen you head out and what it could be and at least take a small snack with you.  I’m sure no one goes out planning to get lost but it does happen.  In fact studies have found that you’re more likely to get lost after you’ve been somewhere a few times.  It makes sense: when you first go somewhere, you’re paying total attention but once you get comfortable, the mind starts to get a bit lazy.  Next thing you know, you’re lost.  Carry a whistle.  And even though you may not get any cell service, bring your phone with you.  Some signals will go through and you can always use it as a flashlight or signalling device.

 

No Valuables

There is no need to wear ginormous diamond rings or expensive watches when you’re driving the roads so leave them safe at home.  Big sparklies can draw unwanted attention.  Same thing with having expensive things visible in the car.  And don’t flash stacks of cash.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Have a plan in mind for what you will do in the event of a flat tire or car stops moving or you run out of gas.  Knowing what you will do in any situation reduces the anxiety of that unknown element.  When we were in Arizona, I had my eyes peeled for snakes and I had read up on care for snake bites.  Maybe a bit paranoid but I’d rather have that piece of mind.  The weirdest thing was seeing signs for poisonous snakes in Minnesota and Montana.

And because we were heading into the desert, I made sure I had a TON of water with me.  And I’m glad I did because we went through a lot of it.  Oddly we went through more when we were at Monument Rocks in Kansas.  But it was hooooooooot.

dsc05711

Monument Rocks in Kansas.

Do you have a daredevil dog?  Jack is fearless when it comes to heights and will walk to the very edge of sheer drop offs.  Once I realized that he gave zero F’s about heights, I kept him either on leash or next to me to keep him from taking an accidental tumble.

Mind Games

It’s not just car stuff to worry about.  Think about what it takes to make yourself a less than ideal target.  Have a plan of action to deal with people who get up in your space.  The dogs are the best body guards out there and I don’t worry about people getting close without me knowing about it.  And while the boys are less than intimidating, Piper more than makes up for it, especially when she fixates on something: her head goes up, her chest goes out, and she gets that intense Boxer stare that makes her look like she squints a little as her underbite somehow becomes even more pronounced.  Heck, it even makes me stop and do a double take.

If you’re going to be on your own, be prepared to take care of yourself.  Adopt the warrior mindset that nothing is going to stop you from going home safe.  Get the thought into your mind that you will bite, claw, kick your way through anyone and anything that tries to interfere with your safety.

I know a lot of people put their faith in pepper spray and stun guns.  For them I have two things to say: what are you going to do if it gets taken away, and have you ever experienced it?  Like so many other things, TV would have you believe that a spray or zap will drop a person in their tracks.  Reality unfortunately is far from TV.  Neither are the end all be all of safety.  Never mind the legality (depending on where you are).

Personally, when I’m walking towards the car I like to keep the key in a fist so that the metal part is sticking out between my fingers; this turns the key into something that would hurt.  I also keep lots of keys on a carabiner that’s big enough for me to fit my hand through.  That makes a good distraction if I smack someone upside the head with a mittful of keys.

The idea is to avoid being in that situation to begin with.  Look at everyone near you.  Make eye contact.  Walk with your head high because you are a badass explorer taming the road.  It also makes you look like less of a target and gives the impression that you know everyone’s face.  People up to nefarious purposes want the easy target so don’t be an easy target.

Part of not being an easy target is parking your car where it can be seen.  When possible, avoid parking near shrubs, trees, walls, anything that can provide cover for anyone who wants to lie in wait.

Think dirty.  Ask yourself what you would do if you wanted to sneak up on someone and do what you can to prevent it.

When I’m travelling with the dogs, we don’t spend much time in cities since it’s harder to maneuver with them and I can’t really explore shops since I’d have to tie them up outside and I always worry about tying them up outside.  I make sure I keep them in sight as much as possible.  I don’t like to drive much at night since the whole part of driving is to see as much as I can and unfamiliar cities are hard enough to navigate at the best of times, never mind when it’s dark.  That also keeps me out of sketchier parts of cities.

Someone at the Door

Hotels are relatively safe but if someone is knocking at your door there’s nothing wrong with asking who they are and if they say they’re with the hotel, have them wait until you confirm it with the front desk.  Keep the blinds drawn if you’re at ground level or if there’s a walkway that goes by your window.  And use every locking system available to you.

Find the Spot

When you’re camping, spot selection is highly personal but there is one thing to consider: if you’re close to people more people will see you.  If you’re far from people, there may be no one close enough to hear you if you call for help.

img_7663

Leo trying to figure out how to get in first.

Gas Makes Car Go

Nuff said.

Now I know there are TONS of other safety tips, some of which I have addresses in earlier posts.  Is there anything that you do to maintain your safety on the road?

Avoiding the Overlook Hotel

I’ve never seen the movie “The Shining” but even I know about the Overlook Hotel where the movie is set.  So here are my thoughts on staying in hotels with dogs.

On one hand, hotels offer many of the comforts of home.  I mean there’s running water, often a coffee machine and fridge, and even *gasp* TV!  What could possibly go wrong?  Well let me tell you…

I stopped at one motel that was supposedly a dog-friendly two-star.  It was barely a half star and there was a sign right at the front that said dogs weren’t allowed.  Fortunately the man at the front let me stay anyway.  Mostly because he did not seem to care what went on there.  That should have been the first sign of trouble.  This was one of my first road trips and I was exhausted so I didn’t look around before I unpacked and cracked into the bottle.  It was when I was sipping my drink that I actually looked at the room.  It was one of the worst motel rooms I have ever seen.  It was so bad that I called up Hotwire to complain.  Well wouldn’t you know that there were no other dog-friendly hotels or motels close by in anything close to the same price range.  This was one place that I was happy to leave but it did teach me a lot.

And then there’s the whole “pet friendly” label.  After some issues with a couple of hotels, I decided to do a bit of digging and called two major chains: Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn.  Both chains market themselves as being pet friendly but as I learned this past trip, there can be some fine print to go through.

So here’s how it works: each hotel is independently owned and in order to buy into the franchise, the owner has to accept pets at no additional cost but the size and number of pets is up to the owner.  When I asked more about it, the reason usually boils down to minimizing noise and damage caused by the animals.  I half expected it to be because of cleaning which is why there are some rooms specifically for pets or they put you in a smoking room.  But no; the main reason is because people have brought their dogs and the dogs just sit there and bark their heads off thereby irritating every other guest.  Or they leave for hours on end and the dog destroys the room.

The best way to avoid any pet-related drama?  Call before you book. You can’t even trust what’s on Expedia because I have seen quite a few times where there is conflicting information.  My favourite is “pets not allowed” and then you scroll down two lines and read “pets allowed”.  It’s the best way to avoid any surprises.  It took me a loooooooooong time to figure this one out.

Take a few minutes to read the reviews.  It doesn’t matter how nice a place is, people will still complain about it but read on to see if there’s a trend to the complaints.  Are these things that you care about?  If you have no intention on using the pool, don’t let that dissuade you from staying there if everything else sounds good.

While you’re reading the reviews, take a second to look at the area around the hotel.  Is this the kind of place that will have you worried about your car being there in the morning?  Or are there some good places to eat close enough that you won’t have to get back into the car?  Is it far from your route or is it setting you up for getting to your next stop?

My hotel routine is very similar to my camping routine: I go check in, declaring right off the bat that I have three dogs with me.  In most cases I probably could sneak them in but why bother?  I think every hotel has had some clause that they will charge a sizeable amount if you don’t declare your pets.  And since they have your credit card in hand, they could do it easily enough.  They will also have you sign a waiver that you will not leave the dogs alone in the room.  While I’m signing all the documents, I’ll ask the front staff if there are any good restaurants that they recommend that are not chains and preferably deliver.

Once we get our room, I’ll carry as much up to the room in one trip.  This is easy in the case of a motel when I could almost toss everything from the trunk into the room.  I’ve trained the dogs to stay inside when the door is open until I have told them that they can come outside.  Partly for the convenience but also for safety’s sake.  I’ll put a towel down on the floor where it’s tiled and fill up their water bowls so they can have a drink if they want.  As you can see from the photos, my dogs are very good with staying in hotels and will make themselves at home as soon as they walk in the door.

While they have their drinks, I look around the room to see if I’ll be loading the car up again.  One of the first things I do is pull back the sheet on a corner of the mattress that is closest to the wall and shine the light from my phone onto it.  This is the best way to look for bedbugs: they naturally scatter from the light and you’ll see them as little specks.  I have yet to find any in the hotels that I have stayed at.  And yes I do know what they look like so it’s not that I don’t know what to look for.

If it isn’t raining or too late or dark, we go for a walk and check out what’s in the vicinity.  You get a better appreciation for the area when you’re out on foot and it gives them a chance to sniff and stretch.  I don’t take any complicated routes and make sure that I know how to get back to the hotel.

Once we get back from our walk, I’ll pour out their food, then pour me a drink as I hop onto Yelp to find food.  If the front desk staff recommended something, that gets bumped towards the top of the list but I still read reviews before I decide.  If I go with delivery, it’s usually pizza and I’m OK with that since it’ll give me at least two meals and it travels very well.  There has been the odd time that I missed all of the restaurants (Strasborg I’m thinking about you) but that’s when I put my MacGyver skills to the test.

I don’t try to bring my camp stove inside because that would be just stupidly dangerous and by this time, I’m usually too tired to pack the pups up and cook out in the parking lot.  If the room comes with a coffee maker, then you are totally set for all kinds of things from instant oatmeal to ramen noodles.  Just put those in the carafe, add your water, and hit the go button.  If there’s a selection of tea bags you can add something to the basket where the coffee would go for a hint of flavour or drop the entire bag into the carafe for a stronger kick.  This is a lot harder if there’s no carafe but if you have anything that can fit (like the small pot from your stove kit or your stainless steel mug) then you’re in business.  You’ll just have to be careful if you’re using a metal container because it will get hot.  Sometimes I bring a plastic bowl with me and if the room has a microwave, then I’ll use that to prepare food.  With a selection of dried fruits, nuts, and a honey packet or one of those jam portions that always come with toast, you can make really good oatmeal.  Sounds a lot like the camping menu doesn’t it?

In the morning, we’ll go for a walk then when we get back to the room, I’ll pour out breakfast for the dogs as I plot out mine.  I’ll often try for a hotel with a complimentary breakfast because it saves me having to try and find one in the morning.  I mean, I’ll still look but it’s nice to have it as an option.  They often consist of waffles, cereals, yogurt, fruit, and muffins with vats of horrid coffee.  My go-to breakfast at this sort of breakfast offering is to toast up or make a couple of waffles then smear them with a couple of packets of peanut butter, smoosh a banana between them and voila: wafflewich!  If it’s a hotel that I’m eager to leave behind, I’ll have the room packed up and the dogs in the car before I make my wafflewich and go check out.  A quick run to the car and that place will be far behind by the time I’m done eating and looking for a coffee place.   If we are going to have a more leisurely start to our day, I’ll sneak out while the dogs are eating, pile up Mount Plate, then burn back to the room to eat.  I also grab a few extra things for the upcoming day’s travels, like some fruit or a granola bar

It’s when I’m stuffing my face that I usually settle on a route, making the most of the wifi while I can.  I’ll often do a little bit of reading before going to sleep but the real planning is done before we leave.  Then load up the dogs and gear, check out, and as the wifi fades, we head out onto the road.

IMG_4586

I don’t know why Leo always claims the pillow.