Vacation Survival

You've earned that summer vacation. What with all the stresses in law enforcement today, getting away and relaxing is an important ingredient for a healthy lifestyle. But if you fail to plan and prepare and lower your guard during the trip, you can open yourself and your family to victimization. A little advance work in this regard will do a lot to increase your travel safety, get you to your destination and insure a well-deserved R&R.


Now some may say that even considering this topic is paranoia. To that I reply that you are talking to someone who a mope tried to once rob 100 feet from the front doors of the police training bureau. That's right, several years ago while heading to a local peanut shop at lunch, some cracked-out suspect tried to rob me. Fortunately, I was thinking about mental awareness for a future class I was giving and was able to apprehend the masked idiot armed with what appeared to be a small auto-pistol (turned out to be a cigarette lighter that looked like a .25 ACP pistol). What was so startling was the number of officers in training that day that stated, "I would have had to give him my money...I didn't bring a pistol to work today." So it is preparation, not paranoia.

Planning your Trip

Web sites like Yahoo® Maps allow you to plan out your route that in the past required an AAA TripTik®. These web sites also allow you to see what hotels and motels are along your route so that so can make reservations in advance. It can be pretty miserable to try to stop late in the evening only to find "no room at the inn." Furthermore, you can view hotel/motel web sites to see the quality. Ever stop for the night at a motel to find out that it is the local party center? This is no small point when you consider mobile meth labs and the risk to your family. Having made arrests of Columbian drug dealers with kilos of cocaine at motels and having been involved in a shooting of a home invasion suspect hold up at a suburban motel, I can tell you that motels just out of the boundaries of large cities are notorious for providing refuge for dopers and fugitives.

While attending university, I worked security. During that time I worked at several hotel/motels and learned some travel tips. When staying at a motel, if at all possible I avoid rooms with external exits. Known as "down and outs" in the business, most of these rooms have large windows next to the doors. During my time in security, several of these rooms were burgled because it is easy to slip a tire tool between door and frame and pry the door open. The metal and window "flex" enough to allow room for the door to be pushed open. Park towards the front of the motel under a light; back or side lots tend to attract problems. And be wary when entering/exiting the motel. Dealing with children and carrying luggage can distract you from your environment. Walk your family to the room, and then come back to carry other items. Make sure you double-lock and chain the door at night. Motels have "E" keys that allow employees to enter double-locked doors. These master keys can be lost or stolen, and most motels won't replace the door locks due to the cost. Check the fire exit diagram on the inside of your room door for an exit plan. Additionally make sure you always look out the door peephole prior to exiting or opening.

Vehicle and Equipment Preparation

I had my tires rotated and my vehicle inspected prior to leaving town. It cost me $150.00 for new front shocks, but it was worth the investment. Some things can't be prevented. My SUV engine once blew on a mountain in West Virginia. I just had the thing serviced and had no indicators of trouble. I rented a car and continued on my trip, but the cost was over $3,000.00! It only makes sense to take a look at your vehicle to see if it's up to the task. Breaking down and needing repairs at the side of the road is risky for you and exposes your family to collision from inattentive motorists.

Last fall I bought a GPS system. I frequently drive out of town to conduct training programs, and I was impressed with what the systems offered. I have not been let down. Although it helps to know your route prior, you can literally jump in the car, plug in an address and speed away. With options like gas station, motel and restaurant locators, the system provides more than a glorified map. Although my unit is one of the less expensive models, there are GPS units that receive updated traffic conditions that could be beneficial around major cities. If you run into detours or road closures or are forced off the route you've preplanned, a GPS can still get you there. These are not cheap, at around $400.00 base price, but in my opinion well worth the cost.

I normally travel with a first aid kit in the back of my 4X4. Although I mostly dip into the Band-Aids(tm) for little scrapes and cuts, I carry hemostatic agents for major cuts and wounds, as well as trauma dressings and a tourniquet. I learned a lot from working with our SWAT medics and medical advisor over the years, and use that knowledge to protect my family. These dressings and agents are available through military supply houses like Brigade Quartermasters®.

In years past I would travel with a citizen's band (CB) radio on to learn of road conditions and the like. I've found that the language has deteriorated to the point that I no longer have one. When traveling with friends, I have cheap FM walkie-talkies or we talk on cell phones. The satellite radio I have provides traffic & weather information for 11 major cities. I like satellite radio as it keeps me from searching for something to listen to on a trip and offers options outside traditional radio.

Remember to take breaks now and again. Most cops I know travel "hell-bent-for-leather" during a road trip and this can lead to fatigue. If you travel at night and are not used to it, monotony can lead to falling asleep at the wheel.

Traveling Armed

Since 2004, when President Bush signed H.R. 218 (the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act) into law, off-duty and retired officers who meet the criteria can carry concealed throughout the U.S. You're pretty much good to go to carry as you travel except for government buildings, liquor establishments and areas that are prohibited by law. Although I don't look for trouble when traveling, like most off-duty encounters, the trouble can come to you. As one of my officer survival mentors, Detroit Sergeant Evan Marshall (ret), has suggested, if possible, don't get involved. Call the on-duty officers and be the best witness you can be. That said, I carry off-duty whether on vacation or not. Traveling in the car for several hours can make normal concealed weapons/holsters uncomfortable. Normally, I carry under a shirt with a gun-side inside the pants holster. Spending 12 hours in the car over two days, I opted for a "fanny pack" (actually a pelvic pack...nobody carries these things with the pack in the back). Some of these holsters look suspiciously like gun-bags, but the one I purchased from Hawke packs is fairly innocuous in appearance. In it I carried a Glock Model 19, spare mag, Surefire flashlight, cell phone and some change. Throughout the trip it never garnered a second glance by anyone and was comfortable in the extreme.

If you are flying and wish to carry armed after arrival at your destination, you can check the handgun in luggage. *Except for traveling on "official business" (prisoner convey, etc.) you are FORBIDDEN from taking weapons aboard an aircraft. To comply with federal law (Title 49 CFR Section 1544.203) you must: declare the firearm at check-in; carry it unloaded in a hard-sided and locked container with ammunition carried separately in a factory or equivalent case. If this container is inside another piece of luggage, be prepared to show the airline employee the empty pistol. They will place a "Firearms Unloaded Declaration Form" inside the case. Exercise some common sense when arming upon arrival at your destination.

Have a Safe and Pleasant Trip!

As I write this I am in our beach home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My family and I are enjoying our vacation thus far. It has been just what the doctor ordered and I hope that the remainder of the trip and our travel back home is as safe and as enjoyable. In order to improve the probability of this a little preparation and planning goes a long way. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Give your family and yourself a welcome break from law enforcement, but maximize the experience by protecting you and your family's safety with a little forethought.