Family safety tips for long distance traveling

The holidays are upon us, and like most families, we embark on a long drive to visit our loved ones. In our case the travel is from Texas to Kansas, approx 450 miles. We’ve gotten better at getting organized for these trips (we typically have a few every year). As we learn more about these trips, they get easier and more comfortable. I actually look forward to these nowadays. Here are some things we did on a recent Thanksgiving trip. I hope you find some of these ideas useful.

Vehicle prep

Days before the trip itself, I slowly purge the vehicle of any clutter. On the day of our trip, when we are loading, the vehicle is ready and you basically start with a clean slate. The trunk is empty, the glove compartment and the console between the 2 frontseats is empty. This gives me a psychological boost and a countdown to the day of the trip. It also helps me to visualize what is needed in the car.
Check the vehicle for any maintenance needed. Depending on vehicle upkeep you may need to do more. In my case, I needed to air the tires. Others to check for are wiper fluids, oil and coolant. The vehicle we used for this trip was a lease so it was pretty well maintained.
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Fill up the gas tank ahead. I filled up the tank on Wed night, since we were leaving early AM on Thursday. This saves me from having to gas up at 5am and have to worry about how safe the gas station might be. It also makes our trip more fluid when we leave. Small disruptions during the first 2 hours of the trip really slow us down as it prevents us from building momentum.

Family stuff for the trip

We planned days earlier on what we were bringing. We had agreed on easy to cook meals so that we save prep time at our destination. This meant we allocated a big cooler for all frozen food we were taking with us. We had a separate cooler for our meals during the trip-this is super helpful if your kids have specific diets like ours do. This cooler does not go in the trunk, but is kept within reach of the passenger seat.
We pack enough supplies so we are self sustained during our trip and while we are at our relatives’ place.
We rely quite a bit on ipads and phones to keep our kiddos busy on the road. Having phone chargers and a way to charge multiple devices are important. We have an inverter in our vehicle-which allows us to charge usb, 110 volt items, 12 volt devices (like GPS). We also saved some videos onto our devices, in case internet is slow or unavailable.
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Inflight entertainment
We load the vehicle while it is in the garage with the garage door closed. We do not want to show passers by in the street that we were leaving on a big trip. We woke up early for any last minute preps and loaded up. Kids woke up last and were the last to get loaded in the car-this lets them sleep thru the first few hours of the trip.

Weather check

This goes without saying-check road conditions before the trip. Usually we drive thru one or two thunderstorms every time we go thru Oklahoma. Our return trip would be rainy. We get dressed for this so when we take bathroom breaks we are ready.

Home security

Before we left the house obviously we double check that all doors are locked and no appliance is left on that is not needed. For security, we leave the porch lights on. I also set up lights and a radio so that they turn on at night so as to simulate activity in the house. I use an appliance timer I got from home depot and to this I plugged in lights for a bedroom-so that it is seen from the front yard and street. I also plugged in a radio so that it can be heard throughout the house and when you approach the front door. From the backyard, one can see light within the house from the bedroom.
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If you have a paid home security service, that works too. However I like the idea of making my house seem occupied with or without a security service. Also, I have heard some rather disappointing stories about how these systems work. They are more passive than active basically. I consider my lights+radio on timers more of an active deterrent.
Update:There is also a product called FakeTV which makes your home seem occupied with somebody watching TV. I have not personally tried this but folks have said great things about it.

Bathroom breaks and stopping for gas

During the trip, all doors are always locked and windows are closed. Particularly when we stop for gas or food, doors are always locked. If I leave the car for gas, I ask my wife to stay alert and keep the doors locked (our vehicle automatically unlocks when the driver leaves the car so she has to manually lock it).
I cannot emphasize this enough. I have seen way too many car jacks because the victims
We are careful when we stop for bathroom breaks. There are way too many truck stops on our route and we sometimes end up in undesirable areas. In general, these stops have risks to them because it is very easy for a child to be lost/abducted and taken away. There are too many strangers just passing by and there are vehicles leaving the area every second.
When my wife goes to the bathroom she makes sure to have her phone and her pepper spray with her. I take note how long she is gone. When I take a break I have my phone and ccw with me. Since having my pistol with me on these trips, I feel way better equipped to protect my family in case something bad happens. I highly advise being armed when traveling. We are working to get my wife her ccw permit also, but for now at least I am prepared and provide this extra layer of safety for the family.
Since we travel with kids, I try to have an empty bottle of water ready for those super emergency bathroom breaks for my son. Sometimes we do not make it to a rest stop. This allows us to just stay in the car while being pulled over somewhere (safe and away from the highway please).
When we stop for gas, I try to pick a spot that is favorable to my safety. No dark areas, away from other vehicles and preferably a spot that lets me get a good view of my surroundings. This does not mean isolated areas, just something that allows a good vantage point. Sometimes this means avoiding the middle pumps at the station and trying to be on the outer side. I do not stare at the pump while filling up, but I am aware of what’s going on around us.

Navigating safely

Over the years me and my wife have learned to work together as driver-navigator. It is nothing complicated, but she knows to use her phone and check for traffic ahead. She knows to look for alternate routes as well. This took some practice but we learned it during one long trip and has since proved beneficial. Our dedicated gps does not adjust for traffic, but her phone app can show us real time traffic conditions. When she drives, we trade jobs and she gets these info on demand from me.
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No traffic in Dallas at 2:19am
This also helps us to pick locations of restaurants if we are getting food. We can pick ones that are along the way and not have to take long detours. She can also confirm weather on our route ahead. For example, we saw it was supposed to rain by lunch time in OK, so we set a goal to get past certain cities before the rain came. Passing thru cities, the highways get slower and denser, so having that behind us before rains started would make for less stress.

Last bits of advice

With relatively small planning, these long trips have become quite relaxing for us. It gives me and my wife time to just sit and talk while the kids are sleeping and strapped in. Sometimes we drive a route that offers better views than the interstate-if we are making good on time or if we are early. Initially these long drives were quite stressful, there was always some big thing we had not prepped for. We kept mental and written notes of previous issues and future trips have become easier. The main thing for us is to be self sufficient during the trip. This means food, water, gas, portable bathrooms even, and inflight entertainment. If we have these and if we set them up for comfortable access then half the battle has been won. If there are external factors that are unlikely-we can pick a different route, or we can stop somewhere.
Take some time to plan the trip and think things through. Make a list of both big picture things and small details. The biggest improvement on this trip of ours was that I had a ccw and we felt safer knowing that I was armed. The best changes that made the most noticeable improvements were the food preps and entertainment.
I hope these ideas prove useful for you. If you have other suggestions please add them in the comments. I am constantly learning and I am always open to ideas.

Gifts for family resilience

Christmas is here and I am trying to avoid cramming last minute shopping for gifts. I would like the gifts to have long term meaning for me and my family. Aaand since I encourage my family to live a better lifestyle-I am always looking for gifts that will lead us to resiliency . Here are some cool ideas for both parents and kids. Please note I have not tried out all of these, but they are some ideas I am considering for my own family.

For the kids:

  1. $$ A subscription to kid activities that will entertain and educate them. Some products that come to mind are Kiwicrate.com and Mystembox.com. Both these sites provide you with a kit that teaches you about science and technology.chromatography_current
  2. $$ Select apps that will educate your kids. We have Toca Builders and Minecraft-both allow my son to create in a 3D world. I plan to supplement this and increase my sons spatial skills
  3. $$ Ebooks-these are great for bedtime stories and road trips. Be selective and find stories that inspire critical thinking and problem solving.
  4. $$ Legos are always good as it helps kids imagine and build. However, sometimes their excitement for these have already worn out and you might need to raise the bar to the next one-which just might mean….
  5. $$ Robot kits-be age appropriate or you will be dealing with a few tantrums. There are options as to how complex the kit is. Some start from the smallest pieces (like Lego EV3 robots) and some have bigger pre-assembled parts. Most kits allow some type of programming, and all kits come with instructions(Hooray!)robot-kits-for-adults
  6. $$ A martial arts class that will focus on character building, respect and discipline. Some parents are wary of martial arts class for kids because of potential damage to their softer bones, but there are options. Most kids are interested in martial arts at an early age-mostly from movies and cartoons. It would be good to channel that interest into something productive. They may make friends and learn respect and discipline.
  7. $$ BB gun-if you feel comfortable and if your kids are old enough you might consider a bb gun. Use this to teach them about gun safety and respect for the tool. It will encourage being in the outdoors and teach the value and results of practicing. If your kids are younger, consider lower powered bb guns (check the “feet per second” or “fps” on the box) If your kids are younger still, maybe a Nerf gun is appropriatered-rider-daisy-tin-1000-web
  8. $$ Books are also a great option and some focus on topics that promote resilience. You will need to be selective to find the right book. Most sites provide book reviews to help you. Perhaps you can find books that help deal with frustrations, facing challenges or learning new things.

For the lady of the house:

  1. $$ Martial arts classes – We have been planning on my wife getting martial arts classes, this way she can start it in January after the holidays (this works for the man of the house too. I am mainly listing it here because I’ve had some already and my wife is next in line to get some training.) She was always hesitant to this until we went to an all woman’s starter self defense class. The sensei was very informative and gave actionable ideas which got her interested.
  2. $$$ If we had the money we would get her CCW permit-then again this is not restricted to Christmas. This for us is really more of a budget issue than it is a timing issue.
  3. $$$ Bike, running shoes or exercise gadgets (a Fitbit)to get her started on her exercise routine. Sometimes people are looking to start new things and need a push, an excuse or inspiration.surge-2016-0fd2880053305928cdaf399527734bcf
  4. $$ My wife likes to knit and sew, a gift card to one of her favorite hobby stores is a good idea. It puts her in the creative mood and it always comes back to the home. The idea is to nurture a productive hobby. I find that this is sometimes better (and easier) than getting her an actual item from that store-unless I really know what she is looking for.
  5. $$ An online class-there are month long classes and there are mini-classes. The price range varies, but there are classes for just about anything. You can find some cool classes on sites like Skillshare, Smallfarmacademy.com or if you have a profession she is already interested in you can check those out also.
  6. $$ A dutch oven might be a good idea if the lady loves to cook. It lets you experiment with a whole new set of recipes and later on is an alternative way to cook without your oven.flamedutchoven
  7. $$ to $$$ Gardening supplies for spring-never too early to plan for that spring garden. These can be tools, seeds, trees or even a bird bath to encourage habitat.
  8. $$ An indoor herb planter-it skips the slow stage of starting up an herb garden but lets you jump right in to learning to use and appreciate the herbs you have. Stick to some herbs you know you are likely to use.

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For the man of the house(I will try to not go crazy on my wish list):

  1. $$$ Additional firearms training (this works for the lady of the house too)
  2. $$ Gardening supplies for spring. In my case, this would be an irrigation system, but this varies. Mom has her list and so do I.847976f2-9565-4ff8-a585-fb56bdaae6a1_1000
  3. $$ Credits for audiobooks for learning new things-Audiobooks have been a great source of learning for me. I like books, but due to time restraints I have moved to audiobooks which allow me to listen to them during my daily commute.
  4. $$ Outdoor cooking gear – a camping stove and propane tank. This doesn’t need to be the latest charbroil high end grill+smoker combo. But if you don’t have an alternative way to cook other than an indoor stove, this might be a great add to your home. It brings everyone out of the house and sparks a time to bond over a  meal. (Obviously using this will need to wait til the weather gets warmer) This is also a great backup if your house relies on electricity for cooking. In the event of a blackout, you will be able to save the food in your fridge and still stick to your diet.
  5. $$ Powertools! I almost forgot but this is always a good option if the husband is inclined to building. Sometimes, the tools are just fun to use that it gives you an excuse to try to build something.61pwvgiefkl-_sl1500_
  6. $$$ A First aid class (basic or advanced). Everyone should know CPR and ways to treat wounds. Usually the schedule for this needs to be worked out, but with some planning it an be done. A budget to build your own kit is also useful.
  7. $$$ A good self defense knife-having a knife is a given in my opinion. It gives you options in a defensive situation. Hopefully you will never need to use it, but if you ever do it should be reliable.
  8. $$ A small utility knife-sometimes your self defense knife is just not worth cutting up packaging and gummying it up with tape. A utility knife can be one that fits into your keychain or can be a neck knife.
  9. $$ Bread maker – if the man likes to cook, perhaps a bread maker is a good option. It reduces the mess and makes baking bread a bit more convenient.

 

Some of the items listed are not very exciting-like the audiobooks for example. But, as they purchase the books through the course of weeks, they will be glad to have those credits. The benefits will be long lasting and is really a way to invest in one’s self.
If you have noticed, some of the ideas are not specific. These are not gadget specific gifts, these offer more of an idea on what gift types can promote learning, improving oneself or gain a new skill. The ideas are also interchangeable between mom and dad depending on interests or current skills.
Also, livestock did not make it in the list. I mean, winter is just a bad time for starting it anyway right?
If you have other suggestions or gifts you wish your spouse thought of, please feel free to post it below. I can definitely update the list as I know I probably missed some really good ideas.

Tips for visiting NYC: After action review

A week of being vulnerable just to be with family.

We went to visit family in New York city recently, as we try to do every year.For us,it is worth the trouble and expense to see everyone, especially since we all have kids who should have a lot of time to bond with their cousins.

Maybe I am still reeling from the visit, but I wanted to make some notes about it since we will be doing this again in the future. Lessons learned should be leveraged to make the next trips easier.

Visiting that part of the country around November, the landscape is just amazing. We are always mesmerized by the color of the trees and the rolling landscape. It just pales in comparison to fall in North Texas. I have to keep reminding my wife that this is unfair, as this is the peak of the autumn beauty. Come winter, this will all be brown sticks with gray slick roads.

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SECURITY

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Self defense: I am basically naked whenever I go to visit NYC. This year I felt particularly naked because I have been carrying concealed on me daily. So going there I realize how unarmed the everyday guy has to be:

  1. No firearm
  2. No knife
  3. Pepper sprays may be okay-may be not. Depends on the officer giving you the ticket

I am sure there is some way around it. Perhaps I just forgot how I dealt with it before when I still lived there. Not being up to date on any local laws, I opted to stay safe. I have been given insanely stupid tickets before so I understand how stupid the mindset can get. What seems reasonable to me, might be completely unacceptable there. I may need to prepare for this ahead of time on our next visit; research what local laws allow and mail a small kit there for myself to use.

Unfortunately my tools were very limited and for the most part we relied on situational awareness for our safety.

GETTING AROUND

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Traffic has not changed. There is always some type of construction. Have a sense of direction so you can navigate around these. The subway is a great way around. If you want to feel the beat of the city, take the subway 1 day and take the time to ride it during rush hour as part of the experience. You can do this and stay within Manhattan, shuffling from one destination to the next while sharing the train with the locals.

If you are looking to maximize your time and visit, the best way is to have a local drive you and wait for you from one place to the next. Not everyone gets to do this, but I suppose there’s a better chance of anyone pulling this off today than they could before. Uber seriously makes this possible. In our case, my dad drove in the city as a living for years-he is retired now. His knowledge plus my map updates on my smartphone allowed us the best routes. Since he is retired, he preferred to just park somewhere and wait for us to finish checking out something. I did not get this at first and was always hesitant when he offered, but in the end I think we benefit immensely from it and he likes doing it on occasion anyway. To be able to serve family for free when you feel like it is usually more rewarding than serving your employer.

SOCIO-POLITICAL CLIMATE

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I realized we would be in NYC when the election results came out. I was worried about this but there wasn’t much to do. We bought the plane tickets based on the deals we got months ago. As we now know Donald Trump won the election. I woke up from a nap when I heard there were protests going on. We were outside of the city visiting family, and as soon as I was awake enough to analyze the news, I made sure we had a route home that was far away from any protests. We did not even risk being in the island of Manhattan even though my dad thought it was fine. I told him he was underestimating how these groups coordinate, being at Union square one moment and popping up to block FDR the next. We took the bridge straight to Queens.

Our next few days involved keeping track of protests so we know we were not headed into any. Not that there were a lot, but the fact that they are there and you never know what might happen makes it a good idea to check. Particularly since I am traveling with small kids.

TRAVELING LIGHT – AS BEST AS YOU CAN

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When we were done, we packed our luggage that night with special considerations for the airport we were using. To be very clear, Laguardia airport is one of the worst airports I get to use on a regular basis. This is amplified by the highly stressed people in it and the cranky security personnel who reciprocate said stress.

What does this mean (obviously other than not packing items not allowed in the plane)? For us we packed the check in luggage so there were no questions with it and the weight was safe. We gave ourselves a pound or so of buffer so we did not have to open the check in luggage to shuffle weight to other bags. We did not want to pay any extra fees.

For our hand carry luggage this was tricky also. Being a small family, I will be bogging down the security check in with 3 small luggage, a tote, a diaper bag, 2 parts of a stroller and another 4 trays for laptops, shoes and what not. I make a lot of enemies in that check in line. We plan for this so that I only have to open one bag which has all the electronics. There are no liquids in the whole entourage other than my daughter’s milk. I had a very curated first aid kit in one bag for my son who had some skin issues. We had some medication in the luggage also but only in small amounts. No liquids. Next time, we will need to have anti-allergy meds in a small container in our hand carry luggage-lesson learned this year.

Most of our wires/chargers were rolled neatly so x-ray would clearly show them. If we brought food in the bags, they were easy to identify on the xray. Previously we brought some food rolled in aluminum foil and we had it in our carry on luggage-this was a mistake from last year and we made sure not to do it this time.

Given the small house we were carrying with us thru security, we made it thru pretty quickly. At the gate, we would check in the rest of the carry-on luggage. We would also ask to leave the stroller at the door of the plane. When we sit in the plane, all we have to deal with are the kids, one luggage with the meds and electronics and a diaper bag. We had food, entertainment, meds and diapers.

INFLIGHT KID ISSUES

Traveling with kids is always fun. They easily get bored and will constantly try anything in the new environment. We brought an ipad mainly for entertainment. We had snacks for the kids and extra bottles of milk (last time we ran short when our flight was delayed).

For reasons still unclear, my son burst into allergies during the flight. He was itching and scratching the entire time. We saw the hives break out and spread. This was complicated by another skin issue/injury he had on another part of his body-which meant he could not scratch/touch it or he risks spreading it. Also had a minor diaper issue when my daughter ran out of baby wipes when she did a number 2. With what we had we still made it okay. The heavily curated medical pouch ended up being on my pocket and was crucial for us on this trip. The only thing was, I plan to have a small dose of allergy meds in my pocket next time.I think I went to the bathroom about 7 times for the 4 hour flight-thinking back now it does not sound that bad.

When we got to Dallas, things got better fast. We got the allergy meds and my son calmed down. We took a photo of which area we parked our car so we did not forget. As soon as we got in the car we felt more at ease and in our element, and we calmed down.

LESSONS LEARNED

Next time we visit, we have some improvements in mind so the trip will be even easier for us. For me, some highlights are:

  1. a creative self defense kit
  2. better supplied and curated med kit
  3. a set budget, in cash and on cards so we me and my wife are insync on how far we are spending for this trip
  4. a more defined list of places to go so we can schedule better
  5. letting friends and family know sooner of our plans to visit so they don’t all try to get to see us at the same time
  6. factor in an extra 1.5 hours to check in at airports
  7. coordinate better on clothing so we can travel lighter-bring pants not shorts, layering options for tops, 1 hat each
  8. coordinate what items can be bought online and shipped there
  9. make a list of conversation topics I want to hone into with certain family members-this lets me maximize time spent with them.

So there you go, some things learned from our trip. We used to live there so we know what to expect, but traveling with small kids always adds a bunch of unknowns. We do not try to see a lot of places-that is never practical anyway. We make a list of new things to see (maybe newly constructed projects) and sort by how much we want to see them. We try to get to them, but not stress out if we miss on any. By seeing a few good sites, we get a feel of the beat of the city, get some new photos for the family album and check of stuff on the bucket list-but we don’t exhaust ourselves and stress relationships by forcing ourselves to go to places.

Next year I hope things will be easier. Our kids will be a year older and we will have planned better for the trip.