Traveling Alone – What Women Need to Know Before They Go!
Driving around town is an everyday occurrence for most of us. Errands, going to and from work, picking up kids at school or soccer, grocery shopping, visiting family and friends, a girls’ night out… you know your area like the back of your hand.
But, what about driving into territory beyond your borders? Do you have a fear of driving outside your comfort zone? Do you worry about getting lost or even worse, followed?
The number one reason women stick close to home is fear of the unknown, what to do, what not to do, how to keep yourself safe on the road in unknown territory, never ming where to begin in the planning process of a big road trip. Whether you’re planning an across-country or across-town move, the very first place to begin your journey is with your homework and advanced planning,
I’m about to embark on a 3200-mile cross-country journey, driving a 17' U-Haul truck, and yes, all by myself. When I tell people of the road trip, they look at me dazed and confused, and then after a short pause ask, ‘you’re driving alone?’ That one question in itself speaks volumes to how much education is needed for women, and many men, on how to plan a road trip with fun, not fear.
Doing your homework and pre-planning are essential in making your journey safe and sane… whether across town or across country. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80, as long as you carefully plan out every detail of your trip's route, hotel stays, gas stops, navigation, and every detail of your trip, you'll arrive at your destination safely.
It is such an honor to have U-Haul as our ‘Women Traveling Alone’ road trip safety sponsor for a variety of reasons one of which is their connection and support to a young Shoshone Indian girl named Sacajawea, who served as an interpreter and guide on the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1804. Her heroism in numerous situations helped lead their two-year journey to a safe and successful conclusion.
Sacajawea, just a young teen at the time, not only provided guidance for hundreds of miles through the tough terrain of the northwest Rockies, then known as the Louisiana Purchase territory, she also demonstrated extraordinary courage and strength during numerous life-threatening events, often emerging as the hero who saving lives and supplies from devastating weather, potential enemy threats, and from capsized canoes. Sacajawea became known as the first woman to be included in a democratic vote on the all-male crew, sharing her knowledge and experience as to which route to take for most access to hunting for food and safe shelter in the wild.
In honor of Sacajawea, U-Haul has painted her mural on both sides of our moving truck to celebrate her accomplishments and help shed light on her exceptional contributions to the beginning of what shaped the U.S. today. Her story is one of bravery and the true meaning of persistence.
Her contributions were chronicled by Lewis & Clark in their personal diaries naming Sacajawea as the only person on the expedition who never complained or panicked when confronted with dangerous or devastating circumstances. Level-headed and fierce, she faced each event as it came, contributing significantly to a successful and safe outcome.
Sacajawea was married to a Frenchman twice her age, who had traded her for goods and supplies with a tribe who had kidnapped her at 12 (away from her Shoshone family and friends). While little is known about her husband’s contributions to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Sacajawea’s accomplishments earned her a place in American history. Add to that, her journey included a pregnancy, childbirth in the wild, and then carrying her infant on her back during the expedition. The baby boy nicknamed Pompey, spent the first two years of his life living right along side his brave mother.
Sacajawea’s story is one of true courage and inspiration. It is with great pride that I have the opportunity to share her story as I traverse the U.S. in my 17’ U-Haul truck with her mural painted on each side, sharing her tale with everyone I meet along the way.
If Sacajawea, as a young teen on foot carrying a papoose on her back in sub-zero weather, can travel across borders, so can you. So let’s get started. If you have a road trip coming up or would like to, if you have a move coming up and fear what’s ahead, if you’re venturing out for the first time on your own, then please let us help with these following tips to keep you safe on the road.
Homework & Planning: Once you’ve made the decision that you’re moving or driving to unknown territory, begin the planning process. Start with the destination. What is your final destination? Once you know that, you can start planning your adventure from there.
How do you want to get there? Are you driving a car or a moving truck? If moving you must decide what you’re taking along to determine the size of the truck you’ll need to fit all your belongings.
If you’re taking a car, make sure it’s in perfect working condition. Don’t wait until you get on the road. Bring it to a reputable mechanic, someone you know and trust, and have them give a good healthy check up before you leave. Let the mechanic know how far you’ll be traveling and ask which extra supplies you should have in your trunk in case of a breakdown. RTM also provides a list of ‘must-haves’ in your trunk at all times.
What size vehicle will I need? There are many one-way moving van companies available but we chose U-Haul for many reasons. First, they’re the only one that has what’s called ‘Mom’s Attic’, extra space that hovers over the cabin of the truck. This allows for small boxes and personal items that you want to keep tucked away. We love that. U-Haul also offers trucks of all sizes and will help you make that decision with details on their website.
The second reason is their support of the military and war vets. In fact, It was a WW11 war vet that founded U-Haul in 1945. Sam Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, recognized that need and acted upon it. Their visionary approach spread the cost of ownership among many users, facilitating the mobility of the populations of the U.S. and Canada. The covered wagon of the pioneers morphed into orange U-Haul trailers. In the process, an industry was born.
And third, they have thousands of locations all over the U.S. which includes storage space so they make it quite simple to arrive at your destination and put things in storage at the same drop-off location until you’re settle into your new digs.
And last, their support of Sacajawea and women in general, not to mention kids with annual coloring contents with young winner’s murals painted on local moving vans. What parent or kid wouldn’t be thrilled with that?
Fight the Fear: Driving a large vehicle is a daunting prospect from many women and mainly because it’s not something they do everyday. But the truth is, and I speak from a 5’1” perspective, driving a high-profile vehicle is a great deal of fun and empowering. One of my favorite things about driving a large truck is the high seating profile that allows you to see everything around you clearly providing a stronger sense of security on the road. So think fun, not fear.
Your local U-Haul will help determine the size truck you need. In fact, while there, ask to take a truck for test drive to get a feel for it. Once you’re in it, your fears will fade away as you learn quickly how easy they are to drive.
Plan your route. Let’s say you’re going from New York to Los Angeles. There are many ways to get there, many interstates that are safe and direct, however, some are shorter, provide better gas mileage for your vehicle, and provide easier access to roadside services such as hotel chains and restaurants.
If you’re traveling alone, the best route to take is the most direct and the safest. You don’t want to make it too obvious that you’re traveling alone and never tell anyone that on the road. Although tempting, sightseeing alone on the road is not a good idea as it opens you to potential predators. However, the high-seating position of the truck will provide views to things that you otherwise may have noticed from a car.
Which route is best? One of the most direct routes to take from east to west is I-70 across the farming states. Yes, it’s pretty boring territory, very flat, but excellent on gas. From there, if you’re heading to Southern California like I am, taking the I-70 to I-44 west, then transition to Interstate 40 west, also known as the famed Route 66, is an excellent way to travel for many reasons. You’ll avoid the Rockies, which are absolutely beautiful, but will kill you on gas with their massive mountains, especially if you’re driving a truck that gets only about 10MPG. The southwest route also provides exceptional scenery as well.
Get AAA: AAA is your best roadside assistance friend. Breaking down on the road is the last thing you want to happen when traveling alone but if it does happen, AAA is a well-established national company with roadside support in thousands of towns across America. One call and usually within an hour they’re at your side. When waiting roadside, stay in your car with the doors locked, and don’t accept help from would-be good Samaritans who may stop to offer help. In the event of a breakdown, call your family or friends to let them know where you are.
Share your journey details: Sharing the details of your trip, such as your route and hotel stops is an important element to your safety on the road. For any reason, should you deviate from your plans, call family and let them know where you are. Once you’ve determined which route you’re taking and at which hotels you’ll be staying, make a comprehensive list of your route and the names, addresses and phone number of each hotel and give that list to your family. Call them each night when you arrive to ensure their peace of mind. Remember, no matter how well planned the trip is or how independent you may be, they will still worry about you.
GPS Tracking: Most cell phones have GPS tracking on them. It’s a very simple tool to turn off and on. Make sure you understand how to turn it on and talk to your phone provider on how your family can track you online. I have a T-Mobile Smart Phone with GPS tracking. It’s not always on as it uses power however it will be on every mile of this trip. The online service I use to keep my phone monitored from spam also has a pinpoint locator which can locate my phone right down to the building I’m in. I’ve given my family a link to the security company website so that they can locate me anytime of day or night and know exactly where I am at all times.
Why do you need to do this? For practical safety reasons. In the event you detour off course for any reason whatsoever, or disappear, whether by choice or not, they can find your last location, which gives them a great place to start for finding you, saving everyone time and stress. But keep in mind, if you do detour, let them know.
Choosing a hotel: There are many options for choosing a hotel chain along America’s Interstate’s but for women the one you choose matters for personal safety and budget. Sticking with a hotel chain along your route is best so you don’t have to veer too far off your planned route, ending up in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Also, many chains such as Hilton’s Embassy Suites or Homewood Suites, offer fully-applianced kitchenettes, which allows you to park after a long day’s drive, get into your room to relax and ready for the next day. You can make your own dinner at your own leisure without the worry of finding a local restaurant and conspicuously sitting alone, never mind the additional expense. What I personally love about suite hotels is that they’re very female-friendly.
Make reservations in advance: Don’t wait until you get on the road to find a hotel each night. This can put you in a very difficult and dangerous situation. Once you choose your route, research which hotels are along the route. Each hotel website offers location finders making it easy to plan your stops. What could happen if you wait? What if every hotel you stop at is booked? What if you end up having to drive much further than you planned because you can’t find a hotel with a vacancy, which throws off your plans? What if you can only find a vacancy in a fleabag motel? So, planning ahead with confirmed reservations is your best and safest bet.
Driving hours: As much as I love to drive it can be tiring after several hours on the road. Everyone is different. Some people can drive 1000 miles in a day; others only 200 and they’re toast. For women, it’s best to do all driving during daylight hours. Plan your route and the miles you want to drive each day so that you arrive at your hotel each night while it’s still light out.
Keep in mind, if driving a U-Haul moving truck, you must allow time to find the best parking spot for the truck. Keeping it close to the hotel in a well-lit area is best. Also, backing it up close to the building will help deter would-be thieves from having access to the back of the truck.
You may even want to call ahead to your hotel to let them know when you’re arriving and ask where the best place is to park your U-Haul for the safety of your belongings as well as for your personal safety. Some hotels offer to send out a bellman to meet you at your vehicle not only to help spot you for parking, but also to help with your overnight bags AND escort you into the building safely. If they don’t offer, then ask. However, if you keep your schedule during daylight hours, you may not need such a service. Once you check in, be very careful not to expose your room number in any way. If the front desk hands you your key and says your room number out loud, ask for another room and ask him or her to write it down instead of saying it. Most hotels know today that it’s not safe, especially for women, to expose their room number.
Food for thought: Carry a cooler in the cabin of your vehicle with the basic necessities such as water, snacks, juice, etc. This will prevent unnecessary stops along the way. Also, hotel suite chains like the Hilton Embassy Suites or Homewood Suites offer fully cooked breakfasts as early as 6am. It’s a great way to start your day, with a full breakfast, and a few pieces of fruit for the road to keep your energy up. Most offer sit down restaurants with ‘cook to order’ breakfast, which you can eat there or take to your room. It’s not only a savings but another personal safety tip.
Stay organized: At the end of each day’s drive expect to be tired. Hundreds of miles of white lines on the road, the tires humming, the sitting up for hours upon hours, will take its toll both mentally and physically. So, start and end each day with a plan.
For example, at night once in your room, organize your notes for the next day’s drive. Text or call your family to let them know your in your room and safe. Call the next hotel to give them your estimated time of arrival the next day, and again where the best place is to park your truck. Get rid of old lists and make new ones so you feel confident and secure on what’s coming up next. Ask the hotel clerk where the closest gas station is as well. And most important, get a good night’s sleep, you’ll need it.
Each morning after breakfast, when you’re at your freshest and most alert, fill her up! That means your body and your gas tank. You don’t want to start your day with a low tank and then find yourself having to pull over at some sleazy rest stop because your gas tank is almost empty. Also, a good breakfast provides fuel and energy for your body and brain, keeping you more alert on the road.
Use navigation equipment: Most vehicles come with built-in navigation today but in the case of a moving truck, you can either rent a small navigation unit from them or buy your own, which can run anywhere from $80 - $500. I have a Garmin, which cost about $100 and has become my new best friend. If you can work your cell phone you can work a Garmin as they’re similar in ease of use. All you need to do is plug in the address of your destination, in your road trip case, each hotel and from there, it will guide you with a voice (so you never have to take your eyes off the road) every step of the way, right to the door of your hotel. I love mine and never leave home without it anymore. It’s one of the smartest purchases I’ve ever made in my life giving me peace of mind no matter where I go.
When preparing for the next day’s journey just mount it on your dashboard (in a place that doesn’t block your view) and push the favorites icon (where you’ve saved all your hotel destinations) then choose your location and off you go. It’s just as good as having your own personal navigator sitting next to you.
Many also have Bluetooth so you can pair it with your cell phone so in the event a call comes in, it comes through the navigation on a speaker system so you never have to pick up your phone or take your eyes of the road. Having a navigation system, whether a Garmin or a Tom-Tom, will help take the fear out of traveling alone… and make your journey one that you’ll never forget for the rest of your life.
Click here for additional travel and moving tips from U-Haul.
To read the entire history of Sacajawea and her amazing story, click here.