- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

Thoughtful planning can temper the risk a woman takes when traveling alone on long distance trips. Carefully think through those risks and take specific precautions to avoid them, or at least limit their effect.
The greatest danger in solo travel is breaking down on the road. There's no more helpless feeling than that moment when your engine dies or a tire starts flap-flapping. You pull off the road and sit in your own stunned silence.
Something unforeseen can happen to the best prepared, but you can improve the odds by having your car thoroughly checked before you start: brakes, tires, hoses the works.
Realize you can be stranded and prepare for it before you start. Have emergency equipment in the car. That means rain gear (cars like to break down in bad weather), flashlights (cars like darkness for misbehaving, too), and bottled water and snacks.
Carry a cell phone or a CB radio to report your plight. If you use a CB radio, avoid broadcasting your vulnerability to the world at large. Say "we" have broken down, not the singular "I."
Be courteous, but be careful about the kind people who stop to help they may be less kind than they appear, and you are as defenseless as you'll ever be. Police advise that you stay in your locked car and speak to anyone through a merely cracked window. If you have successfully used your phone or CB, thank the person and say help is due momentarily. Or ask that person to please phone for assistance for you at the first possible stop.
It may seem rude not to be more receptive of generously offered assistance. It's your choice, just as it is your choice whether or not to pick up hitchhikers. Be aware that the safest path is to reject both.
More pre-trip preparations: If you are not already a member of a car club offering roadside assistance, such as the AAA, join one. Maybe your car manufacturer offers this service. Check it out. On an index card write down these emergency numbers, as well as those of your insurance information, and the phone number of your insurance company, and attach it to your visor with a rubber band. Include the phone numbers of friends and family. You may know those numbers, but in the stress of some emergencies, they can slip your mind. Have a duplicate car key made and attach it securely to the deep underside of your car.
If the folks you leave behind are nervous about your traveling alone, leave them with an itinerary and expected arrival times. Better yet, to keep improvisation alive, make arrangements to phone them at set times as your trip progresses. Write down for them the make, model and color of your car and your license plate number. (Tell them you are also including a picture to go on milk cartons.)
Even if you intend to follow your whims with no set route, spend some time with maps before you go, so you have a general idea of the territory. Take the maps and some guidebooks with you. Tour books issued by travel clubs describe assorted sights and have a fairly definitive list of restaurants and lodging choices, including addresses and phone numbers.
During peak travel season, places to stay fill up quickly. In order not to have to stop for lodging early in the afternoon or book days in advance, decide by lunch time where you will be that night. Phone for a reservation at a likely-looking spot selected from the tour book. Guarantee the room with a credit card and enjoy the rest of the day without concern.
At a motel ask for a second-story room, if one exists, or one near the office. Travel as light as possible because, for safety's sake, you will be taking everything in with you every night. Or at least leave your car in a well-lighted, highly public spot. Double lock your room door.
To lessen the risk of loss, leave any valuable jewelry at home. And if you are merely taking snapshots, use a disposable camera. As you travel, don't carry a purse wear one. Get a many-pocketed vest like photographers use and disperse your credit cards, cash, keys and makeup throughout. You may feel like a walking file cabinet, but you will not have a purse to forget on a gas station counter or have snatched from your front seat.
Don't forget your disappearing cloth. Stretch a black cloth (like felt) over stuff in your car and, magically, it is invisible from the outside. Try it.

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