Editor's Note: The following article is a web-exclusive accompaniment to “Road Warrior” by Mel Ward, as seen in the upcoming Issue 33 of our magazine (on sale 8/6/19). In the print article, Mel covers a variety of tips for maintaining safety and security while on a cross-country road trip. For the second portion of this two-part web series, Mel explains how situational awareness while traveling is crucial to your personal security and that of your loved ones.

Last week, we discussed considerations for traveling with firearms, whether they're stored in your vehicle, in your hotel room, or on your person. But being armed isn't always the first, second, or even third thing that will lead to your family's safety on a road-trip. Your own personal situational awareness, and that of your family members, is critical and can prevent everything from side-swiping a car in your blind spot to potentially heading off a life-threatening situation.

Situational Awareness at Work

My family’s SOP actually paid off at Lake Powell, Arizona, as we waited in the parking lot of a grocery store for my wife to restock us on road snacks. While I was outside the vehicle dealing with a fussy baby tired of her car seat, my sons let me know a man was approaching from behind me. I was able to turn around and face the guy before he got much closer.

Even with the warning, I didn’t like where he was. Fortunately, he immediately stopped and didn’t take another step towards me once I turned and saw him. He asked me for money. Instead I gave him the most malevolent, “No, thank you,” he’d probably ever heard.

He actually backed away, said, “Have a good day,” and went wide around us. Fortunately, this was a completely benign situation, but thanks to our preplanning and awareness we were able to create a physical as well as psychological buffer between us and the unknown individual. We were polite, but used a tone that conveyed that there was absolutely nothing for him to gain from this encounter in any capacity.

Observation Tactics

Anytime you stop anywhere for food, fuel, or the much-dreaded diaper change, you should be assessing your surroundings. Before exiting the vehicle, use each of your mirrors as you would if changing lanes. They provide great situational awareness of what’s behind and beside your vehicle, so use them here too. Also, if you have a back-up camera, use it as well. Most back-up cameras use a fish-eye lens configuration that provides fantastic coverage, and they can provide an enhanced picture of dark areas. Shift into reverse and take an extra second to study what’s directly behind you.

When exiting the vehicle, after you’ve checked your mirrors and cameras, do a methodical 360-degree visual scan of your surroundings. Start from inside the vehicle looking through the windshield right to left. Look deep into your visual field and soak in details. As you exit, continue this scan where you left off all the way around behind you and back over the roof of your vehicle to where you started your scan through the windshield. This kind of awareness is its own layer of deterrence. It provides two advantages and it’s the less-obvious one that can pay the greatest dividends.

As good, upright mammals with excellent vision, simply looking around helps us identify potential nearby trouble — duh. However, we actually tend to ignore what our senses are trying to tell us. We look, but don’t see. We listen, but don’t hear. We subconsciously tune out important details. A conscious effort to actually see and hear what’s around us can help snap us out of that bad habit. The real payoff here is the flip-side benefit of anyone looking to cause trouble seeing you do this.

The Pack Mentality

We know bad guys prefer nice, soft targets. This is predatory behavior 101. Who would a predator take his chances with: a physically fit guy or gal who exits their vehicle and does a quick but methodical check of the savanna, or smartphone-with-earbuds-guy oblivious to the world?

Do a Google search for “jugging attacks” and watch some CCTV footage to see how robbers target those who are distracted or less observant than they should be. By taking a few seconds to consciously assess your surroundings you’ve organically lessened the threat simply by letting the bad guys know you’re paying attention. But what about that diaper change? Somebody’s gotta do it and your streak as rock-paper-scissors champion against your spouse can only last so long. So, it’s time for you to suck it up and get your hands dirty. But if you're elbow deep in baby boom-boom, who’s watching your back?

In my case it was my two oldest sons, one a teenager and the other not far behind his brother. When I have to do my duty and deal with the “doody,” I simply tell my boys to, “pull security,” as I affect the road-side diaper change. It’s as simple as that. Just like in the old days. Short of having a fire-team of your bearded and tattooed buddies, an alert 14-year-old isn't a terrible substitute.

Tell your wife, sons, daughters, traveling companions, etc., to simply look for people who are looking for you. All they have to do is keep an eye out while your back is turned and let you know if anyone approaches. Whether you’re occupied changing a diaper or a tire, simply have someone looking outward and paying attention.

“Road Warrior: Traveling Safely With Kids, Guns, and Pets”

If you'd like to read our full guide to safe cross-country travel, check back tomorrow for the web version of that article. It contains tips for route planning, driving schedule, accommodations, vehicle inspection, first aid, recovery gear, and much more. You can also read it in its original print format, along with several other emergency preparedness articles, in RECOIL OFFGRID Issue 33 — on shelves starting this Tuesday, August 6th.

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