It’s only March, but already a lot of people are making travel plans for the upcoming vacation season. For those who want to protect themselves while away from home, consider taking some preemptive steps.

Do Your Homework

As most of you are likely aware, laws governing the carrying and transport of firearms vary dramatically from state to state. Remember the old legal axiom: “Ignorance of the law is never a defense.” You alone are responsible for knowing and observing the laws of any state you plan to visit.

Be sure you do your due diligence well in advance of your trip. It’ll be better than learning you are in violation of local ordinances during a traffic stop. An excellent place to begin your research is the USCCA Concealed Carry Reciprocity Map & Gun Laws By State.

But don’t stop with state law; certain cities and municipalities within a state sometimes have even more restrictive firearms policies than the state has. This can apply to where and when you can carry your gun as well as how you are required to store firearms in your vehicle.

Personally, after getting up to speed on state laws, I call the police department and/or county sheriff’s office responsible for the local area where I plan to stay. The department may refer you to their website, which may or may not give you the information you need. If that is the case, be sure to call back and talk to someone who can answer your questions.

Vehicular Variations

Vehicles such as minivans and pickup trucks often do not have a separate trunk. Find out what the rules are for storing a firearm in your particular ride, then take steps to comply. A steel handgun vault locked to the seat frame is one solution. My neighbor has a big quad-cab Silverado, and when driving up to North Carolina to go hunting, he stores his rifles in a steel lockbox in a covered pickup bed.

Note that some rules make a distinction between regular passenger vehicles and recreational vehicles. Depending on the state, an RV may be treated like a vehicle. In another state, it is considered a vehicle when being driven on public roads, but closer to a residence when parked. Make sure you find out how this is handled for every state you plan to visit or merely pass through.

Consider Documentation

Whenever I travel state-to-state, I have a manila folder tucked between the console and my seat. It contains printouts of any available rules and regulations for each state I plan to visit or transit. It serves as a reminder, and if you do get a ticket (or worse), being able to show a judge the basis for your actions can at least show that you went above and beyond in due diligence. No guarantees, of course, but it takes little effort, and it certainly can’t hurt.

Remember, You’re the Outsider

Finally, though it is denied vehemently by officials, out-of-state plates are basically an open invitation to local law enforcement. Knowing that, why would you further tempt fate by speeding, driving after a couple of beers or doing anything else that would attract attention? Drive as though you are under constant scrutiny … because you probably are.

Good behavior is always good policy.