Let’s set the scene – an emergency just happened – you’re at a café enjoying a coffee with a new friend you met on your travels. Suddenly, a crowd of people appear protesting a political issue. Serenity turns to noisy, crowded with a smell of danger as police sirens are growing in intensity. You still have no idea what just happened, but people are scrambling to get away.
So, what do you do?
An emergency plan is our best defense and a defense we can share. Traveling in a group? Have an emergency plan meeting where you can share your preparation tips and create a plan with everyone’s input. Let someone you trust that’s not going with you in with the plan, too – this tip is most useful for business travelers who often travel alone.
So where do you get some useful tips? Here, of course! Let’s get you prepared.
6 PREPARATIONS TO TAKE BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR A TRIP
- Before committing your money and time to a promising destination, do a little research first. Yes, Italy is really nice at this time of the year, but have you checked if there’s a travel alert or warning on that particular destination? Thankfully, you don’t have to do much internet digging as all travel alerts and warnings are conveniently posted here
- Next purchase a travel insurance. This is often an expense people skimp on, but one of regret if you need it and don’t have it. I, myself buy from Allianz Travel Insurance. I like their insurance plans but fortunately, I haven’t used it.
You need not worry about paying for exuberant hospital expenses should you need medical attention, because a good travel insurance will have you covered.
- Secure copies of important documents and IDs. Set aside 5 minutes of your time to scan and photocopy some important documents like your Passport, Driver’s License, your flight details, and your itinerary. Make sure you include the back of your credit cards, so you have the phone number to call if your cards are lost or stolen.
Make three copies of each document or ID. That way, you can have a copy on you, on your bag, and with your family. Also send copies in your cloud provider and in your email. If you lose all your copies, you can easily log in to your account for a copy.
- Share your itinerary and document with a family member or to someone you can trust. Make sure they know where you’re going, how long you’re going to be away, the exact date of your return, and other information. That way, they can sense if something is amiss when you, for example, don’t come back on the day you said you would. This also applies to professionals traveling for business. You can leave your itinerary with your boss or your most trusted co-worker.
If ever a disaster hits, they’ll know if you may be impacted. If you informed them that your first step is contacting the embassy, then they’ll know who to contact if they can’t contact you.
It’s also worthwhile to leave other information such as who you left your pet with while on your trip.
Traveling with a group? Ask your companions if you can give their contact information to your family. And lastly, give someone a Power of Attorney. Make sure it’s someone you can trust with your life.
- International calls and SMS can be costly so let’s take advantage of the internet, shall we? There are a number of apps that offer free calls and messaging over the internet. However, not everyone uses the same app. Even if you can message your friends via WhatsApp, your family may not have that app installed in their devices. Luckily, everyone seems to have Facebook nowadays, even grandma’s and grandpa’s. Let your family know that you’ll be communicating with them through Facebook. If you want to, you can set up a schedule for your updates like, “Just arrived” or “Just ate some authentic tacos” or whatever, really, since the purpose is to let them know you’re alive and well.
- While we’re on the subject of technology, let’s take it further and download some useful apps. There’s an app, aptly named US Embassy by Decode HQ Ltd. I love this app! The information in the app is available offline, so it’s pretty handy if you have no access to the internet. Relevant information about US Embassies like contact information and address of the embassies and consulates are available, including information about the country you’re going to, so it’s a must have app on every American traveler’s device.
Another app to download is a hospital locator. A quick search on the app store reveals quite a number of hospital locators, but each app is dedicated only to a certain location so be sure to get one that you can use in the country or destination you’re going to.
Also, if you haven’t already, download an app of your bank. It will help you monitor your money. And speaking of money, make sure that you can use your ATM card internationally to withdraw. You can also withdraw cash using your credit card via cash advance. Make sure you ask your bank for everything you need to know.
Lastly, learn local language for basic questions like “I need help,” “Where’s the hospital,” “Where’s the police station,” “I’m lost,” etc. Make sure you learn from a reputable teacher. If you have a friend who’s fluent in that language, you can ask him to teach you, too. But a word of warning though, some “friends” will instead teach you mischievous stuff!
SAFETY TIPS WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION
When you check-in at the hotel, approach the friendly receptionist and don’t be shy to ask things like, “What’s the modus operandi of criminals around here?” or “How do criminals target the tourists in this area?” The reason you need to ask is that tourist-heavy areas usually have more criminals lurking and targeting oblivious tourists, often posing to offer “help.” The only thing they’ll help you with, though, is emptying your pockets. But don’t get me wrong, there are genuinely nice people out there, you just have to trust your gut.
- Ask how you can avoid being tricked. Thieving comes in many forms. A taxi driver who charges more is a thief, same with a passenger who doesn’t pay right. Be sure to remain vigilant and alert. If you’re ever caught unaware, your wallet may not be the only thing you’ll lose.
- Ask about other dangers you have a possibility of facing. Will there be an organized rally while you’re there? That could be dangerous as rallies don’t always end without a casualty. Is it typhoon season and the area you’re in always floods? Or are there rebel activities in the area where they sometimes kidnap tourists or locals for no apparent reason? Make sure you’re getting honest answers, reiterate that you’re watching out for your safety, and not just being nosey.
- If your receptionist is still willing to answer more questions, ask the locations of the nearest clinics (for minor issues), hospitals (with better facilities), and police stations. Mark them on the map your receptionist provided.
By now, you should have a list of safe places you can get to in case of an emergency. If the receptionist mentions an evacuation site where citizens are advised to go when a calamity hits, list that down also in the map. That way, you can locate which one is nearest to you at the moment of an emergency.
If you’re in a group, share the info with them. There may be a time when you lose contact with each other, so it’s better they know how to fend off scammers or go to the appropriate facility by themselves. Also, discuss how you will communicate with each other. Will you use Facebook, also? Or other apps? What if there’s no Wi-Fi or one of you can’t get a signal? Plan a meet-up location and a time. For example, people in your group want to do different activities. Plan where you’ll meet up at the end of the day and agree on a time window. Emphasize the importance of being there on time.
Lastly, stay alert. Regularly check your pockets and your bag(s). Make sure pickpockets won’t get to your stuff easily. Be aware of your surroundings and as much as possible, stay where the crowd is. Don’t walk through an alley even if your map reveals it as a shortcut. If you need to ask a stranger directions and he offers to take you there, don’t trust blindly. Decline politely and ask another person.
5 GOOD REMINDERS WHEN EXPLORING A NEW PLACE
During your stay at a foreign place, there are things that you must keep with you every minute that you’re outside. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing: eating out, shopping, climbing mountains, or just casually strolling, you need the following with you.
- Of course, right? Bring a sufficient amount of money with you always. And not just in local currency, bring some dollars, too. Then scatter the money. No, not on the ground. On you. Stuff some bills in your bag, stuff some on yourself (i.e in your pockets), and keep the others on your wallet. That way, if you lose your wallet, you’ll still have some bills. An emergency may also arise where you would be required to leave your bag behind because it’s unretrievable or it’s too heavy and you need to run fast.
- Important documents. Same with money, scatter them also on your bag and on you. You didn’t photocopy your documents for nothing.
- It’s preferable to have the numbers of your friends and family memorized. But in times of stress, your brain may have trouble remembering important details so you must also have a paper with important numbers listed down: every number of your traveling companions, your family’s or friends’ back home, your hotel’s, and the US embassy’s.
- Other important details to note down are addresses. The address of hospitals and police stations (that you acquired either from the receptionist, from the app, or from doing your assignment), the US embassy’s, and your hotel’s.
- A good old-fashioned map, if possible. The one you can actually touch. Pin down important locations in your physical map AND digital map. So if ever you’re lost and someone has stolen your gadget (or your map), you still have a back-up guide with you.
3 THINGS TO DO IN AN EMERGENCY ABROAD
In the event of a disaster
- Learn the signs of an emergency then evacuate to a safe place immediately. Try to stay calm and don’t panic. If you can, don’t let the hysteria of the people get to you. This way, you can immediately recall your emergency plan. A clear mind will help you keep your life.
When you’re in the beach, for example, if you see the waters receding dramatically, don’t run to the beach to get some beautiful seashells that have been revealed. This is a sign of an incoming tsunami, so you should get to high ground immediately and as far away as you can.
What to do in earthquakes are taught starting at a young age (remember earthquake drills at school?). But you may need to refresh your memory about that.
A rally, on the other hand, starts with crowds moving to a single destination, accompanied by shouting, megaphones, and placards. When you see this, the best thing to do is go back to your hotelor somewhere safe. Don’t hang around to see what’s going on and definitely don’t join in for a selfie picture. As a foreigner, it’s best to leave the affairs of a country to its citizens. I know it will make you curious. But avoid staying just to snoop. Get back to your hotel where you’re safe, then turn on the TV if you’re really that curious.
- If things are getting too serious, a rally becoming bloody or a terrorist group attacking, then it may be time to call the embassy. In matters off dire circumstances, they can fetch you and prepare you for evacuation. Remember to call them first, because you might not get a chance to make a call again. Hide in a location where you’ll be safe from the commotions and follow the instructions of the embassy officials.
- Then, if you can, call your family members and other members of the grou. Tell them that you’re safe and have made contact with the Embassy. However, if there’s still impending danger, inform them about it. It’s not to make them worry, it’s so they can relate the story to authorities if they need to. Communicate your steps as you move.
You may face other emergencies, like a health issue or a stolen wallet. It happened to me on a train in Europe, where I fell asleep and someone went through my purse to steal my wallet.
- Compose yourself and assess the problem. What just transpired? Recount your previous steps so you can tell the authorities later on.
- If it’s a health issue, a heart attack for example, call a hospital immediately. If you can wait for an ambulance, do so! Try to fend off a gathering crowd, it won’t help to suffocate the victim. Well, unless someone in the crowd is a licensed doctor (ask for credentials).
If you have a health issue, asthma or other condition that requires you to use a paraphernalia, have a card or paper ready with instructions. You can give it to someone when an attack comes so they’ll know how to help you.
I meet with my doctor once a year and tell her about my travels. She often provides me a list of over-the-counter medicines to pack with me at all times and gives me a prescription for medications to help me with a few medical issues that could transpire. She also checks my vaccinations and makes sure that I am up-to-date.
- If you become a victim of thieves or scams, call your banks first to inform them of your compromised cards. Then go to the police station and relate to them your experience. In the best case scenario, you’ll retrieve your items. That’s not always the case, so be prepared for such a situation. Don’t carry all your eggs in one basket, remember this!
In every situation, preparedness is your best defense. It’s not a matter of being negative, it’s a matter of surviving. The fact that nothing has ever happened to you in your years of traveling doesn’t mean that nothing will later on. So if you don’t have an emergency plan ready, do it now with these tips.
Important points to remember:
- Before you leave, make an emergency plan and give to someone you trust.
- When you arrive, get a map and locate a nearby clinic, hospital and police station
- Make sure you have a communication plan with your fellow travelers and the people at home.
- Use your common sense. Don’t be a target.
- Stay calm, don’t worry and go enjoy your trip!!!
I hope you find these tips useful and I wish you safe travels!