With spring break time here and summer not too far off, it’s easy to dream up our next fun vacation plan. Perhaps it’s the sun on an island, or breathing in crisp, fresh air in a national park. While shopping for beach gear and reviewing accommodation options, its key to also keep in mind what you’ll need to do in preparation for a worst-case scenario.
From natural disasters to terrorist attacks to quarantines, none of us are immune to finding ourselves in the middle of a disaster scenario, even while on vacation. There are many things you can do before traveling to your holiday destination that will set you up for survival should an emergency occur. That said, there’s also a mindset you need to practice before, during, and after disaster strikes.
That’s why today, I’m sharing five key tips to keep in mind should disaster strike while on vacation. I’ll also provide real-life examples, such as how tourists survived the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Asia and 2017’s Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.
5 Tips for Surviving a Disaster While on Vacation
#1: Listen to local authorities: When disaster hits, listen to advice provided by authorities, whether they ask you to evacuate or shelter in place. As Popular Science shares, “If you're staying at a hotel, you should check with the front desk to see how they plan to get through the event, and what you should do to prepare.”
For example, in October 2019, Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan, forcing over 1 million citizens and tourists to evacuate their homes and hotels. The natural disaster caused widespread flooding, blackouts, and disruption to transportation. Many shops were stripped bare as customers stocked up on food and drink supplies.
Many foreign tourists and journalists were in the area for the Rugby World Cup, and unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of a natural disaster situation. One reporter shared that a friend who was staying at a hotel in Tokyo received a letter under the door of her room meant to reassure guests who were sheltering in place, sharing that “Our hotel was designed to move during strong winds so you may notice some related noise. Please do not be alarmed as this is completely normal.”
Additionally, before you leave for your trip, turn on emergency alerts for the area you’re traveling to on your phone. According to Lauren Sauer, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, "People might turn them off at home, because they're loud or annoying, but when you're traveling to a new place, you're not watching the news at night and you're not looking at the weather. Those emergency alerts can be really helpful on your phone in real time, especially if you don't know the environment very well.” In the case of the typhoon in Japan, The Guardian reported that emergency alerts accompanied by loud chimes were sent directly to tens of millions of smartphones in the affected areas.
I also recommend making use of the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) through the U.S. State Department. The program provides specific travel and security updates for the places you’re traveling to, and will keep you up to date on things like road closures, emergency curfews, and other important information. “If you’re abroad and you’re a U.S. Citizen, it will also keep you up to date on how to get home,” Sauer says. You can also register your travel itinerary with the program, so they can know if you need to be repatriated.
#2: Stock up on essentials ahead of time: When packing for your trip or stocking up once you’ve arrived at your destination, make sure you have…
- A 14-day supply of nonperishable food and water.
- Portable water purification devices.
- Solar powered flashlight and radio.
- Any prescription medication you take, as well as a first aid kit.
- Maps of your local area. Do not rely on cell phones or computers as your only navigation source.
- Printed copies of important documents such as your passport, visas, insurance documents, and credit card information. Additionally, send electronic copies to family or friends before you leave for your trip.
- When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, computer systems, ATMs, and credit card machines were down, and insurance information was inaccessible. You’ll want cash on hand (local currency) to be able to pay for prescriptions, medical procedures, and more.
Stocking up ahead of time benefitted Anna Fisher when she and her boyfriend found themselves in the middle of Hurricane Irma in 2017 while vacationing in St. Thomas in the Carribean. As The Points Guy shares, they went out “to get supplies and prepare bug-out bags. They brought back weeks’ worth of nonperishable foods, water, other basic necessities and gallon-sized Ziploc bags to protect electronics and important items.”
#3: Practice situational awareness: Whether at your hotel, shopping on a main street, or eating dinner at a restaurant, be aware of your surroundings, possible routes for evacuation, and unusual activity and behavior. Don’t risk being caught off guard.
For example, the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 killed about 230,000 in Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanki. Due to the time of year, these locations were also full of tourists who thought they were simply going to enjoy a new culture and setting.
Christine Lang from Vancouver, Canada, was vacationing on Phuket Island in Thailand when the tsunami hit. She was shopping on Main Street with her brother’s girlfriend when they noticed people running and screaming, as well as what sounded like a jet engine. “Nobody was saying run this way, come here, or it’s a tsunami,” she shares. Once she saw the wall of water coming her way, she began running. The wave caught up with Lang, but she miraculously survived with the help of strangers. “There was a Thai man on the top of the roof and a Thai woman and he pulled me up onto the roof,” she recounts. As Christine learned, paying attention to how locals are reacting to situations can help you remain aware and get to safety sooner rather than later.
#4: Communicate with family and friends: Before you depart for your destination, send family and friends your itinerary. Make sure you have their phone numbers written down or memorized in case you need to contact them and your phone is lost or out of battery. As an additional precaution, call your cell phone service provider and verify you have a cell phone and service plan that will work in your destination.
After riding out Hurricane Irma, Anna Fisher and her boyfriend were able to make it out of St. Thomas via a rescue ship organized by the Marriott Hotels, where they had been guests throughout the whole ordeal. Many tourists on the island found out about the ship through social media and communication with friends back home.
#5: Do your research: Take the time before you travel to scope out key information such as…
- Figure out what hazards exist in the area you’re traveling, so you know what to potentially be on the lookout and prepare for.
- Make a list of important numbers and addresses at your destination such as the nearest U.S. consulate and police station. Carry appropriate identification and emergency contact information on you.
- Purchase travel insurance. If you are traveling overseas and your health insurance company doesn’t cover you outside of the U.S., consider purchasing supplemental travel insurance. You’ll want to know you’ll be covered should you be seriously injured and/or require a medical evacuation.
Heed the advice provided in the following five tips, and you’ll be more likely to make it through a worst-case scenario.
Stay alert and safe this weekend, friends!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply