Our travel industry expert offers an insiders view of what to do if you suffer a disaster or crisis when travelling…
When we think about jet-setting off on that grand adventure, the last thing we want to think about is all the ways it can go wrong. Sure, our mothers like to remind us, but in our minds, we’re already on that beach sipping cocktails while the lovechild of George Clooney and Aphrodite serenades us to the sweet, lone strum of their ukulele.
Now, I don’t want to burst whatever bubble you’ve got going on there, I mean who doesn’t love some ukulele, but the reality is a crisis event can strike anywhere, any time. While you may not be able to avoid it, you can at least in some ways, prepare for it. It just means you’re going to have to bear with me for the rest of this article, while I sound like a bit of a bummer in explaining how.
This first thing to clarify here is what is meant by ‘crisis’. While I can personally vouch that missing a flight or spilling orange juice throughout a packed suitcase is devastating, these do not constitute a ‘crisis’. In this article, we’re talking about dangerous, life-threatening, or large-scale events, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, pandemics, accidents, etc.
That said, I would definitely recommend ensuring the lid to your orange juice is tightly secured before tucking it away in your backpack.
Choosing Your Destination
Different places are prone to different types of crisis events, during different seasons, social trends, political upheaval or calendar events. You cannot predict where and when a crisis event will take place, but you can at least minimise your risk of encountering one by avoiding high-risk areas, during high-risk times.
For example, the cyclone season in Fiji typically runs from November to April, travelling there from May to October will help minimise your risk of seeing a cyclone.
Of course, not all crises run to a schedule, some places might have social unrest due to their respective political climate or are prone to sporadic volcanic eruptions. If you have your mind set on a specific destination, do your research, pay attention to news reports on the area.
You can always check the UK Government foreign travel advice, and make sure to follow them on social media too.
Hot tip: Google has a live crisis map, here – https://www.google.org/crisismap/weather_and_events – it is regularly updated with weather events, fire warnings and earthquakes all over the world.
Factoring this precaution into your holiday planning will not mitigate all risks of a crisis taking place, but it will at least minimise them.
Invest in Good, Comprehensive Travel Insurance
It’s not the funnest part of travel planning, sure, you’d rather spend your money on a hotel upgrade than on boring, old travel insurance you might not even use, but the fact that you’re reading this article tells me you’re not one to take wild, uncalculated risks; foregoing travel insurance is one of them. You can read more about the benefits of travel insurance here – – but as it relates to dealing with a crisis, you need to research insurance companies and their varying policies.
Not all insurance companies will cover acts of war, terrorism, an ‘act of God’ or natural disasters, certain diseases associated with pandemics in known areas, etc. If you are going to an area known for certain crises, or are just worried about something very particular, read the fine print published by insurance companies and invest in one you are sure you can rely on.
Keep a List of Emergency Contacts
First of all, if you can, always travel with a phone. If just the thought of data-roaming on your phone plan sends you broke, buy a travel sim or a local sim in the country you travel to. These don’t usually cost that much; the idea is to really only use them for emergencies. Just make sure your phone is unlocked and able to be used with other sims.
Your key emergency contacts should include the number of the local emergency services of where you are, the emergency hotline provided by your travel insurance, the overseas number for consular assistance from your home country, if they have one, and your own emergency contacts.
HOT TIP: Always have a good idea of where you are in cases of emergency. Contacting emergency services for help is not like you see in the movies; they can’t trace your phone in seconds. They need you to tell them exactly where you are, down to the building number, street name and local intersection or landmark. The more information you can give the better.
During a Crisis
If you find yourself in a crisis situation:
- Pay attention to the what the local authorities are saying. If it’s a natural disaster, for example, they may have put out a warning and instructions on where to go and what to do. You should be able to find this on the local news, or local social media channels. If it’s a significant enough event your home country may have put out instructions for citizens of your country, so again make sure you’re following their social media accounts or visit their website. If you are unsure what action to take or are in a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t assume a certain course of action, find someone local who can help you or give advice.
- Take advantage of social media functions. For example, if you have your location settings activated with Facebook they will note if you are near a known crisis event and prompt you to tag yourself as “safe”.
HOT TIP: Also ensure there are other ways of contacting your friends and family, such as by phone or email, other than social media and chat apps like Whatsapp and Viber.
In the wake of the April 2019 terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government shut down social media channels and chat apps to prevent people spreading terrorist propaganda or incorrect information that could fuel social unrest. This meant that many tourists in Sri Lanka were unable to contact people back home to let them know they were alright, or to ask for assistance.
Give Someone Your Travel Plans
In the event you do find yourself in a crisis, with no way to contact anyone, you might at least find some peace of mind if you have given your travel plans to someone before leaving. If someone knows you are in an area with a known crisis and are unable to contact you, they can take appropriate action to help you (this usually means contacting the consular services of your own government).
Some governments even offer their citizens the ability to register their travel plans with them, so again consular services can take action when necessary.
If the event taking place prevents you moving forward in your travel journey, contact any airline, hotel, car hire depot or tour operator you have bookings with that might be affected.
For events that actually affect flights, such as volcanic eruptions and cyclones, and in some cases pandemics, airlines publish information on flight cancellations and policies on what action they are taking to help you move forward in your journey. If the event does not affect flights, such as an act of terrorism on a high street, as a rule the airline is unlikely to offer any compensation and may refer your back to your travel insurer.
It is still worth contacting them though, for two reasons. The first is in some extreme circumstance they may be able to help, such as waiving fees to change your flight.
The second is if you don’t turn up to your flight without telling them, they will cancel your whole ticket. That means, if you have multiple flights booked on your ticket, such as London to Paris, then Paris to Rome a few days later, and you miss your London to Paris flight, they will cancel your Paris to Rome flight as well.
Similarly, with hotels, car hire and tour operators; if you simply don’t show up that first day, for whatever reason, they will cancel your whole booking. If you’ve booked three nights at a hotel but don’t think you’ll make just that first night, call them so they know to keep your reservation open.
Don’t let the thought of a crisis deter you from travelling. Be savvy and street-smart, and plan your travel carefully, but don’t forego it altogether. In all my travels I have repetitively found that most people are willing to help in any way they can, even if it puts them out. Don’t underestimate how resolute people can be in a crisis, or how being prepared, even in its smallest measure, can make all the difference.
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