All types of emergencies can happen while traveling.
For some people traveling in a foreign country is routine while for others it is a once in a lifetime experience. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or taking that one time memorable trip, being prepared in case of an emergency situation can mean the difference in getting through the situation smoothly or in some cases not surviving at all.
Travelers can encounter everything thing from natural disasters to being a victim of crime or being caught up in a political uprising. There are a few things you can do to be better prepared for these situations.
Before You Go
Contact your health insurance and see what coverage you have while traveling. In some foreign countries health care costs are very low however you will probably be required to pay first. You may find that a lot of countries do not have the quality care you are accustomed to at home and in case of a serious injury or illness you may need to go to another country or in some cases return home. This is where medevac insurance comes in. If you plan on being in a faraway place for some length of time or your travels involve adventure traveling where the risk of injury is greater it might be worth your while to invest in a medevac policy.
How to handle a medical emergency
If you become ill or injured while traveling try to get help in any way possible. Have someone call a doctor or emergency services for you or try to call yourself. If you are injured get to a hospital as soon as possible. The hospital will do what they can for immediate care and if needed transfer you to a better facility later. If you are going to be in a location for a while then find out where the best hospitals are located and make a note of them in case an emergency arises while you are there. If needed, you can contact your embassy and they will notify relatives of your situation.
Victim of a Crime or Kidnapping
Before you Go
Prior to your trip there are certain things you should do in case you find yourself a victim of a crime. First, know emergency and important phone numbers. Find out what the local phone numbers are for emergency situations such as fire and police. Write down numbers for your embassy, banks and credit cards along with contacts back home. Keep these numbers handy in your wallet and also put a copy somewhere else. If something were to happen such as an accident and you are unconscious, the authorities will have an easier time if they find your embassy phone number and contacts at home on your person. Make a copy of your passport and put it somewhere in your luggage. In case of your passport being lost or stolen a copy makes it easier for your embassy to issue a new one. In case of credit card or ATM loss or theft then the numbers to call and cancel your cards is extremely important. Divide money among several pockets; if you carry a wallet, carry it in a front pocket. Better yet carry a money clip with an ATM and some cash in your front pocket. Keep multiple sources of cash, ATM cards and a credit card or two in different locations such as carrying some and keeping some in different bags. Hiding a few $100 bills or traveler’s checks in a separate bag, your shoe, or several different spots is a good idea in case of robbery or theft.
Leave copies of your travel itineraries and documents with friends or family at home. Tell them where you expect to be during certain times of your travel.
How to handle a Robbery or Pickpocketing Situation.
First, if you are confronted by a robber or someone out to do you harm, be cool when facing confrontation; focus on de-escalation and escape.
If you are confronted with an armed individual wanting your possessions just give it to them and do not try and fight back. It is better to lose your possessions than your life.
If they are asking for your wallet, then give it to them. Distract the robber if you can and toss your wallet then run in the opposite direction. One option is to carry a dummy wallet with a little cash in it and give that to them. Keep your ATM cards and remaining money in another pocket.
Notify your bank as soon as possible to get the cards cancelled and also to order new ones. Every credit card company has a 24-hour hotline that accepts collect calls. Notify the local police. Even if they cannot find your items a police report may be needed later. Notify your Embassy. Your Embassy can help in arranging emergency funds from relatives be sent to you or in case of passport loss or theft can get a new one issued.
How to handle a Kidnapping Situation
Kidnapping is a real threat in some countries. Just the fact you are a foreigner and traveling makes you a target since you are perceived as rich or having a rich family willing to pay a ransom. Maintain a low profile, don’t wear politically themed shirts, and don’t wear clothes showing you are a proud member of your country’s military or any other nationalistic or political emblems or slogans. Do not try to stand out instead blend in.
If you are the target of a kidnapping, remain calm and alert. The best time to escape is at the onset of a kidnapping. Things are hectic the kidnappers are nervous and want to get away as soon as possible. This is also one of the greatest times for injury or physical harm. Only you can decide whether you will fight or relent.
If you do decide to fight back then commit to it as if your life depended on it because it just might. Make a scene. Kick, punch, scream, do anything to resist and draw attention yourself. Attempt to get away by any means possible. If you don’t succeed then maybe someone will see the struggle and be able to give authorities details of the kidnappers.
If you do get taken pay attention to your surroundings (license plate number, distinguishing features, accents, clothing, etc.). Remain calm and try to determine where you are being taken, how long the trip is and did you travel through the city or country. If in the city what distinguishing sounds did you hear? Did you hear trains or other distinguishing sounds in the background? Did you pass over bridges? Try to remember anything that will help in the future to determine where you are being taken.
Remain calm, try to make yourself appear human to your captives and not an object, cooperate as much as you can without demeaning yourself. Avoid eye contact with your captors and do not appear defiant or combative. Make requests that show your captives you are human, such as things for personal comfort, blankets, food and other basic human needs.
Do not volunteer information on your family, work or other aspects of your life. If questioned keep your answers short. Continue to tell your captors you have done nothing wrong and just want to be released. Do not engage in political or religious conversations, Do not agree or disagree with their statements just continue to repeat you are not interested in such matters and just want to be released.
Do little things each day to keep your mental and physical abilities sharp. Keep a positive attitude.
Keep aware of your surroundings and if the opportunity to escape presents itself then take it only if you have a high percentage of being successful. An attempt to escape may only happen once and if you decide to do it then just as before you were taken, commit to it. Realize that this may be your only chance and make sure you are willing to do whatever necessary to get away.
Once you escape run far and fast and look for populated areas where you can find help.
Natural Disasters and Political Conflicts
Before You Go
Whether it is a Typhoon, Earthquake, Terrorist attack or Political upheaval, travel in foreign countries presents the risk of any of these actions happening at any time. In 2005, terrorists detonated four bombs in London Fifty-two civilians and the four bombers were killed in the attacks, and over 700 more were injured. Hurricanes and Typhoons strand thousands of tourists every year. Some are delayed a day or two while others are caught off guard and face more dire consequences.
First, notify your embassy of your travels. In case of a natural disaster or conflict breaks out they need to know you are in the country so arrangements can be made to evacuate you to safety. Again, notify your friends and family back home where you will be traveling to, so someone knows your itinerary. If a natural disaster hits in a remote area where you happen to be traveling they can notify the Embassy of your whereabouts so efforts can be made to get to you.
Stay away from Political rallies and demonstrations.
How to Handle a Natural Disaster or Conflict
Many government embassies organize evacuations when a location is unsafe, but you’re better off not counting on it.
Notify your Embassy of your location and situation. Ask if they recommend evacuation or what help they can provide. If you cannot contact your relatives back home then ask the embassy to relay a message that you are okay.
Stay away from affected areas, buildings or structures that have been damaged. Stay out of the way of the emergency responders and obey all instructions of police and military. If you are in your Hotel make sure it is safe and stay put, if it isn’t safe then evacuate as soon as possible to a safe area.
While the chances may be remote the possibility of being caught in a conflict still exists. If you get caught in a political uprising or conflict breaks out there are some additional things you need to be aware of. In 2008, protesters occupied various parts of the airport and downtown areas in Thailand. In 2012 forty or so westerners woke up to find armed conflict had broken out in Tajikistan, and lately tourists have been caught up in riots in Greece and other European countries.
If you find yourself approaching a roadblock keep your hands in sight. You do not want to appear as a being armed or on one side or another. Be polite and try to stay in the vehicle. If this is not possible, try to stay together, especially if you or others in your group are female. Keep your doors and windows locked. Cooperate with those running the roadblock and explain you are just trying to get out of the area.
Do not photograph any military checkpoints, roadblocks or facilities. Do not photograph the hostilities as it may draw attention to you and the rest of your party and draw you into the conflict. Either side may suspect you are gathering information for the other side to use.
Avoid large gatherings where there is a potential for bombers to attack. Always be vigilant at large tourist attractions or popular restaurants and clubs. If you are in the vicinity of a bombing realize that there may be more than one. Sometimes a second bomb is timed to detonate once people start gathering to help at the first one.
If you are shot at or find yourself caught in the middle of a firefight then move and move fast. If driving back up and take another route, if on foot then find cover. If possible avoid hiding behind vehicles since they are targets for heavy weapons and even bullets can pass through them. Find a wall, concrete building, or similar hard structure. While they are not completely safe they provide the best protection until you can get out of the area.
If driving be aware that in an all-out armed conflict mines and explosives may be used. Stay on paved roads when possible and follow other traffic.
Additional Tips for Safe Travel
Be alert of your surroundings and avoid trouble areas when possible. Trust your instincts.
Dress, behave and act in a responsible and respectful manner. You may always stick out as a foreigner but don’t bring more attention to yourself than necessary.
Don’t wear flashy jewelry, leave your jewelry at home no one is impressed. Don’t flash your expensive camera or laptop in public. If carrying a camera keep it close to you at all times.
Don’t leave personal belongings unattended, even for a minute.
Walk and act in a confident manner with purpose. Notice I said confident, not cocky or arrogant.
Don’t discuss travel plans in public and don’t flash money.
Don’t talk or express your opinions about Politics, Religion or other sensitive subjects.
If you have to drive, know where you are going and always look for a path of escape at stops.
Park your vehicle in such a way that it is easy to leave.
Whether you are driving or in a taxi keep the doors locked and windows rolled up.
Only use licensed taxis; note the license plate number of taxi and write it down.
Never get into a taxi already occupied by other people. Have small enough bills to pay the fare or exact change if possible.
Politely decline offers of food or drink from strangers. Accept beverages only in sealed containers; make sure there has been no tampering.
Stay at Hotels, Hostels and Boarding Houses in safe areas. Look for well-lit areas in high traffic locations, not some dark hotel in an alley far away from the main areas.
Keep a card with the hotel name, address and phone number with you.
Once you check in take some time to become acquainted with the hotel. Where are the stairs, fire extinguishers, what does the hotel staff dress look like, where are all the exits?
Inspect your room, not only to see if the bed is comfortable, but does the phone work? How about the smoke alarm, door and window locks, door peephole and chain lock on the door?
Keep your doors locked and the chain secure while you are there.
Don’t open the door for unexpected visitors. If someone unexpected knocks and says they are with the hotel, tell them to wait and call downstairs to the front desk and verify.
When you leave put the do not disturb sign on the door and leave the lights on with the TV volume on low but loud enough to be heard by someone at the door.
Lock up your valuables, laptop, camera and such when you are not there.
There is no need to be paranoid when traveling and most of the time your vacation or trip will go off without any problems. But being prepared for an emergency can mean the difference between a disaster vacation or worse.