Travelling is such a great experience, but much like life at home, just because you’re overseas doesn’t make you immune to disasters.
What makes disasters while travelling so difficult is the lack of support, communication and access to things we usually take for granted – depending on where you go, the local language, the lack of close-by friends, and unfamiliar infrastructure can make things harder to deal with.
But travel disasters aren’t necessarily limited to things that make headline news. It could be as simple as having your wallet or passport stolen, or just missing a connecting flight. Disasters come in all shapes and sizes and affect everyone differently.
Me personally, I’ve had some first-hand experience when it comes to travel based disasters from both sides of it so I’ve learnt a few things about what to expect.
For context, I was in London (Russell Square more specifically) during the London Bombings in 2006, and I’ve had family who were in Cairo during the Egypt Civil Riots in 2011.
I’ve also been with friends on travels who have had issues at home, had wallets and passports stolen as well as losing luggage (I’m starting to see why I travel solo predominantly now…). Unfortunately, that means I’ve got plenty of experience to draw upon.
So, based on that experience, here’s my advice and tips on how to prevent any travel disasters, as well as how best to deal with them should any arise:
What you should do before you leave?
No disaster can be predicted. If it could, we’d just avoid them in the first place. That said, a little bit of preparation goes a long, long way if something was to happen.
Here are a few simple things you ahead of your trip that can make a world of difference if something was to happen during your travels:
I can’t stress this enough… When you travel, you are far more likely to have everything important to you – passport, wallet, phone, laptop, headphones, camera, clothes, accessories, etc – packed into a convenient way of carrying them. It’s just the nature of travelling.
However, not only does make you a huge target for thieves but also makes you very vulnerable should there be any issues with transporting your luggage. Flights, busses, boats… Any number of different options to get where you are going.
Please, just do yourself a favour and never ever travel without travel insurance. Not only to cover any possible health issues but your belongings as well.
Like with any insurance, all things going to plan, you probably won’t need to use it. But something as simple as a careless slip off the pavement can result in a broken ankle. A lapse in concentration can lead to a broken camera or stolen wallet. Even being too adventurous on the local cuisine for your digestive system to handle… If you do end up needing travel insurance but don’t have it, you’ll be in a world of trouble.
Travel Insurance packages really aren’t that expensive and can be easily purchased online. There are several providers out there but I tend to stick with Covermore’s travel insurance as they’ve always been painless to deal with in my experience with them. No issues at all. So, before you travel, please make sure you are insured.
Inform Your Government
Many governments (I know Australia, Canada, the UK and the US do) offer a traveller registration service so they know where to find their citizens should disaster strike in foreign countries.
It might sound like a strange thing to do, but at no cost to yourself, it’s a good way to make sure someone knows where you are, and where to look for you, should anything go wrong.
If you don’t register, and there is a large scale event, they won’t know to look for you, so it’s best to play it safe. Just think of all those COVID-19 repatriation flights recently.
Inform Your Friends and Family
Even if you don’t have a fixed plan, make sure someone at home gets a regular update on where you are, how long you plan to be there, and where you’re headed next.
A simple text or e-mail with your hotel name, dates, and location can make a world of difference, not only in easing the minds of the ones who care about you, but giving people a heads-up of where to find you, should anything go wrong.
Keep a couple of people back home in the loop as to where you’re going before you go, and update them regularly as to what your plans are and if they change.
Take Extra Copies of Important Documents
As well as bringing the real thing, a spare photocopy/scan can get you out of trouble should anything go missing.
Ideally, you should bring with you a photocopy of your passport, important bank cards, and any bookings and tickets. It is recommended that you put them in at least three places – a copy with you, a copy in your luggage, and a copy in your e-mail so you can access it anywhere.
At the very least you should keep a copy of everything within your email, including scans of your passport. But there are times, places and situations where access to the internet could be very limited.
These copies will not only help you with police reports should something be lost or stolen but also assist in organising replacements.
Know Where Your Embassy Is
Before you go overseas, it’s a really good idea to know where your home nations embassy is at your destination. Or even they have a presence in the country you are travelling to.
It’s something that is going to offer a lot of reassurance especially if you lose or damage your passport which could otherwise leave you stranded overseas.
I’d also recommend that you get some idea of where the tourist information centres, police stations and hospitals as well. Even if just somewhat vaguely. At the end of the day, it’s all just about giving yourself peace of mind should something go wrong.
What you should do if disaster strikes?
Despite whatever precautions you may have taken, so many things are beyond our control. So if disaster does strike here’s what you need to do.
As mentioned earlier, the scale of a disaster can vary greatly, so use your best judgement on which of these things to implement in the event that something does go wrong.
Let People Know
Depending on the scale of the issue, modern media coverage, particular with the internet, usually means these things get back to your family and friends within hours if not minutes.
So whether you’re ok or not, if anything is likely to hit social media, news sites, or reach home at all, let people know how you are affected as soon as you are able.
The worst thing for those who care about you is to hear something terrible has happened before hearing anything from you.
This also applies if something happens to you personally, i.e. your stuff being stolen, an injury, or illness. Just let people know, be it a couple of key family members or friends as well.
You might be thinking, if they don’t know about it then it won’t worry them. However, if they find out after you’ve come home, it will only make them worry more the next time you travel.
Then in the unlikely event that someone should you need to fly over for support, or transfer some money so you can get home, they are at least a little bit prepared, rather than dropping it on them last minute.
Let Your Travel Insurer Know
It doesn’t matter if it’s a stolen wallet, lost luggage, cancelled travel plans outside of your control, or a serious medical emergency. If you’re able to, let you travel insurance provider know as soon as possible.
A good travel insurance policy will cover you for all of these things, but they need to know about your intention to make a claim, particularly when it comes to changing your travel plans.
So get in touch with them first before rescheduling your flight or getting patched up by doctors to make sure you follow the correct process so that you can recoup any expenses incurred.
Let Everyone Else Know
No, I don’t mean blast social media in an effort to gain sympathy. But in addition to letting your family and friends you’re safe, and informing your travel insurer about any costs that may need to be covered, it’s also a good idea to get in touch with any other companies or organisations that are directly relevant.
If your wallet is stolen you’ll need to contact your bank to cancel the cards and organise replacements.
Should your passport be stolen or even slightly damaged, then you will have to get in touch with your embassy and see what they can do.
Airlines, hotels, rental car companies, transfers, tour operators… Anything and anyone that is going to be effected by the change in your circumstances make sure you let them know.
Cancellation and refund policies vary quite significantly when it comes to travel, but the sooner you let people know the easier it will be to address.
All In All…
Of course, any kind of disaster whether it’s a broken finger, a lost passport, or a global pandemic is the last thing you want to think about when you’re exploring the world, but these things can and do happen from time to time.
The best thing you can do is prepare for them, and keep in mind what you need to do should they happen.
The most important thing to look out for, regardless of what happens, is your personal safety. And remember provided you’re insured for both your health and your belongings, you’ll be ok on the other side.
Travel Disaster FAQ’s
Stay where it’s safe. Let your family and/or friends know the situation. Get in touch with your travel insurance company. Stay Calm.
Make sure you have travel insurance. Let family and/or friends know your travel plans. Let your government know if travelling internationally. And also keep multiple copies of important travel documents with you.
You’ll need to double-check the fine print of your travel insurance policy, but in most cases, travel insurance covers medical costs, loss and damage of property (up to a certain value) and repatriation.
I really hope that you are never in a position to have to use these tips during your travels, but as I said earlier its much better to be prepared.
For more travel tips, make sure you check out the rest of my blog posts as well.