What to do if disaster strikes while you’re overseas?

What to do if disaster strikes while you're overseas?

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 hard to deal with.

But travel ‘disasters’ aren’t limited to things that make headline news – it can be simple things like getting your wallet or passport stolen, or missing a connecting flight. Disasters come in all shapes and sizes and affect everyone differently.

As for me personally, I was in London (Russell Square more specifically) during the London Bombings in 2006, and I’ve had family in Cairo during the Egypt Civil Riots in 2011, so I’ve been on both sides of large scale disasters – and neither was easy.

I’ve also been with friends on travels who have had issues at home, had wallets and passports stolen, and lost luggage… so, unfortunately, I’ve had plenty of experience to draw on.

So, based on my experience, here’s my advice and tips on how to prevent any travel disasters, as well as how to deal with them should any arise:

What you should do before you leave?

Although no disaster can be predicted, the best way to deal with them is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

A little bit of preparation goes a long, long way… so here are a few simple things you can do to prepare, that can make a world of difference when it comes to your trip:

Travel Insurance

I can’t stress this enough; when we travel, we’re likely to have far more valuables on us than we ever will in ordinary life – passport, wallet, phone, laptop, headphones, camera, clothes, accessories, and more – often all packed into just one or two bags.

Not only does this make us a huge target for thieves, but also makes us very vulnerable should there be any issues with luggage, both on the journey there, or the journey back. Never ever travel without travel insurance – both to cover health issues and your belongings.

Like with any insurance, you probably won’t need it. You may have even travelled a million times before without it, but that doesn’t matter. A simple slip off the pavement can be a broken ankle, or a slip of concentration can lead to a broken camera or stolen wallet – if you do end up needing it but don’t have it, you’ll be in a world of trouble.

And for how little it costs, and the fact that it can be purchased online in minutes, it’s a no-brainer. So, before you go, get insured.

Inform Your Government

Many governments (I know Australia, Canada, the UK and US do) offer a traveller registration service so they know where to find their citizens should there be a disaster 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.

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.

Tell at least 3 people back home where you’re going before you go, and update them at least once a day on your location.

Take Extra Copies of Important Documents

As well as bringing the real thing, a spare photocopy can get you out of trouble should anything go missing.

Bring a photocopy of your passport, important bank cards, and any bookings and tickets with you. You should 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.

Learn The Safe Spots

Before you go, it’s also a good idea to find out where the safe sports or help and information centres are located, just in case anything goes wrong.

Find out where your country’s embassy is at each destination you’re travelling to, find out where the nearest tourist information centres, police stations and hospitals are.

Whether they’re screenshots on your phone or printed on paper, keep three or four key places at hand (and off by heart if you can), just so you know exactly where to go should disaster strike – big or small.

What you should do if disaster strikes?

So, despite whatever precautions you may have taken, many disastrous events are unpreventable. As mentioned earlier, the scale of a disaster can vary hugely, so it’s best to use your judgement on which of these to follow when something goes wrong.

Let People Know

Depending on the scale of the issue, modern internet media coverage usually means these things get back to your family within hours, or even 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 you’re safe.

The worst thing for those who care about you is to hear something terrible has happened before hearing anything from you. And if anything goes wrong that’s more personal to you – i.e. your stuff being stolen, an injury, or illness – let people know as well.

Although you might be thinking, if they don’t know about it, it won’t worry them, if they find out after you’ve come home, it will only make them worry about hiding it next time you travel. And should you need anyone to fly over for support, or transfer some money so you can get home, it’s best that they’re 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 out of your control, or a serious medical emergency, if you’re able to, let you travel insurer know as soon as possible.

The policy might say you’re covered by all of these things, but many travel insurers only agree to provide financial support after they’ve been told about these issues.

So don’t go rescheduling your flight or getting patched up by doctors unless your insurer has heard about it, and has approved that they’re willing to cover you for this.

Let All The Others Know

As well as telling 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 relevant.

For example, if your wallet is stolen, contact your bank to cancel the cards. If your passport was stolen, get in touch with your embassy and see what they can do. If your valuables are covered by accidental damage, or your belongings are covered under your home contents insurance, get in touch with any relevant companies or organisations and let them know the situation as soon as possible.

All in all…

Of course, any kind of disaster – whether it’s a broken finger, a lost passport, or a natural disaster that affects the globe – is the last thing you want to think about when you’re exploring the world, but these things do happen.

The best thing you can do is prepare for them, and keep in mind what 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 likely be fine.

Travel Disaster FAQ’s

What should you do after a disaster strikes?

Stay where it’s safe. Let your family and/or friends know the situation. Get in touch with your travel insurance company. Stay Calm.

What you should do before you leave?

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.

Does travel insurance cover acts of god?

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.

Have you had any mishaps on holiday? What do you do to stay in control, and make sure you’re safe whilst away from home? Drop a comment below to let us know!

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About the Author: Rhys Vandersyde

Traveler, Photographer, Content Creator. I've spent the last 10 years exploring all over the world, but there is still plenty more to see.

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