What to do when disaster strikes abroad

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Travel is both an exciting luxury and a necessity of modern global life. It may be something that we aspire to, plan for and save towards for a long time. It may be part of our job requirements. Or we may be part of the increasingly nomadic lifestyle for people to experience life living and working abroad, far from family and friends back home. Whatever it is, the huge majority of us will spend a significant portion of our lives in transit.

In doing so, we pay careful attention to what to pack, where to stay, making sure our tickets, passport, travel itinerary and booking documents are all to hand. We make sure we have arrangements in place for airport transfers and holiday accident claims. We pride ourselves on being safe and conscientious travellers, ever mindful to the risks and challenges of traversing the globe in search of adventure, inspiration, that next big contract, or even love.

Even with all this preparation, the last thing on our minds is what to do in an overseas emergency. As unpleasant as the prospect seems when you’re more focused on your ambitions for an overseas internship or even just that cute travel capsule wardrobe on Pinterest, it is worth making sure you have a plan in case the worst really does occur.

There is always the possibility that something terrible could happen when you’re far from home, in a country you don’t know well and possibly don’t speak the language. Depending on where in the world you plan to travel the risks are variously likely – from natural disasters like earthquakes, flooding or the wildfires seen in Europe and the U.S last summer, to the political turmoil of locations such as Venezuela or even some personal bad luck such as having an accident, falling seriously ill or becoming victim to a crime. Distasteful as it is to think about, bad things do sometimes happen to good people despite their best efforts. Plain bad luck can happen to anyone. It’s not that you should let these possibilities affect your desire to travel, but it is definitely a good idea  to think about simple precautions and planning for potential emergency situations before your departure date. Being a little prepared could be something your future self is very thankful for, and a little forward planning may well save your trip if a worst case scenario should happen to unfold.

Make An Emergency Plan

Preparation is your best form of defence against the unforeseen events of an illness, injury, crime or natural disaster. In these scenarios, your position as a traveller and someone new to the country, who may not even speak the language, can make you extremely vulnerable. Prepare a travel emergency planning document that you can share with others, stored in the cloud via Google Docs or a similar service. If you are in the country for a work placement, ask your programme director or employer what plans they may already have in place. Similarly, if it’s a pleasure trip and you’re going with a tour company, they will also have contingency plans in place, especially for countries of known risk. Arrange with your family back home how you will contact them in an emergency and what your plans are, as well as providing them with details of your employer, accommodation and rough travel schedule. They may need these to be able to track you down in an emergency situation. It’s also worth letting them know your flight details and passport number.

Notify Your Embassy

For any lengthy stay over a couple of weeks, it’s worth registering yourself at the Embassy in your host location. This ensures they are aware of your location and how to contact you or your relatives should the need arise. It’s a good idea to bookmark the Embassy web pages as well, as they will be best placed to give updates regarding political conditions, travel into and out of the country and other vital information. In most cases, you can also register online quickly and easily, and this is especially worth doing if you’re going somewhere in a state of upheaval or where the threat of incidents like kidnap is high, such as parts of South Africa or Mexico.

Memorise The Essentials

It may sound archaic in a world of digital messaging and the like, but it’s always a great idea to commit your key information to memory. After all, if a disaster really does happen you could easily run out of battery on your device or not be able to get reception or Wi-Fi. It’s a good idea to learn the address of your accommodation off by heart, a contact telephone number, especially if you have a colleague or a teacher there or any relatives, and also your passport number in case something happens to the document.

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