What To Do If A Natural Disaster Occurs While You Are On Vacation

As both the severity and frequency of natural disasters increase, so too does our awareness as travelers. Even if you are headed somewhere in a disaster off-season, there's nothing to stop the unexpected from happening. More and more natural disasters are taking place all over the world and some things like tsunamis, tornadoes or earthquakes can have very little or no warning.

Knowing that these kinds of weather phenomena exist shouldn't stop you from visiting a place, however, it's advantageous to have an idea of what to do in the event of an emergency. The knowledge can help you both at home and while traveling abroad. A little preparedness can go a long way, especially since so few other travelers know what to do in an unpredictable situation. Here are a few easy ways to protect yourself and your travel companions no matter what happens and no matter where in the world you are when (or if) a natural disaster occurs.

Find shelter

In the event of a natural disaster, before you do anything else, you need to find safety. If you're out in the streets, find a place to take shelter until the immediate threats pass. If you're hiding out somewhere that is already a safe shelter, stay there until you have to leave. Not taking shelter right away is one of the ways people end up injured or dead during a natural disaster. So be aware of your surroundings and get somewhere that will keep you safe, stat! 

One way to help ensure your safety is to look up resources in the area, especially if you get any warning before a natural disaster strikes. Safe shelter for an earthquake could be different for a hurricane and vice versa. If you have the time, find easily digestible resources with organizations like The Red Cross that can help you plan your next move.

If you're staying in a hotel, check with the employees to see what advice the property is giving as well. Many times, especially in hurricane-prone areas, there are steps in place to protect guests. The staff can also let you know if there are things the hotel will provide during an emergency, like bottled water or food. Knowing that will help you figure out what you need to get for yourself and your travel companions to stay safe during an emergency.

Try to stay calm

Panic and chaos are going to be all around you regardless of the type of natural disaster taking place. That said, you need to try and stay calm. Keeping your cool under this kind of dangerous pressure will help preserve your safety and also that of the folks around you. Staying calm is also the best way to stay safe in difficult situations. Try to remember that you, as a tourist, along with the locals, are all in this together. Everyone needs a little kindness in times of difficulty.

When a natural disaster occurs, the safety of everyone depends on everyone else. Help where you can but also be willing to accept help when you need it. By working together, everyone can keep spirits up, keep hope alive and stay safe.

Always listen to the folks in charge as well. There are usually preparations in place, especially on hotel properties, for most kinds of disasters. Following the guidance of those in charge of the situation will help keep you safe, as well as everyone around you.

Turn on Find My Phone

Particularly before you leave the area you're in, be sure to turn on your geolocating or use the Find My Phone application on your cellphone. Doing so will help folks, like your loved ones, find you in case you were to go missing in the chaos of the disaster. It can also help emergency services find you if you are trapped somewhere.

Having the geolocator on your phone may even help you reunite with it if you lose it in the chaos of an evacuation. The same goes for any other locators you or people in your group may have, like Airtags on your luggage or smartwatches.

Having a charged phone battery can also help you get in touch with emergency services if you're in danger. Phones can be a great distractor in certain circumstances, but in a natural disaster, they could very well save your life. A flashlight or noise from the phone could help rescuers locate you or a phone call could help someone get to you more quickly if you're stuck. Just be sure ahead of your trip that your data plan allows for the Find My Phone feature while you're traveling internationally. Not all carriers support it.

Be safe and listen for updates

No matter where you end up in a shelter, try to find a way to stay up to the minute with updates. Listening to the news will help you make a plan for the next steps. It'll also keep you informed about things like contaminated water or evolving dangerous scenarios. Public safety folks will let you know when it's safe to leave an area and when the disaster situation is over. It can also let you know what evacuation routes, if any, are available to you when it's safe to leave your shelter.

Do not leave your safe area until you've been given the go-ahead by authorities. Just because the imminent danger like a tornado or tsunami has passed, it's possible that ongoing threats still remain. Fires, gas leaks, or other kinds of threats can be an issue for days or weeks, depending on the scenario. You don't want to avoid the first danger just to get overtaken by another one. Listen carefully during the fallout of a disaster because the severity will impact your ability to leave the premises or get back home.

Update your luggage tags

As soon as you can, update your luggage or belongings with as much contact information as you can. Just in case you and your belongings are separated, the more information you provide, the higher the chance you'll be reunited with your stuff. Obviously, your possessions are less important than safety, so you should assume your luggage will not return to you. Even so, updating your contact information is a quick and easy way to help keep your stuff with you or have it linked to you in case you get separated.

Even after an emergency situation, having updated luggage tags is an important part of travel preparedness. Luggage is frequently lost by airlines and without updated or accurate tags, you could very well never get your suitcases back. Even if it seems like a silly thing to do during an emergency, taking a quick moment when you are safe to jot down more contact information could benefit you in the long run.

Get what you need

If you are given any time to prepare ahead of a disaster, like a quickly forming hurricane, try to stock up on any essentials you might need. Only buy as much as you and your travel companions will need for the duration of the storm to save essentials for everyone. Stock up on bottled water, non-perishables, batteries, a flashlight, and a first aid kit for a makeshift emergency supply. Many of the things you might need would even be available in a hotel gift shop.

This is another reason why you should check in with hotel staff before heading to the store to buy supplies. Hotels, especially in disaster-prone regions, often provide meals and water for guests when they're stuck on the premises. Knowing what will be provided to you will help alleviate the need to stock up on everything. It will also help you plan out your days to know when and where food will be offered in the case of a lockdown from a natural disaster. 

Keep valuables with you

Based on the assumption that you do not have your luggage and will not have your luggage with you during the chaos of the disaster, keep all of your valuables on your person at all times. That includes your travel documents! You'll also want to hold on to your cash, jewelry, medications, and anything else you absolutely cannot part with. Use the carry-on rules of thumb to decide what is the most important.

Items that traditionally need to go into your carry-on luggage are things you don't want to risk losing. Be sure you aren't keeping too many things with you because it can impede your ability to move quickly out of an area. Try to set aside extra clothes and other things that can keep you comfortable for however long you need to stay sheltered. Be sure to listen to authorities to find out any information you might need to know when bringing a bag. They may have a limit of luggage items per person, so take that into consideration.

Double-check your insurance coverage

Whether you have travel insurance or not, knowing what your personal insurance covers is an important part of picking up the pieces during a natural disaster. Home or rental insurance, for example, often covers electronics or other valuables that may be lost or broken during a disaster, even if you're traveling. Other insurance types usually don't cover things like natural disasters, because they're considered "acts of God."

Credit cards used for booking travel also sometimes have certain built-in travel insurance qualities that might help with things like canceled airfare or a prolonged hotel stay. Most credit card coverages can be found in an easily digestible form on their mobile app, making it much easier to know what is covered and what isn't.

Check your health insurance policies as well, just in case you need medical attention during the disaster and post-disaster timelines. Many countries have universal care and will help you no matter what, but that's not guaranteed in every part of the world. Taking a moment to pull up your coverage can help with a post-disaster piece of mind. It can also make it easier to decide what needs to come with you during an evacuation or not.

Contact the embassy

Getting in touch with the U.S. embassy when you're abroad is the best thing to do in the event of a disaster. They can help get you out of the country and keep you advised on what steps need to be taken next. Even if you did not sign up for their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) the embassy can still help you out, they just won't have your itinerary at hand to help unless you contact them first.

Once you get in touch with the embassy, they can send travel advisories or alerts for the area you are in. The embassy can help you advocate for assistance during and after an emergency, which is especially important if you don't speak the language in the part of the world you are in. Embassies and consulates exist around the world to help their fellow citizens, so don't be afraid to reach out to them in an emergency abroad.

Hop on social media

It might sound silly, but posting on social media is a fast way of letting your loved ones know you're OK. It's also possible that you and your companions won't be able to get in touch via text message or phone call but could potentially contact one another on social media. Sites like Facebook even have safety check-ins during major disasters to easily help users let their loved ones know that they are safe.

Getting in touch with loved ones online is also a great way to help get you back home safely. If your loved ones can help arrange for you to travel home or get you the additional help you may need, that's a burden off of you in an emergency situation. It will also lessen the number of contacts being made to the local embassy or consulate if you're out of the United States. That way, those organizations stay focused on helping connect folks with loved ones that haven't checked in yet and may be missing.

Find the appropriate hazard info sheet

If you have access to the internet, try finding the appropriate hazard information sheet on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website. Each sheet will have a list of things to consider, depending on the kind of natural disaster you're facing. Whether it means avoiding non-bottled water because of probable contamination or being careful with downed electrical wires, the sheets are an easy resource to download.

If a natural disaster, like a hurricane, has some period of warning, download the hazard info sheets immediately. Save them someplace safe on your mobile devices and be sure to share them with your travel companions so everyone is on the same page. Do the same with any necessary medical information for yourself or your travel companions in the language of the country you're in, just in case you need to relay information quickly and accurately in the chaos of an emergency.

Pack mindfully

In an emergency situation, you may have to grab a few items and evacuate quickly. Each person's necessities will be different, but try to stay calm when grabbing your things. Be sure to grab an extra shirt, some underwear and socks, and extra pants, if you can. Grab your valuables and any bottled water you may have with you.

Don't forget any medications you need, too! Rather than taking the time to count out how many you think you'll need, bring all of them with you and the prescription info if you have it on the bottle or elsewhere in case you need to contact someone about a refill. Assume you won't be going back to the place you've been staying and grab necessities accordingly.

If you have children or babies with you, be sure to bring whatever dietary things they have and need, as well as whatever favorite toy they brought along. Keeping the kiddo with their beloved toy will help keep them calm during the situation, which is of the utmost importance in keeping them safe.

Do your homework ahead of time

When it comes to natural disaster preparedness, knowledge really is power. If you're traveling somewhere hurricane-prone during hurricane season, you should be ready to deal with the fallout of a dangerous storm. Consider traveling during the safest seasons, rather than during off-seasons, which can sometimes be danger prone. Or, if you plan on risking the trip anyway during disaster season, be prepared to deal with potential disasters.

Having info sheets in the language of the place you're visiting to explain any medical or dietary needs you have will help in an emergency or even in everyday interactions. Pack duplicates of documents and have images of them saved to your cellphone. Know what insurance coverage you have and if you're traveling during storm season, consider buying travel insurance to further protect yourself, your loved ones, and your possessions.

Perhaps most importantly, dedicate one of your bags to emergency supplies to keep your necessary accommodation at the ready. Consider repacking a backpack with some extra clothes, those document duplicates, and anything else you don't need day to day but might need to grab in a hurry. In the moment, you'll be grateful you did a little preparation. Even the smallest amount of stress in an emergency can be completely overwhelming, so take a deep breath and do what you can to prepare ahead of time.