Travel Safe: Be Prepared for Emergencies Abroad

March 16, 2011

After everything we’ve seen in Japan this week, it’s clear that you can’t plan ahead for every scenario. There are travelers there who arrived hoping to enjoy the food and culture and beauty of the country, who are now doing whatever they can to reroute their itineraries or just go home.

When you’re getting ready for a trip though, there are some things you can do to help yourself be safe and prepared for small but annoying travel issues, like having your wallet stolen, as well as bigger issues, like health problems or an overthrow of the local government.

The things you can or should do will depend on if you’re planning a weekend at the beach or three months backpacking Southeast Asia, but here are a few ideas to start with.

1.¬† Make sure someone at home has your itinerary. Give them your flight times, names of places you’re staying, contact information for friends you’re visiting, anything that can help them locate you if something happens at home and you’re needed back or if something happens where you are and your friends or family want to check on you.

2. Check with your mobile phone carrier to see if you’ll be able to text from your destination. You may not want to rack up huge charges to tell friends where you ate lunch, but it’s good to know that you can contact someone back home in an emergency and let them know where you are.

3. If you’re travelling alone, or going to a volatile area, let the local embassy know. You can visit the Registration of Canadians Abroad to file your itinerary online. Even if you don’t do that, you should write down the addresses and phone numbers of embassies near your destinations just in case you need them. An embassy can help you if you lose your passport, need medical attention, get arrested or are involved in an accident. See a list of Canadian embassies around the world.

4. Have a backup plan. Sometimes you might arrive in a small town and find that all the hostels are full. Or maybe the train you were expecting to take doesn’t run on Sundays. Advance research and booking (at least a day or two ahead) is best, but if you really want to be spontaneous, then you should have a couple of extra options in the back of your mind at all times.

5. Take some water with you every morning. Maybe the worst thing that happens all day is that it’s hotter than you expected and you don’t want to pay $4 for a drink. Or maybe you’re on a train or bus that breaks down and you’re stuck for a few hours. Don’t let dehydration add to your troubles.

6. Keep a couple of granola bars or some trail mix with you for the same reasons.

7. A mini first-aid kit with bandaids, aspirin, and anything you can’t go 24 hours without (eye drops, inhaler or other medications) should be kept in your daypack.

8. Keep an emergency cash stash. Foreign ATMs don’t always work the way you want them to. Wallets get lost or stolen. Some forms of transportation have to be paid in cash. So whenever possible, keep a little cash tucked away for emergencies only. This isn’t cash you use to buy another drink at the pub, it’s cash you save for when you’re lost at 2 a.m. and need to get in a cab.

9. Keep your eyes open and your traveller’s Spidey-sense on. Always be aware of your surroundings, or designate one of the people in your group to stay the sane and sober one. As soon as something feels off to you, go back to a main road, a well-lit area, a different hostel, whatever it takes for you to feel safe again.

Travelling should be an adventure to enjoy, not a hardship to endure. Stay prepared and you’ll have a better chance that the memories you create are happy ones.

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