Harvey. Irma. Jose. Katia. In the last two weeks, these hurricanes have become household names, largely for the havoc they either have reaped or could possibly reap in the coming days. Most travelers know that it is hurricane season in the Caribbean, but natural disasters have the opportunity to happen everywhere, the world over. There are certain steps that travelers can take to plan before traveling to a natural disaster area. Here are some tips. Disclaimer: These are personal tips and are not endorsed by any emergency or crisis prevention entity.
These are tips born of experience. Having narrowly escaped a Cat-5 hurricane, I can attest that it can be very tense. Mind you, you can’t predict every natural disaster. Earthquakes are totally unpredictable…or are they? Did you know that certain areas—largely the ring of fire—are areas where earthquakes (and thus tsunamis) are more prone. These are areas like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the western coast of South America, and, of course, the west coast of the U.S. So even though you can’t see an earthquake coming, you can have an idea of what to do if one happens if you are traveling (or living) in those areas. Like, for example, having an earthquake kit is key, like this one that is similar to the one I have: Ready America 70280 Emergency Kit, 2-Person, 3-Day Backpack
I will write another installment on what to do when faced with a natural disaster. But luckily there were some things that I did ahead of time to prepare myself for potential issues.
Know the area you are visiting and when it is disaster prone
Look so the ring of fire can get earthquakes anytime. But other natural disasters tend to have seasons. Hurricane season in the Caribbean is technically June through November of every year, usually heating up in August. The Pacific typhoon season is May to October. In the U.S., tornados usually strike the Midwest in the spring, from March to June. During those times, you want to consider where you travel and take precautions, or simply choose another destination.
Get travel insurance and know what it covers
Get travel insurance. Get travel insurance. GET TRAVEL INSURANCE! Travel insurance is a necessity no matter if you are traveling to a disaster-prone area or not. But it is also certainly important during those times as well. But the key to travel insurance is to know what it covers. While many plans cover medical expenses (make sure your plan does and has high maximums), other things should be considered. Trip interruption may be one way, where if you have to get out or your trip is interrupted, you can recover some of the funds spent. Medical evacuation is also super important, as if you need to be airlifted to a hospital in the U.S. when you are outside the country, this can be quite costly. Some even have terrorism and political evacuation stipulations as well. In the event of a natural disaster, medical evacuation (if you suffer an injury), medical insurance, and trip interruption insurance could come particularly in handy, especially if plane tickets out of the area are expensive. I have an annual plan that covers international travel, and it is definitely an investment worth thinking about if you travel quite a bit.
Know your escape route
Before you go to an area, you want to do some research on your escape route. Look, if you are going to an island and a storm hits, your primary (read: only) option is going to be to fly out, so your escape routes are going to be limited. But you can still do research before you go. Know the various airlines that fly into and out of your destination, and research routes. Know the frequency of flights and have backup options written down. Most flights out of the Caribbean before Irma flew into Miami. There are a lot of flights in and out of Miami International, but they are supposed to take a hit this weekend by the very same storm. These are things and factors to consider. What other airports can you fly into? What are airline hubs? American Airlines, which flies largely into the Caribbean, has their major hub in Dallas. And JetBlue makes frequent flights from the Caribbean to NYC. It may not be ideal, but if the goal is to get out, well, the goal is to get out.
Establish communication with your travel specialist before you go
If you are using a travel agent or booking a group trip, chat with the operator before you go to see if they have any additional information. Also, find out what the procedures and steps to take are in the event that something does happen and you need to reach them urgently.
Register with STEP
I have written about registering with STEP, the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program, created by the State Department. I try to register with them whenever I leave the country so that if something happens or a threat is imminent, then they know where I am and can reach out to me. Read more here.
Have resources and money to get out
This is a big one. Folks, why are people out here traveling these international streets broke? I went on a trip with people who barely had money to eat and pay for accommodations, and had to rely on paychecks coming through while on vacation. I couldn’t help but thinking: If there was an emergency, how the hell are they going to get out? Or even simpler, if they missed a flight, how would they pay for another flight out? If I can help it, I won’t be traveling with people who are that hard up for money. Always have room on a credit card or a nice chunk of change in your bank account in case you need to suddenly get home.
Update your apps and check your email
Many times, your airline will try to contact you by email or by the phone app to alert you of potential issues. Make sure you have up-to-date versions, and good connection to be checking.
Send several people your full itinerary and make copies
If I am going somewhere with the potential to not have great wifi or phone connection, I always make sure to print out confirmations. But I also make, before every trip, that I email my itinerary to family and close friends so they know my flights, location, hotel, and other pertinent information. This can be helpful if you need someone to attempt to get you on a flight out if you are having trouble yourself, or just need a second person making calls.
These are just a few things you should do as preparation before you embark on a trip to a destination that may be prone to natural disasters. Remember, better safe than sorry.