Travel emergency tips (Prepare & deal with an emergency abroad)

Travel emergency tips (Prepare & deal with an emergency abroad)

While we are all getting excited about the prospect of being able to travel once again, we must be aware that there are risks associated with travelling. You are in a foreign country, you may not be able to fluently speak the langue of the country that you are visiting, and you are far away from your family and friends who are your support base. Experiencing a travel emergency is a real risk.

It is important to know that there are some travel emergency tips that can help you manage these stressful situations appropriately.

What is a travel emergency?

The definition of a travel emergency is wide but can basically defined as an emergency situation that you would face at home.

The challenge is that you are in a foreign country which may mean that you are away from your support base. You may not be fluent in the language that is spoken at your destination, and you do not have the same legal protections that local citizens have.

Types of travel emergencies

While travel emergencies are rare, they are not uncommon or unheard of. It is important that travelers are aware of the various emergencies that they face and the likelihood that they will occur.

Types of Medical EmergenciesDescriptionExamples
Medical travel emergency A medical travel emergency is when a traveller has a medical emergency while travelling abroadFood poisoning, being involved in a car accident, getting injured while participating in an activity such as skiing or scuba diving.
Visa travel emergency A visa travel emergency is an emergency that a traveller has regarding their visaTheir visa runs out while they are in their travel location, the country that they are travelling to changes their visa rules while you are in transit, there is a delay in processing visas for the country you are visiting.
Natural disaster travel emergency A natural disaster emergency is an emergency that involves a natural disasterMonsoons, hurricanes, volcano eruption, tsunami, earthquake, wildfires, floods.
Financial travel emergencyA financial travel emergency is when a traveller encounters financial problems when travellingPickpocketing, hackers accessing bank accounts through cybercrime, hackers cleaning out a travellers bank account.
Flight travel emergencyA flight travel emergency is an emergency that involves airline travel to, from or within your travel destinationMiss or delayed flight, accident, cancelled flights
Political travel emergencyA political travel emergency is an emergency that results from political unrest in your travel destinationStrike, Coup, War, Civil Unrest.
Criminal travel emergency A criminal travel emergency is when the traveller is a victim of crime in the country that they have travelled toVictim of a crime or arrested overseas, stolen passport, luggage, abduction, pickpocketing
Transport travel emergencyA transport travel emergency is an emergency involving transportation at your travel destinationAccident or break-down
Death travel emergency A death travel emergency involved the death of a loved one while you are travellingFamily member dies at home while you are travelling, friend or family member dies while travelling abroad.

Travel emergency statistics

Types of Medical EmergenciesStatistics
Medical travel emergency Falls and their resulting bone fractures constitute 42% of medical emergencies, and these most commonly tend to generate the most serious problems. Heart attacks and strokes constitute about 22% of overseas medical emergencies. The balance of some 36% of medical emergencies comprises a variety of minor problems, such as cuts, bruises, gastrointestinal disorders and other issues.
Natural disaster travel emergency In 2013, There were 7,963 total non-natural deaths of US citizens traveling abroad during the study period. Of these, 163 (2.0 percent) were disaster-related deaths, involving 19 disaster events in 15 countries. Only two disaster-related events resulted in more than two deaths of US travellers-the 2010 earthquake in Haiti causing 121 fatalities (74.2 percent of disaster deaths), and the 2004 tsunami in Thailand causing 22 fatalities (13.5 percent of disaster deaths). The approximate annual mean death rate for US citizen travellers as a result of disaster events is 0.27 deaths/1 million travellers, compared with 1.4 deaths/1 million residents due to disaster annually within the United States.
Flight travel emergency A 2019 report points out that the incidence of an in-flight medical event was approximately one in 40 flights, averaging 296 medical events per month. Overall, 26% of these incidents were determined to be an emergency, most commonly due to loss of consciousness or suspected cardiovascular events (12%); six of these emergencies were fatal. The most common minor events included syncope and gastrointestinal upset.
Criminal travel emergency The study found that tourists are much more likely to be victimised by property crime and robbery, whereas residents are more likely to be victims of murder and aggravated assault.In most of the attacks (84%), the victim was male, who was alone at the time of the attack. The largest number of victims (47%) was between 25 and 35 years of age. In 94% of the attacks, a weapon was used, mostly a gun (58% of attacks). The largest number of attacks occurred between midnight and 2 a.m. (26% of attacks) and two-thirds of the attacks occurred in alleyways outside the main pedestrian zone.

Common travel disasters & how to avoid them

While the likelihood of experiencing a travel emergency is low, there are certain emergencies that are more common than others.

While the chance of experiencing a natural disaster is low, travellers need to be aware that some natural disasters are seasonal and that travel to destinations that experience these disasters should be avoided during this season.

The Caribbean, Mexico and the east coast of the USA experience hurricanes between June and November. Monsoon season in Asia, which brings about anything from flash floods to significant flooding, occurs any time between June and September.

During winter in the Northern hemisphere, many countries experience blizzards which may cause significant travel delays.

The best way to avoid these disasters is to plan your trip around these seasons. If you are in a destination and there is a likelihood that a natural disaster is on its way, try to get ahead of the disaster. Being forewarned is forearmed.

How to prepare for a travel emergency abroad

It is important to note that we are still in the middle of a heal pandemic, so it is important to stay up to date about any health warnings that are reported form the country that you are travelling to. This kind of reporting has become better since the beginning of the Covid Pandemic.

It’s always good to know a few basic phrases in the native language of the place you’re visiting. Whether you need to ask directions to a hospital or police station, or ask for help, knowing a few words will definitely help. Get a top language app for your phone, or get some handy pocketbooks with useful phrases.

If you have a chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension, make sure that you are wearing your medical bracelet. It is also important that you carry a piece of paper which has the contact number of a family member or friend that is not travelling with you.

Lastly, travel emergencies do occur, so make sure that you purchase travel insurance before your trip.

What you must know before travelling overseas

Outside of being aware of the natural disasters that you may encounter at your destination, and having a few key local phrases handy, there are a few tips that travellers need to know before they travel overseas.

Be aware of the emergency number in the country that you are travelling to. Every country has one and they are purposefully easy to remember.

Be aware of where your hotel/accommodation is located. Familiarise yourself with landmarks and street names that are close to your hotel/accommodation before you depart to avoid emergencies.

Finally, most of the medical emergencies that do occur during travel are caused by food. It is recommended that you do some research into the local cuisine and familiarise yourself with the national dish of the country to make sure that you avoid any food allergies that you may have.

Connectivity is important when travelling overseas. It is important that you purchase a travel sim card and make sure that your emergency contacts at home are aware of that number.

How your embassy can help during a travel emergency

Embassies are regarded as safe havens for foreign nationals and travellers within a specific country. If you do experience an emergency, your embassy can assist with legal and diplomatic assistance if the situation calls for it.

If you are experiencing a natural disaster at your destination, your embassy will be able to assist with evacuation procedures and making sure that tourists from their country are accounted for.

In safety situations, such as civil unrest and terrorist attacks, embassies often act as a secure safe haven during these situations.

Safety tips for international travellers

There are a few important safety tips that every traveller should follow before and during their trip.

Do your research. Get to know your destination in depth before you arrive.

Don’t draw attention to yourself. People who look like they’re from out of town are especially vulnerable to crime, so try to blend in as much as you can.

Make copies of important documents. You never know when you might need a copy of your passport, driver’s license or another form of identification. In some countries, it is not uncommon to be stopped by the police who will ask for these documents.

Keep your friends and family updated. No matter whether you’re going, on an overnight jaunt or a month-long international journey, it’s always a good idea to let friends or family back home know.

Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Don’t let the convenience of Internet access cloud your judgment. When you use public Wi-Fi, hackers looking to steal valuable information can access your data including credit card or Social Security numbers. If you do need wireless Internet service, set up a virtual private network (VPN).

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t let your guard down to snap the perfect picture for your social media platforms. Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times and use good judgment when talking to strangers.

What to do during a travel emergency

The most important step that any person can take during a travel emergency is to remain calm.

If you have been a victim of crime, you should immediately report the incident to the local police. If the situation is serious, inform your local embassy and act on their advice. If there is a security risk, stay at your hotel and ask them to help you contact your embassy.

If you have a medical emergency, make sure first responders or hospital staff/doctors know who your emergency contact is.

Finally, if you have travel insurance, contact your insurer as soon as possible to make sure you are covered for any costs associated with the emergency.

Resources to help you find your embassy while overseas

Make sure that you do research into the contact details of your embassy before you travel to your destination.

In emergency situations, police stations, hospitals and your hotel should all be able to help you get in contact with your embassy.

5 reasons why you need travel insurance

As mentioned earlier in the article, it may be wise to purchase travel insurance before embarking on your vacation.

Travel insurance can assist with:

  • coverage against accidents;
  • unplanned changes of travel plans
  • losing luggage
  • medical emergencies. Domestic healthcare (medical insurance) doesn’t work abroad; and
  • rental car accidents

While you are insuring yourself against an event that hopefully wont occur, the financial implications of facing these emergencies without travel insurance may be significant.

How to stay connected during international trips

It is important to share the itinerary of your trip with family and friends who are not travelling with you. This should include contact details of the hotels that you are staying at. It is also important to check-in with these contacts regularly.

Most hotels offer wifi. It may be free at some hotels and some hotels may charge a fee for using this wifi in your room. If you are making use of public wifi, make sure that you have a VPN app to secure your connection.

There are also significant benefits to having a travel sim card which will help you stay connected.

Finally, carry around the contact details of your emergency contacts on you at all times.

Where to get help during a travel emergency

The most central place to seek assistance during a travel emergency will be at your hotel. They can put you in touch with the relevant emergency service that you need.

If you are not at your hotel, look for your nearest police station or hospital. Alternatively, seek assistance at a restaurant or shop. This is where knowing a few key phrases in the language of your destination helps.

Benefits of maintaining a low profile doing international trips

Being an international traveller puts you at risk for petty crimes such as muggings and pick pocketing. This is generally because you are naturally relaxed and focussed on enjoying your experience.

As you travel into more remote, insular, and higher-risk areas, if you stand out the probability of being targeted by criminals or terrorists increases considerably.

Remember, when you’re travelling to a higher-risk environment you’re entering an area where there are latent threats. There are people out there, in the streets around international hotels, and in bars or other locations, looking for easy targets. Effectively, what you are doing by reducing your profile is deflecting the threat to someone else with a higher profile than you.

5 tips when travelling to high-risk countries

It is important to remember that travel emergencies can take place anywhere. However, there are a few countries where the risk of a travel emergency is higher.

Here are some key tips to stay safe:

  • research the safety of your intended destination with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade;
  • at all times, carry your embassy’s contact details with you;
  • for up-to-date information on ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ areas of the city, consult with your hotel manager or local tourist information officer;
  • try to blend in with the locals and avoid looking or acting like a tourist;
  • if you are mugged, don’t fight back. It is better to lose cash and personal effects than get injured.

Travel emergency FAQ’s

  • What is the first thing I should du during a travel emergency?
    It is important that you remain calm and seek the assistance of the relevant emergency service that can assist you.
  • If I do not know the number for my embassy, how can I get in touch with them?
    Your hotel should be able to help you get in touch with your embassy in emergency situations?
  • Is travel insurance important?
    Travel insurance is important and is a requirement in some countries. It helps offset the financial implications associated with a travel emergency.
  • What is the most common travel emergency?
    Medical emergencies associated with food are the most common travel emergencies that you could encounter.
  • Will the language barrier be a problem during a travel emergency?

English, even if it is basic, is spoken in most countries. However, it is recommended that you learn a few key phrases in the language of the destination that you are travelling to. Alternatively, make use of  a travel app that can assist you.