Sonali Deraniyagala lost her husband, children and parents in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The grief overwhelmed her. The Guardian reported, “On Boxing Day she looked out of her hotel room window and noticed that the sea was behaving a bit oddly. Just that. It had come further up the beach than before. What she was seeing was in fact the first sign of the wave—she didn’t yet know the word tsunami, few of us did—that would in the minutes that followed sweep away all of the life she knew. She would be carried on that water for nearly 2 miles inland, survive only by clinging to the branch of a tree, and it would claim the lives of her husband, Steve Lissenburgh, then 40, her two young sons, Vikram, seven, and Nikhil, five, and those of her parents, who were staying in the room next door.”

Sonali survived, mostly out of sheer luck, but how often have people travelled and never given any thought to the unthinkable occurring? All too often, vacations are interrupted by small and large “things that happen.” If something does happen, the best way to stay on course with your vacation and survive comes down to some basic planning.

Before you travel, take a look at the local area, including weather patterns, where local hospitals are located, what types of emergency services are available and, if you’re taking a foreign trip, the location of your local embassy or consulate. Write down or create an emergency information card that you keep with you when you travel. Give family members or friends your complete itinerary, including phone numbers and the details of where you are staying.

Emergency Kit

First, communication is key, so make sure you have chargers for cell phones. Try to keep your phones fully charged all day. If travelling internationally, contact your cell-phone company and ask about adding international phone service for the duration of your trip, or consider buying a local prepaid cell phone that you can carry around for emergencies. Just as important, make sure you have any applicable phone numbers with you.

Having a first-aid kit or some medical supplies can help triage small or even potentially large injuries. You can either buy a kit or make one yourself. Pack a triangular bandage, Band-Aids, rubber gloves, medical tape and gauze bandages.

Keep some food and water readily available, even if it’s just energy bars. As the people victimized by the 2004 tsunami unfortunately found out, especially in foreign countries, food and water can become scarce quickly. Light is also important and having a flashlight or flashlights with you, including extra batteries, will be a huge morale and safety boost in an emergency.

Survival Instincts

After you arrive, walk around the area and take in the layout. Make sure you identify the ingress and egress routes from your room, your hotel and the local area. Try to take in who is hanging around and the layout of the vicinity. If you are traveling with friends or family, identify at least two rendezvous locations outside of the hotel where you can meet up if forced to evacuate the hotel. Identify a site that’s close and one that’s a little further away. It’s also a good idea to have maps readily available that identify hospital locations, police and fire stations and any other emergency aid locations. If you are in a hurricane or flood evacuation zone, trace the evacuation route away from the area to get an idea of where you’ll end up. 

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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