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What to Do in an Emergency Situation Abroad


From natural disasters to terrorism, emergencies often affect travelers around the world. Here’s how to avoid them and what to do if you do find yourself in danger.

Terror attacks are a harrowing reminder of the dangers to which traveling can sometimes expose us. Places like Paris, Beirut, Brussels, and Bangkok are only a fraction of the tourist-filled city to experience attacks or high terror alerts recently. Travelers often cancel their flight or hotel reservations when threats increase, many losing a lot of money if they booked without travel insurance. That, however, is a small price to pay compared to the worst-case scenario.

RELATED: What the Paris Attacks Mean for Travel

Here’s how you can prepare for, respond to, and prevent the travel consequences of events like this one from affecting you.

Know Your Options

Look into emergency phone numbers and the embassy’s contact information before you leave on your trip. Keep them both saved in your phone and written down somewhere easily accessible, and know how to ask for help and give your location in the native language. If you don’t know the local emergency phone number or basic emergency phrases, you could end up playing phone tag during a crisis like this Airbnb user recently did. It’s crucial be able to contact local authorities immediately should you find yourself in a life-threatening situation. Once the situation is diffused, notify your embassy of the incident and of your status.

RELATED: Emergency Numbers Around The World

Be Informed

It’s unlikely tourists know they’re putting themselves in danger by visiting their destination. However, in other countries, certain dangerous areas should be avoided, especially during times of unrest. For example, visiting certain public squares hosting protests could make tourists very vulnerable. Do your research before traveling, and keep up with the news while you are there. You never know what could arise.

Receive Travel Alerts

The Department of State stays in contact with U.S. citizens traveling abroad about crises ranging from strikes to natural disasters and attacks. If needed, they can provide departure or evacuation assistance. In order to receive these alerts, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, providing a phone number or email address you know you’ll have access to while you’re traveling.

RELATED: Five Travel Apps That Could Save Your Life

Buy Travel Insurance

Probably the most under-utilized travel resource, buying travel insurance before you depart could end up saving you thousands—even hundreds of thousands— of dollars. Policies vary in cost and coverage, but some packages could cost as low as a few dollars per day. They can include everything from a stolen laptop or emergency hotel cancellation to medical care (or evacuation) and accidental death. Be sure to get all the specifics of the policy before you buy. It’s better to be safe than sorry—no one ever expects a travel emergency to happen to them.

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A former news reporter, Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about travel news, trends, and advice. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.

(Top photo: Thinkstock, iStock)

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