Travel Disasters - Be Prepared - My Family Travels

Safeguard your family from natural disasters while traveling by being prepared for any unexpected emergencies that may come your way.

For the year 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts between 12-17 named storms including 5-8 hurricanes — and 2-3 are expected to become major hurricanes of category 3 or higher.

Questions have arisen about what to do when disaster strikes while traveling. Do you still travel to the desired location if it isn't the pristine environment you had envisioned? And what happens in an emergency while you're away from home? Read on and you just might find some useful information when planning your next trip.

Insure Your Investment

Many people plan their trips on their own, through the use of travel websites (such as this one), or with professional travel guides. However, if you're worried about something going wrong and not getting your money back, plan ahead and buy travel insurance or use a travel agent. This may sound expensive and unnecessary, but if disaster strikes, you'll be happy you have it.

In the case of natural disasters and random occurrences such as hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and even civil wars, hotels and airlines will often try to avoid reimbursing their clients by using the "God card." These events are considered acts of God and uncontrollable. Therefore, airlines and hotels are within their legal rights to deny refunds to consumers. Travel insurance is an ideal way to ensure a full refund if a hurricane is heading toward your tropical hotspot, or a tornado takes out your Kansas hotel.

Keep in mind that many travel insurance policies have a buried Named Event clause. If a hurricane or tropical storm has already been named, travelers are not entitled to a refund. Shop around for a policy that covers you and your family — no matter the natural disaster's name.

Leave it to the Professionals

Travel agencies are also skilled at getting money back for their clients, especially if the client is pulling their weight on their end of the phone line. If both you and your travel agent are campaigning to get your money back, you're much more likely to be reimbursed. Sometimes larger travel agencies will also reimburse you themselves if the hotel or airline refuse to cough up the cash.

But even with the most aggressive efforts, some companies might refuse to give you your money back. In this situation, try for the next best thing: A replacement vacation. Like getting a store credit on a returned item, a replacement vacation is just as valuable. Maybe this year's vacation was ruined by tropical storm Floyd, but you can always enjoy the beaches of South Padre Island next month or even next year. It also helps to appeal to a travel agent's softer side when requesting a refund. Sometimes, your harrowing tale of a lost vacation may pull on the heartstrings of seemingly robotic humanoids on the other end of the line.

Coping with Disaster on the Road

If disaster hits while you're traveling, your first priority is the safety of your family. In most cases, if an unexpected emergency occurs while traveling, it's best to head home before things get out of hand, even if means forgoing your trip and losing out on some of your money.

The American Red Cross recommends making a Disaster Plan including at least two meeting places to meet in case of an emergency. One location should be somewhere other than your hotel — the emergency could be that your hotel is on fire. During natural disasters, groups tend to get separated and channels of communication are often down. If there isn't a prearranged safe meeting place for your family, it may take hours, or even days, to locate everyone.

Also keep a hard copy of important phone numbers instead of relying on your cell phone in case your only means of communication are pay phones and land lines. Specify your "ICE", or In Case of Emergency contact, in advance and a list of your travel companions. If anyone is hurt or missing, the appropriate people can be contacted. And if you're traveling in a foreign country, be sure to know the phone number of your consulate or embassy for immediate contact in a crisis.

The Red Cross also recommends packing a Disaster Supply Kit including extra cash for emergency pay phone calls and transportation. You should also include medications and copies of prescriptions in case they need to be refilled or accessed quickly. Hard copies of city maps are also handy as well as photocopies of travel itineraries, insurance cards, and passports. This information can also be scanned and stored free of charge on a website such as Google (Google Docs) or Dropbox so you can allow select users to see the information in case of catastrophe. All members of your travel party should also know the address of your accommodations in case anyone gets lost.

Dealing with Aftershocks

If your family is unfortunate enough to experience a natural disaster at home or while traveling, there are often emotional as well as physical aftershocks. If you've been in a car accident, something as small as a bus driving by can reduce you to a state of panic. It's imperative to discuss any family member's experiences with trusted friends or a professional counselor.

Keep in mind children often don't know how to express their emotions or experiences, and are particularly vulnerable to post-disaster stress. These symptoms might include difficulty sleeping, depression, colds, or flu-like symptoms, and limited attention spans. For a full list of symptoms and how to combat them, be sure to check the FEMA website.

Travel Prepared

Such precautions may seem like overkill, especially after a recent disaster. But random occurrences may make any situation dangerous, even a family getaway. For further information, visit or the American Red Cross prior to your next family outing.

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA have declared the month of September National Preparedness Month, focusing on becoming better prepared for and more resilient in the face of emergencies of all kinds. 

National Preparedness Month is about educating the public on personal preparedness and shared responsibility, so the government maintains the site to distribute information on coping with everything from hurricanes to floods, epidemics to earthquakes. For more helpful information on being prepared for natural disasters, visit the site before your next vacation. You can even be prepared for a staycation if you sign up to receive text messages of emergencies that may strike near you.

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