We all deal with crises differently, but even if you are prone to panic, the following tips will help you to feel more confident about your ability to cope. The list is far from exhaustive, but will hopefully encourage you to be proactive about your safety and instil self-assurance.
Before you venture abroad, no matter how safe you consider your destination to be, make sure you do some research before you go.
• Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website for latest updates relating to the country and area you are visiting, use social media to find out what is going on in the area and search for blogs and tips written by experienced travellers.
• Make sure your phone will work abroad, that the device and any power banks are always charged, with appropriate emergency numbers stored.
• Copy your travel documents at least three times; email one to yourself, leave one with a trusted friend or relative and keep one on your person, separate from the originals.
• If you are travelling for business purposes, make sure your employer has adequate travel insurance, check that your next of kin details are up-to-date, and store details of emergency contacts in your phone.
• Purchase a spare purse or wallet and put a small amount of money and receipts in it. If you are mugged, hand over this dummy wallet. The thief needs to be convinced that it is your genuine wallet, so it may be worth putting an expired credit card in, along with a random photo or two.
We don’t want to put a dampener on your trip, but when you are travelling abroad, it is not the time to let your guard down and be oblivious to your surroundings. Take a few sensible precautions, and you are much less likely to find yourself in hot water, except when you are visiting the hotel spa!
• Check that your travel insurance is valid and adequate. For ultimate protection purchase ConsularAssist.
• Dress modestly and in accordance with local etiquette, leave the expensive jewellery behind and avoid being an easy target for muggers.
• Pack an emergency kit- including a torch, batteries, sufficient medication, and some food and water. If a catastrophe occurs and you need to stay in a secure place, you will be grateful for these items, even if they do take up some of your baggage allowances.
• When you reach your accommodation and every new venue you visit, take a moment to familiarise yourself with the emergency exits, identify any secure areas, and spend five minutes doing a trial run of evacuating. If you have done this in the daylight when you are calm, the chances of you getting out safely and rapidly in the event of an incident, particularly at night or in a fire, are multiplied exponentially.
• Stay alert and keep your wits about you. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and get out. Don’t drink too much, even if it is all-inclusive, and never leave your drink unattended
Keep calm and don’t panic
Much easier said than done, we know, but your chances of getting through an incident unscathed are much higher if you can behave rationally and stay calm.
• A large-scale crisis can put a strain on local and international services, so don’t panic that you have been forgotten.
• Follow instructions from trained personnel, whether that is the local emergency services, the hotel staff or security staff.
• When you are calm, you process information better, and you make wiser decisions. If you have familiarised yourself with the evacuation route and know your surroundings, you can concentrate on getting out rather than worrying whether you are going the right way.
• Practise some breathing exercises to use in a crisis. By focusing on your breath, you will keep your heart rate down and be in a healthier position to do what it takes to stay safe.
• Panic is contagious. If everyone around you is going to pieces try to demonstrate composure, chances are others will follow your lead and calm down.
Whether it is a case of civil unrest, a terrorist attack or a hurricane, keep yourself updated with what’s going on. Some of these are dependent on WiFi, which may not be available in many scenarios.
• The FCO website is regularly updated throughout any incidents and is an excellent source of information.
• Use social media for real-time updates, but be cautious of the validity of unverified posts.
• Listen to reliable sources. These may be the local authorities, tour guides, or the hotel concierge.
• If you can get access to a television, check out news updates. Even if you don’t understand the language you can usually get an idea of what is going on from the images, and there may be a helpline number on the screen.
• If you have a ConsularAssist card, call the hotline; our staff are former diplomats and have access to a network of local experts around the globe, who will be providing our team with current updates on developments.
Stay in Touch
Whether you are on a business trip, a family holiday, or discovering the world on a gap year, make sure you keep in touch with your loved ones back home.
• Stay in contact with family, so they know where you are, and what your plans are.
• Use the Facebook Safety Check feature if there is an incident local to you.
• Let the hotel staff know where you are going and when you expect to be back, if you are venturing out alone.
• If you are on a business trip, make sure there is someone back at the office who is tracking your movements and will raise the alarm if you have not checked in at pre-arranged intervals.
• Before you travel, give a family member, a friend or your employer a code word that you will use if you find yourself in danger, for example in a case of express kidnap
As we said, this list is not exhaustive, and it is not intended to frighten you or put you off travelling. But taking some time to prepare for the worst could make the world of difference if you find yourself in the wrong place, at the wrong time. For more details of ConsularAssist and the protection it offers, click here.