Preparing for an Emergency Abroad

I've worked in the travel industry since 2008 and since then I've dealt with at least one emergency type situation each year. Emergencies abroad are not common, but a little planning can go a long way should you ever face one. I found this out myself in May of 2014. After returning from a surf session in San Sebastian with my wife, I fell through a plate glass door in our apartmet and severed an artery, two nerves, and five tendons in my arm. I began losing blood quickly and needed to act fast. I walked outside, asked a stranger to call for an ambulance, and self-administered first aid. A team of paramedics arrived within 20 minutes, stabilized me and transferred me to a local hospital for surgery. Everything turned out OK, partly because of my preparedness and ability to summon help in a timely manner.

The best thing you can do to to stay safe while traveling is to do your homework ahead of time. Know the area you will be in, its reputation, and where important landmarks and services are. It is a good idea to type something up beforehand, print it out and laminate it. Smartphones are great, but they are not always accessible or reliable due to dead batteries or spotty coverage overseas. Travelers can create their own custom guides, but the most important items are as follows:

  1. Emergency number for your destination countr(ies). This is not always 911. For example, in Spain, it is 112.

  2. Number and address for your home country's embassy

  3. Photocopy of your passport

  4. Address(es) and phone number(s) for hotels, apartments, or host families where you will be staying

  5. General map of the areas in which you will be traveling

  6. Emergency contact information for family or friends back home*

  7. List of areas or neighborhoods to avoid

  8. Contact information for your bank or financial institution

  9. Phone number and policy number for travelers insurance

  10. Phone number and policy number for medical insurance

The odds are, you will never have to use any of this information, but in case you do, preparedness is key. If you can memorize some of the above items (especially the emergency number), it's even better. Scan the list into your phone's photo log as a backup. It's also a great idea to take a basic first aid and CPR class every few years. You never know when you will have to help yourself or someone else. Safe travels!