What I Learned From Last Week’s Travel Emergency

Last week, my husband and I rented a cabin called Das Tree Haus in the Washington Cascade mountains. This was the view from our deck:

Ahhhh...relaxing.
Can you hear the birds chirping?

 

Beautiful, right? We loved the cabin and reveled in being “away from it all”…until we were told to evacuate the area due to a forest fire that had suddenly escalated. Crap!

Here’s what happened. Driving back from an afternoon at the lake we saw this…

IMG_3631
Um, isn’t that coming from the direction of our cabin?

 

So, we stopped at a country grocery store for Gatorade and information. That’s when we found out about the evacuation.

Still wearing our swimsuits, we frantically drove to the cabin to retrieve our belongings, hoping the gravel road hadn’t already closed. When we got to the cabin, this was the view from our balcony:

That doesn't look good.
Uh oh.

 

In less than five minutes we had packed up the cabin. During that time a firetruck stopped by to make sure we knew that we needed to leave now. 

As Aaron drove us to the nearest town 30 minutes away, I called the cabin rental company to tell them we’d been evacuated. When I asked them what we should do they told us to go home. Fortunately, when I told them that we live 3000 miles away they quickly found a place for us to stay in town.

Later that evening we went out for dinner in deserted Leavenworth, since we’d left most of our food in the cabin’s fridge. This is what it looked in town. A few hours earlier it had been blue sky all around.

IMG_3673

 

My iPhone photo doesn’t accurately convey how surreal it all looked. Turn your head to the right and you’d see bright blue sky. Turn your left and it looked like the world was ending.

Fortunately, the forest fire near our cabin hasn’t caused any damage to the homes that were evacuated, but the fire is still burning, roads are still closed, and some areas are still evacuated. It could have been so much worse; a fire north of where we were staying consumed a large portion of a small town.

Looking back, I wish I’d done some things differently.

In all the years I’ve traveled, I’ve had several mishaps and uncomfortable situations but I’ve never been in any emergency situation. For us, this emergency turned out to be mild, but at the time we didn’t know it would turn out that way.

When I’m traveling in familiar places, I tend to become complacent. The thing about emergencies is that they happen without warning, information can be scarce, and taking quick action is important.

As we went through last week’s evacuation, I started thinking about simple things that would have helped had the situation become dire. A little preparation can make a huge difference.

Of course, the likelihood that you or I will find ourselves in an emergency is fairly slim, and I’m not one for taking every precaution just in case. But there are a couple of very simple, common sense things I will do from now on.

1. Keep tabs on the current situation. In our case last week, that meant staying up-to-date on the forest fires. We knew that there were fires an hour or so away, but since we didn’t have TV or wifi in the cabin I admit, I wasn’t paying that close attention to the situation (my husband probably was, though).

Next time, no matter where I am, I’ll be more proactive about keeping tabs on what could turn into an emergency situation. It wouldn’t have taken more than a couple minutes during one of our stops at the country grocery store to ask about the state of the fires and what we’d need to know if one broke out near us.

2. Write down the address of our cabin/hotel/apartment on a piece of paper, as well as the address and phone number of the cabin or apartment rental company. We knew the name of the road our cabin was on but didn’t know the area at all, so when we were told that Ponderosa Estates was being evacuated we weren’t sure if that included our road or not.

In an emergency, it’s quicker and easier to give someone a piece of paper with a complete address than try to remember and describe the location. Even though I had all of the info on my phone, batteries die, phones get lost, and in emergency situations you may not have time or the wherewithal to search your email for an address or phone number. Writing down two addresses and a phone number takes less than a minute and can be super helpful in an emergency.

3. Consider trip insurance. I rarely get trip insurance – and declined it when I booked last week’s cabin – but I may consider it in some situations in the future. Our cabin rental company allowed us to move to a condo in town for the final three nights of our stay, but they canceled all reservations for people arriving for the weekend. If the fire had occurred a week earlier, we would have been out a significant amount of money – what we paid for 5 nights at the cabin and what we would have paid at a hotel somewhere else – since the contract I signed stated that there are no refunds.

4. Be more vigilant about downloading photos and backing things up to the cloud. The day we evacuated we’d gone to Starbucks in Leavenworth to catch up on email, so we had our laptops, phones, and our camera in the car with us, and because we left the lake when we did we were able to get to the cabin to retrieve the rest of our stuff. Had we left the lake a bit later, though, we might not have been able to access our cabin, and had the fire been worse, we could have lost everything we left in the cabin. It would suck to lose my laptop but it would suck even more to lose all of my photos or important documents because I was too lazy to back them up in DropBox.

5. Keep family updated about my location and plans. Again, I think I get too complacent when I’m traveling in familiar places. When I was in Paris last month I thought about the fact that if I’d gone missing during a day trip, nobody would have any idea where I’d gone for the day. So, I’m trying to get better at giving my mom or husband the name of the hotel or the address of my cabin or apartment. When I travel alone, I text or emailing my husband and my mom my general plans for the day, especially if I’m going on a day trip or if I don’t get a SIM card for my phone.

Last Wednesday, I texted my mom as we evacuated, partly so she’d know we were ok in case she had heard about the fire and was worried, and partly so someone would know where we were if we were to get stuck somewhere.

Last week was a wake-up call to re-evaluate how prepared I am for an emergency. In many situations you can’t be completely prepared, and you just have to deal with things as they happen. And I don’t plan to travel scared. But there are a few simple, common sense precautions I will now take that will enable me to better deal with an emergency, should one arise.

Have you experienced an emergency while traveling? What precautions do you take when you travel? 

 

About the Author: Dr. Cate Brubaker

Dr. Cate Brubaker is on a mission to make re-entry after living abroad a positive, transformational force (even when it’s not easy…especially when it’s not easy)! Cate is the author of the Re-Entry Roadmap workbook and the Study Abroad Re-entry Toolkit. Cate has lived in Germany, worked and traveled in 37 countries on four continents, and has helped all kinds of globetrotters successfully navigate global transitions for over 20 years.

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1 thought on “What I Learned From Last Week’s Travel Emergency”

  1. Having lived for MANY years with a man I called ‘our safety officer’, I can see you have good instincts– even in crisis situations. He always told me, “take your credit cards and leave town” because the aftermath.can be worse than the initial disaster.

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