10 Years After the Indian Ocean Tsunami

When Crisis Hits: Lessons Learned Surviving a Natural Disaster

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It has been a decade since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. My husband and I were in Thailand at the time. The trip started like an exotic holiday. Our vacation quickly became a front-row seat to one of the modern era’s greatest natural disasters. “We hope you’ll never travel abroad again,” said my mother-in-law said with relief in her voice and tears rolling down her cheeks as she embraced us upon our return 10 years ago.

We certainly shared her relief, but not the apprehension about traveling. The harrowing experience only served to fuel our passion for adventure and exploration. We became more determined than ever to see the world.

Since that time, we’ve embarked on many trips to far-flung destinations. We’ve had amazing experiences. We’ve also lived through a few dicey episodes, including losing passports (multiple times), getting sick in isolated spots and nearly sending our rental car over a cliff.

What we know is this: there are risks and rewards to travel. Nothing is guaranteed. You’re not bulletproof at home or on the road. When crisis strikes, the best you can do is be prepared and stay calm.

Be Prepared

Leave Someone in the Know
My mom used to drive me crazy when she asked me for my flight itinerary before a trip. That was before the Tsunami. In the event something goes wrong, you’ll be relieved that at least one person knows where you’re supposed to be. Check in with mom.

Have a Backup
Keep your passport in a zippered or secure place on your body, not in a purse or backpack. Keeping a copy in your bag and leaving a copy with a friend at home is a good idea. Never leave your documents in a hotel room. And, consider an app for storing your passport info or scan and email it to yourself before leaving home. The same applies for credit cards.

Get Registered
If you’re leaving the country, it can’t hurt to register with the State Department. The ambassador’s office in the embassy may be able to facilitate travel home or medical care, if needed. If you find your country’s embassy to be less than helpful, check with the tourist board of your host country.

Have a plan
It’s not sexy, but discussing “what ifs” with your travel companion and making mental notes, especially if traveling solo, is a good idea. From losing a passport to getting lost in a crowd, having a plan will prevent panic.

Be on the Record
It’s tempting, especially if you don’t speak the language, to throw your hands in the air and say, “screw it.” But getting the facts on the record is key. For instance, if you file a police report at the local station, you may never see justice but your information could help with an insurance claim.


Consider Coverage
I’m not a fan of travel insurance. I believe you win some and you lose some. But, you should decide your pain tolerance when it comes to the possibility of losing money if a trip must be interrupted, postponed or cancelled. You may decide it’s worth it. The more travelers I meet who recount tales of medical emergencies, the more intrigued I am by medical evacuation insurance. If you are an adventurous traveler, a plane with a nurse swooping in may give you the chance to travel again.

Harness the Social Power
From the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, we’ve seen the power of social media to inspire movements. You may not need to galvanize a worldwide audience, but you may be in a situation where sharing information is vital. It’s not the time to rant. Share facts that may help others in the area or prompt law enforcement or media to take notice.

Maintain Perspective

Cherish Each Day
Sometimes it takes tragedy to make us realize how lucky we are. Whether you’re in the midst of a great adventure or nesting at home, take a few quiet moments each day to recount what you’re thankful for and what makes you happy.

No Regrets
Regret has to be the most useless emotion. Don’t have any. Let forgiveness come easy and make sure those you love know it. In the event tragedy hits, you’ll have great peace knowing your accounts are square.

The Time is Now
There’s a long list of clichés: Life’s short; Life turns on a dime; You can’t take it with you. And, here’s the thing: they’re all true. Being smart doesn’t mean playing it safe. Whether you live to be 90 or go early, it will all pass too quickly. You might as well have fun and live out your dreams.

With apologizes to my mother-in-law and friends who shared her sentiment, but we will always choose to go for it. We went through an incredibly frightening, life altering experience that didn’t make us afraid of the world—just more determined to experience it.

Jess is a freelance writer and blogger with a passion for all things travel, art and the outdoors.