How to travel safely during a natural disaster

Being prepared and safe when inclement weather threatens your travels

Nature doesn’t take a vacation. Inclement weather is seasonal, and we are in the midst of predicted and recent natural disasters in regions across the United States. If you have travel plans during this season, we want to make sure you’re well-equipped to stay safe. Consider these natural disaster safety tips as you plan, pack, and travel.


 

Booking with safety in mind

Although wind and storm paths can be somewhat unpredictable, it’s still wise to plan your trip with weather patterns in mind. This includes dry spells and wind patterns in areas at high risk for forest fires, too. Keep consider these tips before and as you book, and above all, follow any and all evacuation warnings and instructions.

  • Consider purchasing travelers insurance that covers natural disasters—some airlines do fly over bad weather, but if the risk is high, insurance is the best choice. Remember, it’s always better to cancel an unnecessary trip than to put yourself in undue danger.
  • Check travel warnings and advisories before, during, and after your scheduled flights. Expedia makes this information available via the Customer Service Portal. You can also access the latest notifications via the National Weather Service. Traveling during the shoulder and off-season does mean a higher possibility of inclement weather in some destinations.
  • Read all flight, hotel, and activity cancellation policies before you book. You don’t want to be in the midst of an emergency asking, “If I’m stuck in a natural disaster, can I cancel my trip?” Travel insurance may offer some relief from stricter airline policies, so read that, too.
  • Be conscious of layover destinations and the flight path. Even if your destination is not near a natural disaster or wildfire, your trip could be affected by one.
  • Consider leaving your pet with a boarder where they will be safe while you are traveling, and make sure they have an up-to-date tracking microchip.
  • Don’t put yourself in any unnecessary danger. Again, follow all evacuation instructions and travel advisories for your area.

Packing your carry-on bag

It’s always important to be prepared for a possible change of travel plans, so pack light and pack effectively. In strong weather conditions, packing your carry-on correctly is vital, because placing your essentials in checked luggage could separate you from indispensable safety tools.

  • Make sure you have copies of your identification and flight itineraries—email these to yourself and family members, and have printed copies as well. This is smart both from a theft perspective and in case wireless service goes out and you can’t pull up your itinerary. It also keeps your family members up to date on when to expect to hear from you.
  • Make sure all your devices are fully charged; bring along a portable phone charger.
  • Pack compact, non-perishable snacks, like granola bars, peanut butter sandwiches, etc. If you have the space, bring a little extra to share in case of a long delay.
  • Bring a paper map or atlas of your destination in case you lose GPS service.
  • Keep essential toiletries and articles of clothing handy.
  • Include a mini first aid kit. These are easy to find at your local drugstore.
  • Bring a flashlight and extra batteries in case the electricity is limited.
  • Have contact info for your closest friends and family written down and saved in multiple places.

Flying from or over an area in distress

  • Check travel advisories from your airline, booking agent, etc.
  • Don’t commute to the airport in inclement weather—plan multiple route options. Your trip to the airport is part of the journey.
  • Have a backup plan. This may not be a backup vacation, depending on the weather conditions of your location. If you are flying over a distressed area, consider a “Plan B” destination that takes a different route.
  • Make sure you know where to find the nearest emergency center to the airport and to where you live or plan to stay.

Staying safe when plans change

Plans can change in the blink of an eye, and in urgent situations it can be easy to forget otherwise simple responses.

  • If your flights have been canceled or rerouted due to weather, refer to the airline’s policies. Airport customer service can help direct your inquiries, but they may not have the authority to make all the alterations your itinerary needs.
  • If you’re concerned about flight cancellations and can’t find any information online, call the airline (or Expedia’s) Customer Service. They’ll have the latest information and travel guidance, and are the best equipped to help you rebook, reschedule, or cancel your travel plans.
  • If you arrive in or are already in an evacuation area, stay calm and follow all the safety instructions regardless of whether you’re a local or a traveler. Make sure you contact your family right away.
  • Before you travel, have a plan to alert your friends and family of your whereabouts throughout the trip. Utilize check-ins on social media, or plan a communication schedule so that your loved ones know that plans have changed as soon as possible.
  • If you’re traveling to or in an area at risk for fire and you wonder, “What should I watch out for in a wildfire?” keep in mind that many wild animals flee their habitat during floods and fires. Be cautious of them, and always give them space if you encounter them; they’re afraid, not prowling. Also have a dust mask or scarf to filter ash from the air.

Helping others in distress

Whether or not you have upcoming travel plans, you can always send aid and volunteer to help those in need. Consider these recommendations as you give back to your community:

  • Research nonprofit relief orgs where you can donate funds or volunteer your time. A common concern is finding trustworthy organizations to donate to. Many people ask, “What happens to my money when I donate?” Local organizations and chapters tend to offer givers opportunities to see their donations put to use, and resources like Charity Navigator are also helpful.
  • Don’t send objects that will need to be sorted or stored, unless they are specifically requested. It may be our first instinct to send drinking water or supplies, but monetary donations are usually the most efficient form of giving during a crisis.
  • Consider fostering rescue animals in your area, as many shelters are taking in pets from disaster-affected locations.
  • If you’re traveling to offer aid and volunteer, be aware of false travel incentives seeking to take advantage of goodwill.

Share your advice for how to prepare for a natural disaster when you travel, and let’s travel the world better, together.

What are your travel safety tips?

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Kohleun Adamson

Kohleun is a fan of high tea in Scottish villages and low tide on Coronado Beach, and she can’t get enough of rolling vineyard vistas. These days it’s no easy feat to pull her away from the California coast, but she can be wooed with Moroccan cous cous and ancient palace ruins. As a writer, Kohleun has a passion for sharing the intricate details of a journey well traveled, whether it involves crossing continents or exploring close to home.

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