One month before moving to South America, there was a devastating earthquake in the country I was moving to. There were hundreds of deaths and thousands homeless. Everyone kept asking me if I was still going.
The wheels were already in motion. Money had already been spent and preparations made. So there was no turning back.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried and a little afraid. The most powerful quake had already struck but they were still having pretty strong aftershocks. I’d never been to this country before deciding to move there because that’s just how I get down. There were a lot of unknowns. What was I going to do about this growing fear and my inability to back down from plans I have already set in motion?
Be prepared, that’s what.
The first thing I did was buy “Natural Disasters and How We Cope with Them” by Robert Coenraads. Seriously, I paid $6.24 for this 576 page hardcover book! Only $6.24 to save my life! You can’t beat that. This would be THE book I would read on my 8 day journey aboard a cargo ship from Florida to South America.
But don’t get me wrong, I didn't JUST think about disaster preparedness. It had actually been a part of my life since I was a child. However, I was most prepared for hurricanes, snow storms and general survival situations. As an adult, I realize how fortunate I am for even having that level of knowledge about disaster survival.
When I was in 6th grade, all 6th graders in my county had to participate in a program called “Nature’s Classroom” (unless you got a note from your parents). This program was at least a week but I think it was actually 2 weeks long.
They taught us survival skills in Florida’s different environments. For example, we learned how to survive in and out of the swamp. They taught us things like how to use a compass and how to find our direction without one. They taught us how to make a fire with or without matches and how to use dried Spanish moss as kindling. We learned how to avoid sting rays in shallow water, how to canoe, etc. During the last few days, we had to bring our own food and cook it using only the methods we were taught. They also took us into the woods and left us and we had to find our way back to the main camp as a team.
Fast forward and now my older sister is in high school. They are taken to the beach where all the high school kids in the county had to participate in disaster training. This program included police, paramedics, fire and rescue, etc. The kids had to learn how to rescue each other from the water and various other scenarios. They also had to learn how to assess wounds and other injuries and how to dress and treat them. This program used fake blood and everything. I was excited that it was going to be my turn the following year… BUT the program was canceled before I got to high school! Can you believe that nonsense!
Now I’m an adult and I continue to value the necessity of being prepared. So every state that I moved to, I learned about the natural disasters there and how to prepare for them. I lived in Upstate, NY for 10 years and learned all I could about how to survive a snow storm and other cold weather. I grew up in Florida so I already knew what to do in the event of a flood, hurricane or heavy storm. I was also a good swimmer (learn to swim people. You’re never too old to learn). At some point I also picked up a copy of the US Army Survival Guide (I will cover this more later in the article). I paid $2 for it on the “crap” table at Barnes & Noble. Again… $2 to save my life.
So let’s talk about some disasters shall we?
What are some of the most common types of natural disasters?
When the earth decides to do the electric slide under your feet, you need to be worried. Earthquakes used to be the most terrifying natural disaster I could think of prior to experiencing them. They are the reason why I never wanted to visit or move anywhere within the Pacific ring of fire. That was fear talking.
The first time I experienced an earthquake, I was living in Seattle, Washington. I can’t remember the year but I recall sitting in my car waiting for my friend who was in the bank. The car started rocking up and down and seriously, I thought it was my friend playing around. I thought she was bouncing on the back bumper or trunk to get the car to bounce. I started laughing and I turned to look through the back window expecting to see her but there was no one there and the car was still shaking. It was like something out of a movie. I turned slowly and looked at the car next to mine. There was an elderly woman in that car and her eyes were as big as saucers. She looked so terrified. I opened my car door and the asphalt was rippling like water! There were big waves of earth. Then my friend came running out of the bank. She jumped in the car and said we were having an earthquake. Yeah… we both moved to New York two weeks later.
Floods & Flash Floods:
I have experienced floods quite often having grown up and lived in Florida. Most were minor but there were times when the floodwaters were pretty high. And most of us know about the devastating floods that occurred during Hurricane Katrina. If you are unaware, I highly recommend you watch the documentary, “When the Levees Broke” by Spike Lee. You should watch that whether you know about Hurricane Katrina or not. When you do (cause you’re gong to watch it), pay attention to all of the death that occurred due to drowning (there were may other reasons as well).
It is imperative that you learn how to swim and more importantly that you learn survival swimming. I learned to swim as a small child but didn’t learn survival swimming until I was in my 20s. It is critical in flood situations as well as any marine activities you may be interested in. I know of a few people who want the experience of traveling on a cargo ship but won’t because they don’t know how to swim. That is a smart decision but an even smarter one would be to learn how to swim.
Florida has a hurricane season. The end.
When you grow up in a place that actually has a season for a particular disaster or disasters, then you should know a thing or two about survival. When I was growing up, this meant evacuating our home sometimes. It also meant stocking up on water, filling the bathtub with water, boarding up the windows, making sure the food was stocked up, etc.
A hurricane can sometimes mean having your home completely leveled and losing everything you own. It can mean not having electricity for a very long time or not having water and sometimes food. It could even mean death. It’s real, not just an ugly thunderstorm.
Now, tornadoes are the scariest natural disasters I could ever imagine. I've never been in one but I've researched them to death and they seem like the worst of the worst. I mean, if your human body is caught in one, it’s like being in blender full of razor blades. Stay out of those things.
Volcano eruptions: These have been happing quite a bit lately. My advice, get the hell out of there ahead of time if possible. When the eruption warnings start, you pack up and leave. This is why it’s a good idea to have an evacuation plan and fund so you not only have a plan for where you will go and how but you also have the money to do it.
All of these natural disasters are relevant to you because you could be traveling anywhere in the world. There are many other natural disasters and emergency situations that I could cover but you get the idea. As a world traveler you can easily be prepared. Being prepared means less fear. So let’s get down to some basic things you can carry with you when you travel that you’ll be thankful you have in the event of a disaster or emergency.
What are some essential emergency tools you need to pack when you travel?
US Army Survival Guide:
This book is small and compact yet packed with everything you need to survive in all types of disaster and emergency situations. I take it with me whenever I’m going to be traveling for more than 30-40 minutes. For example, if I take a bus to another city here, the book comes with me. There are bus crashes here on a weekly basis and they sometimes roll over the side of the mountain. It is very real and very possible to be stuck, hurt, etc. at the bottom of a steep ravine. It will help you take care of yourself as well as render aid to others. It will also help you make smart decisions and avoid deadly mistakes. This book covers it all. If you have room in your pack or luggage for this book, you should take it with you on long journeys.
You should never leave home without this stuff. There is really no reason why you can’t carry this wherever you go. There are so many ways to carry it so it’s not a burden. You can make belts, watch bands, bracelets and other wearable items out of this so you can simply unravel it and use it when needed.
550 paracord has so many uses. It could help you tie together a shelter or raft, secure the binding for a bone fracture or break, tie up piles of wood for you to carry or drag, be a line for hanging and drying meats or clothes, etc. You can even pull the individual strands out and use them as a fishing line. As a traveler, I repeatedly use 550 paracord as a clothes line. I could just go on and on…
Carry a small but powerful LED flashlight with a super long battery life (rechargeable is even better). I have a metal one that is about the size of my thumb, is super bright and has red flasher and SOS signal features as well. You could survive without this but the thing was $6 and super small so why not carry one?
Survival & First Aid Kit:
A good survival kit should include a compass, flint & steel, small knife, whistle, water filter like the Sawyer Mini water filter (what I have), stainless steel water bottle, Iodine, storm proof matches, signal mirror, bandages (sanitary napkins can double as bandages in a pinch), sewing kit, pain relievers and tweezers.
This kit should be as small as you can get it and easy to carry. It will have to go in your checked luggage when traveling by plane but should be on you during any other type of travel. You can also add more or less depending on what you feel comfortable with.
What food can you travel with that will last a long time during a survival situation?
Pemmican. This is the best survival food you can have on your person. It is nutrient dense and will last for years without refrigeration. You can prepare it yourself and take it with you on long trips. If you find yourself in a survival or emergency situation, you can ration it and still get the nutrients and calories you need to survive.
Pemmican is dried meat (usually beef) mixed with beef fat. You would typically just make your favorite flavor beef jerky but you want to dry it to the point of being brittle. Then make it into a meat dust. The finer the meat dust, the better it will taste. If you don’t grind it fine enough, it will taste like you’re eating fat with sand in it. Once you mix the meat dust with beef fat and let it cool, you can cut it into smaller bars or squares and take it with you when you travel.
I have no vegetarian alternatives.
Also take along two little zip lock bags of salt and sugar. It's not so you can have yummy food during a disaster but in case you find yourself having physical issues that salt or sugar would solve.
With all that said, If you could only take one thing as a survival tool, take the book. I’m sure some of you awesome travel survivalist could add more wonderful tips but these are just the basics that I work with. I’m always looking to improve.
Note: There were several people in a travel-related, Facebook group saying they would just have a few snacks in their bag in the event they were ever trapped somewhere because of an earthquake or tunnel collapse, etc. … Snacks! *sigh*. The worst part was these same “snackers” were laughing at other comments from people who would actually be prepared. Don’t be a one of them. Don’t be a laughing “snacker”. Be prepared.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be a “how to survive” article. It’s meant to make you aware that you need to be prepared for a disaster or emergency when you travel and to suggest just a few things you can take with you as a traveler.
What's in your travel emergency kit?