Nepal Earthquake: What to Do When a Crisis Strikes During Travel
Following Saturday’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, you might be wondering what travelers can do to ensure their safety and communicate following a crisis. Here’s a tip sheet.
Editor’s note, May 12: Following a second major quake today with at least 50 people reported dead in and around Nepal, it’s more important than ever to be prepared. Read on for suggestions on how to stay safe while traveling.
Traveling beyond one’s usual safe confines means exposure to the tiny chance of being met with natural disaster, political uprisings, or other catastrophic events. Should your plans be upended by an emergency, it’s important not to panic and, once you’ve determined the safety and health of yourself and others traveling with you, to move forward with appropriate precautions.
Great numbers of travelers faced this issue this weekend, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks rocked Nepal, India, Tibet, and Bangladesh, destroying buildings, landmarks, infrastructure, and lives. (At press time, it’s been estimated that more than 3,800 people died in the quake and its aftershocks.) This was the worst earthquake in 80 years for Nepal, a country that heavily relies on tourism and is popular with foreign visitors for its trekking opportunities in The Himalayas. At least 18 are confirmed dead near the base camp for Mount Everest, which suffered an avalanche triggered by the quake. In the capital of Kathmandu, the earthquake’s timing near noon meant Saturday was in full swing, and the instantaneous collapse of popular sites like the Dharahara Tower and the temples around Bakhtapur Durbar Square trapped and killed thousands of visitors and locals.
Jonathan Khoo, digital nomad and travel blogger at Wanderlusty, was in Kathmandu during the earthquake and spoke to Condé Nast Traveler about his experience and attempts to cope after:
“I was in a coffee shop on the second level of a building in Kathmandu when the 7.8-magnitude quake struck. Everyone rushed outside to the middle of the intersection, as far as possible from any falling rubble from the buildings around. As aftershocks hit, I sent out a mass email to work, emailed my boyfriend, FaceTime-called my mom, and updated Facebook with a quick status as well as checked in via the new Safety Check feature.”
Khoo was lucky. Not only was he unhurt and equipped with a smartphone and local SIM card to send these updates and communications, but he continued checking his flight status and remained abreast of the situations via Twitter, even as he spent the night after the earthquake in a hotel lobby and on the streets. His biggest piece of advice for travelers facing stress in a foreign country following a crisis? “Now is not the time to be a princess, and you will likely have to take matters into your own hands to get what you need, whether that means opting for the next flight out even with inconvenient flight connections, or splitting a dinner of a loaf of bread with several others and being thankful for the sustenance.”
Steps to take for safety and security following a crisis while traveling:
- Use Facebook’s new Safety Check feature to quickly inform your friends and family, via the social network, of your safety. Geolocation will pinpoint your proximity to a site of crisis, and your next visit to Facebook will prompt you to “mark yourself safe.”
- Consider adding an international voice and data plan for your smartphone if you aren’t already traveling with one. If your phone is unlocked, buying a local SIM card and prepaid plan also works. The ability to call emergency services, travel providers, and your friends and family should not be underestimated. In addition, having data means access to Google Maps, social media, travel rebooking emails, and any breaking news updates on the situation.
- Gather phone numbers and monitor social media accounts for your booked airlines and hotels, should travel be disrupted or rescheduled. Have your confirmation codes for booked travel easily retrievable. Memorize your passport number.
- Visit the Canada’s Country travel advice and advisories website for details and assessments of any new potential threats to foreign tourists resulting from the crisis.
- Be a good neighbor. This is essentially a restyling of Khoo’s advice to not “be a princess.” Consider participating in opportunities to help individuals and the community recover.