Tech tools for surviving travel emergencies
SPOT Connect, a hand-held satellite GPS device that broadcasts SOS signals, connects with your smart phone via a Bluetooth signal.
In light of the recent violence in Oslo, Marrakesh, Cairo and Acapulco, it’s easy to feel like man-made catastrophes can happen just about anywhere — even places considered relatively safe.
Throw in the natural disasters that have affected Chile (volcano), Australia (floods) and eastern Japan (earthquake and tsunami), and you have even more cause to prepare a basic Plan B in the event your trip goes bad.
In addition to knowing the insider secrets of how airlines operate and having the right type of travel insurance, several high and low tech travel tips will prepare you for many emergencies that arise. Pick and choose the preparedness tips that work for you.
The most obvious response to a crisis is to get to a safe place. Waiting things out at your hotel bar is a wiser option than attempting to, say, photograph the calamity. But if you lose access to your hotel, and in turn, your passport, make sure to have a backup. Before leaving home, scan a copy of your passport (open to the page with key identifying information) and email the scanned image to a webmail account that you can access overseas. This will make it easier to get a new passport and return home.
In the unlikely event that you fall unconscious because you are a victim of a catastrophe, make sure hospital personnel can easily pinpoint your next-of-kin. Paramedics and hospital workers will likely not have the time to fumble through your cell phone and look up your contact information. Using old-fashioned pen, paper and tape, affix your emergency contact information to the back of your photo identification.
People who prefer to be ultra-prepared can create dog tags that list essential information ($3 from Amazon.com). Larger versions of these tags, which also come in bracelet form, can be used to note any allergic reactions or special medical conditions that paramedics would need to know.
If you accidentally stumble into harm's way, you may need to call police or medics. The mobile apps Travel SOS (iPhone, free) and Useful Numbers (Android, free) fetch relevant emergency numbers based on your location.
Phone service and Internet data connections aren't always available during a crisis. Or sometimes an itinerary takes you beyond the reach of standard communications tools. SPOT Connect ($99), a hand-held satellite GPS device that broadcasts SOS signals, connects with your smart phone via a Bluetooth signal, then transmits the phone calls you make via satellite. The company also sells devices that send out automated SOS signals by satellite without requiring the use of a phone.
Another great way to get information is through a traditional shortwave AM/FM radio. Grundig makes a durable small-sized version, the ETON Mini GM400 Supercompact (recently $30 on Amazon). Remember, as long as you're not injured or in immediate physical danger, chances are that things will work out all right.
Sean O'Neill is the tech travel columnist for BBC Travel