By Ingrid Ahlgren
Recently, during Hurricane Sandy, my family lost electricity, running water, and heat. We live in Lower Manhattan on the 15th floor of a high-rise building, a challenge because we have a 14-month-old daughter. After a few days of darkness and cold, my husband and I decided to take the baby and go to a relative’s on the Upper East Side for hot showers and a warm meal.
It was nice to be somewhere with power, but the most interesting part of our trip was the bus ride uptown and back down to our neighborhood. The bus on the way to the Upper East Side was packed. Everyone was trying to flee from the downtown “powerless zone” to the areas of the city that still had electricity. On the way back down, there were fewer people. However, the traffic was horrendous because the subways weren’t working (and, downtown, neither were the traffic lights). It took us about an hour and a half to get home instead of the usual 45 minutes.
Luckily, my baby daughter, Annika, slept for much of the ride home and didn’t wake up until we were crossing from light into darkness. She started to laugh and play with a little girl in front of us, who was maybe four years old. The girl was singing and speaking to her parents in French. At first I assumed they were expats, but then the father pulled out a guidebook and started studying a transit map at the back of the book.
“Wow,” I thought. “Worst vacation ever!”
At the same time, I admired the European family’s tenacity. It’s enough of a challenge to tackle the New York City bus system on a normal day. To do so during the aftermath of a natural disaster is truly heroic.
So, what can you do if you happen to get stuck somewhere during a natural disaster? Experts recommend the following:
1.) Before leaving, give a trusted family member or friend your itinerary and information such as passport numbers. It’s also a good idea to purchase travel insurance, although it may not cover certain types of disasters. (Print a copy of your policy prior to departure.) If you paid for the vacation with a credit card, you may have coverage through the credit card company.
2.) When you get to your destination, select a designated meeting place for you and your travel companions. This way, you can find each other if you get separated and phones aren’t working. (Many landlines were down during Hurricane Sandy, and cell phone coverage was spotty. Plus it was hard to charge phones with no power!)
3.) If you’re traveling abroad, notify the nearest embassy or consulate of your situation. They may be able to help you or notify people at home about what’s going on.
4.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. (I couldn’t do much for the French family, but would have been happy to give them directions or help them navigate the public transit system!)
5.) Finally, maintain your sense of humor and adventure. Despite what was going on, the family on the bus seemed happy. The little girl was giggling and playing, and the mom was eating a donut. Like the locals, they were making the best out of what could have been a terrible situation.
Do you have any other tips for dealing with disasters during a vacation?