When Danger Strikes: How to Handle Emergency Situations on Vacation

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

It's every traveler's worst nightmare. You're on vacation. One minute you're having the time of your life, and the next, disaster strikes. When planning a vacation, it's easy for thoughts of an emergency to get lost in all the excitement and anticipation, but emergencies happen to vacationers more often than most people realize.

An emergency can be more difficult to handle when on vacation because you're typically in unfamiliar territory. You may not know where the nearest hospital is. You likely don't know anyone who lives nearby to help, and, if vacationing in a foreign country, you may not even know the language.

Therefore, having an action plan in case of an emergency is just as important as an itinerary. Here's what to do if disaster strikes on your vacation.

Emergencies can strike anywhere and anyone. Successfully getting through an emergency starts before you even leave with thorough preparation.

Types of Vacation Emergencies You Can Face

It's Murphy's Law: whatever can happen, will happen. Unfortunately, it may happen while on vacation. Here are the types of vacation emergencies people commonly face.

Medical Emergencies

There are a wide variety of medical emergencies you could encounter while on vacation, depending on your health and age. However, people often partake in more risky activities while on vacation, such as skiing or parasailing, so there is a higher chance of accidents and experiencing some kind of physical trauma.

Trying unfamiliar foods or visiting a very dense city can also make you more vulnerable to contracting an illness, but most likely you may suffer from something you are susceptible to, like a heart attack or stroke. In either case, you may need medical attention, including something as serious as emergency surgery, which is a challenge to arrange when out of the country.

Natural Disasters

Mother Nature doesn't take vacations, so you can't expect her to be away when you're on yours. You may be able to relatively plan around seasonal threats, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, but things like earthquakes, flash floods, and volcanic eruptions can happen at any moment. The hours or even days after a natural disaster are typically chaotic, so surviving the initial event can be just half the challenge.

Other Emergencies

Medical problems and natural disasters are the more obvious emergencies that you may experience. There are many more that depend on where you are and what you're doing. If going on a road trip, it's certainly not uncommon to run into car trouble, whether it's a simple flat tire or an accident. When travelling abroad you can easily lose your passport or have it stolen, or before you even get out of the airport you may find out the airline lost your luggage.

Vacationing and Natural Disaster

From booking flights to arranging tour guides, there's a lot of planning that goes into a vacation. Natural disaster can easily upend everything, and, since it's under no one's control, airlines, hotels, insurers, etc., often don't want to take responsibility.

How to prepare

The first step is to get a quality travel insurance policy that will provide a refund should a natural disaster strike. It helps to work with a travel agent who can help you find a good policy but also help get your refund and handle reservations with airlines and hotels. Before you disembark, make sure you've read the fine print in any vacation service contract, so you'll know exactly what you're entitled to.

What to do

If it's a devastating natural disaster, your first order of business should be to evacuate the area and get home safely. All the other steps can be done once you're out of harm's way.

If a natural disaster disrupts your trip, you'll need to get on the phone. You want to work at securing your refund as soon as possible. Also, contact any airline, cruise ship, or hotel company you're working with. Lean on your travel agent, if you have one, to help you make those calls. If possible, try to make new travel arrangements to continue your vacation.

Medical Emergencies and Vacation

Our bodies won't tell us beforehand when they're going to get sick or run into a complication. That's why the one thing that can make getting through a medical emergency on vacation as seamless as possible is preparation.

How to prepare

Your can start by using the right card to pay for your vacation. Some travel credit cards specifically provide the concierge perk of assisting you during an emergency. Some even go as far as providing helicopter service to the nearest hospital. Therefore, one precaution is to find the best travel credit card. In addition to having that in your wallet, you should carry at all times a list of any medications you're taking and any medical conditions you have, along with your doctor's contact information. Further, wherever you go, be sure to research the medical facilities around your destination.

What to do

Unless you need urgent attention, try to find out what the best hospital is near you. One potential source for that information is the nearest U.S. Embassy, if you're out of the country. Although, depending on where you are, you may have no other options. Next, contact your health insurance and travel insurance companies to make them aware of what is happening. If necessary, get your most up-to-date health records. Lastly, inform your place of work of any complications that may require you to return at a later date.

Other Travel Emergencies and Solutions

Unlike natural disasters and medical emergencies, most other travel emergencies can be resolved without them ruining your vacation. Lost or stolen passport? Simply call the local embassy, which can issue an emergency passport. What if your car breaks down? Move the car to a safe location and try to determine the extent of the trouble. If you can't fix it, call roadside assistance or your insurance company if it's your car. If you arrive somewhere only to find out your luggage is lost, don't panic. Simply collect any documentation you have and speak with airport personnel. Usually, they can track your luggage and deliver it to your final destination. Sometimes, though, it may take more time to locate, and you'll have to have it sent to your home address.

Travel Apps to Get You Through

Your smartphone or tablet can be a real life-saver when having an emergency on vacation. Here are some of the best travel apps to have.

In Case of Emergency

This app helps you store important medical information – allergies, medical conditions, etc. – that can be easily retrieved if an emergency should occur.


Nothing can be more stressful than to become stranded on a road trip. This app can come to your rescue. It arranges help for those stuck on the side of the road with a promise of someone arriving within 30 minutes.


Finding medical help is tough in an unknown place. With mPassport, you gain access to a database containing the contact information of English-speaking medical professionals all over the world.

Just In Case

Hopefully, you will never have to experience an emergency when on vacation. But, no matter where you travel, there's always the possibility. Emergencies can strike anywhere and anyone. Successfully getting through an emergency starts before you even leave with thorough preparation.