ON my last visit to Japan I was bounced out of bed at 5am by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake.
The epicentre was about 100km from where I slept in a city near the northern tip of Honshu Island and my room on the 9th floor of a sturdy 12-storey hotel swayed from side to side and creaked like a metronome set to a speedy tempo.
Scrambling out of bed I realised I had absolutely no idea what to do so I stood in the doorway between bedroom and bathroom, a precaution I think I once saw on Sesame Street, clutching my iPhone, then rang home to request a tsunami check.
When the rocking stopped, about two minutes later, I peered out my window hoping to get a prompt from the locals on what to do next but no one surfaced from homes around the hotel so I went back to bed.
When I met my travel companions for breakfast a few hours later I asked a Japan-based American in the group what I should have done.
He said the procedure was to open the main door, because frames warp easily preventing escape, and wait in the entrance for the quaking to cease.
Fortunately the ground didn’t move again during my stay but the episode prompted me to ponder the even more common things that can happen during travels that the average person doesn’t know how to manage.
So I asked those that know best for hints on handling the unexpected far from home.
What should I do when travellers’ gastro strikes?
World Expedition medical consultant Ross Anderson says waking up with diarrhoea and vomiting is every traveller’s nightmare but packing a few basics will help when you can’t consult a doctor.
“Often non-infective food poisoning will be responsible and the best treatment is to allow your body to expel whatever’s done the damage,’’ he says.
“As unpleasant as it is, the main danger is you fall and injure yourself, so be aware of fainting and stay close to the ground, and as soon as you can drink without vomiting do so to avoid dehydration.
“A rehydration powder will hasten recovery, as it’s a mix of sugar and essential salts, and Imodium can help slow diarrhoea if dehydration is a risk or further travel is essential, but should not be used if there’s bleeding with the diarrhoea.
“Rarely symptoms last more than 72 hours but if they do – or there’s abdominal pain, blood in diarrhoea, or fever – it’s good to have a broad- spectrum antibiotic with you, but this will only help when you’ve contracted a bacterial infection.’’
What if a hotel’s fire alarm sounds?
Fire and Rescue NSW chief superintendent Wayne Phillips, the department’s head of community safety, says planning for a fire alarm should start on arrival at a hotel by taking time to review the escape plan posted on guestrooms’ main door.
“When you check into your hotel, locate the fire exits near your room and count the number of doors between your suite and the nearest exit,’’ he says.
“If the fire alarm sounds you should leave immediately, keep your room key by your bed and take it if there’s a fire, and consider having a bag packed with essentials and leave it by the door to grab on the way out if you’re told to evacuate.
“Evacuate via the fire stairs if it’s safe to do so, as they’re designed to lead you to a safe place away from the building, and never use a lift as they’re not resistant to smoke or fire.’’
What should I do when I miss a flight?
Skyscanner Australia’s Robyn Lee says the first thing to do is “find your ticket’s terms and conditions then contact the airline to work out the next-best solution’’ as each carrier has its own policy on missed flights.
“Some airlines charge a missed-departure or no-show fee, others may forfeit the ticket entirely and you’ll need to rebook, but if you have status with the airline’s loyalty program they might book you on the next flight with or without an extra charge, pending seat availability,’’ she says.
“When a delayed inbound flight causes a missed connection, and you’re travelling on with the same airline, most carriers will rebook you on the next available flight with some offering hotel rooms or food vouchers.
“If you miss your flight after checking in, see ground staff to get ‘decontrolled’ – on international flights you’ll be accompanied back through passport control – and return to the airline’s desk to get booked on another flight by paying a fee or buying another ticket.
“Depending on your destination, it might be cheaper to book another flight and the Skyscanner app comes in handy to show the next best and cheapest options.’’
What if I misplace my passport while travelling?
Hoot Holidays product manager Stephanie Jones recommends always carrying a photocopy of your passport’s details’ page in carry-on luggage, or leaving a copy with someone reliable at home, as having that information not only speeds up the replacement process but helps prove who you are in the meantime.
“It’s a good idea to keep your passport in one place, as this eliminates the chance of misplacing it, and if it is stolen report that to the local police to obtain a copy of the police report,’’ she says.
“You can report it online with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and you need to visit the nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate to provide details of the lost document and begin the process of getting an emergency passport issued.”
What should I do when my luggage doesn’t arrive on the same flight?
Bags inevitably can go astray and in 2016 six checked pieces were delayed or misplaced for every 1000 passengers that took to the wide blue.
Webjet country manager David Galt says the first step is to immediately report to airline staff and fill out a claim form by providing flight and contact details, luggage information including size and colour, and identification that proves who you are.
“Airlines may reimburse for reasonable expenses included while luggage-less but I always recommend taking out travel insurance because you need to make a claim if it is lost, and ask for emergency supplies as some carriers provide basic toiletries to help your wait,’’ he says.
What should I do when I need to make an insurance claim?
Southern Cross Travel Insurance CEO Chris White says 9800 online claims have been processed by the insurer’s team in the past year with companies working hard to ensure the process is “as simple and stress-free as possible’’ for those who run into difficulty while away.
“If you find yourself in a sticky situation and need to make a claim, the most important thing is to get your supporting documents in order – police reports, receipts, itineraries – so we can process it as quickly as possible,’’ he says.
“For customers claiming while travelling, it’s as easy as going to our website, entering policy details and an explanation with supporting documents, and we offer around-the-clock assistance for those who need help urgently.’’