Emergency Preparedness

It’s best to be prepared. Have contingency plans. Take a few steps to make sure that if anything bad comes up, you’re ready. Sometimes it’s hard to think about this stuff, as though refusing to acknowledge risks will somehow keep you safe. I did not prepare in this way before college. I didn’t have my medical insurance card with me. I didn’t think to write down emergency contact information. I never considered what would happen if I broke my leg or if I lost all ID documents. I don't think it ever even crossed my mind.

Despite the lack of preparation, I made it through without any major disasters. But the more I travel and the more stories I hear, the more important it seems to have the essential stuff covered early, and contingency plans in place. It’s worth it to be prepared.

The basics:

  • Contact info
  • Backup copies
  • Medical
  • Banking
  • Passwords

There is way more that I’ll probably talk about at a later date. But for now, this is the basic stuff. Taking care of these few things could make an enormous difference.

Contact info

Your friends should have your parents’ phone numbers. And the other way around. This is not for checking in or playing pranks or anything like that. If you break your leg hiking or some kind of other emergency happens, you want whoever is with you to be able to reach your folks. You want the people around you to be able to look after you if anything bad ever happens. Give a couple of numbers to a few different people—whoever you spend the most time with. Also, have the information backed up somewhere yourself. Make a list of your ten most frequent contacts in your phone, and keep an updated list in your emails. Even memorize a few numbers of people you spend the most time with; the ones I have memorized (my grandmother’s, my folks’, and my childhood best friend’s home phone number) won’t help me get a ride home if I lose my phone at 3:00 in the morning in some foreign city.

Backup copies

Make copies of everything you can’t afford to lose. Keep the copies in multiple places, preferably in a combination of physical copies, computer storage, and cloud online backup. Scan your ID and passport and all other essential documents. Print a copy to leave with your family and another for a drawer in your room. Know where they are. Make a backup of your entire computer and leave it at home, plus storing all your essays and schoolwork in process on a thumb drive that you do not carry around with you. The odds that you will have some essential thing be lost, stolen, or broken at some point are pretty darn high. Make a copy or three, keep the copies up to date, and stash them in a couple of safe places.


Know your situation with medical insurance. Have your details with you. If your appendix bursts, you want to deal with the least amount of bureaucracy as possible, so just have your information to hand. People get injured when they’re in school, just like at all other times in their lives.


Again, know your information. Have it written down. Do a bit of looking into the best way to receive emergency funds if that is ever needed, and agree to how that might be done. Hide a small amount of emergency cash somewhere. When I left for Europe I put a $100 bill in an envelope in my backpack. I intend for that money to still be there whenever I move back to the States. But if I ever need it, really need it, it’s there. That money is not for an awkward end-of-evening situation when I’m low on cash and friends want to drink another round. This is emergency money. I have other stashes that are convenience funds, “just in case.” But I always and absolutely know that that last $100 is there. And despite many strange experiences, I have kept it that way.


This particular emergency case-scenario involves quite a bit of trust, but it’s important. Someone else should know your passwords. For me, it’s both my mom and my dad. They have written down the password to my computer, my email, my facebook, and my banking details. Why? Because I would want them to have access to these things if something ever happened to me. I am a relatively private person, and I don’t enjoy the idea of anyone going through the whole archive of my computer. But if something ever happened, I would want my friends and family to have access to my pictures, my creative writing, and my friends’ contact information.

Obviously this last category of “preparedness” requires quite a bit of trust, and perhaps not everyone would agree with me. But if nothing else, leave the passwords written somewhere they would be found in the event that they’re needed.

I first gave this kind of pre-disaster planning real thought after I had quite a few of my possessions stolen from me while traveling in Nicaragua (that’s a story for another day). I needed quick support from my folks and my friends to deal with banking, planning, and replacing the essentials.

What really cemented this idea for me, though, was when a new friend of mine told me about having to help make arrangements for her roommate who died in a car accident while traveling abroad. My friend had to call the family, and between them take care of all logistical and emotional details, from banking to arranging the memorial service.

All this made me think about being prepared, and about how a little planning in the short term will hopefully never be needed, but could make such a huge difference in the long run. This might not be a 'fun' topic, but it's an important one. Spend a few minutes thinking about worse-case-scenarios and what you could do to be ready. And then feel comfortable moving forward with a sense of optimism.


Please let me know what you think. Do you have contingency plans in place? Are there important ones I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments here!