Vacation Survival Preparedness, by Brent A.

I’ve been a prepper for several years now.  Living in South Louisiana kind of forces one to be with the high probability of hurricanes.  I’ve taken it to the next level and want to be as prepared as possible not just during the summer months for hurricane season, but year round for the litany of other possible disasters whether they be natural or man-made.  With the help of this site and several others I thought I was well on my way to having things pretty well covered.  We have the house prepared for a temporary short term dislocation, and a hunting camp in the boonies of North Central Louisiana that I along with my in-laws are turning into a functional retreat for TEOTWAWKI.  One thing that I’m ashamed to say never dawned on me was what happens if disaster strikes while you are on vacation.  This came very close to happening to me while in Hawaii, and it taught me a very valuable lesson.  There are no vacations from being prepared.

Due to the massive earthquake in Japan, our family vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii over the Mardi Gras break was interrupted by a tsunami.  While sitting on the lanai with my wife and my father in law, enjoying the cool Hawaiian night breeze, we were jolted out of our relaxing conversation by the shrill sirens of the tsunami warning system.   There we were, people who have had the foresight to try and prepare ourselves and extended family for just about every possible situation at home, getting caught with nothing but cargo shorts and flip-flops.  From the long process of getting our homes and our retreat ready, we had the awareness to see that we were not in a good situation.  My brother in law and I immediately jumped in the rental van, which was thankfully a big 12 passenger Ford, and went to the nearest gas station to tank up and get some groceries just in case.  By the time we had gassed up the van and bought a couple of cases of water and some non perishables, the lines at the pumps were 10 to 15 deep, the store was already running low on bottled water, tempers were staring to flare, and being defenseless was starting to make me feel uneasy.   Our plan of action was changed from moving everyone up to the rooms on the 5th floor, to leaving the crowded beachfront resort area before the tsunami hit.   
We planned to take some extra clothes, blankets, pillows, toiletries and other items “borrowed” from our hotel rooms, and head for higher ground to spend the remainder of the night in the van and ride out the tsunami in the nearby mountains.  On our way out after gathering up our “supplies” and family members, the Hotel public announcement system was announcing that they were evacuating the hotel and were asking people to put on warm clothes and load up on busses that would take them to a safe area.  Not wanting to be herded with several hundred strangers to a shelter, we just quietly set out on our own.  As I mentioned previously, we live in southern Louisiana and are familiar as to what happens to tourist in a disaster situation.  We ended up finding a fire station in a little village up at a higher elevation and spent the night there.  The six kids slept on the benches in the van and the adults spent the night watching the news on television with the firemen in the firehouse and taking turns trying to sleep in the front seats of the van.  Thankfully the Tsunami did minimal damage to the island and we were able to return to the resort the next morning.

These are some of the things I learned from this experience that will hopefully help others:

  • Situational awareness.  Be aware of what could happen at your vacation destination.  This could mean earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, blizzards, or even social unrest depending on where you are traveling.  Also as a side note, while at your destination stay sober even though you are on vacation.  I enjoy adult beverages just as much as the next guy, but I refrain from getting drunk, especially when at an unfamiliar location.  This paid huge dividends when we had to jump from relaxation to survival mode.  I felt sorry for the drunks at the hotel as they were being loaded up onto buses confused and disoriented.  It looked a lot like a scene from “Titanic” in the lobby when we left. 
  • Communication.  The entire island cell phone system was shut down due to overload while we were getting gas and we could not communicate with the rest of the family. Having some simple little 2-way radios would have really helped.  Even though they have limited range, they would have been better than nothing.  It would have really expedited our departure if we could have told them to get ready to leave before we got back to the hotel.
  • Transportation.  Always have a means of personal transportation.  I will never stay anywhere without a rental car again.  We were all very thankful for that huge tank of a van.  Not having to rely on the local government or the hotel staff to evacuate us was a tremendous weight off our shoulders.  There was no way we were going to put our family in a New Orleans Superdome situation if we didn’t absolutely have to.
  • Emergency radio.  I have a little Kaito Voyager that could have easily been packed.  Luckily we had a television at the fire station, if we didn’t we would have literally been in the dark as to what was happening.  Our iPads and smart phones of course didn’t work when the cellular system was down, and running down the van’s battery trying to listen to the radio was out of the question.
  • Shelter.  Those little emergency reflective blankets could have been a life saver if we weren’t able to “borrow” the hotel blankets. Also, always pack a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt even if you are going to Hawaii.  It gets cool at night no matter where you are if you have to sleep under the stars.
  • Water.  If we would have been on our own for any extended period of time, we would have run out of drinking water in a hurry. Two cases of bottled water would not have gone far with 12 people.  It would also have been impractical to try and buy more at the time.  We got hard enough looks from people while putting our water and food in the van.  I will have a back packing water filter with me on the next vacation.
  • Food.  We were able to get some food before our excursion, but it would not have lasted long and did not have the best nutritional content.  If we would have waited even 20 minutes longer to go and get food, it would have been even slimmer pickings.  Having a few high calorie ration bars already packed would have been a good insurance policy.
  • Emergency First Aid kit.  Although having two very active boys under the age of five means my wife’s purse pretty much doubles as a first aid kit, having a dedicated small backpacking first aid kit would have been better.  You would probably have to modify some of the contents though to get past airport security.
  • Flashlights.  Our hotel had emergency flashlights in the closets which we again “borrowed” for our little night time excursion.  However, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this and I won’t count on it for future travels.  I can’t believe I never thought of the importance of bringing a flashlight or two on vacation before.  With small children this is even more important just to have in case of a power outage at the hotel to keep them calm.
  • Personal protection.  When traveling it is very hard and sometimes impossible to carry a firearm.  I may be limiting future vacation destinations to other states that recognize my concealed carry permit.  Even though it is a huge pain to fly commercial with any kind of firearm, it is something that I think should be considered.  I’ve never done it with a handgun, but I have done it with hunting rifles.  I could be wrong, but the procedure is probably the same.  It is something I will be checking into.  Thank goodness things never got out of hand.

Most of the items listed above take up little to no room and could have been easily packed in a small book sack and carried onto an airplane except for the personal protection item.  What was the real punch in the gut is that I have all of these things in duplicate at home.  I just didn’t have them with me when I could have really needed them. If the Tsunami would have hit Hawaii harder, we could have been in a bad way.  Thankfully we had the presence of mind and ability to take care of ourselves and the Tsunami did not do any real damage to the island. 
I guess my advice to fellow travelers is to take along a cut down version of a G.O.O.D. bag when you go on vacation.  You don’t have to go overboard and there are many items you would like to have that will not make it past an airport screener.  But there are some things that I really would have liked to have had and really could have needed had things gotten worse than they did.  I know that with all the things you have to pack for a week long vacation, especially with kids, having to pack another bag that you will in all likelihood not need may seem like overkill and paranoia to many people. But driving up a mountain in the middle of the night to escape an oncoming Tsunami, kicking myself for getting caught with my pants down, is not something I’m going to repeat.  I wasn’t prepared for this vacation, but I will be for the next one.