Emergency Trip
Melbourne Airport, 20 March 2017, Photo by Alexandria Blaelock

My 90-year-old mother has just come out of hospital, so tonight, after an emergency trip I am sitting in a hotel room in the town I grew up in.

As a Stoic, I like to take some of the emotional extremes out of my life with some contingency planning using a technique called Negative Visualisation. Basically, you imagine your day and make note of the things that might go wrong. Then, at the very least you aren’t surprised when they do, or you can apply a Risk Management process to minimise the fall out.

This was a very useful technique while I was on dialysis and just didn’t have the energy to deal with drama, but it’s also useful when you are busy and will go into meltdown if one more thing comes up.

Planning a Stress Free Emergency Trip

Oddly enough, despite my trip being predictable (mother is 90) I was completely unprepared. And spent a stressed out couple of days trying to book flights and hotels and whatnot.

The bit that makes this scenario so difficult is that when you are in the middle of an emergency you can’t make good decisions because you are stressed out and your mind is flitting randomly from one freak out thing to another. The best way to deal with the situation is to plan it before it happens.

So here are the top five things I have learned about planning for a stress-free emergency trip.

1. Buy a carry-on bag

The important thing is usually to get there as quickly as possible and you can save yourself a lot of time by not checking luggage. I spent a great deal of time packing and repacking my backpack because it was the only bag I had small enough to fit the “new” guidelines.

If you have a carry-on bag, check whether the dimensions still meet the requirements, and consider looking for something lighter and more modern. And beautiful if you can manage it (you need all the help you can get).

2. Develop a basic packing list

Think about what you might need to go away for a week. A week’s worth of clothing, your skin, hair and dental care, phone chargers, snacks and so on. Try and fit it in your carry-on. You can use packing cubes to keep collections together (e.g., your clothes or technology) and minimise the amount of space they take up. Unpack and repack as many times as you need to until it all fits. Make calm, rational choices about what has to be left out – there will probably be stores where you are going, and you might not care as much about personal presentation as otherwise.

Now write it down and keep the list with your bag. If you have to pack for an emergency trip, you can just tick it into the carry-on. You’ve been through it all, so you can be confident that everything you need is in there and you don’t have to worry about it.

3. Maintain one travel set of medical and personal care products

Travel or trial size product sets are a popular gift, so I thought I would have one ready to go. Sadly, when I checked my supplies, the products had all separated into their component parts. (Probably not a good sign). I had to find some small containers and snap lock bags, to decant larger products into instead. And then I found that many of those had expired or separated as well. (This is why it’s not always cheaper to buy in bulk).

Keep a travel kit in your carry-on, and at least annually discard and replace the expired products. Maybe at Christmas when the new sets come in.

4. Pack comforting reminders of loved ones at home

When you are alone and upset, it is comforting to have some small thing that smells like home to remind you that there is a “normal” life waiting for you on the other side of this emergency. Whether it ends “well” or not, this crisis will pass, and life will go on.

5. Prepare for your own emergencies

You and everyone else who arrives will be stressed and on edge. They (and you) will probably say and do things that in normal circumstances would be filtered out. But with hair triggers all round, things can quickly explode.

  • Try to focus on what is best for the person for whom you came, and not yourself.
  • The hotel will not have your coffee or your tea, and the milk will taste funny.
  • The water is different and your hair is going to go nuts but that is not the end of the world.
  • It may be hot outside, but it will be cold in your hotel room so pack a light warm layer.
  • When you wake up jetlagged and groggy, the toilet is not where you expect it, so pack a torch. Pack some bandaids too.

Bonus Tip: Focus on the positive

Travelling anywhere for an emergency is difficult. It’s easy to focus on the worst case scenarios, but if you take a moment there are more pleasant things to notice.

  • It’s warm and sunny, and the air smells faintly of the river.
  • A seagull is sitting on the balcony peering in through the door.
  • You’re catching up with friends you haven’t seen for a while for dinner.
  • At the end of the day, you can shut your hotel room door, be alone and savour the still quietness of the room. And a cold beer.
  • Your pain-in-the-arse boss os on the other side of the country!


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