What to do in an emergency while travelling

Emergencies can happen at any time when you are travelling and not every traveller knows what to do when things get serious. Here is a few insights to help if an emergency should happen while travelling

What to do in an emergency while travelling

Everyone travels with the intention of having a great experience and bringing back happy memories. However, unexpected events can occur that can derail those intentions and end up in an emergency. You may be injured in a car accident, get sick from eating unhygienic street food, or experience a natural disaster like an earthquake or volcanic ash cloud that puts a stop to your holiday.

While you can’t always do anything about an emergency occurring at your holiday destination, taking simple precautions and knowing what to do before, during and after the event can minimise your loss and stress.

This guide details the things you should do, if you experience a medical emergency, civil unrest or a natural disaster on your holiday.

For information on what you should do in the event of a terrorist attack, read our article on How to survive a terrorist attack.

Here are our top tips on what to do before, during and after an emergency:

Before you leave for your holiday

It may or may not happen, but if you’ve already invested both time and money into this holiday, it would be in your best interests to protect that investment and be prepared. Doing your homework beforehand can help to lessen the consequences of an emergency.

1) Let people know where you’re going

  • Give your family and friends access to your holiday details. If anything happens, they’ll know where you are and you’ll save everyone some stress.
  • Register your trip details with Smartraveller. It’s not just so you can be located if there’s an emergency, but also if you have a family emergency back home and you need to be informed. The information you give is protected by privacy laws, so take the time to register.

2) Take out travel insurance

  • Travel insurance may cover for the unexpected costs of an overseas emergency like hospital expenses, the cost of buying medication and the cost of additional accommodation and travel if you’re not able to return home due to a natural disaster.
  • Your travel insurer may also assist with organising for a family member to be with you if you’re seriously ill overseas, and even evacuate you home if they deem it necessary.* And if you’re too sick to return home as originally planned, your travel insurer may even be able to extend your policy free of charge until you can. 
  • It’s important to be prepared and have the proper cover - check that your travel insurance covers for:
    • Medical emergencies: Medical costs in some countries including the USA and Japan can be very high. Having medical cover may save you a lot of money should the unexpected happen and you’re hospitalised.*
    • Cancellation: if the flight to your destination is cancelled, or if you’re in an accident before you’re even able to leave for your holiday, you may be able to claim for the costs associated with that cancellation. This includes any accommodation and tours you’ve already booked.*
    • Travel delays: if you’re unable to return home because your booked transport is cancelled or delayed, you can claim for additional expenses like accommodation and meals.*
    • Missed connections: if there’s an alternative way that you can take to get home, you may be able to claim for the costs of taking that different route.*

*Benefit subject to the terms and conditions of the Product Disclosure Statement.

3) Know who to contact and what to do

  • Check and subscribe to Smartraveller– the government issues travel warnings for every country so that you can plan appropriately. Avoid travelling to destinations that have a ‘Do Not Travel’ or ‘Reconsider Your Need To Travel’ warning issued. To find out more about the Australian Government travel advisories read our Travel Warnings guide.
  • Carry your ID (passport) and the contact details of the nearest Australian Embassy or Consulate, medical centres and hospitals. Remember that the emergency contact number in other countries may not be 000.
  • Keep in the loop with social media and watch the news. Even if you’ve bought travel insurance, knowing what’s happening at your destination can help you to change your plans and minimise disruption ahead of time.
  • Familiarise yourself with what to do in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake or cyclone, particularly if you’re travelling to a region prone to natural disasters.

For more information on what you need to do to prepare for your holiday, read Fast Cover’s Top 30 Tips To Prepare For Your Trip.


Did you know that if you buy travel insurance with cancellation cover after the natural disaster has already happened, you won’t be covered for any cancellations or delays as a result of that natural disaster? Travel insurance companies usually put up event notices on their website so it is a good idea to check before you purchase.

This means that if you don’t have travel insurance and your flight is cancelled or delayed, you won’t be able to claim for the expenses that you’ve already paid, or for the expenses that you may incur as a result

During the emergency

It can certainly be an overwhelming experience when you are in the midst of a medical emergency while you are on holidays! Having these few tips in mind will make it easier to to handle the situation until your 24/7 Emergency Assistance arrives. 

1) Keep calm and make contact

  • Go to the nearest doctor or hospital if you’re injured as soon as you can. If you’re not able to do so yourself, ask for help.
  • If you’re the victim of a crime, report the incident to the police as soon as you’re able to.
  • In the event of a natural disaster, civil protest or unrest, move to a safe location and follow the instructions of emergency services, the police or local authorities.
  • Contact the Australian Embassy or Consulate and request assistance. They won’t pay any of your expenses, but they can put you in contact with translators, lawyers and the police if required. They’ll also be able to get in contact with your family if you’re not able to.
  • Contact your travel insurance assistance team, they may be able to help and advise you.
  • When you’re able to, call your family to let them know where you are and that you’re safe.

2) Keep a record

Keep all receipts and any documentation like police and doctor’s reports and restaurant, accommodation and transport receipts. It’ll be harder to get the receipts and documentation once you return home, and you may need them if you need to lodge a claim.

After you’ve returned home

Now that you are home from your trip you can start putting in claims for your out of pocket expenses you incurred while on your trip. 

1) Put in a claim

There’s no time frame for when you should put a claim in. However it does help to submit one as soon as you can, because if you leave it any longer you may lose the receipts and documentation which you’ll need to substantiate your claim.

2) Organise your next holiday

Unexpected emergencies can happen to anyone and millions of travellers go overseas every year without incident. So get that map out and organise your next holiday experience!


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