My family moved abroad just a couple of months before the pandemic took hold of Europe and forced the first shutdown. We didn’t really have the opportunity to meet anybody in the midst of house hunting and settling in madness, so when things really started to get crazy, in that peak-fear period when no one was really sure what was going on, I had an additional layer of panic: what would my husband and I do if one or, horrifyingly, both, of us got Covid? With two very young children, the thought was dizzying. What would happen to our kids if we both had to be hospitalized? What do you do to keep your family safe while away from everything and everyone you know?
Thankfully we avoided that, but then about a month ago, my youngest son fell ill with “faux-croup” and had a horrible cough in the middle of the night. As he was gasping for air I realized that I didn’t even know the emergency number in Switzerland! I was living out that “what’s the number for 911?!” joke, and let me tell you it’s just not as cute in real life. He was fine, but I knew that our family, living far away from the relatives and friends to call in the middle of the night, needed to finally come up with an emergency preparedness plan.
I am not the type of person that carries all sorts of documentation around with me when I travel and is panicky about safety; my five-second-rule is more like a five-minute-rule. But with kids, everything changes, and the last thing you want is to find yourself in a potentially difficult situation completely unprepared.
If you’re in the same boat, living far from home, or if you’re going on a big trip, there are 5 easy things that you can do to save yourself from a lot of headaches at best or a dangerous situation at worst.
Your phone, your lifeline
We depend on our phones for just about everything it seems, but did you know that there are a bunch of safety capabilities that you can activate? From emergency calls to entering contact information to location services, there are functions you should familiarize yourself with that could really help in a jam. For example, did you know that you can text 911? Or that if you have an Apple Watch, you can turn on a “fall detection” setting that will alert emergency services if you are unresponsive after the watch has detected you’ve taken a hard tumble? There are so many incredibly useful things that our phones can do beyond taking pictures! Check out the features for Apple phones here and Androids here.
Of course, there are apps to download as well, like the EchoSOS app which was recommended by a couple of friends. Using location services, the app will determine emergency numbers in the local area, plus show you a listing of nearby emergency rooms. You can even complete your own emergency card with information like blood type, allergies, medications, etc., as well as your emergency contact info. You can also do this on your iPhone in the Medical ID section, but it doesn’t hurt to have a backup!
If you are traveling internationally, call your phone provider beforehand to set up a temporary international plan if you don’t already have one. This will make you feel better about turning on roaming if you find yourself needing to make a call or use GPS.
And though our phones can do so much and feel like such safety nets, think about a situation where you might not have access to it. When I was 12 I think I had about 15 friends’ phone numbers memorized and could probably still recall some of them today, but these days where everything is programmed I can barely remember my own! So have important numbers written down and keep them somewhere safe and accessible in case you need to make a call from another phone. Remember to use that +1 country code when attempting to call the US from outside of the country, and don’t forget chargers and adapters!
Speaking of coverage…
Does your health insurance include international coverage? Check beforehand, and if not, consider purchasing additional travel insurance. You probably won’t need it, but costs for some emergency coverage (like a medical evacuation) are astronomical without insurance. Do a little digging and see what’s right for your family. And of course, bring basic medications like Tylenol so that you don’t have to worry about visiting a pharmacy while on vacation, and if you have any necessary prescriptions, bring along that information so that you can refill it while you’re away if something happens to your supply.
Sharing is Caring
No matter if you’re traveling or living abroad, share your details with someone you trust. If you’re going on a trip, share where you’re going and when, where you’re staying, all of those basic details so that someone has that information in case of an emergency. If you’re living away from home, share details like your address, the contact information for your employer, your child’s school — anything that’s going to allow your close family or friends to be able to reach out to someone near you in case they are worried and can’t contact you.
Are the Kids All Right?
Does your child know their full name? Do they know that your name isn’t just mommy or daddy? As early as you can, begin to give them the tools they’ll need to be able to communicate this information so that they can get help if they need it. If you have a very young child and aren’t completely confident that they’ll be able to express this to a stranger, tag them! From low-tech options like just laminating a piece of paper with contact information and sticking it in their pocket, to slightly fancier temporary tattoos or bracelets, to high-tech GPS devices, there are many ways to help you breathe a bit easier if you become separated from your child in a crowded place.
Talk to your child about what to do if you become separated. If you’re somewhere like a museum or theme park or the beach, point out who the helpers are – tell them to look for particular uniforms or lifeguard chairs if they find themselves alone. If they’re still not quite old enough to grasp this, tell them to look for a mommy or daddy with kids and that they’ll help them to find their way back to you. Teach them to stop, look, and listen: oftentimes kids aren’t lost or far away, they just lose sight of you and panic. A friend teaches her kids to turn in slow circles a few times if they lose track of the family, and usually taking a pause brings everyone back together.
It’s a Matter of Trust
It’s easier said than done, and it may take a little time, but if you are living abroad or otherwise far from loved ones, find someone that you can trust as soon as you can. This does not need to be your best friend immediately, but just someone that you can turn to for assistance or advice. Maybe it’s a colleague or the spouse of your partner’s colleague, or a parent from your child’s school: whoever it is, talk to them about emergency situations. Many of us are in the same boat and completely understand how hard it is to be away from family and friends, so we’re very happy to create our own villages of supportive parents. Most importantly, make sure that you have someone your child is familiar with and trusts, as well. Try to bring other people, other families, into your life as soon as you can so that your kids have a feeling of trusted community. I know this can be difficult, especially in Covid-times, but the sooner you can identify a few of those people, the easier you’ll rest.
Preparing for an emergency isn’t exactly topping anyone’s list of fun things to do, especially when, thankfully, we go through most of our days just cruising along as normal. It’s easy to ignore, just like that junk drawer you’ve been meaning to organize. But by taking the time to put some quick plans in place, you’ll be prepared to navigate through those scary moments and keep disaster at bay!
Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping your family safe while away? Let us know in the comments below!
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