My Story – Bushfire at Home

Content Warnings: natural disaster, fire
When was the event?

Sampson Flat Bushfire began on 2 January 2015 lasted until 9th January. It burned over 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) – that’s twice the size of Paris and bigger than Washington DC – destroyed 27 houses, and 140 other buildings. Miraculously no one was killed, though 134 injuries were reported.

Where was it, and where were you?

I was in Paris, France, for an extended holiday with one of my best friends. She was awake before me and I remember waking up to her *very calmly* suggesting that I look at this fire in our home state.

We are Australian, so we are aware of the potential for bushfire and there are often fires over the summer. But she sounded worried. Really worried. So, I looked it up, and saw that indeed the fire was very close to my house.

Making an internet call to my parents I found out that they were staying to defend the house. For those of you not well versed in bushfire protocol, you are given an evacuation notice – if you choose to stay you forego any rescue attempt by the fire service because it is too dangerous to send them in to the fire front. You’re also advised to not try to leave yourselves after this point as the roads will be dangerous.

My parents were declining to evacuate to defend the house. I nearly had a panic attack on the phone.

What was your first reaction?

After getting off the phone – eerie calm which soon turned in to silent panic. I have to say my bestie did an incredible job of remaining calm, and managing my emotions that day. She made me leave the apartment – which I didn’t want to do, eat – which I didn’t want to do, and somewhat kind of still enjoy Paris – which I didn’t want to do. All without being too enthusiastic and perky. I must have been a nightmare.

How did you deal with the situation?

It was only few days until our scheduled flight home, so there was no point trying to return early. I spent about 50 euros on international credit so that I could call home every hour.

There was an hour where I couldn’t get through. And I panicked. When I did get through, they told me the fire had come past the house, their efforts and our fire precautions saved the house. Though our property took a battering and we lost a lot of equipment and machinery – including my beloved motorcycle. I couldn’t have cared less – my parents, my dogs, and my house were safe.

Any advice for people in a similar situation?

Cut. Your. Damn. Trees. It might be super pretty and idyllic to have a veritable forest coming right up to your walls, but in a fire those spontaneously combust with how hot the air gets – yes seriously – not so idyllic.

On the travel side of things – have a way of contacting your loved ones, because when it’s all going to heck in a handbasket you’d give your right hand to hear their voices.

Alex’s Story – Christchurch Terrorist Attack

Content Warnings: terrorism

When was the event?

15th of March 2019

Where was it, and where were you?

Christchurch New Zealand, 50 people were killed by a white supremacist terrorist. I was living in London and the night (UK time) before I had been speaking to my grandmother in Auckland who had told me the biggest news down in NZ was how lovely the weather was. I’ve lived in London most of my life but my dad is from NZ and I have a very strong connection with my family there

What was your first reaction?

Anger, disbelief and shame. It’s strange in a way, I was very close to being on the train that exploded in Parsons Green and was nearly in London Bridge on the night of the attacks there but somehow what happened in Christchurch really hit me hard.

It was similar to how I felt about the terrorist attacks in Nice. My maternal grandmother lives there and I’ve spent a lot of time there as well and it affected me more than attacks in the UK but there was something really awful about it being in New Zealand. To me I’ve always thought of NZ as the most welcoming and kindest country, not necessarily removed from the rest of the world but as being positive and open despite the worries of the world. New Zealand isn’t perfect by any means but I really never conceived something like this happening there.

How did you deal with the situation?

On the day itself I was really messed up, burst into tears on the train to work and spent the whole day trying to work out what had happened and what was going on. Even though I didn’t know anyone affected personally it was awful to see. My boss was amazing, insisting I go home early to make it to the vigil at Hyde Park and actively driving me to the train station but even then, I still wasn’t able to think rationally about how to react in a broader sense. I ended up being interviewed on Sky News about everything and I can barely remember it. It all just felt unreal.

The next morning, I decided the only way I could carry on is if I did something that might help, I’d discussed it before but that Saturday morning I began training to do a 5k run to raise money for victims of the attack. I chose to do something because the evil mindset that had encouraged the attack was based on “revenge.” Evil responding to evil. Instead I wanted to try something good as a response. I started running but even that evening it was really hard to handle things. I was at a friend’s birthday party that weekend and it just felt unreal. As selfish as it sounds, I think maybe I needed to do something to just give myself a better sense of purpose.

Alex has chosen to raise money through Give A Little which is supporting the victims of the Christchurch attack – if you would like to donate through the page, you can see details linked below.

Donate via Givealittle

Sinead’s Story – Home Struck By Lightening

Map Made Memories – check out the Facebook page

When was the event? Where was it, and where were you?

Back in the days before backpacking with a mobile phone, I was working in a remote part of the Northern Territory in Australia as part of a round the world trip from the U.K.

Calling home one night, I found out that my parents house had been struck by lightning and the attic and whole of the top floor had burned down. Luckily no one was hurt despite my family being asleep in the house at the time. Incredibly, the fire had been spotted in its infancy by firefighters attending another fire nearby. 

What was your first reaction?

Initial shock gave way to relief and gratitude that everyone was ok. Then serious guilt set in. I felt guilty that I had not been there to help my family either emotionally or practically. 

And some time later, the realisation hit me that as I had everything I possessed stored in their attic, I had now lost everything I owned. In addition to the everyday books and clothes, I had lost family heirlooms and irreplaceable items of sentimental value. 

What Advice do you have for others?

From the other side of the world, I had to make a detailed and comprehensive list of all my belongings for the insurance company. I had naively neglected to do this before packing everything away and if I couldn’t remember it, I couldn’t claim for it. It was a hard but valuable lesson. 

For another round the world trip many years later, I created a detailed list of every single item that was packed away and I would advise any long-term traveller to do the same. 

Danni’s Story – Political Upheaval while Working Abroad

Live in 10 Countries

When was the event and what happened? 

Major political upheaval at a time when we all thought it best not to rock the boat. In 2016, the UK decided to leave the EU and whichever side of the political spectrum you’re on has included violence, fear and worry for many migrants and the constant threat of an overturned government or a disastrous no deal scenario. Along the way jobs have been lost, stampedes have become common at ports and the pound’s value has sunk like a stone. The fear of economic collapse seems to be everywhere you look.

Where was it, and where were you?

I was living in Melbourne, Australia, when Brexit hit my native country, Brighton in the UK. I was on one year working holiday visa in Australia but seriously considered coming back when I realised how serious things were back home.

What was your first reaction? At first I was pretty foolish – I just assumed it would all blow over and be fine. I also thought it was a bit of a joke and although I voted, I didn’t bother to campaign. I thought it basically wouldn’t really happen as we’d been in the European Union for my whole lifetime. 

How did you deal with the situation? In times of uncertainty, it’s all about planning. I made sure I had an emergency fund to cover me in case of any immigration issues. I also renewed my passport so as to have at least 6 months of validity in case I needed to go anywhere, as they said that this would be needed after Brexit.

If you have any, what is some advice you’d give to someone in a similar situation you were?

Stay strong and keep calm. You’ll have loved ones on all sides worrying about their livelihoods, whether they’ll be deported and how they’ll cope with price rises. Contact local immigration charities for affordable advice and only take part in peaceful, non violent demonstrations. Always have travel insurance and read government advice before travelling as you may not be covered otherwise.

Wendy’s Story – 9/11 Attack

TheNomadicVegan on Instagram and Facebook

Content Warning: terrorism

When was the event? Where was it, and where were you?

Every American remembers where they were on September 11th, 2001, when they found out the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been attacked. I was in the city center of Rome, Italy, sitting at the entrance to the Roman Forum waiting for my turn to give a tour.

A fellow American tour guide rushed up to me in a frantic state, asking if she could use my mobile phone. She said something I didn’t quite understand about Kamikaze jets, phone lines being down, and not being able to reach her family in New York.

She tried to call them from my phone but still couldn’t get through. Then I tried to call my Mom in Alabama, and I couldn’t get through either. 

What was your reaction?

The rest of that day is a bit of a blur. I caught snippets of news reports blaring from TVs in bars and restaurants and gradually pieced things together.

I did eventually reach my Mom, and she was in a state of shock and disbelief. Even though my family members were far from the attacks and were in no physical danger, they were scared out of their minds, which of course is the whole point of terrorism.

How did you deal with the situation?

Many of the Americans tourists I met that day and for days afterward were also in shock, and they were very touched by the outpouring of support shown by Italians. Flags flew at half mast, and a candlelit procession passed slowly by the city’s historic monuments.

I couldn’t do much to comfort my Mom, who was so far away, but I could share the poignant moment with strangers, who I suddenly felt a special bond and connection with.

The world changed that day. Sadly, I think the long-term effect has been more division and fear among peoples. But in the immediate aftermath of the attack, I experienced the opposite. People came together in solidarity to mourn and try to make sense of what had just happened.

Paula’s Story – Death in The Family

The Travelling Expat – follow them on Instagram

Content Warnings: familial death, sudden death

When was the event? Where was it, and where were you?

The hardest part of living abroad is hearing difficult news when you are miles away from the ones you love. I will never forget the date (31 January 2007), it was the day I got the news that my father had passed away from a sudden heart attack, it was exactly 31 days into our first expat assignment in Taipei, and it was the day my life changed forever.

What was your first reaction?

I guess it was shock, but I couldn’t believe what I had heard, in fact, every time I hear anyone say the words “I have something to tell you”, my mind automatically believes something terrible has happened and brings me back to that awful day. The rest was a blur, I jumped on the first available flight to Hong Kong and then connected to Sydney. I might have cried the entire way.

How did you deal with the situation?

I was grateful to my husband who took a week off work to look after the children and to allow me to be with my family who I needed just as much as they needed me.  Writing that eulogy was by far the hardest thing I have ever written, getting up in front of a crowd is not a problem, but getting up in front of those who loved him as I did, and speak of the man who I will never see again was difficult beyond anything I could imagine. 

The best advice I can give anyone is, get on that plane and get home, be with the ones that loved him and love you, surround yourself with others and cry as much as you feel you need to. Everyone deals with grief differently but being with those that know you the best, make the experience a little more manageable. 

Jean’s Story – Terminal Illness at Home

Travelling Honeybird or follow them on Instagram

Content Warnings: familial death, terminal illness

When was the event and what happened? A family member passing away from terminal illness

Where was it, and where were you?

The family member was in New Zealand, and had been ill for a rather long time. A lung transplant had morphed into terminal cancer and the clock was ticking. When he passed away we were on a long term trip in South America.

What was your first reaction?

Sadness that we were not there to support the family.

How did you deal with the situation?

With a good drinking session to remember the happier times. There was nothing else we could do.

If you have any, what is some advice you’d give to someone in a similar situation you were?

Be prepared and have the difficult discussions with your family before you depart on a long term trip. Have the discussion on what you will be prepared to do should a family member pass away. We had previously discussed with family that we would not return for the funeral should he pass away. This was mainly due to the cost and potential difficulty in getting back to New Zealand from where ever we would happen to be. We didn’t want the family waiting for us to find a way back before holding the funeral.

Also check your travel insurance. As this was an Uncle and not an immediate family member we were not covered to fly home for the trip.

Chandresh’s Story – Home Burgled While 6,000 Miles Away

Family on The Wheels on Facebook and Instagram

When was the event and what happened?

In Middle of 2016 while we are away on first holiday with our kid ( 2 year old ) in Italy, suddenly we got a call from our neighbor that he noticed the missing locks on the front door of our apartment.

Where was it, and where were you? 

It happened in Delhi and we were around 6000 km away in Florence preparing for our next day trip to visit Leaning Tower of Pisa . 

What was your first reaction?

May be our heart skipped few beats hearing this and our kid started to panic when he noticed the expression on our face.

How did you deal with the situation?

 We asked our neighbour to call police and in meantime we called our relative back in Delhi to immediately visit the place. Fortunately, as a habit we always move our personal and valuable assets to our relatives’ house while going on long trip. Police took a stock and it looked like robbers leaved in rush taking goods not more than USD 2000.  We still completed our trip as going back would have not changed anything. After immediately coming back, we got CCTV installed at our place 

If you have any, what is some advice you’d give to someone in a similar situation you were?

Firstly, don’t panic. Secondly, don’t keep valuables in your home when going away for a while. Thirdly, inform your neighborhood watch in advance about your trip or if possible, ask a friend or neighbor to sleep over at your place. Fourth, If the probability of burglary is high in your town then get Home insurance done for more piece of mind.

Now, these are all scary and stories – but that doesn’t mean don’t travel. It just means be prepared, both mentally and practically. I always say to have travel insurance as most policies include a compassionate return home clause.

image of forested slopes with 'when you're travelling and something goes wrong' text overlaid
When you’re away – what happens if something goes wrong at home? Eight people tell their stories and share advice #travel #traveltips
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What happens when you’re really far from home, and something goes wrong? Travelers tell their stories and share advice for how to deal with major events at home while you are traveling #traveltips #travel #traveladvice