Emergency Travel Packing and Tips

Emergency Travel Packing and Tips

emergency travelEmergency travel is the kind of travel that you don’t want to do.  It usually involves something terrible happening to someone that you care about. Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of experience with emergency travel.  Both of our moms passed away after lengthy terminal illnesses, and we frequently got calls to “get here right now” when one of them was taking a turn for the worse.

More recently, our daughter developed severe medical issues while away at college, leaving me literally making a midnight run to meet her at the emergency room.

Bereavement  Airfare

In my experience, bereavement fares are hard to come by. This is unfortunate is because you generally have to pay inflated, last-minute prices. When my mother was put in hospice, the round trip airfare for a 45-minute flight was more than  $500 and almost 3 times what the same flight costs a couple of weeks in advance. No discount or bereavement fare was available.

According to Smarter Travel, the only airlines still offering bereavement fares are Alaska Airlines and Delta. Delta has published policies for both bereavement and emergency travel. There’s no sign of Alaska’s policy on its website.


You may have better luck getting discount rates for hotels. Your best bet is to call the hotel’s local number and ask about medical or bereavement fares–particularly at hotels near hospitals. You can also ask the hospital if it has any special arrangements with nearby hotels. When my mother was hospitalized away from home her husband was able to reserve a room inside the hospital.  When she was in hospice, there was a local B&B that gave heavily discounted rates to family of hospice patients.

Also, if you are arriving very late you may be able to pay a half-rate.  We were able to get a half-rate when we arrived at 5:00 a.m. on one emergency trip and were in desperate need of a few hours of sleep.

Emergency Travel Abroad

Emergency travel is particularly harrowing if you must travel abroad.  The U.S. Department of State can assist with emergency passport services in cases involving serious injury, illness, or death.

On the other hand, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services warns of the risks of leaving the United States for non-U.S. citizens because you are subject to an immigration review every time you enter the United States.

Last-Minute Packing

If you know that someone is seriously ill or that death is imminent you can prepare a little bit. Make sure any apparel you might need to funeral services has been cleaned and is ready to pack. There’s nothing pleasant about having to shop for dress clothes during an unexpected trip. You can also prepare a toiletry bag.  I travel frequently (and sometimes on short notice) for work, so I keep travel toiletries packed and ready to throw in a bag all the time.

If you are likely to spend time with someone in the hospital, I recommend a hospital kit with the following:

  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • deodorant
  • socks (After several hours, you’re going to want to kick off your shoes!)
  • underwear
  • comfy pants (I have cheap knit pants that are comfy enough for pajamas but can pass for real pants.)
  • a sweater (It is often cold in hospitals.)
  • wipes (I found full body wipes in a hospital gift shop that were the closest I got to a shower during a 3-day stint at the hospital with my daughter.  Makeup wipes, baby wipes, or even expandable cloths would do, too.)
  • snacks (Your vending machine options may be slim, especially if you have dietary restrictions or prefer something healthy.)
  • cash (for parking and vending machines)
  • entertainment (I’ve found I can’t usually focus on a book in these situations. I prefer magazines, surfing the internet, and mindless phone games.  When my mother was ill, I streamed the entire first season of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt late at night when she was sleeping and no one else was around.)
  • earbuds or headphones
  • cables, chargers, and backup batteries for all your devices.  (You can usually find outlets in rooms, but your results may vary in waiting rooms.)

For the record, I’m writing this post from the hospital, where I’ve been hanging out with my kid–again–for the last few days. I’ve also got a pillow and blanket, which I really appreciate right now, but it’s not always practical to tote around with you.

Disaster Packing

emergency travelMost of this post has assumed a medical emergency, but, of course, that’s not always the case.  Disaster seems to be striking everywhere lately and your emergency travel may well be to help a loved one who is dealing with a flood, fire, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster. If you are driving, you’ll have a lot more flexibility on what you can bring, but sometimes the most important thing is your shoulder to lean on and extra hands on deck.

If you are driving, make sure your gas tank is full.  After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, we experienced gas shortages as far north as Dallas, even though the hurricane damages was hundreds of miles south of us. A  blogger I’ve been following for many years, Lag Liv, gives a harrowing account of her family’s experiences when Harvey destroyed her parent’s home. Texas A&M has a helpful guide for what to do immediately after disaster strikes (be very aware of electrical safety!) and  FEMA also offers guidance and resources for salvaging objects after a flood.

Things that are useful to someone whose home has been severely damaged or destroyed by flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado:

  • bottled water
  • plastic storage bins (for anything that can be recovered)
  • cleaning supplies
  • hand tools (After Harvey, insurance adjusters and contractors are hard to come by, and many homeowners began removing  drywall, insulation, and  carpeting,  to mitigate the damage to their homes.)
  • workboots or sturdy hiking shoes
  • work gloves
  • blankets
  • extension cords
  • a generator, with fuel
  • dolly or hand truck
  • laptop, cell phone, chargers (There will be a lot of research needed and calls to make regarding insurance, finding new housing, replacing identification documents and other essentials.)

Don’t Worry About the Small Stuff and Accept Help

You’re probably going to be a little scatter-brained and something is bound to be forgotten. In most cases you can pick it up later or do without it. I left my laptop power cord during one emergency trip, and my husband ordered a universal cord online at Best Buy and his sister, who lived where I was going, picked it up and brought it to the hospital for me.  A really stressful situation had an easy fix, and she was happy to be able to do something to help out during a difficult time.

And many people will offer to help out.  Haven’t you felt helpless when someone was going through something terrible? Remember that when someone is offering help to you and put your pride and fears of inconvenience aside. People are good and it makes them happy to offer some help and comfort during others’ hard times. My mother-in-law spent many months in treatment in a city hundreds of miles from home and away from all family.  A friend-of-a-friend (who became a dear friend) lent both her home and car to my in-laws.  Although some pride had to be swallowed, her kindness not only helped with the financial burden, but provided a much more comfortable and welcoming place for my mother-in-law to stay during a very difficult time.

emergency travel

Do you have any tips or advice to add? Please let us know in the comments.


I am a 40-something lawyer and mom of 3 teenage girls. I love exploring new places, and when I can't be on the road, I'm planning my next trip. Over the years, I've learned a lot about how to travel in a pack of five. Our trips range from budget-friendly road trips with the family, to more luxurious trips for work, either solo or with my husband, Kenny.

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