This is Not a Drill


Last week I wrote about disaster tourism, which occurs immediately after a disaster, and recovery tourism, which happens much later and is intended to help a destination bounce back. This week, as Hurricane Irma bears down on the US, I realized there’s another kind of tourism at play here – and I may have the honor of coining the term myself: evacuation tourism.

Now, I don’t mean to be cavalier about the danger posed by this (or any) hurricane or to make light of the devastation it may cause. I know that no one actually wants to evacuate in the face of a major storm, and for many people, evacuation is a terrible (if not impossible) financial burden. But for those people who have the means to make their pre-disaster travel less awful, why not put a positive spin on it?

Some of my family members who are fleeing Irma’s wrath, after considering a variety of not-very-appealing evacuation options along the East Coast, decided to use the opportunity to visit extended family they haven’t seen in years. And just like that, travel that was going to be a real pain in the neck suddenly became a nice little vacation.

The trouble with evacuation tourism (aside from the natural disaster, obviously) is that it’s last-minute. Granted, some people love last-minute travel and don’t give a second thought to throwing plans together moments before heading out the door (or even after they’ve headed out the door). Many of us, however, prefer to plot out our travels well in advance. So on top of the stress of the evacuation, you get a dose of stress from the travel itself. But fret not: you can overcome this anxiety and enjoy yourself. As someone who only used to travel with weeks or months of notice, I can assure you it’s possible to make the mental shift.

What triggered the change for me was an unexpected transatlantic trip. I’d never traveled overseas without months of prior planning, and suddenly I had less than 24 hours to prepare. And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing unexpected. I packed, I went to the airport, I traveled...just like any other trip. And I had an Aha! moment: whether you have years of advance notice or mere hours, ultimately, travel is travel. Yes, you’ll have to make decisions more quickly, and you may have to figure out more things on the fly (no pun intended). But really, all you have to do to make it stress-less is adjust your state of mind. (To help, you might want to read my earlier blogs about traveling with the right attitude and chilling out at the airport.)

I also found that one or two last-minute trips boosted my confidence as a traveler. Once you manage to travel smoothly with no prior planning, you’ll know that you can handle any kind of journey. While I still prefer to plan ahead, I don’t find a last-minute trip daunting like I used to.

Actually, one unexpected thing did happen on that transatlantic flight. Because I booked my ticket online less than 12 hours before departure, I figured I’d be relegated to a middle seat at the back of the plane. Instead, when I checked in I was offered a bulkhead aisle seat, the most coveted of all seats on long-haul flights. Hurrah! It was only much later that it occurred to me… I’d probably been seated next to the air marshal.

Airlines may not take a laissez-faire view of last-minute plans, but the rest of us can make the best of any situation (even hurricanes) and pull off a vacation when we least expect it.


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