We went up the mountain as 11, fearless and full of adrenaline, celebrating another year of life in the Colorado mountains. Throwing off our helmets and goggles, talks of the exhilarating ride filled the air. And then we noticed, there were only 9 of us, our guides were in a huddle, and the whispers of an accident began to permeate the air. The feeling of dread that had begun to manifest in my stomach turned into nausea, and I knew before the dreaded words were spoken that there had been accident and my brother, the birthday boy, was one of those involved.
I can remember the feeling of my heart in the pit of my stomach, my tears freezing to my face, and the bits and pieces of the hushed conversation between the guides.
Ambulance. 30 feet fall. Concussion. Pretty bad.
This was our 4th year jetsetting across the country to celebrate our birthdays together. Trips filled of countless excursions, waterfall plunges, jumping in the ocean, partying into the morning…. I had been in Colorado for less than 24 hours, and instead of the surprise party that we had planned at the Breckenbridge Distillery, my brother was being prepared for a flight for life ride to a more equipped hospital in Denver due to a bleed on the brain, while his girlfriend lay nearby in agony suffering from a broken elbow and fractured tailbone and pelvis.
This was not our first trip or first excursion by a long shot. We’ve travelled the world, but here we were, thousands of miles away from family praying for the best and learning to deal with the rest. Everyone has heard the stories about tragedies happening while on vacation, but until that moment, I had never fathomed having to call my mother and tell her that she needed to be on the next flight to Denver because the doctors said that my brother’s prognosis was grim.
When getting ready for a vacation, we think about the clothes that we need to pack, our accommodations, transportation, and excursions, but we rarely plan for tragedy. By the grace of God, my brother and his girlfriend both made full recoveries, but this incident reminded me to not take life for granted and that tomorrow isn’t promised. While I am and always will be an advocate for travel, based on my experience, I’ve listed some tips for all travelers just in case an accident occurs:
- Always carry your insurance card on vacation and be aware of your international coverage. While some countries have universal health care, unless you are a citizen you might not qualify for coverage, however, some policies have provisions in place that will cover portions of your medical care internationally.
- Like your mama probably told you a long time ago, always carry extra underwear. I might have been competing in the same clothes challenge the extra days I spent in Denver, but my underclothes were clean and plentiful.
- Before signing any waivers on excursions, read them thoroughly and inquire about accidental clauses and coverage. Most waivers state that you are solely responsible for any accidents and that the company will not be held liable.
- Be mindful of weather inclinations and go with your gut. If the weather is adverse to your excursion, remember that your safety comes first. In our case, almost every snow mobile rental company was closed due to a lack of snow, with the exception of the company where we purchased our tours. That should have been a red flag, but there is something about vacation that replaces logical thinking. And due to the waivers that we have signed, the company was not held liable for the accident or responsible for the $200,000 in accumulated medical bills.
- If an accident occurs, if possible, ask to report immediately to the accident scene and take pictures. Since my brother and his girlfriend have limited memory about the accident, we had to attempt to answer questions about the cause of the accident, aftermath, etc, but none of us witnessed or reviewed the scene of the crash. This may not always be feasible, but there were enough of us to divide and conquer, and you never know when you may need that information for legal purposes.
- Reschedule flights IMMEDIATELY. Most airline companies require that flights be cancelled before scheduled departure to avoid fees and penalties, even in the instance of an accident.
- Always travel with extra $$$. A weekend trip turned into a week long trip, and without extra emergency cash, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for necessities such as a hotel stay, rental car extension, food, etc.
P.S. If you would like help planning your next vacation, click here.