Stampedes usually disperse when they enter water (iStock)
List 29 April

How to survive 5 travel disasters

Stampedes? Wildfire? Avalanche? Would you know what to do? Don't miss these top tips to work your way out of a disaster...

Nobody wants to be in a situation where they’re facing down a grizzly, using their trousers as an emergency water filter or escaping from their own car boot. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, just in case.

Rich Johnson’s The Ultimate Survival Manual offers advice on how to cope in both the wilderness and urban areas, and what to do if a natural disaster strikes. It looks at staying safe in everyday scenarios (for instance, do you know how to make a first aid kit?) as well as in extreme circumstances.

It contains a wealth of info but, to get you started, here’s some tips for staying alive in five fearful travel situations...

1. Find yourself when lost

First things first: To use a map and compass successfully, you have to figure out where you are on that map. Or to put it in outdoor geek terms, you need to triangulate a ‘fix’ on your position.

Know which way’s up: Maps are printed with north at the top. Using the compass, turn the map so it aligns with magnetic north. Find key landmarks: Once you have the map orientated, look for features such as lakes, rivers or mountain peaks. Identify the same features on the map.

Plot a course: Looking up with your compass in hand, point the red arrow of the compass' base plate at the visible terrain feature (this is called 'shooting a bearing' in orienteering speak). If the compass shows a bearing of, say,  320°, draw a line from that feature on the map at an angle of 140° (320° minus 180°). You are somewhere on that line, called a line of position (LOP).

Lay a foundation: You don’t know where you are on that line until you shoot another bearing, preferably at something between 60° and 120° from the first one. When you draw the second LOP on the map, extend it so it crosses the first one. Where the two LOPs intersect is your ‘fix’. That’s where you are.

Make the next step: Once you know your position other decisions, such as which way to walk, become much easier.

2. Live through a stampede

A dust cloud in the distance and a growing rumble beneath your feet alert you that you’re in the path of a stampeding herd. No matter what kind of animal is stampeding, you’re not going to be able to outrun it.

Look around: Are there any trees or boulders close by? If so, climb one, or at least take cover behind the largest one.

Dive in: No trees? How about some water? Many animals won’t stampede through water, so that’s a wise place for you to take cover. Granted, water brings its own hazards, such as crocodiles, so look before you leap.

Act like an obstacle: No tree, no boulder and no water nearby? Your final resort is to make like a log. Lie down, cover the back of your head with your arms and hope for the best. Animals avoid stepping on things such as logs, since a broken leg usually means certain death. That should give you something to think about while you’re lying with all those hooves pounding around you.

3. Outwit a wildfire

Wildfires can spread fast and cause complete devastation. You need to know whether to stay put or seek a safer place.

Read the wind: During a wildfire, the most dangerous places to be are uphill or downwind from the flames. If the wind is blowing towards the fire, run into the wind. But if it’s behind the fire, you need to move away even faster – that fire will be coming on quick.

Bunker down: If told to evacuate, do so. But if you’re trapped at home, stay inside where the structure will protect you. Move to a central room, away from exterior walls. Close the doors to cut down on air circulation, which can feed flames.

Look for safe spots: If you’re caught out in the open, move to an area that has already burned over. Avoid canyons and other natural chimneys. Get into a river or lake, if possible. Look for breaks in trees, which could mean breaks in the firestorm. If you’re near a road, lie facedown along the road or in a ditch or depression on the uphill side. Cover up with anything that provides a shelter against the heat.

4. Survive an avalanche

Caught in an avalanche? Well, that’s plain bad luck.

Ride it out: Use skiing (or even surfing) moves to try to ride on top of the snow, and attempt to manoeuvre towards the edge of the slide. If the snow is moving slowly, try to catch hold of a tree without getting creamed by it. In a fast-moving slide that knocks you
off your feet, swim in the snow and try to avoid hitting stationary obstacles.

React quickly: Being buried in the snow is not an enviable position. But it doesn’t have
to be a fatal one. Once the snow stops moving, it turns from a fluid medium to a cement-like consistency. So try to work your way to the surface as the slide slows.

Seek the surface: If possible, shove one arm towards the surface and move it around to create an air shaft. Use your hands to carve out a breathing space. Work methodically to avoid exhaustion.

Don’t shout randomly: Conserve your breath until you hear rescuers above you.

Know which way is up: You might be able to dig out after an avalanche has tumbled and rolled you – but only if you know which direction is up. If the snow layer above you is relatively thin, light might shine through, so go toward that. If you’re too deep for light to be your guide, clear a space near your mouth and spit. Watch the direction in which gravity pulls the spit, and head the other way.

5. Up your odds in a train crash

If a train slides off the rails or collides with something stubborn, things are likely to go seriously wrong. There won’t be much you can do in an impact, but you can take a few preemptive measures to lessen the risk.

Go for the middle: The cars in the front and in the rear are the most likely to be involved in accidents. If you have a choice, stay out of them.

Sit backwards: It might make you queasy, but try taking a seat that’s facing away from the direction of travel. If the train crashes, you’ll be pushed back into the seat – not thrown across the car.

Avoid overloading: Try to select a seat that doesn’t have a ton of luggage in the overhead
area, and store your larger items in racks at the front of the car rather than overhead. That way at least lots of heaving things won’t come tumbling down on top of you.

Ultimate Survival ManualThese tips are from: The Ultimate Survival Manual: 333 Skills That Will Get You Out Alive by Rich Johnson (Bloomsbury, £19) – out now! Wanderlust readers get 20% off ! Just go to and enter the code SurvivalManual or win a copy at

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