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Recently, I went to Mexico City and Cuernavaca on a two week holiday, just months after a 7.1 earthquake hit. There was extensive news coverage of over 200 deaths and over 40 collapsed buildings in Mexico City. My mother and I briefly looked into the situation and decided to still go. This is what surprised me. While I heard many reports about damage in Mexico City, I personally saw only one destroyed building during my trip. In contrast, I had heard nothing about Cuernavaca and yet two of the main sites we wanted to see, the Palace of Cortes and Botanical Gardens, were closed indefinitely to the damage.
This reminded me of when I went to Boracay after Hurricane Yolanda, which was the deadliest hurricane on record in the Philippines, killing around 6,000 people. Many of my friends in the US were shocked that I still went even after all the horrible news coverage. Having been to the Philippines many times before, I knew that the hurricane hit a completely different part of the country. Moreover, I messaged my friends that live there and they assured me that was very little damage on the Boracay. That year, however, there were about half the tourists, which personally I liked (less crowds), but I knew that economically it was hard on the locals.
Both of the situations made me wonder, should you visit a destination after a natural disaster? Here are some tips and considerations you should have before making a decision.
Research, Research, Research
No one wants to vacation in a place that may be experiencing shortages of food, gas, or shelter. Neither do we want to go to a place if the destinations we want to see most have experienced damage. However, you don’t want to rush to conclusions. Sometimes, the media exaggerates the damage. Other times, there’s barely any coverage. In addition, you should consider that natural disasters tend to affect one or two cities, not an entire country.
Many countries rely on tourism income, so a natural disaster can plunge the country’s entire economy into a free-fall that can take years to reverse. Often times, the locals will really appreciate your business. Besides, since natural disasters just affect one or two areas, I recommend making alternative plans within the country.
Should I Volunteer?
There are many kind hearted people in the world who feel compelled to help a destination after a natural disaster. However, jumping on a plane to offer help could be one of the most irresponsible things you could do. First of all, you really need to consider whether you have skills or abilities in disaster relief. Secondly, you might be taking a job that should be given to a local resident. Lastly, you would need to ensure that you sign up for a responsible and well organized volunteering project. Unless you have excellent contacts in the destination, you could easily end up with a negligent organization.
Your vacation plans may have changed but no wants to hear you complain when lives have been lost and livelihoods destroyed. My mother and I still very much enjoyed Cuernavaca despite not being able to visit two of the destinations on our list. We simply traveled more slowly. Highlights included shopping for silver at the local market, visiting the Robert Brady Museum, and sampling the city’s gastronomic delights at its numerous restaurants.