Preparedness on holiday

I’ve been away for a fortnight, on a new-to-me type holiday: a Norwegian cruise. Jawdroppingly beautiful and I’m so, so glad I did it, but it definitely posed some preparedness-type questions for me. The main one is this: in travelling by train, plane, ship or even coach, you automatically give away some of your power to the person in charge of whatever mode of transport it is. Is it worth it to you? In my case, the answer was definitely yes: I haven’t had a holiday abroad for a while, because of illness and dodgy finances, and this felt like the healthiest way to get back abroad and start to see the world again.

Funnily enough, the questions of attitudes to safety came up when the ship was travelling down a fjord one day. Someone asked what the Norwegian attitude to danger was, and our Norwegian guide replied, “Norway is a dangerous place to live. There are avalanches, tsunami, rock falls, freezing temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and snow and ice, and until the oil boom it was also a very poor place, the poorest in Western Europe. So the Norwegian way is to live each day, not to worry, and enjoy the beauty. We’re not used to dotting the i and crossing the t.”  It was fascinating, and I found this set of danger signals, at the foot of a glacier, showing how different things are in Norway.

Norwegian dangers: avalanche, rockfall, tsunami, drowning, snow suffociation.

For me, once I’d booked the holiday, one question was what preps to take? I had to take normal holiday stuff: everyday wear (down to 3 degrees C). A few nice clothes. The bits and bobs for two weeks travel. What preps did I have room for and couldn’t do without?

  • a good quality jacket.

  • hat, scarves and gloves (double quantities in case of soaking/loss).

  • sunscreen and sunglasses too.

  • whistle and signalling mirror.

  • windup radio, compass.

  • tiny little 1” knife on my keyring as usual, and the seatbelt cutter (which is bigger, and raised a few eyebrows).

  • high quality snacks, like peanut butter and dried fruit.

  • screwdriver for glasses and sunglasses.

  • first aid kit and water purification tabs.

  • printouts of important documents: ticket, day trips I’d bought, the travel insurance. And notes of important numbers: my passport, my EHIC card, my ‘lost credit card’ and ‘lost phone’ numbers, that sort of thing.

And that was that, really. Quite a lot of that was A few things I missed out on were an alarm clock, which got pretty desperate at times – we were sailing in and out of the Norwegian mobile signal, and the phone kept resetting itself. Setting an alarm for an early morning trip became impossibly tricky, and we never got it right, just resigning ourselves to losing an hour of sleep on some days. And the other prep I missed out on was a strap to my camera: I was forever hanging it out over a two hundred feet drop, minimum, with no safety backup whatsoever. So the preps I actually took along were absolutely fine, in other words.

There was a mandatory evacuation drill for the passengers before we even set sail, which was interesting, and the crew were obviously well-versed in it all, though I found it to be distracting to be crammed into the actual muster space like sardines. Much more engaging was watching the weekly evacuation drill carried out by the crew themselves: checking the cabins were empty, safeguarding the stairs, and launching the lifeboats (which are used as ship’s tenders regularly in any case, when there’s no berth big enough to take the ship – that happens regularly in Norway, as flat space is so limited). It was obvious that some crew members were being cross-trained in lifeboat navigation, practising the slow manoeuvres that would be needed if the situation were real, and they needed to pick up people floating in the sea.

Lifejackets
Ship’s tender cum lifeboat

The other big security measure is that each time you went off the ship, you went through a full security scan to be allowed back on, airport style security. The crew went through exactly the same procedures as well. I wasn’t expecting it, and it was a little confusing the first time – lots of “this way, over here, no not there” but the after that it ran completely smoothly.

Storm Hector affected us badly – about 30% of the itinerary was changed to avoid wave heights of ten metres, that would have lasted up to three days up there, up at the latittude of Murmansk. And it was interesting what the captain had to say about what he had to take account of, on behalf of passengers and crew: firstly safety, then comfort. And after that, it was a mix of the weather forecast updates, the local geography, the local port facilities and existing bookings, the availability of excursions and guides, and the speed of the ship in those conditions. I can’t praise him enough, really: as it was, we were in two separate storms with wave heights of three metres – I really wouldn’t have wanted to experience anything like ten times as big. Awful.

We didn’t know how big the waves we’d face were going to get, of course, so the first time this was an issue, we “secured” the cabin: everything that we could put away, including toiletries in the bathroom, we packed away. I’ve been seasick even on cross-Channel ferries in the past, and I knew from experience that I couldn’t look after my belongings if I felt that bad – I’d have just let everything crash down around me, quite frankly.  As you can see from the photo immediately below, some of the areas we went through were tricky for such a big boat: rocks all over the place, very beautiful, but potentially very dangerous, even in calm waters maybe.

Dangerous waters

In the end, it was unnecessary. As were a lot of other preps, but of course, good preparation that doesn’t go over the top means you can relax and enjoy whatever comes. Even if that includes involuntary shifting around in your bed, lulled by three metre waves.

I had a great time, saw some beautiful sights, met a lot of interesting people. I’ll definitely be doing something similar next year.

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