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Surviving Hurricane Wilma

A cautionary tale of travel risks NOT worth taking

Thanks to Chris Reed from HipDecision for contributing this post to GoGirlfriend. We’re a community-based travel blog and we welcome submissions from everyone. Whether you’re a budget-baller or a first class only kinda traveler, we’d love to hear from you. Visit our Writer’s Guidelines and learn how you can share your travel advice, stories and adventures!

Traveling comes with a certain amount of risk-taking and faith-leaping. That's part of what makes it exciting. But taking risks without considering the outcome can land us into a pile of trouble. In October 2005, Chris Reed came face to face with Hurricane Wilma - and chose a risky path that lead him down a path we're betting he'd never choose to travel again. Thankfully, he survived to tell it. 

This is Chris' story...

Taking a hurricane head on...

When I first saw what was to become Hurricane Wilma, I was in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport waiting for my connecting flight to Cancun, Mexico. At the time, the storm was a tropical depression. And I had seven days of sun, sand and drinks ahead of me.

I decided to take the risk, even though it didn't seem risky.

check with the national hurricane centercheck with the national hurricane centerBy the next day, the storm had exploded to Category 5 status and was headed in my direction. If I had been smart, I would've gone to the airport that day and returned home. But, I wasn't. I waited until the following day to give it a shot.

Too late...

The hotels began evacuating guests to inland Cancun on October 21, and Wilma made official landfall late that evening. My hotel evacuated because it was unsafe to be directly on the coast, especially with the strength of the hurricane. Also, they didn't have large meeting spaces on property (such as a convention center), so the only option was to move us inland a few miles.

hurricane survivalhurricane survivalWe were evacuated to a crowded community center with hundreds of other guests, some from my hotel, some not. I decided a last-ditch effort to get back to the U.S. was worth a try. I took a taxi to the airport and waited there until there were no more flights, called the hotel to find out where they had taken the other guests, and then took a taxi to the shelter.

We had pool lounge chairs for beds and meals served by the hotel staff while the storm raged (and I mean raged) outside. The hotel did a tremendous job in setting up the community center with cots and lounge chairs (and I later discovered that many hotels did the same for their own guests), and providing us with meals and water until we had to be moved to a safer place.

Then, close to sunset (but who really knows) the next day, the roof of the community center began coming off. Emergency evacuation and off to shelter number two.

Except we couldn't make it to the second designated shelter because of impassable roads.

Our Mexican National Guard drivers found an old school where we made our way inside through150 mph winds. That was my home for the next three days and, because nobody knew where we were, we were left with no food, no water, and picnic tables for beds. Not that anyone could really sleep.

Hunkering down for survival

what is a tropical depression?what is a tropical depression?We eventually received food and water (not much). We were finally found by American officials, and we were bussed to another shelter for a few hours. Then, we were bussed to Merida to get out of Mexico ... where THOUSANDS of other tourists were waiting for flights too.

And I smelled awesome. Five or six days without a shower is not a popular fragrance for a reason. Long story short...got food, got water, got a flight, got a shower, got to sleep in a bed, and got HOME. Finally getting home was the only point during that week when the guard was let down.

Twice, I felt as if my life was in danger. The first time was during the transport from shelter one to shelter two. People should NEVER be in vehicles in a storm like that. The second time was after the hurricane had passed and we were still at the second shelter. Food was at a shortage across the city and we weren't in a great part of town. The locals were getting...curious...and I was on alert.

The smartest thing I did was fill one of my bags with water and snacks before being evacuated from the hotel. That stuff came in handy, and was rationed carefully.

Above all, the best thing I did was remain calm, be deliberate in my actions, make friends, and learn to ignore "that guy" (there's one in every group). In a situation like that, you're going to need the people around you at some point.

I returned to the hotel a few days later with some people who had become very close friends so they could retrieve the remainder of their belongings. The place was a wreck...not structurally so much, but practically every window was blown out and there was significant damage to the interior and exterior of the building. Thankful we weren't there when the storm hit.

Have you ever traveled during a hurricane? We'd love to feature your story on GoGirlfriend. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and let's start talking!

Chris Reed

Chris ReedChris ReedMy name is Chris Reed. I brand, I market, I communicate, and I learn from others doing the same. I've told stories through words. I've told stories through graphics. I've told stories through photographs. I've told stories through video.

And, it's all revolved around branding. All of it.

My journey has taken me from marketing the smallest of businesses to the branding of the most innovative startups, from providing communications for regional concepts to enhancing the awareness of international organizations. A unique story is found at the heart of them all.

And now, with digital (see also: social) media becoming a critical extension of a brand's identity, I see a collective home for all the stories I've told in the past, for the ones I'm telling now, and for the ones I'll tell in the future. I see a collective home where brands can reciprocate the affection shared by those who make those brands what they are.

Why? Because our lives are intertwined with the brands we consider to be part of our DNA.

And I'll just tell you right now, I'm more interested in you.

If we were sitting across from each other and having a drink (I'd be having either a non-lite beer, bourbon, or a vodka soda), I'd be asking you questions about yourself. I'd chime in on occasion though, promise.

Get to know Chris better at  HipDecision.com or follow him on Twitter - @c_reed.

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