I was sitting in a charming cafe in the El Born area of Barcelona last week when my cell phone started ringing a mile a minute. The first message said, "We just heard about the van incident in Barcelona. Are you okay?"
I looked up to ask my friend if she knew what they were talking about. She, however, was too busy looking at the flood of texts she was now receiving. We shortly realized that a terrorist attack had occurred a mere 800 meters from where we were sitting. A van had plowed into a group of tourists, already killing 12 and injuring dozens of others.
Within a few minutes, the entire city was on lockdown. Taxi service was suspended, helicopters were flying over century-old churches searching for the culprits, shops were sliding their aluminum doors shut, and we were requested to move inside -- and stay there. We had no idea when we would be able to leave, how we would get home, or even much about what was happening.
We quickly ducked into a hotel on the square and grabbed a spot in the bar lounge, where we sat sipping sangria for four hours. The roads back to our hotel were closed, so even walking back to our Airbnb was not an option.
It was a tense, emotional period of time, and honestly I wasn't prepared for it, but I walked away with these six important tips about how to handle this situation when it occurs:
1. Find a spot inside a hotel bar or cafe ASAP.
Within ten minutes of our sitting down in an almost empty hotel bar lounge, tourists with nowhere else to go streamed in. Many were turned away.
So your best bet is to find a cozy chair, claim it as your own, and hunker down. While you're at it, you may want to make dinner reservations nearby as well, since those fill up in a hot minute as well.
2. Update your Facebook status.
One of the things we soon discovered was that in the social media age, information travels around the world at the speed of light. To avoid the stress of getting back to everyone who reaches out, put a general status update on your Facebook letting friends and family know that you're okay.
One other tip: Don't burn out your cell phone battery texting and calling everyone back home. Instead, ask one key contact person to let other people in your important circle know how you are.
3. Make a hotel reservation for the night.
In these types of situations, the amount of time you may be stuck and unable to get back to where you are staying can be hours and -- in extreme cases -- even days. Hotels fill up fast in these situations, so it's a best practice to Google a few of the hotels close by and start calling to book a room for the night. You can hopefully cancel the reservation if things resolve sooner rather than later.
4. Locate a walking route to where you are staying on your GPS.
As we soon learned, walking back to where we were staying was going to be the likely outcome. Your best bet is to locate a walking route on Google Maps. Make sure to snap a screenshot of it, so you can access it later even if you don't have an Internet connection.
5. Make friends with your fellow travelers.
There is a wonderful musical playing in NYC that was nominated for a Tony called Come from Away. It's the story of tk passengers whose planes were diverted during 911 to a small town in Newfoundland and the townspeople who took them in. We had our own mini-experience of this. During our lockdown we met and talked with people from all over the world. We shared drinks, stories, photos, and critically, cell phone chargers.
6. Keep a level head.
The final thing I learned about these situations in Barcelona last week was to keep it all in perspective.
At one point we went to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. The staff were gracious, but understandably stressed. Meanwhile, the couple at the next table were complaining that they'd had a hard time finding a taxi to the hotel and didn't understand why no IPA beer was being served.
Was it inconvenient to be on lockdown? Yes. But compared to those hurt and injured, or the suffering of their family members, a few hours sipping sangria in a bar lounge on lockdown is a blessing.