#BTReads: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

By Maya Stanton
April 25, 2019
Yellow book on brown couch
Amy Lundeen
A 20th-century bestseller gets a makeover for the new millennium.

Fending off sharks, escaping from bears...getting through Y2K? The world looks a bit different today than it did at the turn of the 21st century, when The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook was originally published, but according to authors Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, the book’s premise is more apropos than ever. “It’s odd,” Josh says. “It seems like once again, the timing is perfect. In 1999, it was Y2K. Now it’s…everything!” In honor of the bestseller’s 20th anniversary, the two are releasing an updated and expanded version of their survival manual (on sale April 30; worstcasescenario.com) for the new millennium. With tips ranging from how to hot-wire a car to how to deliver a baby in a taxicab, the authors’ sense of humor was a hallmark of the first edition, and two decades later, it’s still front and center. (How do you know if a clown is murderous? Is he wielding a weapon? Sharp teeth? Blood on his costume? Probably dangerous.) Covering an array of topics travelers will find handy—in-flight emergencies like extreme turbulence, flagrant seat-recliners, and tantrum-throwing kids, plus man-made emergencies like car crashes, train derailments, hijackings, and hostage situations, natural disasters like wildfires and tsunamis, and tech problems like navigating without GPS and what to do if your phone catches fire— the updated sections provide a comprehensive guide to dealing with our most pressing dilemmas. We emailed the authors to discuss the new info, the travel tips they rely on personally, and the backstory on that whole creepy-clown thing.

Choosing 'WorstCase Scenarios'

How did you decide on the topics for the new chapters? Did personal experiences influence those choices? (...Please tell me the murderous-clown section was completely hypothetical.)

Josh: All the clowns I know are happy-go-lucky types; Dave must know all the murderous ones!

Dave: Thankfully, my personal disasters have been more domestic and less life-threatening over the past few years! I’ll have a lot more to share when we write The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Mid-Life (that’s a joke—but only sort of!). Worst-Case has always been about providing people with both real information and entertainment—about making people feel like they can face their real fears and their irrational ones—so that’s where things like clowns fit in. Basically, we looked at what fears felt most topical and relevant in 2019 as opposed to in 1999.

Josh: There were some obvious situations we felt were timely and we had to cover. From news reports of autonomous cars injuring (and in one instance, unfortunately, killing) people, that was an obvious choice. Drones were another, since they are becoming ubiquitous, and, again, there are news reports of them causing havoc at airports, so we kind of just extrapolated from that. Tech emergencies was definitely a section we had to address.

Did anything feel different when you were writing the scenarios this time around?

Dave: We are living in tense times—these are times of intense disconnectedness from each other, of global unrest, of extreme imbalance with nature, of political and economic imbalance—way more than when we were writing back in 1999. That’s what really made us want to relaunch the book and the brand.

Josh: In general terms, the writing wasn’t that different since the process was the same: Do the research, find the expert, do the interview, and so on. Of course it took awhile of the two of us brainstorming to come up with the new sections that we liked, and that were “actionable.” On some of the specific entries, it was a little different because we had to be cognizant that now people rely on their phones to get ALL information, survival or not. So, clearly, in some circumstances you might be able to use a phone to get help (or instructions), but in some, you still really can’t, because you won’t have time. Or the alligator will have swallowed it.

Ha! For plenty of people, losing their phone would be an all-time worst-case scenario, never mind the gator. Given that you’ve added sections on identifying fake news, surviving a protest, and dealing with out-of-control smart homes and autonomous cars, it seems like you gave equal consideration to the current political climate and the tech industry. Was that your intentional focus for the new chapters?

Josh: Yeah, tech was 100 percent something that was on the radar—flaming phones, phones in toilets, getting doxxed. The book wouldn’t be a 21st-century survival manual without those kinds of entries.

Dave: Most of our fears come from a feeling that we lack control over our lives, and sadly, most people feel like we have even less control than we did twenty years ago—I would suggest mostly because of the mini super-computers we carry in our pockets and the constant barrage of “news” and social media and distractions they bring us. Our phones can been a great tool, but they can also be one of the most dangerous items we have.

Josh: I think there’s the (dangerous) political climate, and then also the climate-climate, as in disasters that are clearly climate-related, or getting worse due to climate change (How to Survive a Wildfire, and so on). We’ve always tried to tackle some of the fears that we think are common, or at least commonly held if not commonly occurring. Personally I think the issue of the lack of trust in journalism is very worrisome, so we wanted to address that in our usual way. (I’m a journalist, so do the math…)

Survival Tips in Action

Have you been in situations where you’ve had to put any of your travel-related tips to use? I'm particularly curious about the section on how to survive in-flight emergencies—the Snakes on the Plane segment was a nice bit of comic relief (though also very useful, and I will definitely be pulling my feet up on the seat if there are rattlers on board!), but the advice for landing a plane and surviving a hijacking felt especially charged.

Josh: Not the most extreme ones, thankfully. I have purified water, and I have used some of the navigation techniques. (I had my phone, but only as backup, of course!) And I’ve had an extreme seat recliner in front of me on way too many flights. For budget travelers, this is probably a regular occurrence.

Dave: I have used our own worst-case scenario advice when dealing with flight delays and crying babies on planes. I once had to get back into my rental car via the trunk because the key was inside, and I did once stowaway on a train back to Philly because I had lost my wallet and had no way to pay.

I mean, who hasn't done that? So what’s your favorite scenario in the book?

Dave: I loved writing the “How to Tell If You are Being Gaslighted” chapter—I think that’s happening a lot these days, and it’s important to recognize what you can and can’t do when someone believes they are infallible and can’t see the bigger picture. Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to change the attitude of an absolute gaslighter, so it’s really about recognizing it and moving on, but if the gaslighter seems a bit more moderate and is willing to actually listen to you, then trying to model the more open point of view the gaslighter needs can work.

Josh: I continue to like the classics (shark, bear, alligator, quicksand), but in terms of the new ones—and ones I’d want to remember, if it came down to it—are How to Survive a Flash Flood, Tsunami, Wildfire, and Grid Collapse. Not coincidentally, I think we all need to get used to a world where some of these extreme survival situations may become more common. The advice in the books is both timely and timeless—it sounds totally corny, but I really do feel that way.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Travel Tips

12 Best Apps for Solo Travelers

From booking cheap flights and hotels to staying fit on the go and recovering from jet lag, today’s mobile apps can solve a wide range of problems for travelers. They can also make it easier to travel alone, which is good news for the roughly one-third of consumers who take a solo vacation every year, according to a recent Travel Leaders Group consumer travel trends survey. Here are the 12 best mobile apps for solo travelers. (P.S. We assume you’ve already downloaded our parent company Lonely Planet’s indispensable inspiration and planning apps, Trips and Guides.) 1. SoloTraveller This widely trusted app lets you make new friends on your trip by connecting you with other solo travelers in your city in real time. It also helps you save money by pairing you people to share taxis, tours, or other travel expenses. You can find a travel mate nearby by searching for people based on age, gender, and interests. Available on iPhone and Android. 2. Backpackr Think of Backpackr like Tindr but for solo travelers—the app shows you people with similar interests who are headed to your destination. If you find a match, you can message the person to meet up. The app earns bonus points, in our book, for offering its members deals on hostels, pub crawls, bars, restaurants, and local tours. Available on iPhone and Android. 3. Eatwith Just because you’re traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to dine alone. The Eatwith app can connect you with locals in more than 130 countries for truly immersive cuisine. From dinner parties to food tours to cooking classes, the app has a variety of culinary events that let you wine and dine with local hosts at your destination. Users can filter food experiences based on dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, vegan, and Kosher meals. Available on iPhone and Android. 4. BonAppetour An alternative to Eatwith, BonAppetour helps travelers find immersive food experiences through in-home meals such as dinner parties, cooking classes, barbecues, and picnics. Available on iPhone. 5. ChefsFeed Offering restaurant and bar recommendations from chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers in major North American cities, ChefsFeed shows you how to eat and drink like a pro. Targeting younger travelers, the app bills itself as the "Anti-Yelp" in part because only positive reviews are welcomed. Available on iPhone and Android. 6. Meetup Another excellent tool for rubbing shoulders with locals while you’re traveling, this popular app brings like-minded people together in thousands of cities around the world. Use it to discover residents at your destination with specific interests, such as running groups, dance troupes, animal lovers, and more. Available on iPhone and Android. 7. Travello A social network for travelers, Travello uses your travel interests to match you with other nomads flying solo. It’s designed for a broad range of travelers, including urban tourists, backpackers, and gap-year adventurers. Available on iPhone and Android. 8. Tourlina Exclusively for women, Tourlina helps females find travel companions. Simple plug in your destination and travel dates, and the app will show you potential traveler partners, who you can then message to plan a trip together. Available on iPhone and Android. 9. Mend Though it’s not squarely designed for travel, Mend—an app that helps newly single individuals recover from breakups through audio trainings by mental health and wellness experts—offers travel guides for the freshly heartbroken to cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and London. Available on iPhone. 10. Couchsurfing What better way is there to get to know new locals than crashing at their pad? The Couchsurfing app lets travelers search for a place to stay by using filters such as age range, gender, and friends of friends, and users can view references of potential hosts. Available on iPhone and Android. 11. Chirpey Focused on building a community for female travelers, Chirpey lets its members link up with other female travelers heading to their destination. Have a small emergency while you’re traveling, such as losing your wallet? Drop a message in the app and women traveling in the area will be notified that you need help. Available on iPhone and Android. 12. Bumble BFF Form friendships with locals and other travelers on Bumble BFF, an extension of the dating mobile app. Using your social networks, the app will connect you with friends of your friends in your local area, so you can meet companions at your travel destinations for coffee, city tours, meals, and more. Available on iPhone and Android.

Travel Tips

9 Items That Will Make Packing a Breeze

Packing can be a drag, but it’s much less stressful if you’ve got the proper equipment. From luggage racks to packing cubes, we’ve rounded up our go-to tools for making the experience easier, plus the non-negotiable items (think: a smart lint roller, a sleek electric toothbrush) that live in our suitcases year-round. Now all we need is someone to unpack for us. 1. For a Well-Organized Suitcase (Courtesy Shacke) Some of us stuff as many items of clothing into our carry-on as possible, even if we have to apply a knee to get it to zip. Others prefer a minimalist approach, and for that well-organized, streamlined experience, packing cubes are key. Shacke’s set of four comes in varying sizes that can be mixed and matched to hold everything you need for a short weekend hop or an extended 10-day stay, and your suitcase will be a Type A’s dream for the duration. (Pro-tip: Consider packing by day rather than by clothing category—i.e., all of Monday's gear goes in one cube, rather than, say, pants in one and socks in another—so you're not opening them all up every time you get dressed.)Shacke Pak 4 set packing cubes with laundry bag, $30; shacke.com. SHOP CARD HERE 2. For a Hassle-Free Packing Experience (Courtesy Wayfair) If you’re regularly on the go, packing can be a literal pain, especially if your suitcase is on the floor and you’re constantly bending down to do the job. (And if you’re putting it on your bed to load it up, stop immediately! Those wheels are just as filthy, if not more so, than airport security bins, and we all know how germy those things are.) A sturdy, no-frills luggage rack is a small luxury, but it’s one that’ll make a big difference. And as a bonus, your houseguests will surely appreciate it as well.Wayfair Basics chrome luggage rack, $30; wayfair.com. 3. To Wring Out Every Last Drop (Greg Marino) Americans are reluctant to take paid time off as it is—why squander those hard-earned days by not enjoying them to the full extent? Surely you can squeeze in one last dip in the ocean before you head to the airport—all you need is a place to stash your wet gear. ALOHA Collection’s splash-proof pouches keep damp bathing suits from leaking all over everything else in your pack, and with an array of extremely cute designs to choose from, they're functional and fashionable too.The Mid-Size pouch, $40; aloha-collection.com. 4. For a Carry-All That's Not a Space Hog (Courtesy Everlane) Planning on doing some serious souvenir shopping, or just looking for a way to carry everything you need for the day without resorting to a massive tote? When it's folded into its front pocket, Everlane’s packable backpack measures just 9-½ inches by 6-½ inches, so it'll slide right into your carry-on, and it’s emblazoned with a cheery “bon voyage” that'll get your trip started on the right foot.The packable backpack, $35; everlane.com. 5. To Wrangle Your Toiletries (Courtesy Topo Designs) Dopp kits are often a bottomless pit of toiletries and accoutrements, but the version from Topo Designs can help you avoid all that. Its unique triangular shape allows it to sit upright on narrow hotel sinks or shelves, and even though the interior is surprisingly spacious, the brightly colored lining makes it easy to find whatever you need. Whether you’re packing the entire medicine cabinet or traveling light, you'll have plenty of room. Dopp kit, $34; topodesigns.com. 6. For a Deep Clean On the Go (Courtesy Quip) Once you’ve switched from a standard brush to a water pick or an electric toothbrush, it’s tough to go back. Hardcore dental equipment doesn’t tend to be very portable, but when you’re on the road, Quip’s battery-operated electric model is just the ticket: With soft bristles and a sonic vibration motor, plus a sleek travel cover with a suction strip that adheres to any glossy surface, freeing up precious sink or shelf space, it’ll help you stick to your oral-hygiene regimen. Electric toothbrush set, from $40; getquip.com. 7. To Keep Your Clothes Pristine As much as we love our pets and miss them while we’re away, we really don’t need our apparel to serve as a reminder of the furry friends we’ve left behind. This clever lint roller from Flint is less than six inches long when closed, but it extends and retracts as needed and takes up next to no room while it’s at it. Refills are cinch, and it comes in so many colors and designs, you’re bound to find one that matches your luggage. Retractable lint roller, $10; amazon.com. 8. For Cozy Toes (Courtesy L.L. Bean) Even in the sunniest of climes, hotel air conditioning can be excessive. Your favorite well-worn slippers should probably remain where no one else can judge—or see—them, but a pair of cushy, cozy socks will keep your feet from freezing, no matter how low your travel companion likes to set the thermostat. This super-soft cotton-ragg set from L.L. Bean won’t itch or stretch; they're also quick drying and moisture-wicking, and they won’t occupy much real estate in your suitcase either. Cotton ragg camp socks, two for $20; llbean.com. 9. To Avoid That Rumpled Look Who wants to waste precious time and energy struggling with an unfamiliar iron? A portable steamer is a no-fuss way to eliminate wrinkles—and it’s much more effective than hanging your clothes in the bathroom while you shower and hoping that does the trick. (...what, like you haven't tried it?) This compact number from URPOWER weighs less than two pounds and measures just over eight inches tall, produces steam in a matter of minutes, and comes with a heat-resistant glove and a pouch to stash it in.URPOWER garment steamer, $25; amazon.com.

Travel Tips

Why You (Still) Need a Travel Agent

Ask Aurelio Giordano why someone should use a travel agent these days, and his reply is reflexive: “Do you have a couple of minutes?” The Brooklyn-based travel agent founded his company, Ace World Travel, in 2012 and has seen his business grow exponentially in recent years. These days it’s easy to assume that a vacation is a DIY undertaking. At least that’s what the countless websites that allow us to book a flight, make a hotel reservation, buy insurance, and explore area restaurants and sites would have us think. Not so fast. While you might see fewer travel agency storefronts than you did 20 years ago, it doesn’t mean that the industry has gone the way of Blockbuster Video. That’s because travel agents provide a valuable service that can feel rare in our digital era: personal guidance. And that’s hardly all. According to the American Society of Travel Advisors, the top three reasons people go to an expert are to save planning time, avoid mistakes, and improve the overall vacation experience. ASTA studies show that on average people can save 3.5 hours in planning and more than $300 per trip by working with a pro. We spoke to some veteran travel agents to get a full understanding of how they can help us travel better. The Travel Agent Industry Is Growing (Iuliia Mazur/Dreamstime) Grand Canyon? Been there. Boston’s Freedom Trail? Done that. And your parents did it, too. And your grandparents. Travel today ain't what it used to be. “Travelers these days are looking for different, exclusive experiences. They don’t want the kind of cookie-cutter trips they’d get through Expedia,” says Aurelio. “My agency has grown tremendously because people are looking for more specified and personalized itineraries." For plenty of people, time off is a rarity. It could take three years to save the time and money for a vacation, and they don't want just any trip, he says. ASTA reports that the Census Bureau’s 2015 figures, the latest available, showed that U.S. travel agencies employ 105,085 people, an 8 percent increase over five years. It’s a growth that Paloma Villaverde de Rico, editor-in-chief of Recommend Magazine, a trade publication, attributes to the boom in younger travelers. “What I can tell you from writing about the travel agent industry for the last 15 years is that there is definitely a surge in interest among millennials and even Gen Z (the young 20-somethings) in this profession—and this in reference to an industry that everyone thought would go away due to the Internet,” she says. Hand-Crafted, Personalized Vacations “It all starts with a conversation,” says Aurelio (facebook.com/aceworldtravel/). “I think people miss the human connection. They wanna talk to someone, they’re tired of pressing ‘one,’ but we're conditioned to accept that as the norm. There’s a huge lack in customer service these days because everything’s so automated and accessible through the touch of screen.” That human connection is the travel agent’s stock-in-trade. The better Aurelio understands a client’s particular preferences and interests, the more exclusive and fine-tuned and authentic the itinerary will be. There’s also the fact that not every travel business sells their services or product online. Some tour operators, for instance, only work business-to-business, which means a travel agent can connect you to services that you wouldn’t find on the web. According to Margie Jordan, vice president of the TRUE network, a division of the trade organization CCRC, a travel agent's job is best explained as a concierge service. “What I love about travel agents is the personally built relationships. The places I’m recommending are the best, say, hotel I’ve slept in. I’ve been there, I know staff, I’ve talked to them.” The Immeasurable Value of Insider's Knowledge (Ifeelstock/Dreamstime) “You wouldn’t go on a DIY architecture website to build your home, would you?” says Paloma. And so it goes with travel agents. An agent spends her career learning the tricks of the trade and building an arsenal of insider knowledge, then advises accordingly. She’ll know, for instance, that the best deals for cruises are available during wave season, so that’s the best time to make your purchase. Or consider you’re in London and you want to see Paris. A website won’t necessarily suggest that you drop the idea of packing up your stuff and staying overnight. Aurelio will tell you to simply make it a day trip—it’s only a two-hour-ish train ride, after all. Of course, that insider’s expertise extends far beyond transportation logistics. Giordano’s recommendations are based off years of networking, going to conferences and expos, visiting hotels, going on cruises, and so forth. His vast knowledge of places and people make him a valuable resource when someone has a specific need, like dietary restrictions or a disability. Group trips can also be easier to plan when you sit down with someone who’s seen the layout of the hotels and restaurants you’re considering. And as the travel industry grows and becomes more specialized, an agent can tailor a trip to niche interests. “What good travel agents are doing is becoming experts in one specific type of segment," Paloma says. "For example, there are travel agents who specialize in family travel, and within that you can find travel advisors who sell to LGBT family clients, or family clients with special needs. There are other advisors who sell wellness vacations, while others dedicate themselves to booking cruises, and still others to destination weddings and honeymoons (there are many millennials, for example, that dedicate themselves to this for obvious reasons)."

Travel Tips

How to Do Greece on a Budget

Dreaming of lazy afternoons on the Aegean, and mornings spent wandering ancient ruins and quaint cobblestone streets? You’re not alone: Greece is a hugely popular tourist destination, welcoming some 30 million visitors in 2018. But even though demand is high, a Hellenic vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are three tried-and-true tips for stretching those euros as far as they’ll go. 1. Spend Up Front to Save Later A good travel agent will worry about the details for you, freeing you up to explore. (Maya Stanton) We were sipping Aperol spritzes and watching the sunset at an oceanfront café on the island of Naxos when the call came in: The ferries, shut down for the past few days due to high winds and turbulent seas, were up and running again. At this point, we’d already had to rework our itinerary, flying into Naxos instead of taking the boat from Athens and skipping our day in Mykonos, and if we wanted to be on the ferry to Santorini the next morning, we’d need to book it to the nearest ticket office on the double—a chance we would’ve missed without that alert. In most cases, I prefer to DIY my travel, but for this trip, we worked with an agent for just such an occasion: Given the probability of ferry strikes and weather-related cancellations, not to mention a serious lack of communication from the various companies about said cancellations, hiring someone to look out for your interests is a solid investment. Before you plunk down that credit card, though, contact a few places to get quotes (we used Dolphin Hellas; dolphin-hellas.gr), and pay close attention to how quickly they reply, and how thoroughly they address your questions and concerns—you want someone who will move quickly and efficiently on your behalf, and a high level of care and a speedy response time in the planning stages forecasts the consideration you’ll receive on the ground. 2. Travel at the Right Time Sights like the Parthenon won't be deserted in shoulder season, but they'll be much less crowded than they are in the summer. (Anyaivanova/Dreamstime) Looking for a great summer getaway? This is not the place for peaceful days at the beach or leisurely strolls through postcard-perfect villages and towns. Greece is at peak capacity from June to August, meaning overflowing crowds, high hotel rates, and packed-to-the brim restaurants and attractions. To bring down your bill—and avoid the mobs—visit during shoulder season, when the streets may be bustling but elbow room is far easier to come by. In spring and fall, the weather’s just as idyllic, and though you’ll still file in with the hordes to see the Parthenon and navigate the narrow footpaths of Oia, on Santorini, it’s much worse in July. 3. Pick Your Priorities Go cheap on accommodations so you have more to spend on food and drink. (Maya Stanton) The bad news: You probably won’t be able to find a travel agent who’s willing to book your ferry tickets alone. The good: In addition to taking care of the nitty-gritties, like transfers and hotels, as well as last-minute schedule changes, like putting you on a flight when the ferries are canceled and extending hotel stays when necessary, an effective agent will help allocate your dollars to align with your personal priorities. Can’t get a good night’s sleep without downy pillows and luxe linens? They’ll book you in at five-star hotels (and charge you accordingly). Prefer to spend less on accommodations so there’s more in the budget for dining and activities? No judgement—or flea-trap motels—here. Of course, you can do this on your own as well, but since you’re paying for the service, let them reserve your rooms and buy your museum tickets while you do the important work of restaurant research and souvenir shopping.