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If you get lost while hiking, or your car breaks down and you are stranded on the side of the road, calling for help is an obvious choice. But what if your battery is low? Please don’t listen to any of these viral posts screaming that you should change your voicemail message. Write to a friend instead.
According to the “Change your Voicemail” posts that pop up during hurricane season or just circulate as advice for hikers, voicemail can be accessed anywhere, anytime, and you can leave a message with your location and safety information to say it anyone who could call you. There are some assumptions here that are only half true, and in any case, there are a dozen or so other things you should prioritize before changing your voicemail.
Not just security experts beg Don’t listen to this advice, I’ve been in a similar situation and gone through all of the options if they are really important. Like I already wrote, I got lost while hiking. It got dark and I almost ran out of batteries. To make matters worse, I had almost no cell phone signal. In retrospect, I did everything right – and no, changing my voicemail wasn’t one of them.
Send a message
Texts send very little battery and very little cell signal to get through. You will also try again for a few minutes even if you had no signal the moment you clicked Submit.
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When you know your battery could run out any second, your first priority should be to send a quick text message to a trusted friend with your location and all the relevant details. If you know your GPS coordinates, please enter them. Do not add images or attachments; We’re trying to send a plain text message.
You can also write 911 in many areas, but that is not available everywhere. (Calls can give you more information and get you better, faster help, so when you have enough juice to call 911, call 911.)
And please note, I mean a text. No signal message or DM on social media and not even an iMessage. When you’re trying to send a text message on the iPhone’s Messages app that appears in blue, long-press your message and select “Send as Text Message”. Normal SMS texts are displayed in green.
Unless you are in an extreme emergency, you may want to turn your attention to your battery pack. (Otherwise, go to the next step and call 911.) Turn on sleep mode while waiting for a reply. Lower the brightness of your screen all the way, and if the situation permits, consider putting your phone on airplane mode temporarily. Avoid answering unnecessary calls or using your phone for things that are not strictly necessary.
To get by without a charger for long periods of time, you can turn off your phone completely and then turn it back on regularly to check your texts.
Oh, what if you’re stranded with your car? Charge your cell phone!
Call 911 if you can
If you find yourself in a situation where a 911 call would help, try calling 911. That call can be put through even when other calls don’t, as wireless carriers are required to route 911 calls no matter what. Perhaps your carrier doesn’t have coverage in this part of the forest, but there could be a tower from another carrier nearby that does.
When you call, be sure to tell them the important information first in case you get interrupted. This includes your location (as much as you know it), the reason for your call, and your name. After that, you can let them know that your phone is dying.
One of the stupidest things to do in an emergency is the most enticing: try to move or travel. Stay where you are, especially if you’ve just told 911 or your friend back home where to find you. There’s no point in sending the search and rescue team to where you used to be.
Why not change your voicemail too?
When I got lost in the woods, I followed all of the above except for calling 911. I turned my brightness down, found GPS coordinates on my phone, and texted my husband to say I was lost, but I’ll be right here. And as much as I hated the place where I found reception – it was swampy and full of spiders – I stayed there until I heard from him. He was able to tell me how to get to the road and I told him I would follow the route he had described as he drove towards me. Disaster averted.
Would I have changed my voicemail if that didn’t work? Crap no! It costs more battery to call voicemail than send a text message, so I’d rather save the juice. The question also arises of who should listen to my voicemail at all, because a message only makes sense if it reaches someone who can react to it. My husband never listens to my voicemail messages; If I don’t pick up my phone, he’ll text me. The same is probably true of your friends and family. The only people who ever get my voicemail are robots trying to contact me about my car’s extended warranty.
And if you don’t have a signal, you can’t change your voicemail. It’s true that your voicemail message is stored with the carrier so people can hear the message even if your phone is dead, but that won’t help you if you can’t reach the carrier to change it.
Some wireless service providers allow you to update your voicemail from another phone or landline. So in theory you can do this, but there are very few scenarios in which it will actually help you. Maybe your phone died and you found someone else who has a phone but still can’t help you charge yours? And you can’t write or call any of your emergency contacts, but you can wait a while for someone to check your voicemail? It’s getting pretty far fetched right now. Instead, text your contacts and call 911 if it’s an emergency.