We decided to have a Labor Day party weekend at my parents’ house in Louisiana a couple of weeks ago. My husband and the kids and I drove down from Little Rock, and my brother flew in from Los Angeles to bring the new girlfriend home for the first time.

But our relaxing weekend has suddenly gotten slightly stressful. No, the new girlfriend doesn’t detest my mom’s cooking or chew with her mouth open or act aloof — she’s perfectly lovely, in fact. It’s that other visitor, Hurricane Gustav, who has us feeling uncomfortable.

My family is fairly used to hurricanes. We’re from Louisiana, have always spent summers at the beach in Alabama and have lived in Florida. Hurricanes? No biggie. We’ve survived more than a few. Plus, we’re in a part of Louisiana that will be getting flooding, strong storms and wind and maybe tornados, but hopefully won’t be right in the eye of Gustav. In fact, our small town is now home to an influx of evacuees. So our hurricane preparation consists of keeping one eye on the news, making sure there’s plenty of bottled water and testing the generator.

It’s a different story, however, for my brother’s girlfriend. She’s from Philadelphia, and this hurricane stuff is new to her. She’s found the constant television coverage, barren store shelves and Bobby Jindal’s marathon press conferences fascinating. So now I’m looking at the approaching storm through the eye of a visitor. And I have a few tips for anyone who finds themselves in the path of a storm while on vacation.

1. If they tell you to get out, do it.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. If there’s a mandatory evacuation, your hotel will shut down and law enforcement will make you leave. If an evacuation is strongly suggested, you should still probably leave. Even minor hurricanes can do major damage to property. Hurricane Irene was relatively tame, but she managed to flood out my car as she passed through the Palm Beach, Florida area.

2. If you decide to leave, earlier is better.
Changing flights, driving out of the affected areas, finding a new hotel room further inland — all of the things are much easier to do when you’re first in line. Hesitating for even an hour can mean the difference in your getting a flight out or not. When things start escalating, it happens fast. One minute you’re having fun at the beach, and the next thing you know, the stores are out of canned goods, the governor’s on the television every half hour and people are waiting in three hour lines for sandbags. Due to the capriciousness of hurricane paths, things really can go from placid to panicky in a short amount of time. If you think things will be dicey, or if you’re scared of Mother Nature or if you absolutely must be back home by a certain time, you’ve got to move quickly.

3. If you decide to stay, make your own preparations.
You may be staying in a full-service hotel, but don’t expect full-service during a hurricane. Hotel generators may only run emergency lighting systems. If the power’s out and there’s no running water, your chances of ordering a full meal from room service plummet. And while hotel staff are certainly there to help guests, they may be operating on a skeleton crew. Maintenance issues may have to take precedence over guest comfort in some cases. It’s best for you to stock up on your own. Get some non-perishables, water and a flashlight at the least. Be ready to take care of yourself, because in a worst-case scenario, they may be no one to take care of you.

4. Have fun while you can.
Once you know the storm is coming, you’ll have a day or so of decent weather in which to cram in the last of your vacation. Decide what your priorities are, and then hit the links or amusement parks. (A warning, however; going for a dip in the ocean as a hurricane approaches can be very dangerous.) I think my family and I have spent about twelve hours by the pool today, since we know we’ll get no sun tomorrow. In fact, we’re outside grilling as I type this. Gotta make the most of the nice weather, because there will be rain for days starting tomorrow!

5. Just relax and go with the flow.
This advice goes for when anything beyond your control “ruins” your vacation. Some of my best memories are from “hurricane parties.” When us locals ride out a storm, we make the best of it. We cook all the food in the refrigerator, open all the wine and invite everyone over — there’s safety in numbers, right? When roads are crowded and hotels are packed and tempers are short, the best thing to do is be patient, understanding and keep a smile on your face. Don’t dwell on the things that you’re missing out on. Instead, think of the new experiences you’ll have and the tales you’ll get to tell when you get back to the office!

We’re all going to try to head out of town tomorrow. Driving back to Little Rock may be loads easier than flying back to Los Angeles, but who knows what Gustav will bring. Wish us luck, as this may a pretty big storm. Whatever happens, though, we’ll be having as much fun as possible!