Protect Your Travel Investment with Insurance

By Eileen Ogintz

It’s time to play the “What If” Game. What if you are stuck in a war zone? A wild fire? A hurricane? What if someone in your family gets hurt while you are traveling?

This is more necessary than ever. Consider that 500,000 Americans are in Israel at any one time. At least 29 have been killed, among the hundreds of Israelis, in the recent Hamas attacks and others are believed to be among the hostages. There are also Americans stuck in Gaza.

Both the changing climate and weather patterns have the potential to create natural disasters for all travelers. Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict a near normal 2023 season. A “normal” storm season, however, means 12 to 17 named storms. That includes five to nine potential hurricanes!

Charred remains of a burned neighbourhood is seen in the aftermath of a wildfire, in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii on Aug. 14, 2023. House Republicans are probing Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.’s role in the deadly wildfire.
Charred remains of a burned neighbourhood is seen in the aftermath of a wildfire, in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii on Aug. 14, 2023. House Republicans are probing Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.’s role in the deadly wildfire.

Above average water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and this year’s El Nino (a weather pattern of warmer water in the Pacific Ocean) make any storm forecast less reliable. The manmade effects of Atmospheric CO2 and Greenhouse Gas emissions also may impact weather at your destination. Heat waves, wildfires, earthquakes and even manmade emergencies may turn a vacation into a travel disaster.

The Maui wildfires upended travel for many as well as the economic well-being of all those who rely on tourism. The loss from business closures and visitor expenditures is estimated to be $11 million a day on Maui since August 9, 2023. West Maui, north of the devastated  Lahaina,   has begun to reopen with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green urging travelers to return and “help (the island) begin to recover economically.” But don’t expect everything to be as it was with  a “phased” reopening. (Officials have launched several online resources for visitors to find more information about how to donate, volunteer and plan their trips to Maui, such as the Maui Strong website and the Hawaii Tourism Authority website.)

Visit the site for information on coping with everything from hurricanes to floods, epidemics to earthquakes.

Travel Disaster Tip: Insure and Protect Your Financial Investment

Many people plan their trips on their own, through the use of travel websites (such as this one.) Professional travel agents at home or a destination guide are also helpful resources.

However, if you’re worried about something going wrong and not getting your money back, plan ahead and buy travel insurance.

What Travel Insurance Will Do for You and Your Family

In the case of natural disasters and random occurrences such as hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and even civil wars, hotels and airlines will often try to avoid reimbursing their clients by using the “God card.” These events are considered Acts of God and uncontrollable. Therefore, airlines and hotels are within their legal rights to deny refunds to consumers. Travel insurance from Allianz Travel Insurance, for example, can provide coverage if a hurricane heads toward your tropical beach, or a tornado destroys your Kansas hotel.

It’s important to read the policy understand what is covered and what is not covered.  Most travel insurance policies are “named peril” policies, so it’s a good idea to know what situations are covered. If a hurricane or tropical storm has already been named, travelers are not entitled to a refund. Always shop around for a policy that covers you and your family — no matter the natural disaster’s name. Call ahead and ask “what if” questions about policies. Buy from a company like Allianz, where you have two weeks to reject the policy if it doesn’t meet your needs and get a full refund.

Travelers who chose to cancel their vacations and had “cancel for any reason” travel insurance may be able to apply for refunds.

Flooding along the Danube River in Europe
Flooding along the Danube River in Europe

If you are traveling overseas

Before you go, sign up for  the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program .  It’s a free service that allows U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad to receive the latest security updates from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. At the same time, the information you provide enables the U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in case of an emergency. And, if your family or friends in the U.S. are having difficulty contacting you with urgent news while you’re traveling, the information you have provided can help them reach you.

Certainly, make sure your family at home knows how to reach you (download an app like Whats App that offers free private messaging around the world; arrange for international cell service if you can. Make sure they know where you are staying. We learned that the hard way when my then college-aged daughter missed her connecting flight and had no idea where we were staying in Quito, Ecuador. (Luckily, she remembered the name of the company that had helped arrange the trip.)

Even now, with the internet, apps and international cell service, I make sure all of our travelers-and those at home-have our itinerary.

In foreign country, carry the phone number of your consulate or embassy for immediate contact in a crisis.

Travel Professionals Have Travel Disaster Tips and Tools

Travel specialists and travel agents are expert at handling travel issues.

Unforeseen travel disasters can take down the power at your destination or, conversely, kill the power at home while you are out of town.

The other question is do you still travel to the desired location if it isn’t the pristine environment you had envisioned? Morocco, like Maui, suffered a tourism disaster in 2023. An earthquake in the Atlas Mountains leveled some of the top sights in Marrakech. Inaccessible sites made tour groups question if they should visit the country at all. In these situations, consult the travel agent who helped plan the trip for an expert overview of the situation.

Some tourists will wait till Marrakech has rebuilt. Others, perhaps your family, will choose to go now, confident their spending on this bucket list vacation will help rebuilding efforts. This is an important conversation to have with your family before departure. And, of course, travel insurance should be part of your family vacation planning so that everyone travels stress-free.

Travel Tip: If Disaster Strikes on the Road, Head Home

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Picture your family in Jerusalem, for example, when Hamas suddenly attacked Israel. If any disaster hits while you’re traveling, your first priority is the safety of your family.

In most cases, if an unexpected emergency occurs while traveling, it’s best to head home. If the disaster was unforeseen, the response will be too.

Some experts suggest your family returns home before things get out of hand. This is true even if means foregoing your trip and losing out on some of your money.

Create A Disaster Plan and Family Meeting Place

The American Red Cross recommends making a Disaster Plan including at least two meeting places to meet in case of an emergency. One location should be somewhere other than your hotel — the emergency could be that your hotel is on fire. During natural disasters, groups tend to get separated and channels of communication are often down. If there isn’t a prearranged safe meeting place for your family, it may take hours, or even days, to locate everyone.

Give Everyone in the Family Paper Copies of Emergency Contact Information

Also keep a hard copy of important phone numbers instead of relying on your cell phone. When batteries run out, your only means of communication are pay phones and land lines. Specify your “ICE,” or In Case of Emergency contact, in advance. Have a list of your travel companions. If anyone is hurt or missing, the appropriate people can be contacted. This is especially important for children as well. Minors with identification will receive better help if they are separated from adults during a disaster. Remember, young children may not remember their parents phone numbers—or even their names, other than “mommy and daddy.”

Make a Disaster Supply Kit and Keep It Accessible to All

The Red Cross recommends packing a Disaster Supply Kit including extra cash for emergency pay phone calls and transportation. You should also include medications and copies of prescriptions in case they need to be refilled or accessed quickly. For further information, visit the American Red Cross prior to your next family outing.

Keep Paper Copies (and Backups) of Local Maps and Hotel Info Handy

Hard copies of city maps are also handy as well as photocopies of travel itineraries, insurance cards, and passports. Make sure everyone has copies on their person while traveling. This information can also be scanned and stored free of charge on a website such as Google (Google Docs) or Dropbox so you can allow select users to see the information in case of catastrophe.

All members of your travel party should also know the address of your accommodation in case anyone gets lost. (Do kids know how to approach someone in uniform to ask for help if they are lost?)

Follow Up On Travel Disaster Aftershocks

Families who are unfortunate enough to experience a natural disaster at home or while traveling often have emotional as well as physical aftershocks. If you’ve been in a car accident, the sound of a bus driving by can instill a state of panic. It’s imperative to discuss any family member’s experiences with trusted friends or a professional counselor.

Keep in mind children often don’t know how to express their emotions or experiences. They are particularly vulnerable to post-disaster stress. Stress symptoms might include difficulty sleeping, depression, colds, or flu-like symptoms, and limited attention spans. For a full list of symptoms and how to combat them, be sure to check the FEMA website.

This Travel Powere By Post is sponsored by Allianz Travel