As I write this post, Hurricane Irma is in the mist of devastating parts of Florida, after already having her way with Anguilla and Barbuda, Cuba, St. Martin and other countries in the Caribbean. The images and videos of the destruction she's caused in her path have been heartbreaking. But more importantly, tens of people have died while others had to be rescued, including those there for vacation. Anything can happen while you're traveling so it's important for you to do your best to plan for the unexpected.
1. Research weather patterns for the region you're visiting.
Hurricane season for much of the Caribbean is June through November, peaking in August and September. The rainy season in Zambia is November to April while the rainy season in Costa Rica is May through November. You can't predict hurricanes or tsunamis, but you can keep the weather in mind when booking travel in the off seasons. Which brings me to my next point..
2. Yes, buy travel insurance.
I have a love/hate relationship with travel insurance. As someone who goes on 99.9% of the trips I book, it's hard for me to pay for travel insurance when I don't think I'll need it, especially when it can be upwards of about $200 depending on the cost of the trip. But it's a necessary evil. Buying travel insurance is not only about whether you'll need to cancel, but it also provides assistance once you're on your trip. This article from Forbes breaks down various forms of travel insurance for you. And here's something you may not know...
Once a storm is named, it’s too late to buy travel insurance to cover it," says Dan Durazo, director of communications for travel insurance provider Allianz. Irma, for example, received her name on August 30. At that point she became what insurers call a foreseeable event, and policies purchased after that wouldn't cover losses due to the storm. That's why Durazo advises buying travel insurance as soon as possible.
So moral of the story is while you may not want to pay the extra bucks, buy the insurance anyway and know what it covers.
3. Pay for your flight with a credit card.
Many credit cards offer travel insurance with the card. Many do not. Check to see what your credit card's terms and conditions are before deciding whether you need to buy additional insurance. I'm not recommending any because much like travel insurance, credit cards are a necessary evil and no one is paying me to advertise for them. Shrugs. But the internet is wide open for you to do your research on what credit cards are best for travel in the case of an emergency.
4. Register with the State Department.
I've said this before here but it bears repeating. Register with the STEP Program before you travel. The State Department is not only a great resource for information before you travel, but it's a great way for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to know you're there. In case something unfortunate does happen, the Government will know you're in country and try to make sure you're accounted for. You should also find out where the actual building is just in case you need to go.
5. Know what airlines are in an alliance with the one you're flying.
My friends and I were stranded for 3 extra days in Rome during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We actually used a travel agent for this trip because there were 6 of us and luckily for us, she was able to rebook us on another flight with American Airlines leaving a few days later. But it was an awful flight pattern that flew us into Dulles Airport in Virginia during rush hour, which was about 1.5 hours from our homes in Baltimore on a GOOD day. I couldn't bear the thought of sitting in rush hour traffic after such an ordeal (although there are worse places to be stuck than Rome!).
I went up to the British Airways counter (knowing they are in Star Alliance with American Airways) once we got to London and not only were they able to book all of us, but they were able to fly us into our preferred airport. YES JESUS. During such a hectic time, airline employees may or may not be the most helpful. Do some out of the box thinking and take matters into your own hands.
These are just some of the most common ways to plan for unexpected disasters on a major level, weather-related or otherwise. There is more you should do to ensure your personal safety on a smaller scale. Be observant. Make smart decisions. If something doesn't feel right, it most likely isn't. If you're with friends, stay together or decide on a meeting place in case of an emergency. I could go on and on (and I probably will in another post) but just be careful, kids. We're living in crazy times so do your best to expect the unexpected.