Travel and Severe Weather Preparedness

Yesterday marked the beginning of NOAA’s National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, during which the government agency hopes to highlight key pieces of information and steps people can take to stay safe throughout potentially catastrophic weather events.  Today’s theme is “Know Your Risk,” which couldn’t be more applicable to travel and the travel insurance industry.  Our entire business, and our education of travelers, is centered around assessing and understanding what risks might be inherent in different travel decisions, then helping people to make a plan that will hopefully address those risks.

Severe weather is the kind of unforeseen event that travel insurance is truly intended for.  Obviously, there are many risks that come with venturing away from home, ranging from mild scheduling disruptions at the airport to the kind of major tragedies none of us like to envision too vividly.  But if you’re thinking about the likelihood of any one particular type of travel disruption occurring, catastrophic accidents are pretty far down on the list; weather events, on the other hand, have got to be in the top five.

There’s no way to stop severe weather from derailing your plans, but there is travel insurance coverage available to help with many of its effects.  For example, if your flights are delayed or cancelled because of the weather, you might be able to file a claim to be reimbursed for incidental expenses such as food and lodgings, as well as for possible additional costs incurred by having to make different arrangements to reach your destination.  If your accommodations are destroyed and made entirely uninhabitable by a weather event, you may be able to receive assistance from your travel insurance provider in making other suitable arrangements, recovering nonrefundable expenses, or both.  And if the severe weather strikes your home, rather than your intended vacation spot, you might be able to cancel your travels in order to stay home and take care of necessary repairs, depending on what kind of travel insurance policy you’ve purchased.

A travel insurance policy can be a useful tool for severe weather preparedness, no doubt; but how do you know if you really need one?  Here are some questions you should ask yourself when booking any trip, to help assess the risk that severe weather may impact your plans:

1. Am I traveling during a time of year when there is a known risk of severe weather?  The Atlantic Hurricane season, which runs from June through November each year, is an excellent example of a season during which any traveler may want to seriously consider insuring him or herself against the possible effects of a weather event.  However, hurricanes aren’t the only thing worth thinking about.  Consider whether or not you’re traveling at a time when snow and winter weather may cause travel backlogs.  Research rainy seasons in more remote countries.  And truly, it’s important to factor in where you live, not just where you’re going.  If you’re a Midwesterner planning to travel during the height of tornado season, travel insurance may not be a bad idea.

2. Did my trip cost enough to be a financial burden to me should I lose that money?  If you wouldn’t be comfortable losing your pre-paid, non-refundable expenses, travel insurance is a smart investment.  Many of us wouldn’t be able to take a financial loss on a significant trip, and still be able to rebook without some degree of financial difficulty.  Ask yourself whether or not that hurricane or blizzard would be as disappointing to your wallet as it would be to you.

3.  Where am I going?  This probably seems obvious, but it’s worth just taking a minute to confirm for yourself whether your destination is a place where the likelihood of severe weather taking a toll on your plans is at all heightened.  If you’re going to, say, London in May, your severe weather risk is probably a bit lower than the risk you might take in traveling to Costa Rica in September.  But it’s not just about seasons; thinking about how remote your destination is may also be a factor.  The chances that a romantic little beach hut far from the touristy crowds might be badly damaged by a severe weather event — even one that happens quite some time before your scheduled trip — are probably somewhat greater than the likelihood of the same thing happening to a suite in a large, established five-star resort in a metropolitan area.

Of course, there are many other factors that should go into making a decision about whether or not to insure your next trip.  Severe weather is far from the only event that could cause major travel headaches.  However, this week of severe weather preparedness gives us a great opportunity to remind all travelers to take a close look at their plans whenever they may be hoping to travel, and think about the way Mother Nature could impact their trip.

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