It reminded us how often unplanned circumstances can make for “memorable” travel adventures. We came across one story about just such unplanned events that we found both amusing and appalling: Poop cruise! And 30 other outrageous travel stories of 2013. The title refers to last year’s nightmare cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. The poor passengers first had to suffer an onboard fire, a terrifying experience that resulted in the loss of all power. It took the crippled boat 5 days to drift into port: 5 long days with thousands of people stuck on a ship with no electricity or working toilets. The horror!
If you are planning any vacations for a mid-winter break, we hope these stories won’t put you off. Unplanned “adventures” can happen at home or abroad – that’s what insurance is for. Consider protecting any costly travel plans with some trip insurance. It may not protect you from unexpected encounters with penguins, poop, or other problems, but could help to minimize any associated risks should havoc ensue. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good rundown on the major types of travel insurance: including Trip Cancellation, Lost Baggage, Medical, Dental, Emergency Evacuation, 24 Hour Traveler Assistance, Baggage Delay, Travel Delay, and Accidental Death Coverages. Some policies also have options for Collision/Damage coverage for rented cars.
Why not stay local this summer and enjoy all the treasures that New England has to offer? We’ve compiled some tips & tools to get you on your way.
First and foremost, before you hit the road, check Gas Buddy and fueleconomy.gov to get the best gas prices. And make sure that your car is in tip-top shape: Consumer Reports offers a great guide to summer road travel with tips for family travel, maintenance and vehicle prep, fuel economy, travel gear, safety & more.
If you want to leave the car behind and go by foot, check out Hike New England to explore more than 200 trail reports for detailed guides that include a description of the hike, trail distances, a difficulty rating, and driving directions; often photos or trail maps are also provided.
Back in the old days before the ubiquitous internet, travelers had few choices as to lodgings. There were hotels, motels, B&Bs, short term vacation rental cottages, and the ever popular time shares and that was about it. Over the last decade, though, many more options have been added. To just mention two of the largest contemporary options, Couchsurfing offers you the chance to stay with like-minded people all over the world while Airbnb gives everyone the opportunity to run their own part time bed and breakfast. And then there is a growing number of home swap services, where you literally exchange homes with another family for a week or even more. These nontraditional vacation options are growing by leaps and bounds and you may even be considering joining one or another.
Couchsurfing works more like a social network than a rental. Couchsurfers pay no money when they vacation but are expected to host in their turn. Airbnb, on the other hand, is much more traditional: the host rents out a portion or all of their home, ranging from a guest bedroom to a fully equipped apartment or house, for a short period of time. Both services rely on detailed profiles filled out by both hosts and guests, listing everything from music preferences to pet issues to information about the hosts’ city. Both hosts and guests are free to accept or decline any offer as they wish and both services recommend reading profiles carefully and speaking with prospective guests in advance of any rental. Home swap services are more like couchsurfing in that they ordinarily do not involve any money but instead are a straightforward trade: you get their house and they get yours.
While there is no shortage of glowing recommendations for all these services to be found online, accidents do happen and issues do arise. Before you decide to hand your home over to strangers you should be sure you’re covered in the eventuality of any problems. The Insurance Information Institute strongly recommends that you speak with your insurance agent before you rent out any portion of your home, noting that traditional homeowners policies may well not cover any damages incurred by paying guests. You may need either an endorsement to your homeowner’s policy or a separate business policy. In either case, make sure you’re covered before you join the rental service so that you can travel with a light heart.
Summer vacation is always fun but there are some steps that you should take ensure that your home is protected.
1. Secure your property. Check to be sure all doors and windows are locked. Bring in valuables and any outside furniture that might be damaged in a heavy storm. If you have an alarm system, motion detectors, or outside lighting, be sure they are set for while you are away.
2. Avoid giving signals that you are away. Try to make things look as normal as they would if you were at home. Cancel mail and newspapers so they don’t pile up. Use timers to turn on lights at night. Arrange to have grass mowed.
3. Be cautious with sharing on social networks. Unless your friends list is strictly limited to family and a few trusted friends, don’t announce your travel plans on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Be careful about checking in with FourSquare or other services that give your location away. Be cautious about posting and sharing real-time updates and photos that telegraph the information that your home is empty.
4. Ask a neighbor or relative to keep an eye on your property while you are away. Leave contact information and a key for emergencies. A trusted neighbor might even leave a bag of trash in front of your house on trash day or occasionally park in your driveway.
5. Check your home and auto insurance before you go away to ensure that your coverage is up to date and that you have adequate coverage. Know what policies you have and with what insurers. Make sure that you bring your insurance agent’s telephone number in case you need it while away.
If you bought trip insurance before the recent volcanic eruptions, your travel may be covered by the policy, depending on exclusions. But if you are hoping to get travel insurance to protect you from any volcano-related disruptions in the future, you are probably out of luck – Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal reports that as of April 13, there is no ash coverage anymore. It’s similar in principle as to why you can’t call your agent to buy a flood insurance policy in the middle of a hurricane. Insurance covers unexpected events, not events that are in progress.
Now if you already had trip insurance, are you covered? That’s a complicated issue because there are no standard travel insurance policies – they vary widely. Whether or not you are covered will depend on the type of coverage you bought, how much coverage you bought, what the exclusions are, and the specific practices of the company you bought it from. McCartney says:
Even if purchased before April 13, travel insurance can be of limited utility to travelers. If airlines refund tickets for canceled trips, for example, there’s no claim with insurers. If you haven’t left home, you won’t get money for hotels and accommodations under most policies. And many policies have limits on daily expenses if you are stranded away from home.
He notes that even if you have a prepaid stay, trip insurance often only covers rooms that are deemed “uninhabitable.”
It’s too soon to get an estimate of how many travelers have been displaced, but the final tally will no doubt be enormous. Insurance companies report that they are being deluged with queries and calls for help. An article in the New York Times tells us that trip insurers are looking at an event that will cost millions.
“While there can be some exclusions, companies have typically covered nonrefundable prepaid travel that can pay stranded passengers $150 to $250 a day for a maximum of $1,500.”