Tips for Travel During Hurricane Season
Don’t let your dream getaway get blown away by bad weather. What you should know before planning a trip during hurricane season
The bait: Sunny skies, sandy beaches and off-season deals to tropical getaways.
The catch: It’s hurricane season. Wind and rain can put a damper on your plans, and you could face other hurricane hazards such as storm surges, rip currents, landslides, flooding and tornadoes. Should you take advantage of seasonal discounts or play it safe? Here’s what you should know about travel during hurricane season.
Should hurricane season be off-limits for travel? Statistically speaking, the chance of a short trip being threatened by a hurricane is very small, according to meteorologist Chris Landsea in the Frequently Asked Questions on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s website. The odds: Only 1 in 50 — even if you travel during the worst conditions. Direct hits are very rare, says Landsea.
Officially, hurricane season runs June 1 to November 30 in the Atlantic Basin (it starts a little earlier in the Pacific) — but the weather doesn’t always abide by these dates. Storms can come early or late, but 80 per cent of the action happens in late August and September. If you’re planning a trip, you can dodge some of the risk by booking early or late in the season.
Destination also makes a difference. According to About.com’s Caribbean Hurricane Guide, islands in the south or west, such as Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba, are the least likely to get hit by a hurricane. The Gulf Coast, including Florida and Mexico, has a higher risk. Remember, many countries in Central America face risks on both coast — but offer lovely inland getaways.
Steps to take before you go
If you’re planning to travel during hurricane season, be sure to take all those extra precautions you sometimes overlook when you travel, including:
– Consult with an expert. Your travel agent, hotel or tour operator can tell you what emergency plans are in place at your destination. Make sure you are comfortable with these arrangements.
– Register online with your embassy. Your government can often assist with emergency travel arrangements and repatriation.
– Leave a detailed copy of your itinerary at home, with information on where and how to reach you.
– Plan to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Nothing is scarier than not knowing if your loved one is okay when a disaster hits.
– Take a list of emergency phone numbers with you: Your embassy, your travel agent, your insurance company, and local authorities.
– Pack emergency items such as water purification tablets, a first aid kit, a flashlight and hand-cranked or battery operated radio. A cell phone that works internationally is also recommended.
Protect your travel investment
It’s okay to be extra-fussy when it comes to choosing travel insurance and evaluating “hurricane guarantees” offered by many travel companies. Think about the level of risk you’re willing to assume and look for a policy that meets your requirements. Do you want the option of canceling at the first sign of trouble, or are you the type who won’t leave your destination unless it’s absolutely necessary?
Also, read the fine print of any policy you are considering because there’s often a catch. Some questions you might want to ask:
– What contingencies are included? Are you covered if your airline cancels but the resort is open? Will you be expected to travel even if your hotel is closed or heavily damaged?
– Will you get a refund or have to re-book for a later date?
– Under what conditions can you cancel without penalty?
Tropical storms and hurricanes can strengthen quickly and travel unpredictable paths, so it’s important to keep a weather eye on your destination. To find the latest information and the earliest warnings, your best bet is the National Hurricane Center (NHC). You can check the data online, or subscribe to email alerts or RSS feeds. Most weather services and government agencies rely on this data to form their own forecasts and advice. As such, the NHC advisories tend to be written for an expert audience, so you may want to tune into a local weather source for the “plain English” version. Make sure you know a local radio and TV station to check for news and instructions.
Government travel advice tends to be a little slower to react and often can’t provide instructions due to quickly changing conditions. However, you may need to know if there is a warning in place to satisfy insurance or hurricane guarantee requirements. The Canadian government posts warnings in the relevant Travel Report, while the U.S. Department of State will issue a Travel Alert or Travel Warning as needed (see its Travel Information page for current advice).
If you’re there
If you’re in a country affected by a storm, keep tabs on the local news and weather reports to find out what to do. Ultimately,it’s up to local authorities to implement warnings and emergency measures.
At the first sign of trouble, talk to your travel agent or travel service provider (or, if all else fails, your embassy) about plans to get you home. Remember, the sooner you act, the better your chances of getting a seat. Usually authorities try to get tourists home before a storm makes landfall.
If you have to wait out the storm, keep some emergency supplies such as bottled water and food on hand as a precaution. You may be asked to stay in your hotel for the duration of the storm or evacuate to an emergency shelter. You may want to take the initiative and head to higher ground before being warned, but beware of hilly or mountainous areas that are prone to landslides.
If you’re stuck, try to check in with your family and friends at home whenever possible — or ask the embassy to do so on your behalf.