Does traveling to the Caribbean, the southern U.S. or Mexico give you pause this time of year as the tropics heat up and storms form in the Atlantic? No one wants to be on vacation when a major hurricane passes through.
But the odds of encountering such a natural disaster on vacation are slim, and plenty of people still head to these spots during hurricane season (which typically lasts from June to November). In fact, an August TripAdvisor survey found that 30 percent of U.S. respondents said they have traveled to a hurricane-susceptible destination in the fall, while just 15 percent indicated they had actually experienced a hurricane during that time. Only a handful of respondents -- 3 percent -- said they would not travel because of hurricane season.
Surprisingly, there are upsides to traveling during this time of year, and with some foresight and planning, you can work ahead to avert any potential pitfalls and a hopefully enjoy a hurricane-free getaway.
If the prospect of encountering a major hurricane on your travels is a bit daunting, let us give you the good news first: significant savings. According to Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications for TripAdvisor, there are plenty of fantastic deals in September and October, especially in the Caribbean's tropical climates. This area also tends to be less crowded during the fall.
Many hurricane-prone areas also offer "hurricane guarantees" that encourage you to take the risk, knowing you can cancel your trip or rebook if necessary without a great financial loss. Select hotels, villas and condominiums on the Cayman Islands, for example, offer a Worry Free Hurricane Guarantee that covers any cancellations made prior to arrival, providing compensation if inclement weather cuts a vacation short. And according to the Discover Dominica Authority, most of the island's hotel and resort properties offer some sort of assurance to guests in the event that a hurricane interrupts their vacation. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, several resorts including, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas (currently offering a 40 percent discount for travel before Sept. 15) and The Westin St. John Resort & Villas have similar guarantees that may include a full refund or the chance to rebook at the same rate.
Now for the bad news: Traveling during this more volatile tropical season means you'll have to spend extra time preparing in case of an emergency. But with a well thought-out plan, you'll still be able to relax and enjoy your trip.
"You want to stay aware of the current weather forecast," said Heather Hunter, spokesperson for AAA, who noted that travelers should monitor the forecast along their travel route, as well as their final destination. "It's difficult to judge when a hurricane may hit and things can change quickly," she said.
Consider a potential storm when you are packing, too. "It might seem extreme, but bring a hurricane preparedness kit," said Ferencsik. "The last thing you want is to be stuck or unprepared." He recommended bringing items, such as water filtration bottles, energy bars, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and a first aid kit. Hunter suggested packing any essentials, like medications or anything you might need immediately, in a carry-on bag when flying.
It's also a good idea to talk with your hotel or vacation rental company ahead of time to inquire about their procedures in the event of a weather emergency. How do they maintain guests' safety? Do they offer a hurricane guarantee or something similar? What do they do in the event of an evacuation?
Travel insurance is something you might also consider for maximum peace of mind. "The broader the policy is, the better," said Ferencsik. He recommended looking into policies that refund costs based on the threat or alert of a storm or hurricane -- not just a warning. According to Ferencsik, the average hurricane insurance runs 4 to 8 percent of the total cost of your trip, with the high end being around 12 percent.
Linda Fallon, senior vice president for travel insurance company RoamRight, explained that their policies' coverage is based on local response to the incident. For a traveler to cancel their trip, local authorities in the destination must order a mandatory evacuation due to a hurricane or other natural disaster and policyholders must have 50 percent or less of their total trip remaining at the time of the mandatory evacuation. Consider reviewing a variety of options for travel insurance, closely reading the fine print to find the policy with which you're most comfortable.
If you don't beat the odds and a hurricane or tropical storm is headed to your vacation spot, you'll need to ensure your safety and plan for your return home amidst the resulting travel chaos.
As soon as you hear about potential storms, begin discussions with your hotel and airline. If you're already at the destination, begin researching flights out of the area immediately. "Many airlines will waive the change fees if there is a storm that's disrupting travel," Hunter said.
Marion Edmonds of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism said that as a storm develops that warrants public awareness, the department provides information on their website and social media platforms to direct travelers to evacuation routes and emergency management sites.
While it's important for a destination to provide tourists with the latest weather and safety information, "the onus is also on the travelers," Ferencsik advised. This is a good reason to consider using a travel agent. "If anything occurs during your trip and plans get altered, they work with travel providers on a daily basis and have those relationships. They can be changing plans as needed," said Hunter. "They also have an open line for communication with cruise lines and tour operators."
"The reality is that the vast majority of people will be able to enjoy a great time by traveling to one of these destinations and potentially benefit from some savings, too. They just need to take those extra steps to be ready," Ferencsik said.