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You’ve spent months preparing for a vacation to your dream destination with plans set in stone weeks prior to departure – only to hear reports about political instability, cyclones, or any number of potential travel pitfalls. Between optimistic hearsay and government travel warnings it can be difficult to know just when to pull the plug on a trip or continue on to your destination.

pyramids at giza

Reading past all of the general advice from family, the media, and travel companies it’s easy to get apprehensive and lost in a fog of information; so, just when should you cancel your travel plans?

fortune tellerKeep The Genie In The Bottle

Fortune telling is hardly a science, yet the further you are from your actual travel date, the more any travel prediction or warning becomes just that. Planning types may have some trouble with this, but you’re better off assessing a situation very close to your travel date than before.

Also, canceling a trip because you (or the media) are speculating on, say, political instability, too far in advance could mean you’re missing out on the benefits of canceled flights and tours.

  • Flight Cancellations – It takes quite a bit for the airlines to call off flights; don’t make changes without official word on their situational policy. (Here’s how to fight back if your flight is canceled.)
  • Trip Insurance Before It’s Too Late – Travel insurance companies won’t cover your losses for “known events” so if you’re concerned about canceled flights or losses due to them, consult with the company in advance. They’ll have specific information with cutoff dates and what you can claim based on a given situation. (Should you get travel insurance?)

Of course, travel pitfalls come in all shapes and sizes. Weather events like “snowpocalypses” are  less predictable and while they can disrupt your plans, recovery from even bad natural disasters is usually quick. Modification, not cancellation, of your plans might be in order.

When There’s Targeted Violence

Government travel warnings tend to blanket entire countries without being all that detailed. The important distinctions to make are: where specifically there might be ongoing conflict, the threat of localized violence (e.g. due to unrest), and targeted violence.

madrid atocha station

  • Where?Decipher travel warnings and find out specifically where (and if) there’s active conflict and the scope of it. Chances are you’re not going to be anywhere near them and you can cancel if you are. Fighting heating up in the southern Philippine islands, for example, doesn’t warrant canceling a trip to Manila – or most of the country for that matter. (Northern Iraq is another great example.)
  • Localized Violence – Political demonstrations and protests are generally common around the world but expressions of democracy that can be tense. Generally speaking though, these events are highly localized (like the Red Shirt Protests during Bangkok’s state of emergency); avoid them and you’re probably in no more danger than if they didn’t exist.

Targeted violence towards foreigners, tourists, journalists (or those perceived to be) in a city or part of the world you had plans to visit is a strong indicator to cancel.

The other forms of violence can be usually avoidable and have nothing to do with you specifically. Violence targeting foreigners or hostile attitudes towards your home country (ethnic background or creed) is a completely different situation; and not particularly conducive to sightseeing.

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woman blindfoldedSure You Can Go, But What Can You See?

Finding flights to Egypt at the moment still isn’t impossible, but good luck getting much further than Cairo International Airport or a hotel room. Flights continuing to a destination don’t mean much if when you arrive you’ll be stuck staring at four walls. Unless you’re looking to specifically see what’s disrupting, you know, “normal life”,  than save yourself the trip and go when you can actually see the place you’re going to.

Missing That Site On Your Bucket List

I’m not a big fan of the term “bucket list” (please tell me if there are plans you can make after you die) but if your travel plans are based on seeing very distinct set of sites, then it might be worth calling off a trip if they’re completely inaccessible. We all travel for a variety of reasons and no matter what yours are, if those are significantly disrupted, consider canceling for another time.

empty blue bucket

Get Your Case In Order – It Ain’t Easy

Sometimes your plans are canceled for you, thanks to the travel companies you’ve booked with. From a logistical point of view that’s an ideal scenario, because canceling trip plans that include flights, accommodations, or others you’ve booked in advanced is rarely smooth sailing. If you do decide to cancel, use The Art Of War to win battles across any ticket counter and state your case clearly.

Finally, keep in mind that for ever situation that does get out of control (e.g. as is the case in Egypt), there are many, many more where all of the warnings you hear don’t amount to much for most travelers. You know yourself best so research well and assess how close (or far) you’ll be from harm’s way.

[photos by: Neil B (pyramids at Giza), Willy Volk (fortune teller), larry&flo (targets Madrid Atocha station), Kanaka Menehune (woman blindfolded), longhorndave (empty blue bucket)]

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