How to disaster-proof your summer vacation
The travel braggers are out in full force on Instagram, posting stunning summer vacation pictures on social media. There’s endless Instagram-able travel things to boast about: luxury hotels, picture-perfect locations and snap-worthy culinary dishes.
No one ever humble-brags when their vacation fails. There’s no perfect filter to disguise unexpected medical expenses, tow trucks removing the remnants of a failed road trip, or costly flight cancellations due to weather conditions. It seems #instatravel is a little weak on protecting your health and wealth when disaster strikes.
Whether you stay close to home or go the distance this summer, take these travel tips for a spin to prevent both natural and human-made disasters from costing you while on vacation.
Assess your risk before booking
If you’re travelling abroad, take a look at the Canadian government’s travel site at travel.gc.ca before booking. You’ll find international advisories and areas to avoid, travel requirements, climate conditions and suggested immunizations for known health hazards. Global Affairs Canada also offers the free Travel Smart app to assist you if there’s an emergency, and lists Canadian embassies and consulates around the world.
Get travel health insurance
Don’t rely on your provincial health plan to cover medical expenses if you get sick or are injured while abroad. OHIP covers limited costs if you receive emergency health services outside of Canada, and may take months to reimburse you. Since a broken arm can cost thousands and a medical evacuation could cost more than $50,000, don’t scrimp to save a few bucks on travel health insurance.
You may have some travel insurance with your employer and through your travel credit card — but don’t assume it’s enough. Check for continuous coverage before departure and after return, 24/7 emergency contacts, direct payment of bills, dental care, and hospitalization coverage. Be sure any pre-existing conditions are also covered and get this in writing, as some forms of emergency treatment may exceed $250,000.
The big financial institutions and even retailers like Costco offer various flavours of travel health insurance at different price points, so be an informed consumer by being aware of your health needs, comparing pricing on different plans and understanding your coverage and deductibles before signing.
Always carry your insurance documentation when travelling, and if you receive medical care, get a detailed invoice from the health care provider before leaving the country. You’ll need all your receipts and documentation to make a claim.
Insure for cancellations, interruptions
Whether you’re travelling within Canada or abroad, trip cancellation and interruption insurance could be your ticket to a full or partial refund if serious weather conditions (floods, wildfires, hurricanes), an accident, or an illness disrupt your holiday plans. Some policies may even cover you for delays due to legal issues, such as if you’re called to jury duty or served divorce papers.
Often bundled together, trip cancellation policies cover a list of insurable reasons that could prevent your departure — such as illness or natural disasters — while trip interruption policies reimburse you if you need to get home after you’ve already left.
While travel agents and airlines often sell these policies at a premium and may try to persuade you to protect your trip at checkout, check with your credit card issuer first to see if purchasing your trip on their plastic offers coverage. You can often buy these policies after purchasing your tickets, but not if a storm is already bearing down on your hotel.
Currency exchange fees
While not a clear and present danger, currency exchange fees can be huge bummer. If you can, avoid using currency exchange kiosks or offices. Some may have reasonable rates, but many embed significant commissions into the exchange rates they offer, costing you more than the 2.5 per cent typically charged by banks and credit cards. If you’re a big shopper or travel often, find a travel credit card that doesn’t charge any currency conversion fees. When you make a purchase, the price is directly converted at the current exchange rate and you’ll pay for your purchase in Canadian dollars.
A little travel insurance can go a long way in protecting your health. With your policy in place, be sure to brag about it on Instagram.
Kerry K. Taylor is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at