Traveling during hurricane season is a mixed bag. Generally, you’ll get cheaper flights, cheaper hotel rooms, and emptier beaches than you would during calmer times of the year. But it also means your vacation could be canceled or, worse, interrupted by a vicious storm. Travelers tell horror stories of getting stuck on Caribbean islands for weeks after a hurricane hits, and traveling during this time of year is often full of uncertainty and anxiety.
To help put some of that anxiety to rest, we talked with Meghan Walch, Product Manager at InsureMyTrip.com, who hipped us to some of the key stuff to know if you’re planning a vacation during hurricane season. While the easiest answer is to just avoid traveling during hurricane season altogether, oftentimes summer is the only time people are able to take off from work, and if the Bahamas are on their bucket list, they’re going to the Bahamas, damn it. So whether you’re dead set on going or you just accidentally booked a trip during a flight sale without considering weather patterns, here’s everything you need to know about traveling during hurricane season.
Hurricane season runs now through November.
Though we already had a tropical depression in May, technically the beginning of hurricane season is June 1. It runs throughout summer, ending November 30. That’s six months, if you’re counting. While storms can form at any point during those months, the height of the season is from mid-August to mid-October. So if you’re planning trips during those months, be especially vigilant.
Know if you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area.
Pretty much any state or country around the Gulf of Mexico is fair game for a hurricane. As are nearly all Caribbean islands, with the exception of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which lie where hurricanes almost never hit. The Atlantic Coast of the United States is also susceptible, more so in Florida and the Carolinas, but the northeast isn’t immune — just ask the Jersey Shore.
Hurricanes also form in the northeast Pacific Ocean, specifically along the coast of Baja California.
You need to buy travel insurance early.
Airlines or cruise ships will usually give you a refund if they cancel your booking due to weather. But if they don’t cancel and you decide not to travel anyway, you’re not getting any money back storm or no storm. So traveling to a hurricane-prone area during the season necessitates buying travel insurance.
“People should buy insurance early, like right after they pay any money towards their trip,” says Walch. “The earlier you purchase, the more you’re eligible for with your policy.”
Since insurance is, at its core, a gamble, you won’t be able to buy insurance once a major storm forms. This would be like placing a bet halfway into a horse race. So it’s wise to buy early.
“Typically it will cover you if your flight is delayed, the average up to 24-48 hours if all flights are grounded due to inclement weather,” says Walch. “It will cover you for prepaid, non-refundable costs if you have to cancel a trip for any covered reason, be that an airline, hotel, or anything non-refundable prior to departure.”
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, it will also cover you if your primary residence is uninhabitable. And if you don’t, it’ll cover you if your destination is uninhabitable.
Make sure to buy the right kind of travel insurance.
Like any kind of insurance, travel insurance policies vary widely by the type of coverage you want. InsureMyTrip actually has a quote calculator on its site, so you can plug in what you’re looking for and see what it costs. That said, if you’re the type who overly errs on the side of caution, you may want to look into “cancel for any reason” coverage, which will allow you to cancel your trip for full refunds even if the storm doesn’t end up coming close to your destination.
Hotels, airlines, and cruise ships might refund your money in the case of inclement weather. But they are not required to, so insurance is really the only way you can guarantee you’ll get money back.
Unlike airplanes and hotels, cruise ships are mobile. That means if a cruise line sees a storm is coming, it has the flexibility to change an itinerary to avoid it. Does that mean you might end up going to Nassau for the ninth time rather than having your long-awaited dive trip to Roatan? Yes, it does. But changes in itinerary are generally covered by travel insurance, so if you bought it, you won’t get stuck sipping drinks at Señor Frog’s if you don’t want to.
Though cruising definitely gives your trip its best odds of surviving a hurricane, nothing is guaranteed. For example, if a storm is headed for Miami — or another cruise departure city — no amount of itinerary changes will allow the ship to sail from a hurricane-plagued port. So there’s always a chance.
Bring the right supplies along.
Should you decide to buck the odds and head out during a hurricane, make sure you pack smart. Bring along stuff you might need should you find yourself living in the aftermath of a storm. This includes battery-powered USB chargers, battery-powered flashlights, a battery-powered radio, plenty of extra toiletries, and maybe even some water purification tablets. If you can spring for a solar-powered battery pack, that’ll be useful too. Though if cell service if down for extended periods of time your phone won’t be good for much other than taking pictures.
You might also want to pack a first aid kit and some non-perishable foods, so you’re not stuck in storm-hysteria grocery lines buying survival supplies at your destination.
Always carry cash.
If power and communications are out after the storm, your debit card immediately becomes a piece of useless plastic. Take out as much money as you can in local currency from an ATM, so should we revert to a cash-only society, you’re able to buy stuff like ice, food, and beer. Because Venmo probably won’t be working either.
Track with a weather app.
The nice thing about hurricanes is you generally know they’re coming. For people who live in hurricane-prone areas, tracking storms on weather apps is as much a part of summer as barbecues and baseball games. And if you’re traveling to one of those areas, you should probably be tracking the storm too.
The Weather Channel app is pretty good for this though you can also try RadarCast, Dark Sky, and Storm Shield. For the straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth forecast, bookmark nhc.noaa.gov. That’s the official site of the National Hurricane Center and will be the first to post latest tracking and forecast data.
Make a plan.
Just like residents in hurricane-affected areas, make a plan for what you and your family will do should a storm interrupt your vacation. That includes setting meeting points, creating contingency plans for if your phones go out, and having emergency points of contact back home. You may also want to plan to spend a lot of additional time in your destination because if flights become grounded, it can take a while to get out.
Check with your hotel to find out what its plan is.
Hotels should also have hurricane contingency plans, and if you’re staying in the face of a storm, good hotels will let you know exactly what it is. Some have shelters they take guests to, others have spaces within the hotel where everyone is required to go in the event of a storm. Some provide food and other necessities in an emergency. Others do not.
Whatever you do, don’t sit in your room during a hurricane, unless somehow your room is interior facing or has no windows. Exterior windows are the most dangerous place to be during a storm, and the last thing you want to do is ride it out in a wet, windy, strange place.