Arm Yourself With Vigilance While Traveling

July 28, 2005 — -- You've set your sights on visiting England's monolithic Stonehenge or kicking back in a palm tree-swaying Caribbean resort but are wondering if traveling beyond the confines of your bedroom these days will endanger your life. It's safe to travel, experts say, just go the extra mile by arming yourself with research and precautions or even insurance.

"Having knowledge is the cornerstone of a safe trip," said Charlie LeBlanc, travel and security expert at Houston-based Air Security International.

The latest spate of terrorist bombings in vacation hangouts like London, Turkey and Egypt shouldn't be a deterrent to packing your bags nor should hurricanes keep you from sunning at the beach.

"Get as much information about a location," said LeBlanc who recommends visiting travel Web sites and identifying possible threats in different parts of the world.

"If a transportation system has been a target of terrorism, avoid taking the subway," he said alluding to the recent bombings on the London Tube and double-decker buses.

"Always be vigilant because travelers tend to get a little tunnel vision," LeBlanc said, adding that there's no perfect gadget or weapon that will save you except a keen sense of observation. He also recommends keeping a low profile when traveling abroad -- avoid parading around with the American flag sewn on backpacks or toting bags and gadgets with corporate logos.

At the Airport

When it comes to flying the friendly skies, whether it's across the Pacific or to a neighboring state, LeBlanc advises arriving early and getting to your gate as soon as possible.

"Minimize your time in the public lobby where attacks are much more likely to occur than on the opposite side of the security barrier," he said.

Most people become victims because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, he said, which highlights the fact that you can plan ahead but you cannot predict your destiny.

Insure the Good Times

For those who are in the trip-planning phase and want added security, consider insurance. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, more Americans are insuring their vacation dreams. Prior to 9/11, 8 percent of leisure travelers shelled out money for vacation insurance, now 25 percent get insurance, according to travel insurance provider Travel Guard International.

Again, researching different insurance policies is crucial because the fine print can make the difference between recouping costs and being stranded with credit card debts and no memorable photos. The typical travel insurance policy offers reimbursement for a trip cancellation, delay or interruption, lost luggage, some medical emergencies, and accidental death.

Some policies will allow you to cancel your trip if terrorism has occurred 30 days ahead of departure, according to Peter Evans, executive vice president of travel insurance broker InsureMyTrip.com.

As for hurricanes, he recommends getting insurance early.

"If hurricanes become foreseen, you can no longer get coverage," said Evans, likening the process to someone calling for fire insurance as their building burns.

Evans also stressed that during hurricane season, which runs from June to November, if flights are running, you can't cancel your trip even if your hotel has no running water or electricity. He advises getting the added benefit on insurance policies that covers your final destination. (Only two travel insurance providers, CSA Travel protection and Travel Guard, do so right now.)

On average, travel insurance costs between 4 percent and 8 percent of a trip's total price depending on travelers' age and the length of stay.

Illness Poses Greatest Threat

Events like terrorism, hurricanes or even the bird flu have brought the need for travel insurance to the forefront, but experts say there are many more reasons to get insurance.

"The number one claim for trip cancellation is illness of a traveler or a family member," said Carol Mueller of Travel Guard International, pointing out that insurance covers the traveler during the vacation and, more importantly, before he or she leaves.

In addition, she warns that health-care plans don't travel with you so if you have the slightest doubt, this is protection for yourself and your investment.

Doubts or no doubts, travelers seem undeterred to trot around the globe.

"What we're finding is that people are fearless and not letting hurricanes and London bombings get in the way," said Michele Perry of travel information and advice destination site TripAdvisor.com.

Good deals speak louder than risks, she adds.

In a recent TripAdvisor.com survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they would travel to a hurricane-prone tropical destination for savings of 40 percent or more, even at the height of storm season.

Heading out on a vacation doesn't necessarily mean you will be caught in a cyclone or lose your luggage, the goal after all is to enjoy yourself. And if you can't shake the fears and tribulations out there, then keep your slippers on and channel surf to all sorts of destinations.