To go or not to go? What conditions are cause for canceling a vacation?

by Janice Hough on April 26, 2010


Now that the European travel system is getting back to normal after the volcano, the clean up begins, and for many future travelers, the decision making — to go or not to go.

Personally, I have a flight to London in a few days, and if the plane goes, I’m going. But I’ve had three cancellations for travelers scheduled to travel next week. Already our agency is fielding calls from clients considering changing their summer plans. (One who said she wasn’t sure about going anywhere near an active volcano, so she was considering going to Hawaii. No comment.)

But the volcano issue highlights the fact that there are often outside issues about a trip. Sometimes it’s safety because of political issues, as travelers to Thailand are facing now, or worries about traveling to a place that has suffered some disaster, as in travel to New York after 9/11 or New Orleans after Katrina. But, these issues can complicate what was planned as a simple vacation.

As a travel agent, I get asked all the time, “should I go?” And the answer isn’t simple. My personal philosophy generally leans towards yes, for more than one reason.

First, I believe that, while you shouldn’t travel into the middle of a war zone, there are risks everywhere. Last year in our quiet northern California suburb, an older woman ran her car into a storefront across the street when she shifted the car into drive instead of reverse in a parking place. Fortunately, it was a Monday and the store was closed.

Second, I think even after a disaster, assuming you aren’t traveling in the immediate aftermath when all resources are focused on recovery, many destinations need the tourist dollars.

Most notably and recently in New Orleans, a city that depends heavily on tourism dollars, friends in the area told me that even the post-Katrina tours that outsiders might have felt were exploitative were welcome, since they were bringing in money to the city. (These tours covered hard hit neighborhoods both in the Ninth Ward and in more prosperous areas.)

Sometimes it’s not just a sense of “would it be right?” to enjoy ourselves as tourists in the midst of suffering, but “how much will our trip be affected?”

Our office had two sets of clients heading to Peru and Machu Picchu in April, when it wasn’t certain if the railway to the site would be open after the floods. One decided to risk it, another couple, while admitting they felt “guilty” depriving the poor country of tourist dollars, decided that they would postpone the “one-in-a-lifetime” trip indefinitely, in hopes of a more predictable experience.

(As it turned out, the railway did reopen on schedule)

Clearly, there is no single right answer here. If the Icelandic volcano doesn’t erupt again in a way that affects air travel, then a lot of people will have canceled trips for nothing. On the other hand, part of the pleasure of travel is the anticipation, and as I have told clients, “If you are dreading or worrying about a trip too much, that will take a lot of the fun out of it, even if things go smoothly.”

But what do you think, readers? Is there a set standard you have for when or when not to cancel a trip? Have you ever gone on a trip where you knew there were particular risks or recent issues at your destination? Or have you canceled or postponed a trip because of a potential issue?

If so, please share your story in comments.

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  • SirWired

    Travel Insurance, Travel Insurance, Travel Insurance. (Not that that helps people worried about the volcano that have not purchased a policy yet.) Trip Insurance (providing you buy a decent policy) can get you a refund if you can’t get to your destination, and can lend you a hand if you are stuck somewhere trying to get home.

    For “disasters” (like this volcano, hurricanes, blizzards, etc.) that cause chaos and havoc to airline scheduling, the assistance provided by an insurance company can be invaluable, especially if you booked yourself instead of hiring an agent.

  • http://[email protected] Linda

    we have a trip end of May to Venice and onto our 12 night Easter Med. cruise…while we are understandibly worried, we are not about to cancel this long awaited trip “in case”…there could be any kind of natural disaster at any given moment, not just a volcano, but so many other tragedies or political agendas…if everyone decided to not travel because of these rare and unpredictable circumstances, it would be a true tragedy. We will hope for the best and if we are able to leave the US, not spend our entire trip worrying if we will get home… The future is truly not in our hands!

  • Dolores

    That’s a really good question. We have never cancelled a trip in 20+ years of traveling (nor have we ever bought travel insurance) and my gut sense is that it would have to be pretty severe circumstances to do so. We did, however, delay our plans to visit Turkey while there was civil unrest.

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