So, I was supposed to be landing in beautiful San Juan, Puerto Rico this morning.
In case you didn’t know, Puerto Rico was in the path of Hurricane Irma last week. With intense 185 mph winds, much of Puerto Rico was left without power and thousands of people were without access to clean water for a few days. In the days leading up to the hurricane, I was watching the news like a hawk and trying to decide what to do about my trip. I ultimately decided to cancel and give the island a little more time to recuperate before receiving me as a visitor.
But it got me to thinking- what about other people who had plans to visit Puerto Rico and the surrounding Caribbean islands that were left destroyed by Hurricane Irma? If you’ve been watching the weather and aren’t sure what’s going to happen with your vacation, here’s what to do if your destination is going to be hit by a hurricane.
What to do if your destination is going to be hit by a hurricane
Don’t Freak Out
The last thing you want to do if your destination is going to be hit by a hurricane is to lose your head prematurely. Hurricanes are notorious for changing directions and dissipating over time. Even if your destination is predicted to be hit, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will be. The best thing you can do is stay calm about it and wait to see what happens.
Stay on top of the weather reports and the news
Like I said, hurricanes often stray from their predicted paths. Originally, Puerto Rico was supposed to get absolutely hammered by Hurricane Irma. Instead, only a small portion of the island got the full force of the storm, with the remainder just seeing high wind and rain. Watch the weather reports and the news for updates on the hurricane.
Check your airline cancellation policies
If you are flying into a destination that is within a hurricane path, you’ll want to check with your airline about the situation. While many airlines won’t give you refunds for cancellations due to weather, they usually have exceptions for extreme weather like hurricanes. Before calling the airline (because odds are those wait times are going to be horrendous), look online for your airline’s cancellation FAQ’s. They will most likely outline their policies for hurricanes. If your destination is going to be hit by a hurricane, you may also want to consider just delaying the trip rather than canceling altogether.
Check on cancellation policies for other places you may have reservations
If you’ve already booked other things like accommodations, excursions, tours, etc., you’ll also want to check on the cancellation policies for these. Most likely, they will not have this kind of information on their websites. In this case, an email or phone call will be your best bet. These kinds of businesses are less likely to give you a partial or full refund for any money you’ve already put down. This is why it’s great to have travel insurance– especially when traveling during hurricane season.
Check your ego and make a decision
Even if it turns out that your destination is not severely affected by the hurricane, there may still be damage and lives afflicted. Ask yourself- why am I going to this place? As soon as I read online that an estimated 4,000 people in Puerto Rico did not have access to clean water after Hurricane Irma, I made my final decision not to go. It came down to the ethics of the situation- Who am I to take Puerto Rico’s available clean water away from local people who need it? If I was Puerto Rican, would I be happy to help tourists while I was worried about my family and the damage to my home? Ask yourself how your traveling to this destination will affect their situation at present.
If you do go…
If the damage from the hurricane isn’t all that bad you may make the decision to continue with your plans to visit. In that case, it’s important to be sensitive to the needs of your destination. Bring goods or monetary donations. Consider spending a day or two volunteering, passing out water or helping with clean up. Learn about some ways to travel sustainably, and apply that knowledge to your trip.
If you don’t go…Plan to visit in the future
After being damaged by a natural disaster, many places will rely on money from the tourism industry to help get back on track. Don’t completely wipe your destination off your travel list, because it will need you. Even though I decided to cancel my trip to Puerto Rico, I am determined to visit soon. Now I’m thinking maybe it will make a great warm getaway while facing the cold Midwest winter.
If you’re feeling the pull to help these places affected by the recent Hurricane Irma, please consider donating through GlobalGiving.
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