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To say the coronavirus has turned our world upside down is an understatement. Many things we used to take for granted, including family vacations and bucket lists, have been put on hold indefinitely. Now hunkered down in our homes with no end to the pandemic in sight, we are thankful for having a roof over our heads, food on the table and being able to have limited contact with family and friends. Unfortunately, having job security, financial stability, good health insurance and being free to move about in the community may now be a distant dream for many.

Travel around the world has taken a devastating hit, according to Alan Fox, executive chairman of Houston-based Vacations to Go (vacationstogo.com).

“Cruise lines continue to work with local and national governments and health authorities around the world to develop enhanced procedures for the screening of guests, the sanitation of vessels and onboard medical care and treatment,” he said. “Popular tourist hotels and resorts worldwide are shuttered, either by government order or for lack of guests. Many airlines around the world are receiving government bailouts in some form and will likely emerge from this crisis intact but much smaller, for quite some time … For international vacationing to return, countries must lift their bans on non-essential international travel AND drop the self-quarantine requirements that now exist in most countries for incoming visitors. This will take longer and evolve on more of a country-to-country basis, when two countries are ready to receive visitors from the other, without restrictions.”

A recent Society of American Travel Writers webinar, featuring editors of leading travel print and on-line publications (Atlas Obscura, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Travel Weekly, American Way, Celebrated Living and Nexos), revealed that travel will change drastically because of the coronavirus. The travel panel predicts people will take shorter trips that are closer to home, be drawn to wide open spaces and small towns as opposed to large cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and focus on more outdoor experiences.

Those who have the monetary means may buy out entire resorts or hotels. Airline travel will likely be very different from what we have known in the past. For example, more spacing between seats may become the norm, passengers may have to wear masks and other protective gear and they may be required to carry health passports. All these measures will result in increased costs for air travel. It may take some time before travel bans are lifted in Europe and Asia, but borders are likely to open first in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands.

Though travelers may take greater risks when they travel these days, there are some attractive deals to be had during this time, plus airlines and tour companies are waiving cancellation fees and some restrictions. However, the uncertainty of the pandemic underscores the importance of purchasing travel insurance when planning and booking trips in the future. A few years ago a friend’s artificial hips locked up as she was about to board a plane for Iceland at JFK in New York. Fortunately, a MedJet policy covered her safe transport home. She continued to renew the policy year after year, and it kicked in early this year when she had a medical emergency in a remote area of Morocco. Sadly, she later died in a U.S. hospital. Another friend had to be hospitalized in Orvieto outside of Rome following her first transatlantic flight. She spent two weeks recovering from a slight stroke and was finally released to travel back to the U.S. with her daughter, a nurse. Most of her expenses were covered, including all but $60 of her $3,200 hospital bill, thanks to a Travel Guard insurance policy she had purchased prior to the trip. (Having all her travel receipts made filing a claim easy, by the way.) Another person broke her hip while traveling in Greece and ran up a $60,000 medical bill. A TravelGuard policy paid her entire medical bill, as well as her flight with a nurse escort back to the U.S. Though the owners of Dream Tours to Go, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, had led numerous tours all over the world, they had never purchased travel insurance until an accident at home made them realize its importance. Now they insure every trip they book after carefully reading the fine print on what is covered.

There are many different kinds of travel insurance policies. Before shopping for a policy, find out what your medical insurance and credit cards will cover when you travel. Then, take time to compare and contrast different policies with regard to baggage delays, lost/damaged baggage, trip delay, trip cancellation and interruption, travel accidents, medical evacuation and rental cars. Also ask if the policy covers pre-existing medical conditions. And does it cover epidemics, pandemics and natural disasters? Policies range from inexpensive to very expensive, depending on the scope of coverage, health and age of a traveler, limitations, and more. You may purchase policies that cover the cost of an airline ticket solely, paid for in dollars or miles. Cruise lines also offer policies on specific trips. Since most cruise cabins are sold on the basis of double occupancy, make sure you and your cabin mate purchase individual policies and that the insurance covers the cruise even if your travel buddy becomes ill or dies. If you are traveling abroad, consider a policy that covers medical emergencies and the possibility of an unexpected return home. If you travel often, consider an annual, renewable policy. If you want to make sure everything is covered, buy a policy that has a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) option, but expect to pay more for it. Most travel insurance companies require that a policy be purchased within 14 days of your first payment for the trip.

With the number of travel insurance options out there, choosing one that suits your needs may be confusing. Consumers Advocate’s recent review of 10 travel insurance companies may prove helpful in your research. At the top of their list is TravelInsurance.com, followed by General Global Assistance, Travelex Insurance Services, MedJet, World Nomads, AardvarkCompare.com, AXA Travel Insurance, Allianz Travel, Roam Right Travel Insurance, and Tokio Marine HCC. Other companies noted in the article are Good Sam TravelAssist, Berkshire Hathaway, USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services, GeoBlue, First Allied Limited, TravelSafe, Global Alert, CSA, Travel Insured International, Trip Assure, Travel Guard, Seven Corners, UnitedHealthCare-Global, InsureMy Trip, Trawick International and INF Visitor Care. Log on to the Consumers Advocate website (consumersadvocate.org/travel-insurance) to get direct access to all the companies noted.

As Conde Nast Traveler writer Megan Spurrell states in “Coronavirus and Travel: Everything You Need to Know”: “No matter your situation, having the right insurance will make all the difference, for future trips and those you’ve already booked, if and when you do need to cancel.”

Virtual Travel

Viking Cruises has launched Viking.TV, a digital library which shares interviews with company executives and crew, provides programming such as “Arts and Music Wednesdays,” features short documentaries and travel videos, and much more (viking.tv). You’ll also find some of the cruise line’s popular recipes from around the world at vikingcruises.com.

According to GoWay Travel Limited, we can delve into history in the safety of our own homes through books, the Internet and by getting in touch remotely with caretakers of the past. Click on goway.com to read Anne Bergstom’s “10 Best Countries for History Buffs to Visit in the Future,” featuring Italy, Jordan, Greece, Egypt, Peru, England, Cambodia, Germany, Mexico and China.

Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at ctimblin@gmail.com.

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