Snowbird Season Starts Now. Be Ready.

Despite the depreciation of the loonie (remember when it was only 67 cents?), almost half of Canadians surveyed in the summer by the Conference Board of Canada said they intended to take a winter vacation out of the country. Many simply do not want to tolerate another cold season.

If you count yourselves among that half, start your preparations now, because the winter may be like none you have encountered before—and I am not talking only about the weather.

Look at a map and let the reality sink in: much of the world is in peril. From Russia in the north through eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Levant, almost all of Africa, much of Latin America, and throughout Asia, advisories about travel restrictions are being issued almost daily by the governments of Canada, the US, Britain, Australia, and dozens of other countries—with notices to practice a high degree of caution, avoid all non-essential travel, or avoid all travel to these regions.

This does not mean that you should order up another cord of firewood and hunker down by the fireplace until next spring. You are travellers, it’s in your genes. But you also have to be smart.

Connect to your government website for urgent advisories. In Canada, go to the Canadian government’s travel website; in the US, go to the Department of State’s website; and in Britain, go to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website. Sign up to receive travel warnings as they are issued (24/7).

Next to your passport, travel insurance is your most valuable document. More and more countries are now requiring proof of adequate health insurance before you enter, and your basic provincial coverage will not do. Many countries in Europe require a minimum coverage of 30,000 euros, and there are hospitals that will not even admit you if you don’t put down a deposit or show proof you can cover their services.

In addition, make sure your travel insurer is well represented in the countries you intend to visit, as well as the countries through which you will travel to get to your destination. If you become stranded by a terrorist event or civil uprising, or if you’re injured in an earthquake, you may need expert help in getting out of harm’s way. Your insurer’s local assistance professionals can give you that help.

Buying travel insurance is not, and should not be considered, a luxury, a formality, something you “pick up” on your way to the airport. You need to know what you are buying, and you can’t fully absorb the details of your policy in five minutes, especially if you are applying for a plan that requires you to answer medical questions. You need time to read the details, the limitations and exclusions, and to understand some medical terminology (no matter how hard insurers try to ask questions in plain language, they still haven’t got it). And if there is something you need to check out with your doctor, you need the time to do so.

Planning to head south right after Thanksgiving? Start shopping now. Assess several plans to make sure they suit your needs. Talk to agents who specialize in travel insurance, and only buy a policy when you are confident you understand it and how it meets your specific health needs. And here is one more caution: If your health changes in any way before you start your trip—a change in medication, your doctor suggests a referral or test for an ongoing problem, or you experience a new symptom—call your insurer. You may need to change some of the terms of your coverage—no matter how insignificant you think the change is. Call and advise your insurer. If you don’t, and you generate a claim, you may have to pay for it yourself.

Planning your next trip? Do not forget your travel insurance.

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