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World's Worst Travel Disasters

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Launch Slideshow
Photo: © Mike Theiss/Corbis

See our slideshow of The World’s Worst Travel Disasters.

The off-season deal at the Mexican resort in the Riviera Maya sounded almost too good to be true, but the flight was seamless, the hotel fantastic, the food delicious. Everything, in fact, had been perfect—until now, on the third day of your vacation, when you hear the news that a major tropical storm is headed your way. The hotel staff posts a bulletin about hurricane preparation, and rumors start circulating that the property—in fact the whole area—may be evacuated.

Forget going home with great holiday memories.

Getting ambushed by a natural disaster is just one of the rare-but-catastrophic scenarios you might encounter while traveling. And though evacuating your hotel to stay safe during a hurricane may be scary, it’s not even the worst thing that could have happened on your trip. After all, you might have inadvertently broken a local law and been thrown in prison. Or suffered an appendicitis attack while trekking somewhere really remote (or, worse, during your plane ride there).

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, Americans are increasingly worried about travel disasters—and have been doing more to protect against them than ever before. More than 67 million Americans spent $1.3 billion on travel insurance in 2006—a 20 percent jump from two years earlier.

Says Randy Spivey, executive director of the Safe Travel Institute, “We’re seeing organizations and individual travelers become more proactive in their preparation for travel. Specifically, we’re seeing an increased awareness of the need for solid planning and training prior to their departure.” This awareness isn’t just born of panic—it’s actually warranted. According to Marty Pfinsgraff of iJET Intelligent Risk Systems (another global security firm), “we’ve watched the prevalence of man-made and natural disasters increase significantly over the past 40 years. Terrorist incidents, category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and infectious disease all are up.”

While purchasing travel insurance is one of the best precautions you can take to guard against travel disasters, it’s not the only one. Doing research before your trip, and following some commonsense rules on the ground, can make a big difference in how disastrous your disaster turns out to be. Planning to hike in the wilderness, where you might get terribly lost?Do as Jeffrey Olson of the U.S. National Park Service suggests and arm yourself with a whistle, provisions, and protective clothing before you even set out. Heading to a foreign city where losing your passport could cause big trouble?Make Xerox copies of it (and other ID) before leaving home—and keep them secure in your hotel room safe.

And though some disasters can really only be dealt with once they happen (how do you prepare, for example, to have your cruise ship chased by pirates?), having that travel insurance and keeping your head about you will go a long way.

Besides, there’s always one upside to travel disasters: once you’re home safe, with a little distance from your ordeal, you’ll have a great story to share.

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