Monday, February 7, 2011

So What Happens When There's a Revolution In Your Next Travel Destination?

I'm sure you remember that I've said it before, but I am a pretty private person for a blogger and that includes revealing trips I'm planning for the future. I was going to wait until March, but since things are slowly changing day-to-day (and it might be something we can all learn from), I'm letting you know that Husband J and I are currently scheduled to travel to Egypt in mid-March. I emphasize the word currently right now.

I was hoping to see this:

and instead there have been protests and violence in Tahrir Square. The protests are a little less tense at the time of this writing, but there is still quite a bit going on.

Our Cairo hotel is located in downtown Cairo less than a mile from Tahrir Square.

If you haven't heard, there is major political upheaval in Egypt that became violent in the past week. I'm pretty laid-back when it comes to what's considered "dangerous" by some (perhaps I have lived in New York City too long). When things started on January 25, I was hoping that things in Egypt would proceed as they had in Tunisia. Again, this is not to say that I just wanted Egypt's citizens "to get everything over with so that I could see their country;" but rather I was hoping for a peaceful transition of power. Husband J and I were sending e-mails and text messages and keeping a general eye on what was going on while I was away in L.A.

As someone who has often written about and studied social movements, I commend the people of Egypt for demanding more from their government. I am worried about the safety of the country's citizens and visitors. I hope this political situation can be resolved and a new, stronger, more vibrant Egypt will emerge.

When I arrived back to New York, I set out to figure out what our options were as it relates to our travel insurance, our airline, and the travel company that has been helping us organize our trip. This is what I found out:

1. Travel Insurance - We have travel insurance through Travel Guard. When I first made the call to speak to a customer service rep on the phone, they beat me to the punch with a recording. It stated that there was an exclusion in the coverage of ALL of their policies in connection with trip cancellation and civil unrest. In other words, we would not get any reimbursement from the travel insurance for fees incurred by canceling our trip due to the political upheaval in Egypt. Also if we went anyway, defying any government travel warning, we would receive no reimbursement either. Yikes! No help there.

If anything, I would think this situation would be one of the reasons covered by travel insurance but apparently not. After talking to a customer service rep, this is actually an industry-wide provision in most travel insurance. If you want to avoid my situation, get a (pricey) upgrade to a "Cancel for Any Reason" additional coverage that will trump any exclusion in the travel insurance and allow any sort of cancelation. I wish I had known that beforehand. Since insurance law differs by state, this might not even be applicable in New York state, this apparently does not apply to us. Double check me on this though.

2. Airline - We are flying Turkish Airlines, and they have just started to offer refunds or free itinerary changes to customers traveling to Egypt, BUT as of the writing of this post, only for those passengers traveling to Egypt from the end of last week until February 15, 2011. Airlines loathe canceling flights, especially weeks in advance. I've been told that we would have to pay 200 Euro (NOT DOLLARS!) to change our flight. Did I mention that these tickets are non-refundable? That, too. One thing that is helping us is that we are flying through Istanbul, Turkey. More on that below...

3. Travel Company - Sometimes I use travel companies to help plan trips and other times I plan the trip solely by myself. Bali was an example of a trip that I planned alone. I ended up deciding to use our travel company, Backpacker Concierge, because a former work colleague had worked with them and enjoyed their trip, and I really liked their community-based travel philosophy. Given the circumstances, Backpacker Concierge, has actually been quite responsive. Eric, our contact who spends considerable amount of time in Egypt and is currently there, was able to find internet access when most of the country did not have it.

We are still trying to figure out our plans. Husband J wants our money back in the event we don't go. Based on my review of our booking conditions with them, its provisions are silent regarding civil unrest, etc. PRIOR to our departure (it does address changes in itinerary if things were to go awry while we're actually there). Timing is funny too because we had sent in our final payment a day BEFORE the protests started.

So what are options? Well, right now it's looking like the following:

1. Cancel our trip altogether/Postpone our trip - Husband J has been dragging lately and I think he really needs to get a break from work. It would be a shame to essentially lose a ton of money on plane tickets even if we get our money back from Backpacker Concierge.

2. Go to Turkey instead - This seems like the best option right now. We already have plane tickets to Turkey, since our tickets on Turkish Airlines have us flying through Istanbul enroute to Cairo. It may take a little extra outlay of money, and this will also have to be examined in light of what could happen with Backpacker Concierge. I've been fascinated with Turkey since watching a travel show on our way to Ireland. It won't be warm there though (although after multiple snowstorms, I guess low 50's Fahrenheit ain't all that bad).

I'll let you know what we end up doing soon.


lobster said...

Ahh! So stressful!! I think Turkey is a good option even if it costs a bit extra. Another route if you haven't tried already is to call your credit card company (esp if you booked it on an Amex card). They might be able to refund *some* money if you plead your case.

Sugar said...

Oh wowzers. go to Turkey- I hear it is AMAZING. Good luck. Keep us updated.

Micah and Catherine said...

Turkey would be awesome. I'm sorry you have to figure this out. Don't forget to register with the US Embassy in Cairo just incase. They can't get you out of there (if needed) if they can't find you. Good Luck!!

Nellie said...

I've also heard wonderful things about turkey. It's hard to consider changing/canceling, but it's always good to think about your safety. Keep us posted.

Kate said...

Yikes! Go to Turkey- I've heard amazing things! Do it! :)

Anonymous said...

FOOTNOTE: In February, 2012, I went to Egypt for one of the Backpack Concierge tours with Eric. The tour was incredible! So Egypt is back on the map for (some) tourists.
Although a bit of caution is advised - pay attention to those State Department warnings - and you'll need a very good guide. Eric is one of the best.


Try Anything Once All rights reserved © 2010
I am a HowJoyful Design