Last updated on November 18th, 2023
Safety tips, travel insurance and alternatives for women to travel overseas and at home
by Carolyn Ray
Some risk is always involved with any travel, and when the unexpected arises we want to be ready for it. I was in Egypt on a Swan Hellenic expedition cruise when war broke out in Israel on October 7. My immediate travel plans following my trip were to fly to Amman, Jordan, and then travel through Israel, leaving from Tel Aviv. During my two weeks here, I’ve travelled to Cairo, Giza and Luxor, Egypt. I also spent a day in Aqaba on the border of Israel and travelled to Petra, Jordan, which is only 160 kilometres/100 miles from Gaza.
One of the women I was working with to plan my travel to Israel was Deb Zaluda, CGO of Via Sabra. Zaluda was in Tel Aviv, Israel this past week, visiting her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter Lihi when war broke out.
“We woke up Saturday morning as usual, but at 6:30 am my phone was buzzing like crazy…red alerts about rockets flying from Gaza,” she says. “By 6:40 am we were in the shelter in the apartment (which is also the baby’s room) for the first of three times that morning, with several more visits over the course of the next week.”
Zaluda says that going out each day meant being fully aware of their surroundings. “People are all in a state of shock……yet community is always evident,” she says. “Every time a siren goes off, people check in on one another – are you okay? Your family? Are you safe? We have come together to bring needed supplies to our soldiers, ensuring they remain safe and protected. People are sharing stories of those lost, of heroes, of ordinary people. It’s truly amazing – in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s a family – we are all family. As a company, our staff has been meeting daily to check in, give space to speak, and help one another.”
What to do
The war in Israel is horrifying and enormous atrocities and vicious cruelty are inflicted indiscriminately on innocent human beings. On October 8, the Canadian Government issued an advisory recommending avoiding non-essential travel to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Many travellers are reconsidering travel to the area, as we’ve seen in discussions on our private Facebook group.
As this crisis has unfolded, the question is, will this conflict continue to escalate and will there be an impact to nearby countries, including Jordan and Egypt? We can read all the advice we want but it comes down to trusting your gut and intuition. What do you feel comfortable with? What will give you the most confidence?
Being so close to this region, I decided that it was better not to return to Amman, which will undoubtedly face additional stress on its infrastructure as people exit Israel, and decided to head south. Fortunately, Swan Hellenic had availability so I am staying onboard, now departing through Dubai.
Staying safe in uncertain times
Whether war, an earthquake, or other natural disaster, there are some things we can do to stay safe before any travel, particularly in affected regions.
1. Check government safety advisories and register with your government for travel before you leave
Check government safety advice before you plan travel and look at a map to understand borders and conflicts. Egypt currently has a Level 3: Reconsider Travel alert according to the US State Department and a ‘high degree of caution’ from the Canadian government. Canadians going to Egypt also need to be aware of new Visa requirements which went into force on October 1. Egypt shares a border with Israel, as does Jordan, which is at Level 2: Use Caution.
Government agencies have subscription services that provide travellers with information during times of unrest. Check your government site before you leave to understand or subscribe to email or SMS alerts. Consider using an eSIM (an electronic SIM) on your phone to stay connected where there is cellular service.
Canada: Canadians Abroad is a free service that allows the Government of Canada to notify you in case of an emergency abroad or a personal emergency at home. The service also enables you to receive important information before or during a natural disaster or civil unrest.
United States: Enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) which is run by the US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs. STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
New Zealand: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including New Zealand Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates-General around the world, use the SafeTravel registration system, which provides information to registrants in an emergency (e.g. natural disaster, terrorist attack, civil unrest)
United Kingdom: While the UK doesn’t have a registration system, you can search Foreign Travel Advice on the government’s website.
Australia: Smartraveller is a government subscription service that provides travel advice updates by email and SMS critical alerts. ”
2. Buy comprehensive travel insurance
Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance and that it covers trip and cancellation changes. When war broke out, I checked my comprehensive insurance policy with Manulife and learned, much to my surprise, that it does not definitively cover war. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
We recommend travel insurance, particularly for complex, out-of-country trips. There are many options available in the US and Canada. To compare prices, check insuremytrip.com and TuGo. Read the policies and call and ask questions.
“I always encourage travellers to purchase Medical Insurance and Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance as there is so much that is covered,” says Cathy Gotfried, CEO, Erawan Travel/ Babes in Bali. “However, it’s really important to read the fine print on each policy. Over the years there have definitely been more added to ‘what’s not covered’ over what is covered.”
Recommended Travel Insurance
InsureMyTrip: InsureMyTrip helps travelers like you easily compare top plans and providers to find the right travel insurance for your unique trip. Learn more here.
TuGo: TuGo is a Canadian-owned and operated travel insurance provider with a focus on the health, safety and well-being of its travellers in Canada and around the world. Learn more here.
World Nomads: Designed by travelers for travelers, to cover trip essentials. Even if you run out of travel insurance or leave without it, World Nomads can cover you. Learn more here.
SafetyWing: Insurance for nomads. Travel medical insurance. World Nomads covers people from all over the world, while outside their home country. Learn more here.
Is war covered in insurance policies?
InsureMyTrip says: “A common misconception is that if you purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy, you could cancel a planned trip because of civil unrest occurring at your destination and be reimbursed by the travel insurance company. Not necessarily! Most comprehensive travel insurance policies have an exclusion for cancellation of a trip prior to departure due to civil unrest. The reason for denying trip cancellation coverage has to do with another industry term, “known peril” or to put it plainly, something that a traveler would reasonably know about before buying a policy. Other known perils can include named tropical storms or a previously announced carrier strike. The key here is whether the event was unforeseen or whether it was known at the time the policy was purchased. So who determines whether travel to a particular country is a “known peril”? The U.S. State Department Travel Advisory System is the accepted source for information about travel risks.”
If you are planning to travel to an area of the world that is known to experience civil unrest, you may want to consider purchasing a travel insurance policy that includes Cancel for Any Reason coverage. When a plan includes CFAR you can cancel your plans within a specific time frame before your scheduled departure, typically up to 48 hours prior, and be reimbursed up to the limits of the plan. Most CFAR plans offer a 75% reimbursement of trip costs. You do take greater personal responsibility for your safety with CFAR because you will have more flexibility to change your mind about traveling.” (Source: Insuremytrip.com)
Read More: Six Reasons to use a Travel Advisor
3. Keep your passport with you
Should the unexpected happen, keep your passport with you so that you can move easily should an emergency arise.
4. Stay in touch with your airline
While here, I’ve discovered that the only way I could connect electronically with Air Canada was through X (twitter), and there are no local phone numbers. Fortunately, I was able to change my flights online using the Air Canada app and an eSIM that I purchased from Airalo.
5. Use a travel advisor
Travel advisors often have information that we don’t. Travel advisors receive hundreds of alerts every day from travel and tourism organizations from around the world, and relationships with on-the-ground travel suppliers around the world. They can also recommend options that we might not have thought of.
6. Going on a tour or cruise?
If you are going on a tour or cruise, confirm with your tour company that they have a plan B should the situation escalate. Are they in touch with the tourism boards? Do they have a travel alerts page, like Intrepid Travel Alerts?
If you still want to travel, some overseas options
If you’ve booked travel to Israel or other nearby regions, here are eight other places recommended by women in our private Facebook group for women to travel to from North America, depending on your comfort level. You may also want to consider travelling with a group if that helps quell any fears.
Egypt and Jordan: Egypt is synonymous with the pyramids, the pharaohs and the Nile. Intrepid Travel, which operates tours in Egypt and Jordan, cancelled its trips in Israel and the Palestinian Territories up to and including October 31, 2023. However, it is operating in Egypt and Jordan as scheduled, saying that “Government travel advisories for Egypt and Jordan remain unchanged and both countries remain open for tourism.”
Europe: From gardens in France, to small towns in southern Spain, and UNESCO World Heritage sites like Split in Croatia were mentioned by several women. Christmas Markets open in mid-November in most countries, offering options in Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Germany, among other countries. In December, I’ll be joining Uniworld on its first Christmas Markets river cruise in Belgium. Learn more here.
Greece: From the island of Crete to Santorini, and less travelled places like Ios, Naxos and Rhodes, Greece has some of the most beautiful beaches and historical monuments in the world.
Africa: With 54 sovereign countries, the African continent is vibrant with rich birdlife, big game like lions and elephants, cultures and so much more. South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda are all options for safaris and tours. Swan Hellenic is also offering no single supplement on its expedition cruises to regions such as Mozambique and South Africa.
Staying closer to home
For those who don’t want to travel overseas, there’s lots to see in our own backyards.
United States: Hawaii is an option for those who want to support tourism dollars lost from the recent wildfires, and there’s something special to discover in every US state.
South America: The fourth largest of the world’s continents, there are women-friendly options to consider in Medellin, Colombia, or the Andes Mountains or Amazon region in Ecuador. Intrepid is offering discounts to both the Galapagos and South America.
For those who want to support Israel
Zaluda says there are a number of organizations for women who want to help. She has personally created a site for giving to JNF-USA.
“People need to be careful about where they give as there are a lot of people collecting, and it’s hard to know for sure what’s valid unless its a known organization,” she says. “As a company at Via Sabra, our staff has been organizing regularly to get packages to those who will deliver needed supplies and food to soldiers and families, going to blood drives, etc.”
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