I was researching travel insurance the other day when I came across this article. The gist of it is that travel insurance sales are rising, big time. Between November of 2016 and November of 2017, there was a 33 percent increase in Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) policies, according to marketing specialist Steven Benna, who’s cited in the article.
Benna attributes the higher sales in part to an “…increase in the “prominence of events.” Searches for “hurricane,” he says, are up 59 percent. Searches for “terrorism” are a close second at a 49% increase.
Note that Benna doesn’t say that the “events” themselves have increased; I don’t know whether they have or they haven’t. But I think Benna’s right in saying their “prominence” has, meaning that the airwaves are flooded with stories about tragedies, and that catches our attention.
These stories increase travel anxiety. We see something terrible on TV or on the internet, and we think it’s a lot more likely to affect us than it really is. We’re watching it from our own living room, after all. That’s pretty up-close and personal.
It would be easy for me to take my usual stance on this, and tell myself how unlikely the travel disasters I imagine happening really are (and they are). I might use that line of reasoning to talk myself out of buying insurance. But I just finished reading a book called The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare For Disasters, and it looks at things from a different perspective.
The authors of the book say that as a result of built-in efficiencies in our brains, most of us underprepare for “low-probability, high-consequence” events. At first, I wasn’t sure that this was true for the hodophobes among us, since we’ll usually put the most distance we can between ourselves and our imagined worst-case scenarios. But unless you count “avoidance” as a kind of preparation, they’re probably right about us too.
That’s because we have this human tendency to conserve our efforts and our resources in the short-term, when measured against a possible pay-off in the long-run. And the more immediate the threat, the less likely we are to take action, which is pretty much the opposite of what you’d think, isn’t it?
For example, most people who live in a hurricane’s path say they’ll evacuate if that’s what’s recommended by authorities. But when it comes right down to it, and the order to “Get out!” is given, it feels like too much trouble to leave. No one wants to shutter their windows, figure out what’s important to take along, pack it up, load the car, fight the traffic, rent a motel room in the next state over, and share it with their kids and pets until everything blows over.
So they stay put instead, sometimes with disastrous consequences. And they do this, in part, because staying is easier than going.
They also do it because of hurricane warning “fatigue.” If you live anywhere near a coast, you’ve heard the warnings before, lots of times. Maybe you’ve even taken the trouble to evacuate before, and when you inched your way back home in bumper-to-bumper traffic after your three-day hotel stay, there were just a few extra sticks in the yard. Maybe a little mud on the sidewalk. You’d have been fine staying home.
So why pay attention to all the dire warnings now? Why pay attention to the fact that something bad could happen, even if it probably won’t?
You know why. Because your life is worth it.
Hodophobes may have another reason for hunkering down when they should be fleeing – life on the road seems a lot less safe than life at home does. And that’s true even if a hurricane is bearing down on you. You think staying put is preserving your life, but it’s not. It’s endangering it.
Hurricanes are dangerous; travel isn’t. Roaming outside your comfort zones doesn’t feel safe, maybe, but it is. A high-consequences event could happen, but it almost certainly won’t.
The probability that disaster will strike on the road is very low. If that weren’t so, no one would be offering you travel insurance in the first place. But insurers know the odds are in your favor, like, by a long shot. That’s why they’re actively trying to sell you protection against that (teeny-tiny) chance. They make money doing this because payouts cost them a whole lot less than buy-ins generate.
Should you purchase travel insurance? I don’t know. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself. Or maybe reading The Ostrich Paradox would help you decide.
Here’s my take on the topic. If having insurance eases your travel anxiety and makes you more likely to hit the road, get it. And I don’t say that because I’m affiliated with an insurance company who’ll pay me a commission if you do. I’m not.
I’m just a person who fights against my own travel fears, and usually wins (not all the time). And I’m always on the lookout for anything that can help. Being prepared can lower travel anxiety, and having an insurance policy is one way to prepare.
But I can also see how buying CFAR insurance could work against me. If I knew I could cancel my trip for any reason, I’d have an all-too-easy out.
A tropical storm wouldn’t have to be forming over the Atlantic to justify my claim. A coup at my intended destination needn’t have occurred. A plague doesn’t have to break out. And that’s good, because the possibility that any of these potential disasters could affect my trip are very, very low.
These things almost certainly won’t happen, but if I have CFAR insurance, that doesn’t matter. If I wake up feeling nervous a few days before a trip, that’s enough. I can make my apologies and cancel my plans. I may not be fully reimbursed, but I’ll get some of my money back. Will knowing that make me more likely to back out?
What about you? Would buying a CFAR policy provide you with the courage you need to move forward, or would it be a built-in escape mechanism you could use to avoid your trip?
I’ve given you my advice. Now, what advice can you give me?