I’ve had the opportunity of travelling a lot in my life as has my wife. Since being together, we had been able to visit many of our dream destinations and as I neared my 30th birthday, we wanted to plan something special, especially with plans of having our first kids right after. We both had been talking about visiting Japan for years and while I had made a quick 4 day stop, I had never truly been able to visit the country and my wife had never set a foot on the country.
Planning & Travel Insurance
As experienced travelers, we tend to plan our own trips, the airplane and hotel bookings online, finding some interesting things to do, getting a train pass, etc. We were beyond excited and while we were likely to be a few weeks early for Cherry Blossom season, it was late enough for us to have a shot. Everything had been booked and when we were asked for travel insurance, we simply refused without really thinking about it.
After all, what could possibly go wrong? We were young, doing well physically, as were our families. We also had some travel insurance coverage through our credit card (I’ll have to write a whole post about that!). It was going to be an expensive trip but as our last trip without kids, it was fully worth it. We were also able to get significant discounts by taking some “non-refundable” hotels. Win-win-win right?
Departure Date – 1!!!!
After getting home from our last day at work, we started packing. My wife also sent an email to all of our family & friends with a whole description of what we had planned, etc. We then went to bed, we had a very early departure on that Friday morning
Trip To The Airport
So we get to the airport, try to check-in for our flight but are asked to see a booking agent. We met a nice man, who informed us that for now, we would need to take our first connecting flight but that our second flight, the one from Chicago to Tokyo was cancelled. Why? “An earthquake apparently”. My wife and I found that strange since they get those so often but whatever, we’ll be booked on the next available flight, hopefully that same day. So we headed towards Chicago….
Upon landing in Chicago, we noticed we had about 20 different emails, text messages and missed phone calls.. all asking if we were already in Japan? Then, when arriving in the terminal, we started seeing images of what had happened. This was not just some ordinary earthquake it turns out, it was the March 11th now famous Eartquake+Tsunami… We were lucky in a way (to not have reached our destination yet) but felt heartbroken that our trip was delayed… Of course, as things turned out, it was cancelled entirely.
Panic… Why Didn’t We Take Travel Insurance?
After a day or two, we finally concluded that we would not be going to Japan, at least not in the short term future. An already sad event suddenly became a source of a lot of stress. Had we just “lost” about $10,000 worth of flights, hotels, concert tickets, train passes, etc? We had not taken travel insurance for even one of these… In fact, it had not even crossed our mind to do so. We had purchased many of these items through my credit card which did have some insurance but how much would that help in the case of a non-refundable hotel reservation???
After hours and hours over the phone, our story had a happy ending. American Airlines ended up giving us a credit for those plane tickets, mostly because of the fact that the US Government had issues a travel warning advising against any non-necessary travel. It was also such a tragic event that most airlines ended up helping a lot more than they legally needed to. We also had a lot of luck with our hotel reservations, which Expedia helped us a lot and the Japanese hotels accepted given the circumstances to reimburse us. I will forever remember each company and institution that helped in those circumstances and believe me that I will be going to those hotels when my wife and i go back to Japan, it was truly appreciated. Even our concert tickets ended up being paid back (given the fact that the concerts were also cancelled) and we got back most of the money spent on train tickets.
A Valuable Lesson
You might think that after this trip, I have concluded that travel insurance wasn’t necessary. That is very far from what I have taken back. The main thing is that in the future I will pay much more attention to travel insurance, to making sure that I understand what I am buying and what I’m not. I will surely be a much better informed traveler going forward.