“I’m sorry—I had to leave town suddenly for a family emergency.”
– Heard countless times around the world today…
Recently, I was a spectator to several occasions where a family member had to leave town on short notice because of a family emergency. These are inherently very un-frugal times—stress, shock, high emotions, and the willingness to do just about anything to help combine to create an environment where saving money is about the last thing on your mind.
And frankly, that’s the way it should be—your checking balance or asset allocation hardly matters when loved ones are in danger or in pain. At least if you have your priorities straight…
But that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for the occasion before all those anti-frugal factors kick in. With a clear head and some time to think, we can make some tough decisions that will help when something bad happens.
Obviously, an unexpected family emergency can happen to anyone at anytime, but you should be especially vigilant and prepared if you have relatives that are sick, elderly, unable to take care of themselves, or otherwise prone to injury or death. I’m just sayin’…odds are odds, and unfortunately this is one game where your turn will come around sooner or later.
Based on my recent experience, here are a few tips to consider in order to plan for urgent travel:
1. Have a trusted travel agent on call
The logistics on getting from Point A to Point B are the last thing you want to be thinking about under that kind of stress. Having a travel agent you trust to do the quick leg work for you can be very helpful. Travel agents have the added benefit of knowing how to deal with this kind of situation and setting up the best-priced plan.
Alternatively, you can appoint one or two family members who are savvy in travel research to coordinate the logistics for you. Just make sure they’re aware of the nuances of booking short-term travel and flying to family emergencies.
2. Explain your situation clearly
Don’t just say you need to fly out today. The majority of airlines recognize that family emergencies make quick travel necessary and are somewhat accommodating in their pricing.
Oftentimes, all that’s needed is a death certificate or other document to confirm your story, and you won’t be stuck with a 100% premium for flying out ASAP.
3. Prepare for the costs
Having $5,000 set aside in the bank for emergency travel doesn’t hurt. I know, it’s a lot easier said than done, but you’d much rather be paying cash than adding to an already stressful time by having to borrow money from credit cards or family.
Earmark a potion of your savings account for this purpose, or have your emergency fund play double duty as a travel fund in a pinch.
4. Have the means to pay for it
All the money in the world won’t be of much help if you can’t get to it in a pinch. A few months ago, this is exactly why I advocated using credit cards in emergencies.
If you’re uncomfortable with that, you’ll need to keep your travel stash in a checking account (the interest rates are horrible) or a money market account (better savings choice, and most have debit card access!).
5. Consider delays
Sometimes, even waiting one day to travel can save a big percentage of the ticket price because of the way flights are set up or because there is less demand for tickets on certain weekdays.
If you’re considering alternative travel options, this could also come into play. Driving, for example, could potentially save you a lot of money over flying, but there may be a significant delay in time depending on how far you’re going.
6. Consider splitting your party
If you’re traveling in a group, there’s a good chance that some of you need to make it to your destination sooner than others. If you’re willing to split up your group, you might be able to shave a few travel dollars by taking the time to find better deals or traveling on a less expensive day.
It’s Not Going to be Fun
No matter how much you try to prepare and be ready for the situation at hand, it’s not going to be any fun to deal with a family crisis. Then again, the goal here isn’t to make it feel any better. It’s to avoid making it feel worse.
Take care of the money worries while you can, and take care of yourself and those you love when the time comes.
Have you had to travel on short notice for a family emergency? What’s your best tip for keeping the money part under control?
Photo by Dryad & Sprite Photography