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My father-in-law is dying. We don’t know exactly how long he has left. It may be weeks or even months. Or he might not be around by the time this post goes live. I can’t say that it was a shocker to hear the dreadful news, yet nothing can prepare you for the finality of it all.
I was never close to my dad, so when I moved to the United States at the age of nineteen, my FIL has filled the void in my heart. Since we have built our house next door to my in-laws, I was able to form a strong bond with both of them.
My FIL is one of the best people I’ve ever known, and not having him in my life will be devastating. But he is still here, and I intend to take advantage of every day he has left on this earth.
This is obviously an extremely tough time for us, and I won’t go into specific details of the situation. Instead, I wanted to address the topic of travel and challenges that are presented when someone in the family has a terminal illness.
How to determine when travel is no longer a viable option
First, let me say that I’m not a medical professional. In addition, each situation is unique, so I can’t make a blanket recommendation. What I can do is share our family’s personal experience. My father-in-law was diagnosed with congestive heart failure fourteen years ago. At the time, his ejection fraction was estimated at 18%. Normal range is 50-55%. In addition to it, he had Type 2 diabetes.
When you add those two factors together, prognosis is extremely bleak. Most people won’t live longer than a few years, and the quality of life isn’t usually conducive to travel. But my FIL simply refused to become a part of the statistic. He started exercising more and doctors adjusted his medicine. In just a couple of years, his ejection fraction increased to almost 40%. He was feeling better and had all kinds of energy.
In the last twelve years, he was able to travel to Africa, Europe (three times!), Alaska and his favorite, the South Pacific.
And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m so sad he won’t be able to come with us to Japan. Sorry, dad. But my point is, congestive heart failure didn’t stop him from pursuing the things he loved. I can’t emphasize enough what a difference exercise made in his particular case.
Obviously, I have to be careful here because I’m sure some of you either have congestive heart failure or have a relative that does. I have no idea what your situation is like, and whether some measure of recovery is possible. But, I do urge you to not give up hope. The doctor who gave us the bad news last week also told us that my FIL is a walking miracle. By all accounts, he should have died ten years ago.
There are situations, of course, where not a whole lot can be done. Some forms of cancer have debilitating and non-reversible effect on the human body. But even then, it depends on a person. I lost my good friend not long ago. She was given one year to live, yet she survived for over a decade. Even though her symptoms got progressively worse, in that span of time she was able to make short trips from Belarus to other European countries. So, it’s not over until it’s over.
I recommend you talk to your doctor and pay attention to your symptoms. If you feel relatively well, there is no reason that travel should be off limits. Nobody knows what the future holds. Of course, preparation is key. This goes for everyone, but especially those with a terminal illness.
The thing about congestive heart failure disease is that it’s a trickster. Things may get better for awhile, but the overall trajectory is always downward. It didn’t help that in the last six months he had to have two other surgeries for an unrelated condition.
Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst
If you (or your relative) have a serious illness, you simply can’t afford to be careless. If you have a chronic pre-existing condition, credit card travel insurance will NOT cover your losses. Don’t even think about rolling the dice unless you are prepared to bankrupt the family in the process. See related post.
I recommend always buying a separate insurance from a site like Insuremytrip.com (no, I don’t make commission from recommending it). Look for a policy with a pre-existing condition waiver, and remember that you have to purchase it within 14-21 days of your first trip-related deposit.
If you can’t obtain a pre-existing condition waiver, you will have to make some hard choices. Are you prepared to deal with the consequences in case something goes south? A year and a half ago, my whole family went to South Pacific. Just a few months before the trip, my FIL had a stroke, followed by hospitalization for severe shortness of breath.
We really debated on whether to pull the plug on the whole thing, but he seemed stable enough to go. Plus, he really wanted to go! But there is no way we would chance something like this without a solid travel insurance policy in place. Fortunately, we bought one when we booked the tickets, and it covered pre-existing conditions. It also had a high medical evacuation limit.
You see, my FIL was supposed to spend three nights in Fiji where medical care is less than ideal. If something were to happen, he would probably have to be evacuated to Australia or New Zealand via a private plane. Needless to say, that ain’t cheap, and you can’t use your miles. Nothing happened, thank goodness, but it was a very real possibility.
So, my advice is, think through the potential worst case scenario and decide if you can deal with it. Can you spend a week or more in a foreign country dealing with a medical emergency? If the answer is no, perhaps it’s best to stay close to home.
You don’t have to go overseas in order to spend quality time with your loved ones. Two years ago, I bought Legoland annual passes for my husband, son and father-in-law. It’s one hour from our house, so they drove there on weekends. My son called it “Boys’ Day.”
Looking for flexibility whenever possible
As I’ve mentioned in the previous section, having travel protection is crucial. But some trips may only involve hotel stays where you are using points. What do you do in that case? Make sure to pay attention to the cancelation policy and be ready to pull the plug if needed.
Last week, we were supposed to vacation in a Hilton resort in Florida Keys. Unfortunately, a few days before the trip, my FIL ended up in the hospital. Things didn’t seem that bad to begin with, and we figured he would spend a few nights there and doctors would help him get better. But something didn’t feel right, so I cancelled the trip. Sure, we could drive back in case his situation worsened, but the hospital was 5 hours away from the Keys.
Also, the cancellation policy on this particular hotel made me feel uneasy:
Yes, even though I was using points, the hotel would charge me cash rate. We were supposed to travel during New Year’s holiday, so I could potentially be on the hook for $1k. Now, in my experience, if there is a true medical emergency, the hotel will usually waive the penalty. But I sure didn’t want to take a chance.
And I’m glad because my FIL didn’t get better but instead got worse. Much worse.
Many folks don’t equate sites like AirBnB with flexibility. But that’s a mistake because policies do vary. On the way to the Keys we were supposed to stay one night on a horse farm, located near Lion Country Safari. There are no decent hotels in the vicinity, so I turned to AirBnB. Plus, my daughter absolutely loves horses. I used Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay for it, since it has travel insurance as a built-in benefit. If you don’t buy a standalone policy, at least use a credit card that comes with this perk. Something is better than nothing.
According to conditions, I would be able to cancel without penalty 24 hours before the arrival, aside from $25 fee. And even that I may get reimbursed after faxing my FIL’s hospital stay record to AirBnB. Either way, $25 isn’t going to bankrupt me. Here is the listing in case you are curious. AirBnB won’t always be the right choice for every travel situation, but it’s a good tool to have at your disposal. (If you join AirBnB via my referral link, you will get $40 towards a rental, and I will get $20.)
When it comes to flights, flexibility is also very important. Southwest Rapid Rewards program really shines in this respect. You can cancel very close to departure and get all of your points back. Some other program, like Avios, have very low cancellation penalties. If you book an award flight within the United States, you will only lose $5 tax when you cancel a one-way ticket.
I also recommend taking advantage of loopholes whenever possible. Last week I got a notification that our Delta flight from LAX to Orlando was rescheduled for later in the day. I reached out to Delta on Twitter and requested a penalty-free re-deposit of miles for my FIL’s award ticket. The rep responded within a minute and agreed to do it. I haven’t tackled his other tickets yet, but I’m planning on it.
Everything is up in the air with our Japan trip, and we may cancel our portion as well. But I don’t want to make any rash decisions and regret them later. Unless time is of the essence, I recommend you put that type of dilemma on a back burner, at least for the time being.
My FIL lived an amazing life, and travel has always been a big part of it. I’m so glad he didn’t let his grave diagnosis from fourteen years ago stop him from doing the things he loved. It was somewhat risky, but it was worth it 100%. We have countless memories and photographs to prove it.
Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.