The hail storm came in quickly and left missing shingles, pits, scars, and other roof damage in its wake. It was our first year of home ownership, and my husband and I were dismayed to realize that we were going to have to get a roofer to repair the damage the storm had caused.
The day after the storm, a contractor came calling door-to-door in our neighborhood, offering to handle the repairs. He even said he would contact our insurance carrier on our behalf, in order to make the whole process simpler for us.
Several weeks later, we learned that this contractor was using some pretty shady business practices, and was doing a mediocre job (at best) on the roofs he did repair. We were glad that we had already contacted our insurer before he knocked — and had been warned against hiring unsolicited roofers.
Unfortunately, having to avoid shady contractors (and worse) in the wake of a natural disaster is a common experience. After a natural disaster occurs, fraudsters, unscrupulous businesses, and con artists often try to victimize the residents a second time by scamming them in the midst of the cleanup effort. Here’s what you need to know about the most common types of post-natural disaster fraud, and what you can do to protect yourself.
The Fraud: Contractors Asking for Upfront Payment
It should be a red flag if any contractor you are considering hiring asks for all of the payment (or a large percentage) up front. While the request may sound perfectly reasonable — your contractor may claim that he or she needs upfront payment to cover the cost of supplies and equipment — the reality is that many contractors who make such a request either disappear with the money, or do inadequate work.
This is why the Better Business Bureau recommends that homeowners pay no more than one-third of the full cost of the job upfront. In addition, you should make sure your contract spells out the payment schedule, so that you and the contractor both know what to expect.
Another thing to keep in mind is that contractors who ask for upfront payment will often use pressure tactics to get you to comply. You should never hire a contractor who is attempting to pressure you or scare you into employing his or her services.
You can avoid falling victim to such fraudulent contractors by doing your homework. Commit to getting at least three bids from companies that you have investigated to determine that they are legitimate. That makes it much easier to say, “Thanks but no thanks” to any high-pressure contractors trying to force you to pay them upfront.
The Fraud: Misuse of an Assignment of Benefits Contract
The Assignment of Benefits (often referred to as AOB in the insurance industry) is a document that gives a contractor or other third party the right to make decisions on behalf of an insurance policy holder. What this means is that a contractor who holds your AOB contract can seek direct payment from the insurance company.
This was the scheme that the door-to-door roofer was trying to pull after the hail storm that damaged our roof. At first glance, providing an AOB to a contractor seems as if it will simplify the repair process, since it eliminates the middleman (you). You can simply sit back and let the contractor and the insurance company deal with the financial side of things while you watch your home get repaired.
Unfortunately, there is a big flaw in this system. When you provide an AOB to your contractor, that means the contractor is now aware of how much money your insurer is willing to spend on repairs. Contractors who are not on the up-and-up will inflate their bills by making more severe and/or more frequent claims to your insurer.
According to a 2016 study by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, “claims with an AOB have a much higher severity than claims without one (nearly 85%) and the frequency and severity of…claims has progressively risen since 2010.”
Though it adds time and complexity to the repair process, it can be smarter to forgo the AOB and handle payments to the contractor and reimbursements from the insurer yourself. This will ensure that the appropriate claims are filed and that the repairs are no more and no less than what you need — and, ultimately, this will help keep your premiums more affordable in the future.
The Fraud: Fake Robo-Calls From Insurers
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, many storm survivors received a robo-call informing them that their insurance premium was past due, and that their flood insurance would be cancelled if they did not immediately send money.
These calls were not from insurance companies, and were instead an outright con created to fleece people who were already desperate. The disaster parasites who prey on storm survivors know that in times of high stress and emotion, people are less likely to ask questions and think rationally.
Here’s how you can keep such bloodsuckers from getting your hard-earned money: Always go straight to the source when it comes to information about your insurance policy.
If you receive an unsolicited phone call (whether it is a robo-call or an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be from your insurer), hang up and place a call to your insurance agent. If the first call was legitimate, your agent will have that information and help you figure out your next steps. And, if it wasn’t legitimate, you have avoided giving money to a con artist.
The Fraud: Fake FEMA Job Postings
Another scam that arose in the wake of Hurricane Harvey was a fake job posting that circulated on social media. This job posting claimed that FEMA was hiring 1,000 people at a rate of $2,000 a week for 90 days, and it provided an 888 phone number to call.
According to FEMA, this job offer was a scam. Once you called the phone number, there was some sort of payment required to apply for or take the “job.” This sort of scam works because FEMA does hire short-term field inspectors in the wake of a major natural disaster, so it can be difficult to know at a glance if such a job posting is real or fake.
However, FEMA has pointed out that it does not use 888 phone numbers for its job postings, which is the initial clue that a posting is not legitimate. In addition, you can always navigate to FEMA Careers to see if a posting is legitimate.
The Fraud: Identity Theft
One of the most common (and maddening) types of fraud involves identity theft. With these scams, fraudsters will steal the identity of a real natural disaster survivor and then apply for relief funds under the assumed identity. According to The Washington Post, “From Katrina, more than 1,400 federal fraud prosecutions were launched, as well as untold numbers of state prosecutions.”
The upshot of these scams, however, is that it slows down relief fund payments, as government agencies take their time to investigate claims to prevent payments to scammers. Some Hurricane Sandy victims had to wait 18 months or longer before receiving their relief payments — but the investigations ensured that fewer phony requests received relief funds.
The Fraud: Charity Scams
While many of the scams surrounding natural disasters victimize the survivors themselves, charitable scams take advantage of the generosity of those who want to help those survivors. These bogus victim relief funds are often shared via social media, where a plausible request for donations includes a link to a fraudulent “charity.”
The best way to donate money to help those affected by natural disasters is to go directly to the charity’s website. If you are not sure what charity deserves your money, the Better Business Bureau keeps a list of charitable organizations that meet its 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. (In addition to this list, the BBB also maintains specific lists for helping areas affected by particular disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey.)
Protecting Yourself After the Storm
It hardly seems fair that storm survivors need to beware of potential fraud after a natural disaster, but fending off scam artists and unscrupulous contractors is an almost inevitable part of the cleanup. You can help keep yourself safe from these disaster parasites by taking some basic precautions.
To start, the best way to protect yourself from scams is to get in touch with your insurance company as quickly as possible after a natural disaster. Your insurance company can help you understand what your policy covers and advise you on the next steps to take for getting your home back to normal.
From there, it’s important to bring a healthy level of skepticism to any unsolicited offers that come your way. Before you make any decisions, double check on the contractor, policy, job offer, charity, or any other offer or request that you receive.
Cleaning up after a natural disaster is hard enough without adding fraud into the mix. Making sure that you verify information and offers before making any big recovery decisions will save you time, money, and a great deal of heartache.
Natural Disasters: What to Expect and How to Prepare
During the afternoon of September 14, 2015, two successive thunderstorms struck Utah’s Washington County, dropping almost two inches of rain in 30 minutes. Creek waters in the town of Hildale instantly rose to over five feet, sweeping away two vehicles with 16 women and children inside, killing 13. Some of the bodies were found miles downstream.
That same afternoon, seven day-hikers in nearby Zion National Park became trapped when a flash flood filled a narrow canyon in which they were hiking. Caught off guard, all seven drowned. Damage to homes, bridges, and water lines within the county reached nearly $1 million.
Most floods develop over the course of hours or days, but flash floods rise quickly and often without warning, which is why they are so dangerous. Small creeks and waterways can suddenly turn into a powerful wall of water reaching heights of 30 feet or more, and the effects on people and property can be catastrophic.
Floods are the most common natural disaster on earth. Those on U.S. soil take nearly 200 lives each year, most by flash floods. They force 300,000 persons from their homes, and cause over $2 billion in property damage. With extreme one-day precipitation events on the rise, the risk of flash floods is increasing, no matter where in the country you live. So it’s important to understand how flash floods occur and what you can do to avoid them.
What Causes a Flash Flood?
Flash floods are typically caused by slow-moving thunderstorms, thunderstorms that follow one after another, and heavy rains from tropical storms and hurricanes. They can also be caused by melting ice and snow, and dam or levee breaks. By definition, flash floods develop within six hours of the events that cause them, but they can occur within minutes under the right conditions.
Small streams and dry riverbeds on steep terrain and in low-lying areas can flood quickly during downpours, especially when there is a lack of vegetation to slow the flow of water. Ground conditions are also a contributing factor. Rock, clay soil, and soil that is too dry or already saturated with moisture can prevent water from infiltrating the ground, leaving it nowhere to go but along the surface.
Flash floods occur when excessive water fills creeks, gullies and rivers—those that are normally dry, as well as those that are already flowing — causing a sudden surge of fast-moving water laden with sediment and debris. The force of a flash flood can move boulders, uproot trees, demolish homes, and collapse bridges.
Areas That Are Most Susceptible to Flash Floods
Wherever rain falls, flash floods are possible. However, most flash flood warnings are issued for areas east of the Rockies, especially around the Mississippi River, between Washington, D.C. and Boston, and in the southwest. Geographically favorable locations are along rivers, in deserts, on coastlines, and in urban areas.
Rivers can flash flood when heavy rainfall causes levees to fail. Coastlines are at risk during tropical storms and hurricanes, and when tsunamis strike. In the desert, storms can come on quickly, and because desert sands don’t readily soak up water, heavy rains can rapidly lead to flash floods.
But densely populated urban areas are generally more prone to flash flooding than anywhere else. While rainfall over farmland can seep into the ground, sidewalks and pavement are impervious to moisture, causing heavy rains to run off to low spots very quickly. This can lead to flash flooding on city streets and highway underpasses, and in basements and underground parking garages.
When Flash Floods Are Mostly Likely to Occur
Flash floods can occur at any time of year, but they’re most common after winter snow melts and heavy spring rains. Coastal and nearby inland areas can also experience flash flooding in the summer and fall due to tropical storms and hurricanes. The southern and Gulf states of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas are usually the hardest hit.
Awareness: Your Best Protection
Flash floods can occur without any of the obvious indicators such as clouds and heavy rain, and, because they travel quickly and can rage for miles, they can catch people by surprise, whether they’re on foot, in cars, or in their homes.
So make sure you’re informed. Sign up for local weather alerts and stay tuned to regional forecasts when the weather becomes doubtful. Survey your surroundings for potential flash flood locations — such as canyons, small streams, dry riverbeds, and low areas — and avoid them if forecasters issue a flash flood watch or warning.
What to Do During a Flash Flood “Watch”
A flash flood watch is a caution that current weather conditions are favorable for flooding. If a flash flood watch has been issued for your area, take action. If you’re on foot or in a car, move to higher ground, making sure your route steers clear of areas where flash floods are possible. If you’re at home, you may need to evacuate to safer territory, depending on where you live. But before you go, take these preparatory steps:Bring in outdoor furniture.
- Move valuable indoor items to the highest possible floor.
- Unplug all electrical appliances.
- Make sure your emergency survival kit is stocked with the essentials you’ll need, including water, nonperishable food, flashlights, a first-aid kit, phone charger for your car, essential medications, and personal hygiene items.
- If instructed, turn off your gas and electricity to prevent fires and explosions.
What to Do During a Flash Flood “Warning”
A flash flood warning means flooding is imminent or already occurring. No matter where you are—at home, on foot, or in your car—move to higher ground immediately and stay there until authorities give the all-clear.
If you should see floodwaters, follow the National Weather Service’s basic safety advice to Turn Around Don’t Drown®.
If you’re on foot, avoid walking through water that reaches above your ankles. Water just six inches deep can knock you off your feet, especially if it’s fast-moving, and increase your chances of getting swept away into deeper waters. Also steer clear of electrical connections.
If you’re in a car, avoid flooded roads. You can’t tell how deep water is from inside your car, and even shallow waters present a hazard. According to FEMA, just six inches of water can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, one foot of water will float many vehicles, and two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks. Over 50% of flood-related drownings are vehicle-related.
If you become trapped in your car with flood waters rising around you, roll down or break open your windows to let the water flow through. This will allow you a better chance of escape.
What to Do After a Flash Flood
Return home only when authorities have declared it safe to do so. Take the safest route, and be on the alert for hazards that may be present even after flood waters have subsided, including:
- Moving and stationary water, which may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or sewage, or electrically charged by power lines.
- Areas where the floodwaters have receded. Roads and bridges often become weakened by floodwaters and can be dangerous to drive on.
- Downed power lines. Report any you see to the power company.
If your home was flooded, put safety first. Don’t enter until local building officials have inspected the building and given you the okay. Then gather an inventory of all damage and take pictures of the building and its contents for insurance purposes. Lastly, be sure to clean and disinfect everything that got wet or muddy to eliminate contaminants and reduce health hazards.
Should You Purchase Flood Insurance?
The comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance policy will help cover flood damage to your car. However, standard homeowners and rental insurance policies don’t cover flood damage, so if you live in an area with a high risk of flooding, you’ll want to make sure you purchase separate flood insurance to protect your property. In fact, your mortgage lender may require flood insurance if your property is located in a flood plain.
You can only purchase flood insurance through an insurance company or agent that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. Flood insurance coverage takes effect 30 days after you sign the policy contract.
The Hartford offers NFIP coverage to AARP members. Learn more or request a quote.
Hollywood films offer entertainment, education, and a temporary escape from the ordinary. They can exhilarate, inspire and in some cases, create a spark that ignites a whole new you!
The following list of films is intended to encourage you to think beyond your current circumstances and embark on a new challenge. All the movies showcased involve retirees in varied situations with myriad motivations—though many of the lessons in their stories can apply to adults of any age. The characters are all real and relatable. Let the journey begin!
Thanks to Oprah’s popularity and promotion, book clubs have experienced a resurgence. Organizing a club with a diverse group to share thoughts and opinions that evolve and expand views is a healthy pastime for any age group–as are the benefits of the intellectual stimulation and regular interactions.
Book Club features four friends in their 60s who belong to a monthly book club. When they read a well-known, provocative novel, it begins to influence their decisions and opens up their personal lives in surprising ways. The communal wake-up call leads to the characters, “chasing pleasures that have eluded them” as they say. Might be worth the watch, wouldn’t you agree?
Sing and Dance
Nothing sparks emotions more than a true story–particularly the part where someone overcomes a struggle. Non-fiction films can offer a sort of blueprint we can tweak to fit conditions in our own lives.
The 2007 documentary, Young At Heart, depicts adults ranging in age from 74-92 who rehearse and perform cover songs by rock musicians Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Coldplay, and Sonic Youth. Defying stereotypes and predictability, the Young At Heart Chorus serves as a creative sanctuary and vehicle for its members to overcome health challenges. “The show must go on” is the sentiment that drives the emotional moments of the film, while the music they make together produces surprising results.
Gotta Dance chronicles New Jersey Nets basketball team’s first hip-hop dance squad. Auditions draw both men and women with varied levels of talent. Center court action captures their quick-paced routine and determined team spirit! A key message of the film is that no matter your age or range of mobility, performing is not only possible, it’s poignant and empowering.
The restorative benefits of travel have been scientifically proven. In fact, travel can positively impact mood and mental health, cognitive abilities, and physical conditions. Many older adults have the time to travel more, and can also take advantage of age-related discounts, such as airfare, hotels, and car rentals.
Seventy-five year old actor Robert De Niro starred in a 2013 movie that illustrated the benefits of travel. As one of four long-time buddies, De Niro takes a trip to Las Vegas to attend his friend’s low-key bachelor party, a.k.a Last Vegas. The celebration soon gains the momentum of a fraternity party, reigniting their youthful sense of adventure. The Bucket List, which features 81 year old Jack Nicholson, has two buddies with nothing to lose setting out on a road trip and fulfilling their wish lists. Feeling spontaneous? Here’s a blueprint to create and complete your own bucket list.
Full retirement may sound good in concept, but the actual day-to -day may be less than gratifying. Working, whether paid or unpaid, is good for our health and wellbeing. From volunteering and animal care, to seasonal and leisure-based options, the possibilities to stay engaged have never been better. Interacting with others and validating your self-worth is healthy for anyone at any age.
Proof of this theory can be found in another Robert De Niro film, The Intern. The movie’s tagline, “Experience never gets old”, sets the story on a path of fulfillment. Not only does De Niro’s character find a renewed sense of purpose while successfully bridging the generational gap, he’s also deeply appreciated for his professional and personal contributions.
In the film The Edge, Anthony Hopkins’ character turns fear into valor with one sentence, “What one man can do, another can do“. The same applies here. Get the popcorn ready and wait for the sparks of inspiration to fly. Your journey starts now!
Why Some People Never Retire
Owning a vacation home can be wonderful in your retirement. You may be a snow bird who flies south to sunnier, warmer weather in the winter. Or a grandparent who would rather own a home near their children and grandchildren than deal with the expense and logistics of staying in a hotel. Or maybe you’ve bought a second home as an income property.
One thing is clear: buying a vacation home is a good way to ensure that you’ll have a place to escape to, but you’ll need to take care of your investment, securing and sustaining it during its vacant months.
Your vacation home is a valuable asset that needs to be treated well to ensure that your return to your second home is as worry-free as possible when you arrive next time.
Potential problems that might develop during your time away include bugs, rodents, mold, fire, frozen pipes, leaks, theft and vandalism and issues with your condo association, swimming pool care or lawn and landscape maintenance. But, thankfully, there is help.
Good homeowners insurance is a must, but you’ll also want to look at what services are available in your vacation community. Caring for a vacation home differs according to location. For example, the issues in Florida, such as heat and moisture, are not the same as those in Vermont, where freezing temperatures and snow can have a big impact on a property. There are many commonalities, but each area does require separate treatment.
Electricity and water
Your first instinct may be to turn off your electricity and water to save money, but this decision depends on where the house is located and what systems you may want to keep running while your property is empty. If you leave your electricity on, you can keep your energy bills lower by unplugging all your appliances while you’re away, including your water heater. If your home uses gas, turn off the gas supply to the house for safety.
Heating and air conditioning may seem like a luxury to maintain when no one is in residence but keeping your house at an even temperature and monitoring humidity can prevent expensive issues such as mold or frozen pipes. If your vacation home is in a hot, humid area, you may want to keep the air conditioning set to 78 to 80 degrees to avoid dangerous mold or damage to electrical devices from humidity. In a cold climate, keeping your heat on even at a low temperature can help prevent pipes and appliances from freezing. The temperature setting you choose depends on the climate where your home is located and the level of insulation of your pipes.
While you may want to turn off the circuit breaker for some systems in your house such as the ones for appliances and your water heater, you should at least leave on the electricity that powers your alarm systems and your lights. You can use an app on your smart phone to program your lights so they turn on and off, which makes your home look occupied and therefore is less vulnerable to thieves. If you decide to turn off the electricity to your refrigerator, be sure to clean it out, put some baking soda inside to absorb moisture and leave the refrigerator door open to prevent mold.
Shutting off the water to the house when you leave the property is often advisable as it reduces the chance of water leakage and subsequent damage. If your home is in cold climate, you’ll need to drain the water lines to prevent freezing.
If you decide to leave the water turned on, make sure that any necessary sprinkler systems are either watched or maintained to ensure they don’t malfunction and create water drainage and damage problems for yourself or your neighbors.
It’s a good idea to invest in smart home technology that detects water leaks and can alert you to an issue before it overwhelms your house. Before you leave for the season, it’s smart to identify a company and a neighbor you can call if you live far away to check on the situation if you get an alert about a water issue.
Weather and pests
When your vacation home is in a warm and humid climate, you need to be particularly vigilant about mosquitoes and other bugs invading your property. But even in a cold climate, you need to be concerned about pests such as squirrels or rodents making your home their retreat during the winter months. Keep up with any treatments such as sprays for ants or termites and make sure your vacation house doesn’t have any easy entrances for larger pests; inspect the exterior of the house for any cracks or holes in the foundation, siding or windows where mice or rats can crawl in. Remove any overhanging tree limbs, as they may allow raccoons, roof rats and squirrels to take up residence in the attic insulation, damaging rafters and ceilings with their droppings and gnawing.
Thoroughly cleaning your house before you lock it up until next season can help prevent an infestation. Get rid of all your food other than canned goods to avoid attracting bugs and rodents. You can keep your bedding and mattresses clean by storing everything in plastic while you’re away. Take your garbage to the dump and securely store your garbage cans. While you’re outside, bring in your grill and outdoor furniture to keep it from being knocked around in a storm or just getting dirty or rusty.
If your vacation home is in a location prone to hurricanes or strong winds, you may want to install hurricane shutters if you’re leaving it empty during the storm season and either move outside items indoors or anchor them so they can’t become airborne during high winds. If your home is subject to ice, freezing temperatures and snow, you may want to add shutters to keep the snow from damaging your windows. You can add window plastic to keep the temperature inside warmer, too. In an earthquake zone, you can secure tall furniture and shelves to the wall. If your home is in a flood zone, you first want to maintain your flood insurance, and also you can install moisture or water-level sensors to alert you to water issues.
If your vacation home has a pool, it will need ongoing care and maintenance. Never empty the water in an inground pool yourself—this can create substantial problems when not done correctly. On the other hand, water left standing can breed mold and algae. It’s best to hire someone to maintain your pool periodically while you’re away.
Depending on where your home is located, you may want to hire a caretaker or a landscaping firm to keep your property looking attractive and occupied as well as to keep it safe. If your vacation home is in a warm climate, you’ll need to keep the grass and shrubbery trimmed while you’re away. In a cold climate, you’ll want someone to periodically check snow accumulations, make sure there’s no ice damage or that trees haven’t damaged your property and that your roof is in good shape.
Depending on your situation, there are numerous services available to maintain your vacation home, including house-sitting, pool cleaning and security, for example.
Friends and neighbors who are permanent residents can be your best source of information, help and advice. At the very least, make sure they know how to contact you when you are away. You should also let the local police know that the house will be vacant.
Seventy-two percent of all residential burglaries occur when the home is unoccupied, according to law enforcement statistics. While many break-ins happen when residents are out for a few hours, leaving your home empty for a season could leave it more vulnerable to criminals and vandals. That’s why it’s so important to keep the appearance of your property in good condition so it looks as if someone is regularly visiting. In addition to keeping grass cut and the property free of natural debris, you should make sure no mail is delivered and that someone stops by to pick up flyers or free newspapers that can collect and make it obvious no one is home. Make sure when you leave your house for the season that every window and door is securely locked and you’re your dead-bolts are in place.
Installing a security system that you can monitor with your smart phone or internet access can provide additional protection and peace of mind while your home is empty. Motion-sensitive exterior lights and programmable interior lights can also help keep criminals away. In addition to protecting your home against theft with an alarm system, you should make sure your emergency systems such as a fire alarm, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are operational either with batteries or by keeping your electricity running. Test all your detectors and install fresh batteries before you lock up for the season. If you leave any valuables behind, use a fireproof safe or an offsite safe deposit box to keep everything secure.
If there are neighbors near your house who stay all season, let them know you’re away and give them your contact information so they can alert you to anything unusual at your vacation house. Make sure you have the number for the police and fire department readily available in case you need to call them to check on your property in an emergency.
If you leave a car at your vacation home, remember to keep it covered—snowbird destinations can become extremely hot during the summer, which can affect the paint and headlight lenses. In a cold climate, ice, hail, and snow can also damage your car. Store your car in a garage or carport or use a car cover.
In addition to keeping your car physically covered, review your car insurance coverage. If your car won’t be driven while you’re away, you can suspend your collision coverage to save some money. Don’t suspend your comprehensive coverage, though. It’ll keep you protected just in case unexpected damage, such as theft, hail, or a dent due to a fallen tree branch, should occur.
You might also want to remove the car battery, as it will lose its charge over time. If you want to make sure that you’ll be able to start the car immediately upon your return, consider putting it on a solar charger; these are inexpensive and will help ensure that your battery is good to go when you arrive.
Transitioning from your primary residence back to your vacation home can be a breeze when you’ve taken the steps to secure your winter or summer place. Log into your account to make sure you have the right insurance coverage for your vacation home as part of your preparations. That protection can give you the peace of mind to enjoy your vacation home and the anticipation of returning to it each year to make more happy memories.
Resetting Your Life After a Long Vacation
The Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm season typically begins around June 1 and extends through November 30, and its effects can be felt not only along the U.S. coast but also further inland — in the form of tropical storm flooding. If you don’t have a plan in place to protect your family and your property from tropical storm damage, including flooding, now’s the time to get started.
Characterized by high winds, heavy rainfall, lightning, and flooding, tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes can cause devastating — and costly — damage. In 2017 alone, 17 named storms, including 10 that became hurricanes, six of which became major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5), hit the Atlantic United States, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Tropical storm flooding is the flooding that results from a tropical storm. The more you know about tropical storm flooding, the better prepared you’ll be to minimize potential damage and losses to your property.
What is a tropical storm?
A tropical depression, a tropical storm, and a hurricane are all variations of a tropical cyclone; which name applies depends on the severity of the tropical cyclone. A tropical storm is a form of tropical cyclone with wind speeds higher than a tropical depression, but lower than a hurricane — that is, a storm with sustained winds between 39 and 73 miles per hour.
A hurricane or typhoon has maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or more. According to the National Hurricane Center’s Glossary, the term “hurricane” is used for Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones east of the International Date Line to the Greenwich Meridian. The term “typhoon” is used for Northern Hemisphere Pacific tropical cyclones west of the International Date Line.
A tropical cyclone only forms over warm ocean water close to the equator. They’re characterized by deep convection — turbulent air movement based on temperature, with warm air rising — and closed surface wind circulation — wind moving in a circular pattern above a clearly defined center. Once they get going, they keep going with heat energy pulled from the warm tropical waters.
According to NASA, a tropical storm is really just a more intense tropical depression, which is a tropical cyclone that “forms when a low pressure area is accompanied by thunderstorms that produce a circular wind flow with maximum sustained winds below 39 miles per hour.” To get upgraded to a tropical storm, the cyclonic circular motion strengthens and intensifies, while wind speeds increase to up to 73 miles per hour. If and when a tropical storm intensifies to include sustained wind speeds of 74 miles per hour or more, it then becomes a hurricane.
How do tropical storms cause flooding?
Coastal areas often bear the brunt of flooding from tropical storms, whether from the rainfall or from storm surge — the ocean water that is pushed toward the shoreline from the storm or hurricane. However, even areas that are hundreds of miles inland can experience tropical storm flooding, since heavy rainfall often accompanies tropical storms as they move inland.
While tropical storms are officially less “intense” than hurricanes, due to their lower wind speeds, they can produce more rainfall — leading to more flooding — than a Category 5 hurricane, according to NOAA.
For example, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25, 2017, as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of 130 miles per hour. Yet it was when Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm and then slowed down to hang out over Texas between August 26 and 30 that it caused the most damage, resulting in historic severe flooding in areas like Houston. Harvey set a record for the most rainfall ever from a tropical cyclone — a whopping 51 inches of rain.
Watch out for three types of tropical storm flooding.
Depending on the intensity of the storm, the amount of rainfall, and the geography of the surrounding area, tropical storms can cause different types of flooding. Your family and property may be at risk from the following tropical storm flood types:
Flash floods. These develop quickly in a matter of hours or even minutes, and can occur due to large amounts of rainfall or even a levee break. They’re fast and strong, and can destroy trees, homes, and vehicles, and also can trigger mudslides.
River floods. If you live near a river, you may be used to preparing for spring floods, as rivers swell with melted snow from the spring thaw. Yet tropical storm flooding can cause rivers to flood their banks as they rise, due to the tropical storm rainfall. In 2011, Hurricane Irene broke more than 26 river flooding records in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont alone.
Urban floods. While you may love the new roads in and around your neighborhood, or the great new parking lot at the arena or shopping center, all that paving makes the land in your area less able to soak up a lot of water. So, when a tropical storm moves through, urban areas experience what’s known as runoff. The concrete and pavement can’t absorb the rain, so it “runs off,” turning city streets into dangerous urban waterways.
Know the difference between a flood watch and a flood warning.
The sooner you’re alerted to an impending tropical storm surge or flood watch or warning, the more time you’ll have to take action to protect yourself, your family, and your property.
According to NOAA, a tropical storm warning announces that a tropical storm with winds in the range of 39 to 73 miles per hour is expected to occur in an area within the next 36 hours. A tropical storm watch announces that a tropical storm with these wind speeds is possible in the area within the next 48 hours.
You may learn of tropical storm watches and warnings several ways, including:
Local radio and television station news
The National Hurricane Center online
Updates to local National Weather Service websites
National Hurricane Center mobile updates for your smartphone
NOAA Weather Radio (available for purchase online and in stores)
In 2017, NOAA’s National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center launched new Storm Surge Watches and Warnings to advise Atlantic coast residents of impending storm surges from tropical storms.
Protect your property from tropical storm flooding.
It’s tough to try to protect your home from flooding as the waters are rising. Instead, take precautions to minimize unnecessary tropical storm flooding damage to your home and property long before summer storms arrive.
Actions to take outdoors may include:
Clearing gutters and making sure they’re positioned to divert water away from your home
Grading the landscaping to slope away from your home to discourage water pooling around your house
Clearing any storm drains of debris such as dirt, twigs, and leaves
Inside your home, check the following:
Confirm the presence of check valves (or install them) on the sewer traps in your home to help prevent floodwaters from backing up and entering your home through the drains.
Consider purchasing and installing a battery backup or generator to run sump pumps if there’s a power outage.
If you live in a flood-prone area, think about having trenches dug in the basement to drain water to the sump pump.
Fix any cracks in basement and ground floor walls or floors.
Move important items to the highest floors to avoid potential floodwater damage.
Store important documents in a safe, waterproof place.
Remember, don’t wait for a tropical storm warning to get started on preventative measures to protect your property. Give yourself the time to make the necessary adjustments and repairs.
Prepare your family as well.
Today’s storm warning system has become increasingly accurate at predicting serious impending weather conditions like winter blizzards and summer storms. Still, once a warning or watch is issued, you’ll have a very limited time to get your family to safety.
Following evacuation orders isn’t optional. You must prepare to leave your home immediately. Don’t risk the lives of yourself and your family to try to ride out a storm and potential flooding in the hope of protecting your home.
Don’t wait for an evacuation order to start packing your bags. Instead, long before storm season, put together a plan that includes identifying your evacuation route, packing emergency supplies, and sharing a family emergency plan so you aren’t scrambling in the face of a tropical storm or flood. Remember to bring cash, your wallet, passports and ID, and any required medications.
Understand flood insurance vs. homeowners insurance.
Did you know that most homeowner insurance policies do not include flood insurance? Yet, according to FEMA, flooding is the top natural disaster in the United States. Purchasing flood insurance is an important part of protecting your family belongings and finances, whether you live in a typically high-risk area for flooding or not. In fact, as the 2017 storm season illustrated, changing climate and weather patterns mean that traditionally moderate- to low-risk areas are seeing increasing risks from flooding.
Fifty years ago, the National Flood Insurance Program was created to help property owners and renters purchase federally-backed flood insurance. The fact is that repairing flood damaged property is expensive, and disaster assistance funds often won’t cover the total repair costs. Homeowners can insure homes for up to $250,000 and the home’s contents for up to $100,000 under the NFIP.
Taking steps to protect your property from the risks associated with tropical storm flooding simply makes good financial sense.
Don’t wait for tropical storm season to protect your home and belongings. The Hartford offers National Flood Insurance Program coverage to AARP members. Learn more today.
How to Avoid Vehicle Flood Damage
Even when they’re positive experiences overall, major life changes, like moving into a new home, can be overwhelming. Just the thought of getting all that stuff into all those cardboard boxes and coordinating all the little details of getting from Point A to Point B can be enough to make you want to never move again. But when you understand exactly what moving entails, and plan for it properly, the process really isn’t that bad-we promise.
The Extra Mile’s moving guide was created to help you take the guesswork out of this complex process. And that begins with one of the first questions you may ask yourself when planning a move: where do I even start?
Plan and Prep for Your Move
When starting to plan a move, think of the process as starting eight weeks prior to your actual moving day. You can of course start earlier if you prefer; or, if you don’t have eight weeks to plan, you can adjust this timeline to fit your own circumstances. In fact, figuring out your own individual timeline is part of the process. And remember that things will always come up that will slow you down or force an aspect of your plan to speed up along the way, so this timeline is only a guide.
In the first four weeks, you’ll be doing less packing and more planning. Think of this as your Plan and Prep Phase. During this time, you’ll be getting ready so that when the real mayhem of moving starts, you’ll be prepared. Here’s what you need to do during this phase:
- Decide whether you’ll hire packers/movers or do it yourself.
- If you are hiring movers, contact companies for quotes.
- If you’ll be renting a storage unit for the move, or clearing out a unit you currently rent, make those arrangements now.
- If you need to hire anyone besides movers to help in your packing process (e.g. house cleaners), or if you are sending large items like carpets or furniture out to be cleaned or repaired, do this now.
- If you’re asking for help from friends or family, make arrangements now so no one feels pressured at the last minute.
- If you aren’t having professionals pack your things, figure out where you’ll get your supplies, whether you’ll buy packing materials or find free ones, etc.
- Acquire your packing supplies.
- Declutter your entire home, removing everything you will not be taking with you. Go room by room-or by type of item –to break down this process into manageable chunks.
- Get rid of the items you aren’t packing. This might involve holding a tag sale, throwing away or recycling items, taking things to a donation center or arranging for a charity to pick them up, listing items for sale, or giving things away to friends or family.
Packing for Your Move
How long packing will take you depends on many factors, including the size of your home and how minimalist or maximalist your décor is. Assuming you’ve already cleared your home of clutter, the general rule is to leave one to two days per bedroom of the house, i.e. one or two days to pack up a studio apartment and four to six days to finish a four bedroom house. If you’re not accustomed to packing, if your home has many storage areas, or if you like to work slowly and methodically or take frequent breaks, estimate that it will take you considerably longer. This is especially true for rooms that contain many small or fragile items, like bathrooms and kitchens. You may prefer to power through and pack very quickly, but you may find it takes you many days to fully pack a room. Either way is fine, and this is just one more reason why it’s so helpful to give yourself plenty of lead time before moving day.
Before you pack up anything, get all your supplies ready. This way, you won’t have to rush out for last-minute extras. (Well, you probably will, because that’s life, but it will happen far less frequently if you’re well-prepared!) You will need:
- Packing tape
- Packing materials like newspaper, tissue paper, and bubble wrap
- Stickers, paper, and/or pens for labeling your boxes
- A receptacle for items you decide not to bring with you (Even if you declutter thoroughly before you begin packing, you’ll probably uncover a few things during the packing process that can be donated, sold, or thrown away.)
Four Weeks to Move Day
Four weeks before you move, you can start packing certain items. The best ones to start with are those you know you won’t need again until after the move. Start packing up:
- Storage areas, like your attic and basement
- Other places where you keep extra supplies like the garage, shed, or closets
- Out of season items (e.g., if you’re moving in the summer, heavy sweaters and winter boots can be packed ahead of time)
- Tools and equipment that won’t be needed again before moving day
- Any collections or display items you don’t actually use
Three Weeks to Move Day
Three weeks before you move, continue to pack display items like artwork and home décor objects. Also pack anything you don’t need on an everyday basis. This will probably include:
- Most of your books
- Tech gadgets
- Office supplies
- Hobby equipment
- Specialized kitchen equipment and other things you use less frequently
Two Weeks to Move Day
Two weeks before moving day, packing gets serious.
- Start tackling the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets, as well as electronics and other valuable and fragile items.
- Go through drawers and cabinets to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. (Check easily-overlooked spots like the top shelf of the closet and the drawer under the stove.)
As you pack, make a conscious effort not to box up things you’ll be needing in the coming days or during the move itself. For example, when you pack the linen closet, be sure to leave out a set of bedsheets so you can change the beds. In the kitchen, leave out enough cookware and utensils to get you through the next two weeks. And keep essential, everyday beauty products and clothing separate to ensure you don’t pack them.
One Week to Move Day
This is the final stage of packing and cleaning. Now is the time rooms should start emptying with an official stamp of “complete.”
- Pack up loads of laundry as you finish them, then pack up the laundry room.
- Pack any items you won’t be needing in the next few days.
- Remember to leave out what you’ll need on moving day, like last-minute cleaning supplies, snacks, and clothing.
- Start assembling a bag of moving-day essentials; if you’re moving long-distance, make sure you pack everything you’ll need for however many days you’ll be in-between homes.
- Be careful to not pack away documents and other necessities relating to the move itself.
One to Two Days to Move Day
Start taking apart furniture and getting ready for the move. Complete packing the remaining household items you have been using. Plan simple meals to minimize the items you’ll need for cooking and eating. (If necessary, buy a small stash of paper plates and cups to get you through this time.) Pack up curtains, area rugs, and other furnishings. Finalize your bag of essentials, which should include:
- Two days’ worth of clothes (or possibly more, if you’re moving long-distance)
- Any medicines you take, glasses and/or contact lenses, etc.
- Essential documents
- Snacks and water
- Phone and charger
You’re probably feeling exhausted and overwhelmed at this point, but this is an exciting moment: it’s almost over! Pack your bed and bedding, and any remaining medications and toiletries not going into your essentials bag. If you have pets, double-check that you have everything they need for the move. Also make sure you have snacks, drinks, and paper goods handy for yourself and your helpers, and keep supplies out for last minute cleaning once the home is empty.
Although unexpected snags can always come up in a transition as complex as packing and moving a household, advanced preparation and good planning will set you up for a move that’s as painless as possible. We hope this guide will help you break the packing process down into manageable pieces, and maybe even enjoy the adventure of moving to a new home.
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Getting into a car accident is a scary experience — and the moments after the accident are stressful. If your vehicle is damaged, you’ll need to file an insurance claim, but then what?
You may assume you’re in for further headaches as you choose a repair shop and work to get insurance reimbursement for the damages.
However, getting post-accident repairs made doesn’t have to be difficult. Basically, you have two options: You can select an auto body shop from your insurance company’s list of approved shops, such as The Hartford’s Customer Repair Service Program (CRSP), or you can find your own body shop to handle the repairs.
While your insurance company is committed to fixing your vehicle after an accident, your particular situation will dictate which is the better option for you. Keep in mind that the same technological advances that make your car better to drive also contribute to making repairs more complicated – and potentially, more expensive. Here are some things to consider when making this decision.
Why use an insurance company-recommended body shop?
Opting to use an auto repair shop that’s already approved by your insurance company can save you time and possibly money. That’s because you don’t have to search for the shop, get an estimate, or wait for an inspection; your insurance company has already agreed to work with the shop. Because you save some time on the front end, working with a recommended shop also may help you get your car back sooner.
In addition to saving time, working with an approved shop can save you the hassle of filling out paperwork required by your insurance company. And, in most cases, insurance companies require their approved shops to guarantee their workmanship if there is a problem with the work down the road, for as long as you own the vehicle. On the other hand, if you choose your own shop, you’ll have to deal with any future issues on your own .
When you use an auto repair shop they recommend, some insurance carriers offer a reduction in your deductible — the price you pay out of pocket for repairs. For example, a customer of The Hartford with Advantage Plus coverage gets a $100 discount on their deductible when they use a shop that’s included in The Hartford’s CRSP. Such discounts can help when you’re already dealing with the stress of an auto accident and repairs. In fact, the option of using an approved shop is intended to help you avoid additional worries during a stressful time.
The body shop should provide an initial estimate, whether it’s an approved shop or not. However, if you select a shop that is recommended by your insurance company, the shop will be able to work directly with the insurance company to handle any additional costs that come up during the repairs. That way, you don’t have to pay up front for other items that may arise and then wait for your insurer to reimburse you for those charges.
While your car is in the shop for repairs, you may need alternative transportation. Some insurance policies include rental car coverage for such situations. If you have chosen an approved repair shop and the repairs turn out to take longer than planned because of hidden damages, your insurance company often will work with you to extend your rental car agreement. Check your policy to find out exactly what it covers regarding rental cars during repair.
Why shop around for another body shop?
Selecting an auto body shop that has been approved by your insurance company offers a number of benefits, but for some vehicle owners, there are valid reasons to shop around for repairs at other auto shops.
For instance, you may have an established relationship with an auto repair shop that you’ve worked with for years. In addition, if the repair technician at your regular auto shop is familiar with your vehicle and its history, he or she may be better able to determine the amount of damage your vehicle sustained in the accident.
If there’s not an approved shop in your immediate area, that can be another good reason to seek your own shop. If you’d have to drive a long distance to get to an approved shop, then the benefits may not be worth the trouble. Or, if you locate a shop that can repair your vehicle for a better price than those on the insurance company’s approved list, the savings may make it worth using your own shop.
If you decide to shop around and use a repair shop that has not been recommended by your insurance company, that doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Your insurance company still will work with you on handling and paying for the damages to your vehicle; you just don’t get the benefit of having the insurance company work directly with the approved auto shop to handle all the paperwork for your claim.
Ask the right questions.
Whether you use an auto shop approved by your insurance company or a self-selected shop, it’s important to make the selection carefully. When assessing your options, you may choose to have an independent shop or mechanic provide an estimate for the work to be done, so you can use it in making your decision.
To ensure that your vehicle is repaired properly and efficiently, that your insurance company will cover the damages, and that you’ll know what to expect throughout the process, you’ll need to ask a number of questions of both your insurance company and the auto shop(s) you’re considering.
When you talk to your insurance company representatives, here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What information do I need to prepare to make a claim?
- What is covered and how much is covered?
- Is a rental car available with my policy and for how long?
- What will the process look like from now until my car is made whole again?
- What do I need to do next?
- What shops in my area are approved by the insurance company?
- When you evaluate an auto repair shop, consider asking the following questions:
- Are your technicians certified?
- Will you be using genuine manufacturer replacement parts?
- Do you offer a warranty on repairs?
- Your estimate is more/less expensive than another shop. Can you explain why? (Keep in mind that only one estimate is generally needed in order to determine damages, but if you choose to get more than one and they are quite different, this is a good question to ask.)
Check the approved list.
Even if you have an auto repair shop that you prefer to use, check your insurance company’s approved list to see if that shop is included. If so, you’ll be able to remain loyal to your favorite shop and still take advantage of the benefits of using an insurance company-recommended shop.
While your insurance company has approved the repair businesses on its list, that doesn’t mean every one of them will be a good fit for you. Before using a shop on the approved list, ask questions to make sure you feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the shop and its repairs. You can conduct research about the shop online or call your insurance company to ask questions about a particular shop.
Learn more about the benefits of Advantage Plus coverage.
If you’re a customer of The Hartford, call 1-800-243-5860 to report an auto claim and ask about the Customer Repair Service Program. You can also locate an approved auto shop online.
In a Car Crash? Here’s What to Do After a Car Accident
You can have your car repaired at any shop you choose. When you elect to use a Hartford-authorized shop for vehicle repair, we’ll reduce your collision deductible by $100.
Not available in all states.
Pop quiz: Do you know more about driving than Indy race car driver Johnny Unser of the Unser Racing Family?
It’s a safe bet that most drivers don’t have Unser’s knowledge or skill but still drive in ways he wouldn’t consider.
“One of the biggest problems people have is how to control their cars and how to manage their distractions,” says Unser, who is now a technical advisor for Cooper Tire and race director for Pro Mazda. “Obviously the more focused you are, the better your driving. When you’re driving, you have no idea what the other guy is going to do.”
When Unser climbed behind the wheel of his race car, his entire focus became the car and his driving. He takes the same stance in personal vehicles.
Consider this advice from Unser and other driving professionals to make all of your holiday travel merry – no matter the season.
1. Make sure your car is road-ready.
Many drivers don’t regularly check their cars’ fluid levels, windshield wipers, lights and other elements. Yes, a professional should regularly service your car, especially before a long trip. You need to spot check it, too, though.
“I’m extra careful about checking the fluids, the windshield wipers, and the washer fluid, and the tire pressure,” says Unser. “A lot of people also forget to check their tires’ pressure.”
Incorrect tire pressure can cause a blow out or flat. It also reduces fuel efficiency and causes uneven wear of the tires.
Some drivers don’t realize the tire pressure increases in heat and decreases in cold. Drivers should check the stickers on the door jams of the drivers’ side doors to determine the correct pressure.
2. Familiarize yourself with the vehicle.
Do you know everything about your car? Your relative’s car? Or the rental vehicles you drive on vacations?
It’s vital to familiarize yourself with the car before you drive.
You never know if you’ll need to decipher a signal or locate a switch – think of the hazard lights – that you don’t regularly use.
If there is not an owner’s manual in the car, request one or look online.
“Make sure it’s set up properly before you leave,” says Unser. “You need to sit there until you’re totally comfortable in the car. We don’t drive a car onto the track until we’re completely comfortable. It should be the same in a personal car.”
3. Check your car insurance.
Review your car insurance before your trip. You need to know what coverage you have if a mishap occurs. Having towing insurance, for example, could be extremely helpful if you’re in an accident. It also helps to know ahead of time whether your insurance will cover a rental car. If it doesn’t, you can make adjustments to your policy before your trip, just in case the unexpected occurs.
4. Rest before and during your trip.
Some people push themselves to drive long distances. After all, they drive all the time, right? Former police officer Jeff Westover, an owner and instructor at 911 Driving Schools in Tacoma and Lakewood, Washington, noted most people regularly drive very short distances such as from home to work. Road trips are different.
“How many times do you hear about someone getting up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and driving all night?” he says. “I was a cop for 18 years, and I’m now a driving instructor. I would never do that.”
When you’re tired, your reaction time slows so you’re in more danger. And those with less-than-perfect eyesight may also have difficulty seeing well in the dark.
It’s also essential to add time for plenty of breaks from driving into your trip. Try to avoid rest areas and get off the highway, says Westover. And if you grow tired while driving you should switch drivers or find lodging.
“You see so many people driving for 12 straight hours just so they can lay by a pool for a few days,” says Westover. “Don’t be in such a rush.”
5. Watch for those driving under the influence.
When drivers see another car weave in traffic, they often think the driver is talking or texting on a cell phone. Many times, though, the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, says Westover.
“Most DUIs happen between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., but they can happen at anytime,” he says. “Never drive next to those who may be impaired. Also, don’t try to drive around them. Stay behind them and put as much distance as possible between your car and theirs.”
6. Don’t drive while impaired.
Even if you don’t drink alcohol or use narcotics, you might still be an impaired driver. Those that are tired or not fully concentrating on the drive are guilty of cognitive impaired driving, says Westover.
“Sometimes you look at a driver in the next car, and they have their hands at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock,” says Westover of the recommended stance to keep control of the car and keep them out of the way of a deployed airbag. “You think ‘Boy, they are really concentrating.’ But sometimes those people are thinking of everything else except driving.”
Practice Unser’s advice and pay strict attention to your driving and your car.
8. Give yourself room to escape.
You know you shouldn’t tailgate or stop too close to the car in front of you.
Westover recommends the four-second rule – watch the car in front of you, look at a fixed object (such as a street light or mile marker sign) and then count. If you pass the object in less than four seconds, you’re too close.
When you stop your car in traffic, check that you can see the rear tires in the car in front of you.
Those habits can prevent an accident or even a chain reaction if the car in front of you stops or slows suddenly.
Another reason to practice them? You won’t be trapped if there is a threat to your safety, says attorney and author Alain Burrese, Survive A Shooting.com.
9. Rethink how you drive on country roads.
When you drive on deserted, rural roads, consider driving more toward the center of those roads, says driving expert Wyatt Knox, special projects director for Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, New Hampshire. That way, if a moose, deer or other danger does appear, you’ll have an opportunity to quickly pull to either side of the road to avoid a crash.
10. Prepare for all weather conditions, no matter what the calendar reads.
The different climates in the U.S. mean drivers can quickly go from snow to dust storms to 80-degree weather in a short time. Check the weather forecast before you leave and make sure you have packed appropriate gear. If ice and snow are in your future include a snow brush, a snow shovel, and sand or kitty litter (to improve traction on ice), suggests safety and security expert Alyse Ainsworth of ASecureLife.com of Salt Lake City. Regardless of whether you are driving in wintry conditions, or sporadic summer weather, make sure to have these essential supplies on hand:
- A blanket
- Bottled water
- An extra cell phone charger
- A jack that you can actually operate
“We know from auto crash statistics that summer is actually the most dangerous time to drive, yet a May 2017 Michelin survey found that two-thirds of Americans felt safer on summer roads citing better road conditions and warmer weather,” says Ron Margadonna, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, Michelin. “But the truth is that foul weather in this case rain and wet roads can originate quickly, be abundant and can be over a prolonged time period.
11. Understand emergency driving techniques.
Everyone who spoke for this article underscored the importance of proper tires. But drivers also need to know how to react when they can’t control a car that slides on wet pavement, known as hydroplaning.
“There is a common misconception that the best thing to do when hydroplaning is to take your foot completely off the gas pedal and let the car coast until you regain traction,” Margadonna says. “But during a hydroplaning situation, rapid deceleration, acceleration or steering can apply additional forces to the tire that could further reduce grip and possible loss of control. The proper response is to keep light pressure on the accelerator pedal and steer straight forward until tires regain traction.”
12. Pack human and pet supplies.
Pack water and snacks, no matter the season, says Burrese. And if you travel with a pet, make sure you can care for them.
“Look at people that get stuck, whether it’s a traffic jam or an accident. You might have to wait for hours before the road gets cleared,” he says. “You want to make sure that you have some liquids and have something to eat to help keep everybody in the vehicle hydrated and health. That’s especially important on a super hot summer day.”
Also, pack sunscreen. You may have to leave your car in case of a breakdown or crash.
13. Print out vital numbers.
If you belong to a roadside assistance service, make sure you have your membership card and the contact number with you when you travel, suggests Kriston. You can save the details on your phone, but you should also write them down on a piece of paper that you keep in your glove box, just in case your phone runs low on battery power. You don’t want to waste your phone’s energy searching for information when you need to make the call for help.
14. Carry a paper map and directions.
It’s easy to rely on your GPS, but it’s not infallible. What if you haven’t updated it recently? What if it can’t find a signal? Or, what if it simply breaks down? Pack maps and written directions, advises Kriston.
15. Store valuables in the trunk.
In the summer months, many drivers leave luggage, cameras, purses and other valuables in plain view when they go into a restroom or store for “just a minute.” You may feel carefree on vacation, but thieves are still working. Store your luggage and valuables in the trunk, even if your drive isn’t long, says Kriston.
Winter holidays may be a time for good will towards men, but that doesn’t mean would-be thieves aren’t still on the prowl. Store your presents in your trunk, even if your drive isn’t particularly long. Don’t let yourself become the victim of a holiday Grinch.
16. Don’t overload your vehicle.
If you pack your vehicle to the brink, you are asking for trouble, says RV industry expert Mark Koep, founder of CampgroundViews.com. Look at the vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine how much weight you can carry safely . Overloading your car can cause many safety issues including tire ruptures, he says. Furthermore, carrying an extra 100 pounds in your car reduces fuel economy by one percent.
17. Check the tires of your trailer.
It’s common to see cars towing boats and trailers or recreational equipment pulled to the side of the road. Many times, that’s because the driver didn’t check the tires of the other vehicle or pack a spare, says Westover. Check that the tires of any vehicles are in good condition and properly inflated. And don’t forget the spare!
18. Insist everyone buckle up.
Yes, that means everyone—including the family pet. Not only are pets distracting, but in an accident, unrestrained animals can seriously injure or even kill other auto occupants and can easily themselves be injured or killed. A report by AAA and Kurgo Pet Safety notes: “An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of force, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force.”
Spend the extra time and energy to properly secure your dog, cat, gerbil or other animals in the back seat of your car. Your car’s Lower Anchor and Tether for Children (LATCH) system, secures infant and child car seats, can be used for pet carriers as well. If you are not familiar with the system, check the car’s owner’s manual for where to find and how to use them.
19. Take extra care around tractor trailer trucks.
Professional truck driver Billy Manas of New Paltz, New York, says many drivers of cars or RVs pass tractor trailers and then quickly cut in front of them.
“A semi needs 500 feet to stop at highway speeds,” he says. “If, God forbid, you blow a tire or a deer jets out from the brush or just about anything happens where a car driver needs to make a sudden stop, they will never survive with a truck so close to them. Give trucks space.”
And don’t pull out in front of trucks unless you have plenty of space. Again, trucks can’t stop quickly, and when they do, it is perilous.
20. Keep an eye on your temperature gauge.
In the summer your car is at an increased risk of overheating. Your gauge should always be somewhere between “C” and “H” when your car is running, says Josh Hostetler, Course Content Supervisor, Aceable.
“If you notice that your gauge is completely to the right on ‘H,’ or you see the symbol below pop up on your dash, pull over and let your car cool down,” he says. “If it’s not safe to pull over right away, turn off your air conditioner and turn your heat on full blast instead. This action will pull hot air off the engine and push it into the car, helping to cool the engine until you’re able to pull over.
It’s easy for everyone, especially long-time drivers, to assume they know how to drive safely in any situation. But everyone’s skills change and knowledge fades. Drivers that refresh and update their driving and vehicle know-how boost the odds of staying accident- and incident-free.
The Best National Parks to Visit
Are you a card-carrying AARP member? If so, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re taking advantage of the many perks of being a member of the club.
You probably know that your AARP membership benefits include discounts on an array of products from home and car insurance, to tour packages, to home security systems, and yet you may not realize how many — and what a wide variety — are on offer.
“The benefits I use religiously are the discounts,” says AARP member Carol Gee, a retired higher education instructor and administrator in Atlanta. For example, she recently booked a hotel for a trip with her husband to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. She was quoted a rate of $229, but saved $35 with her AARP card. “We were upgraded to a suite at that rate, which was really very nice,” she says.
AARP membership perks extend far beyond travel discounts. Make sure you aren’t missing out on these savings or any of the many other pluses of being a member.
Here are 16 things that being an AARP member enables you to do:
- Find free financial advice. As you move toward or into retirement, taking care of your money is essential. As an AARP member, you can print or order free financial publications with detailed advice on topics such as carrying mortgage debt into retirement, dealing with age discrimination, investing with IRAs, reinventing your career, and when to claim Social Security.
- Save on car insurance. Your years of driving experience help make you a better driver. When you sign up for the AARP® Auto Insurance Program from The Hartford, you can get rewarded with lower premiums. Also, enjoy a discount for the next three years when you complete the AARP Smart DriverTMCourse. Just send The Hartford a copy of your certificate or update your policy online to receive a credit on your car insurance premium.
- Cut the cost of home insurance. Get a discount through the AARP® Homeowners Insurance Program from The Hartford. The program offers valuable coverage for your personal property, and protection against personal liability. A range of options are available to meet your needs — whether you own a house or condo, or you’re a renter. Save even more when you bundle your home and auto policies.
- Get dental and vision insurance.As you age, it’s more important than ever to take good care of your eyes and oral health. The AARP® MyVision Care provided through EyeMed offers AARP members a choice among three vision insurance plans. These include comprehensive eye exams with minimal copays and deep discounts on lenses and frames. AARP also offers dental insurance, administered by Delta Dental, that features large dentist networks, limits on out-of-pocket costs, and guaranteed acceptance for AARP members.
- Improve your hearing. Hey, have you heard? It’s also important not to neglect your ears. The AARP® Hearing Care Program offers an in-person hearing test, custom fitting for hearing aids, a 20% discount, plus an extra $200 off a pair of hearing aids. You even get a free three-year supply of hearing aid batteries.
- Pay less for prescriptions. About 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and 20% take five or more. The cost of these medications adds up, so why not save? The AARP® Prescription Discounts offers savings to AARP members and their spouses and dependents on drugs not covered by your current prescription insurance or Medicare Part D. The savings average up to 61%.
- Entertain yourself while waiting in line. You don’t have to let apps and games drain your bank account a buck at a time. AARP offers free online games for members, from backgammon to daily jigsaw puzzles, from mahjongg to solitaire. Some games are available to anyone, while others are for AARP members only. The bonus? Online games can help keep your mind sharp.
- Read the AARP magazine. As a member, you receive AARP The Magazine, which offers practical, usable advice on topics important to readers aged 50-plus. This includes info on health, money, and wellness. Recent topics include exercising without breaking a sweat, raising funds fast, and cutting your grocery bill by having a garden. Gee says she loves getting the magazine to learn about topics like scams targeted at older Americans, along with the latest info on Medicare and Social Security benefits.
- Bury your nose in a book for less. Are you a book lover who can’t always find what you want at the library? The AARP Bookstore offers AARP members 40% off select titles when ordered directly from the publisher. You can also get ebooks and free downloads.
- Supercharge your rewards earnings.Loyalty programs from airlines, credit card issuers, and retailers are a great way to live large and get more for your money. AARP offers several ways to maximize your rewards. You also can link your AARP membership card to your Walgreen’s Balance Rewards account to earn 50 points for every $1 you spend in the store.
- Earn while you learn. When you join the free AARP Rewards for Good program, you earn rewards points for using designated online tools, quizzes, and webinars at aarp.org. You can then redeem your points for deals and offers from local retailers, participate in live auctions on everything from iPads to gift cards, and enter sweepstakes for the chance to win prizes. AARP members earn 50% more points.
- Stretch your dining and entertainment dollars.You may already know that AARP has deals with restaurants that allow members to trim the fat from their restaurant bills. Most participating restaurants offer AARP members 10% to 15% off their total. Restaurants that offer discounts include Bonefish Grill, McCormick & Schmick’s, and Outback Steakhouse. Want to see a show after dinner? Get 20% off select Cirque du Soleil shows and 15% off select tickets for Arena and Under the Big Top touring shows. You can also get $9.50 tickets online for Regal movie theaters nationwide.
- Save more money when you shop. AARP members also can get an array of other discounts to keep more money in their wallets. For example, show your AARP card at Tanger Shopper Services and get a free coupon book with over $1,000 in discounts that can be redeemed at a variety of outlet stores. You can also get free printable coupons good at grocery stores, drug stores, and other retailers from Coupons.com.
- Protect your pet with health insurance. Fido and Muffy cheer you up, crack you up, and maybe even motivate you to exercise more. AARP allows you to keep your furry family members healthy with up to a 10% member discount on pet health insurance (when you enroll online) plus a $35 prepaid Petplan Visa® Prepaid Card you can use at your next vet visit.
- Pay less for airport parking, rental cars, and hotels. Get 12% off for off-airport parking with your AARP card at more than 100 locations when you book in advance. AARP offers members a variety of savings on lodging and car rentals.
- Tour the world for less.As an AARP member, you can travel light (on your wallet) with discounts on vacations. Here are a few examples: AARP membership includes $50 to $100 off per person on small group cultural immersion tours from Collette Explorations. You also get $100 off per person on guided vacations, including river cruises to Europe, from Grand European Travel. If you want to see the world by train, you can get 5% off worldwide rail vacations and train tours from Vacations by Rail. Get $100 off per couple on services from Liberty Travel.
While this may seem like quite the list, there are plenty more perks where these came from. If you haven’t done so already, download the AARP Now mobile app, which lets you easily access your member benefits right from your smartphone. And don’t forget that you can add your spouse or partner to your AARP membership at no cost. That’s an easy way to double the bang for your buck!
What’s your favorite benefit of being an AARP member? Are there discounts or perks you didn’t know about that you now plan to use? Comment and let us know.
One of the highlights of your retirement years is the newfound flexibility in your schedule. For the first time since beginning your career, you have the ability to travel without the worry of dwindling vacation time or the stress of timing your trips around demands at work.
Despite the flexibility, however, you may find that traveling now can sometimes prove just as overwhelming as it did then. After all, you still have to pack, book your transportation, plan your activities, make reservations, and make arrangements for loved ones – pets included – that will stay at home.
To help ease the anxiety these travel tasks can cause, check out this comprehensive list of apps for a traveler’s every need. If you find yourself traveling solo, some of these apps can make great traveling companions.
Planning Your Trip
Several apps can help streamline the planning of your trip, as well as keep all aspects of your travel plans organized.
- PackPoint can help if you’re always forgetting that one important item (toothpaste, deodorant, bathing suit?). It enables you to build a custom, shareable packing list based on your specific travel destination, the weather forecast at your destination on your specified dates, the duration of your trip, and your planned activities.
- TripIt allows you to digitally track reservations for flights, hotels, and car rentals. If you use Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Outlook, TripIt can automatically access your reservations. No worries if you use a different email platform, though; simply forward your reservation confirmation emails to TripIt and the app will track and organize your travel information, allowing you to check your reservations, confirmation numbers, and addresses. A paid version of the app even enables you to track miles and awards points with airlines and hotels.
- TripCase, like TripIt, tracks all your reservations, but allows for more personal control as to how various trips are organized. For example, TripIt may treat consecutive trips as one whole trip, while TripCase allows you to differentiate each trip as its own event. This feature may be helpful if you travel for work and need to track expenses; it also could be helpful to differentiate between trips to the same location and for organizing your pictures. In addition, TripCase can communicate with your Apple Watch and Alexa devices.
- MyTSA could prove invaluable when it comes time to plan for airport travel. This app provides real-time airport wait times, wait time histories for various airports, and security rules, as well as tips on how to get through security checkpoints more efficiently.
- Google Trips might be a good option if you’re looking for something comprehensive. This app can not only track your reservations, but also offers “things to do” and a “Day Plan” feature for almost any city in the world. It can even map your must-do activities and must-see sites right down to the travel time between each location. Not only that, it works even if you don’t have access to Wi-Fi or data.
- TripAdvisorcan help make sure you visit the highest-rated sites. Geared mostly to tourists, this app features reviews of destinations, eateries, hotels, and sites, all written by travelers who have first-hand experience of the place. It also offers a map to help you find the places you’d like to visit, as well as allowing you to make reservations directly from the app.
- Yelp, like TripAdvisor, features reviews written by people who have visited the destination; however, whereas TripAdvisor’s target audience is mainly tourists, Yelp caters largely to locals. If you’re looking for a little local flavor, Yelp may be your best bet. It features locations in the U.S. almost exclusively, however, so it may not prove helpful for international travel.
Booking Your Travel
One of the most challenging aspects of planning a trip can be booking your travel, but with the advent of apps like Kayak and Hopper, even that part of traveling is easier.
- KAYAK is your one-stop shopping app for perusing hundreds of sites for the best flight, hotel, car rental, and vacation package deals. You simply enter your query into the app, and it returns results from numerous sites, allowing you to compare prices, dates, and deals without having to visit every site yourself. In addition to searching for the best deals for you, Kayak features a flight tracker, a price alert option, mobile booking, special mobile-only prices, airport wait times, and terminal maps.
- Hopper enables you not only to book your flights, but also to buy your tickets at their least expensive prices. The app predicts with 95% accuracy when your desired flights will be the most affordable, and recommends whether you should buy now or later. If you opt to buy later based on the app’s recommendation, Hopper will monitor your desired flights and immediately alert you of any price drops so you can jump at the best opportunity. You can purchase your tickets directly through the app.
Security at Home
A Nest Cam can help give you the peace of mind you need to truly unwind and enjoy your trip, knowing all is well on the home front. Nest Cams are available in two indoor and two outdoor models, each offering various security features, depending on the model. Some of these features include intruder alerts, facial recognition, and talk and listen capabilities. All four include 24/7 monitoring, night vision, smart phone alerts, and a three-hour snapshot history. A Nest Cam allows you to travel far and wide without missing a thing that happens at your own front door.
HotelTonight is an app that can help you at the last minute — whether you find yourself stranded and unexpectedly in need of an affordable night’s sleep, or had planned to let your trip unfold organically from its outset. It allows you to make a last-minute lodging reservation via the app at the best available rate.
Traveling means you’ll find yourself in unfamiliar places, and navigating a town you’ve never visited before can prove challenging. Yet you don’t have to rely on paper maps or directions from the locals. These apps can make the path a little easier to navigate.
- Google Maps, while not perfect, is one of the leading driving directions apps available. It provides directions for multiple modes of transportation, including walking, cycling, driving, and using public transit. It also features real-time traffic updates, making it particularly useful for driving in unfamiliar areas.
- Waze, a GPS-based directions provider app owned by Google, is another good source for reliable routes, as well as traffic updates. Its primary draw is its ability to pinpoint the fastest possible route, allowing you to reach your destination as quickly as possible and with the fewest hassles. Waze also features real-time updates from users regarding road hazards and traffic delays. Waze can even locate the least expensive nearby gas station.
- Citymapper, while not as comprehensive as Google Maps in terms of the finite number of cities it covers, is particularly adept at helping you navigate public transportation systems or routes you plan to cover on foot. It presents you with multiple route options and it features detailed public transit schedules and directions. In addition to helping you find the nearest subway or bus station, it automatically updates your planned route if you miss a bus or train.
Things we tend to take for granted at home may not be as easy to accomplish when we travel to a destination where the people speak a language, live in a time zone, and use a currency other than our own. There are, however, apps that can help bridge these gaps.
- Google Translate provides the capability to translate 103 languages — 59 if you’re offline. For 38 languages, it even offers a camera translation, which can help you decipher signage in airports or on the road, read a menu, or find the restroom. Simply take a photograph of the sign you want translated and the app can translate the text.
- XE Currency can help you calculate currency conversions. Simply type in a currency and amount and find out what it’s worth in the country of your choice. If you plan to travel between several countries, the app’s currency map, which allows you to view currencies in various countries on a geographical map, may prove invaluable. In addition, the app saves the most recent exchange rates, so you can use the app with some confidence even if you’re offline.
- WhatsApp offers a free way to communicate with friends and family as you travel the world. It features simple text messaging, group chats with up to 256 people, and voice and video calls. It will also instantly send videos and photos to your loved ones — all without SMS fees, although data charges may apply. Check with your provider.
- Smart Traveler is a must-have app for anyone planning international travel. It provides information directly from the U.S. State Department regarding travel alerts, warnings, and a fact sheet detailing U.S. relations with every country. It even includes the locations of every U.S. Embassy worldwide.
Everyone loves a good, old-fashioned road trip, and now there are apps to help make the journey even more enjoyable.
- GasBuddy is a community-based app that helps you find the least expensive gas stations along your route, alerts you to predicted price increases, and can filter facilities based on features like car wash availability, restrooms, and food. In addition, the app can use its Trips feature to monitor elements of your travel that might be decreasing your car’s fuel economy and costing you gas money. For example, if you tend to accelerate aggressively at a particular intersection on your regular route, brake too hard at stop signs, etc. GasBuddy can track that. If you join Pay with GasBuddy, you can save $0.15 per gallon on an initial fill-up and $0.05 per gallon for every subsequent fill-up. You can even enter a daily drawing to win $100 worth of gas.
- Roadtrippers is an app designed to enhance your road trip experience by finding “off the beaten path” places for you to explore. It can help you locate points of interest you might want to visit within a set distance from your planned route, and its route planner feature estimates fuel costs. With Roadtrippers, you can plan a trip, book lodging, and virtually explore locations you may want to actually visit, and then save these desired destinations within the app for a future trip. A far cry from zooming down the freeway with nothing but fast food chains and gas stations along your route, Roadtrippers aims to turn your drive into a more intimate experience of the places you pass through.
Many insurance providers now offer mobile apps for download. With these apps you can access roadside assistance and digital ID cards. You can even document an accident on the spot so you can start your claim right away.
Discount apps like those from Groupon, Living Social, and AARP can also come in handy during a road trip.
- Groupon, currently available in 15 countries, is the number-one rated retail app for Android and iOS. It aims to help you discover “the best a city has to offer,” providing features that enable you to find interesting sites to see, points of interest to visit, things to do, and places to eat — all at a reduced cost. It even features a function that helps you find and pay for parking in the city you’re visiting.
- LivingSocial allows you to purchase discount deals directly from your phone. What makes it optimal for travel discounts, though, is its ability to provide you with GPS-based recommendations for events, activities, sites, and restaurants in your current location — whether that’s at home or far, far away.
- AARP also offers an app that provides discounts to users, wherever they go. Even if you’re not an AARP member, you can avail yourself of the functions of this app, although some elements are specifically designated for members’ benefits.
Passing the Time
While travel is stimulating, it also often involves hours spent waiting in airports, riding in cars, or sitting in hotel lobbies. The right app can help make even the less thrilling aspects of traveling a little more exciting.
- LoungeBuddy lets you know which airport lounges you already have access to. If you don’t have access to a lounge you’d like to use, you can use LoungeBuddy to instantly purchase one-time access right from your phone – starting at just $25 USD (lounge access pass prices vary by airport).
- Kindle and Nook apps enable you to download books directly to your tablet or phone. Just as with an actual Kindle or Nook, their respective apps let you preview, buy, borrow, lend, and read books.
- Wi-Fi Finder is available in 50,000 cities worldwide and allows you to avoid exorbitant data charges when you travel by revealing nearby Wi-Fi hot spots. In some situations, the app can even safely and legally provide you with passwords to access a nearby Wi-Fi network. All you have to do is type in your location and Wi-Fi Finder will give you the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot locations.
Maintaining Your Health
One of the biggest challenges that comes with travel is staying healthy. Despite hectic travel itineraries and changing time zones, you still have to find a way to eat reasonably healthy and to take your medications on schedule, or make sure your loved ones at home are taking theirs while you’re away. Unexpected medical emergencies or injuries can’t be discounted, either. Here are two apps to help you maintain a healthy body during your travels.
- Medisafe can help. This app keeps track of medication schedules and provides a notification on your phone when it’s time to take your medicine — or time to call your father back home to remind him that it’s time to take his. It will even remind you to refill your prescriptions.
- The Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference App provides a way for you to avoid a painful sunburn that could ruin your trip. It offers personalized information about how long your skin can safely stay in the sun based on factors you input, such as skin type, time of day, location, and the SPF of the skin protection you plan to use. It can even recommend what level of SPF you should use on a certain day and time in a specific location.
On-Demand Services to Enhance Your Travel Experience
- Uber allows you to avoid the hassle of hailing a cab in favor of a professional, freelance driver — usually a local with intimate knowledge of your location. The driver will be able to pinpoint where you are using your phone’s GPS, and you will receive a photograph of the driver, as well as information on the vehicle, to help you avoid getting in the wrong car. You can pay using a credit card, Apple Pay, PayPal, and, in some cases, cash. In addition, the app allows you to rate your driver after your ride.
- Lyft is a ridesharing app similar to Uber. It offers scheduled rides, on-demand rides, and upfront pricing. You can pay for your ride within the app.
- Airbnb allows you to rent private homes, townhomes, apartments, or a room or rooms within a home from a local homeowner in 191 countries. You can use filters such as “single-family home,” “pet-friendly,” “events allowed,” etc. to narrow your search. You can also search by price, dates, amenities, and neighborhood. In addition to booking lodging, you can use the app to book full travel experiences with a guide who lives in the area.
- Rover helps you find and book the best possible dog sitter for your beloved fur baby while you’ll be gone, and allows your sitter to send photo updates of your pet to you directly through the app. You can even take advantage of GPS tracking of your dog’s walks, and the app provides potty alerts, meal alerts, and sitter message alerts to your phone.
- Care.com provides a one-stop shop for senior care, child care, and pet care, as well as housekeeping, for your time away. On a trip with your grandkids? You can even use the app to find a babysitter at your travel destination so you and your travel companion can enjoy a kid-free dinner. Or maybe you brought your pet on vacation -find a pet sitter who can feed and walk your dog while you enjoy a day-long excursion during your trip. Simply create a job post, and let the app instantly alert you when a potential caregiver responds. You can also search potential caregivers’ reviews, photographs, and profiles. In addition, you can pay your caregiver directly through the app.
While travel can be very freeing and even educational, it inevitably comes with its share of hassles. Happily, the enrichment and memories traveling provides are almost always worth the effort — especially when you can use some of the apps above to help ease the strain of planning for and executing a trip.
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Keep reading: Before you set off on your travels, know how traveling will affect your insurance coverage while you’re away from home. It’s also smart to confirm what is and isn’t covered by your existing health insurance when you’re traveling out of area (or out of the country), and whether or not travel medical insurance is worth pursuing.