It could be time> for travelers who were planning to vacation along the Gulf Coast this summer to reassess.
BP has been struggling to contain oil flowing from one of its deepwater wellheads damaged in an April 20 drilling rig explosion. Nearly two months and numerous containment efforts later, the equivalent of 30,000-plus barrels of oil is still escaping daily, according to government estimates. Despite efforts to deflect it, some of that oil has reached beaches in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Slick shores and tar balls don t make for an idyllic vacation, but travelers shouldn t be too quick to cancel, says Anne Banas, the executive editor for advice site SmarterTravel.com. The Gulf Coast comprises hundreds of miles of shoreline, and many areas remain largely unaffected.
The best course of action varies by traveler and destination:
Stick it out
Patterns of currents in the Gulf have protected some beaches, says Stephen Leatherman, the director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, who releases an annual list of the country s best beaches. He points to No. 2 on the list, Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Fla. It s a phenomenal beach, and I don t think we re going to receive oil there, he says. Monitor conditions in your destination by checking local news reports and tourism board web sites.
Even if beaches are closed, travelers can keep reservations and shift plans inland, says Kate Chandler, a senior editor for travel-guide site Away.com. Alabama Gulf State Park, for example, has freshwater Lake Shelby with swimming, fishing and boating.
Travelers looking to make alternate plans can still find bargain summer rentals in some popular destinations. Those who want beaches with a similar feel to the Gulf Coast s fine sand and calm waters will like Daytona and New Smyrna beaches on the Atlantic side of Florida, Leatherman says. Chandler s picks are Tybee Island, Ga., as well as Hilton Head and Charleston, S.C. At Tybee Island, the owners of an ocean-view one-bedroom that sleeps four people cut prices through mid July by $200 per week, to $695.
Just be aware that there is a cost for cancelling. Airlines aren t offering any leeway on flight change fees as they have with other disasters, such as travel to Mexico during the spring s swine flu outbreak, Banas says. Some rental properties will refund deposits, but usually only if the local beach has been closed.
Instead of cancelling a trip to affected areas and losing the deposit in the process, consider going anyway -- and doing your part to help clean up the spill. Travelers who spend most of a vacation volunteering may be able to deduct part or all of the costs come tax time.
Finding a nonprofit to aid may not be easy, however. You re not going to be able to just suit up and go out to clean the pelicans, says Bennett Weiner, the chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau s Wise Giving Alliance, which evaluates nonprofits. Many groups involved in the cleanup effort are looking for people with specific training, such as wildlife recovery, or equipment such as a boat, he says. Call charities working in the area to see what they need.