What Happens to My Vacation If the Government Shuts Down?

Sign for national park closure during government shutdown

Danita Delimont/Gallo Images / Getty Images

In our modern political environment, the threat of a government shutdown seems to constantly loom over the United States. Since 1976, there have been 19 government shutdowns due to the inaction of Congress. When the funding stops, it is not just government employees who are affected – tourists across the country are often stopped in their tracks as well.

For those planning a getaway, a government shutdown could be much more than an inconvenience. Instead, months of planning and deposits could be lost due to politics.

What Travel Services Remain Open? 

During a government shutdown, many offices directly affecting travelers will remain open despite the lack of funding. For example, the Transportation Security Administration is considered an "exempt agency" due to its mission of public safety, keeping airports open for business. Similarly, public safety agencies (like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration and Amtrak) would also be exempt, meaning transportation infrastructure will continue to operate.

Similarly, the State Department would continue to operate as normal, providing consular services to travelers both at home and around the world. Post Offices would remain open to accept passport applications, while some passport agencies would continue to issue passports to travelers during a shutdown. However, if a regional passport agency is located in a federal building closed in a shutdown, then it would not continue to operate until the shutdown has ended.

Foreign travelers who are planning to visit the United States would still be able to apply for entry visas. While travelers can utilize the automated ESTA system, others may continue to make appointments at the local American Embassy to secure their visa.

Finally, not all travel attractions would be closed in a government shutdown. State, local, and privately-funded institutions would remain open despite a federal government shutdown. Examples include the Kennedy Center, state-run museums, and non-federal campgrounds.

What Travel Services Are Closed?

During a government shutdown, all non-essential government offices are closed until Congress reauthorizes funding. As a result, many public-facing programs are subject to shut down if the government goes into a “low-power” mode.

If the government goes into shutdown, all national parks and museums are immediately closed. Closures would include the Smithsonian, U.S. Capitol buildings, federal monuments, and battle monuments. In addition, national parks would close to campers and visitors. According to the National Park Foundation, the closure of all 401 national parks could affect as many as 715,000 travelers every day.

Will Travel Insurance Cover a Shutdown?

While travel insurance will cover many situations, government shutdown is still very much a gray area that may not be fully covered by travel insurance. Because a shutdown is considered part of a regular government function, a shutdown may not be covered under political unrest benefits. In addition, trip cancellation benefits may not cover travelers during a government shutdown and trip interruption may not cover travelers who are currently embarked.

For those considering a vacation with a government shutdown looming, it may be beneficial to purchase a "Cancel for Any Reason" travel insurance policy. With a Cancel for any Reason benefit, travelers could cancel their trip because of a government shutdown, and still receive part of their non-refundable deposits back.

While a government shutdown could have widespread effects, smart travelers can mitigate the situation. By understanding what is affected under a government shutdown, travelers can be prepared for whatever may come during their next great trip.