What Happens to My Vacation if the Government Shuts Down?

Buying travel insurance may not be enough during a shutdown

If the government shuts down, would you be prepared? Many popular attractions would be subject to close during a government shutdown - including national parks.
••• Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty

In our modern political environment, the threat of a government shutdown seems to constantly loom over the United States. Since 1976, there have been 18 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 the politics of Capitol Hill.

What travel services remain open in a government shutdown?

Even 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, and would continue to provide security services at airports across the United States. Similarly, public safety agencies (like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aviation Administration) would also be exempt, meaning airports would continue to operate as usual.

Similarly, the State Department would continue to operate as normal, providing consular services to travelers both at home and around the world. Post Offices and some Passport Offices would remain open to accept passport applications and issue passports to travelers during a shutdown.


Those foreign travelers who are planning to visit the United States would still be able to apply for entry visas as well. 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 local campgrounds.

What travel services are closed in a government shutdown?

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 a shutdown, all national parks and museums would be subject to shut down. A shutdown would include the Smithsonian, U.S. Capitol buildings, federal monuments, and battle monuments. In addition, national parks would close to campers as well. According to the National Park Foundation, the closure of all 401 national parks could affect as many as 715,000 travelers every day.

Finally, certain passport offices may be affected during a government shutdown. While the State Department would continue operating, passport and visa offices located in buildings that are shut down may not be able to process passport applications. Those travelers who may need a passport prior to their travels should consider all of their options before making final travel plans.

Will travel insurance cover a government 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 would not be covered under many political unrest benefits. In addition, trip cancellation benefits may not cover travelers during a government shutdown, while trip interruption may not cover travelers who are currently embarked.

For those considering venturing out 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, the situation can be mitigated by smart travelers. By understanding what is affected under a government shutdown, travelers can be prepared for whatever may come during their next great trip.