Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

A couple of years ago I booked a couple on a summer trip to Italy.  On the day of departure, their outbound flight was canceled.  They were promptly booked on the next day’s flight at no additional charge; however, they lost an entire day of their vacation.  The hotel was non-refundable as was the excursion they missed on day two.  Fortunately, they purchased travel insurance when they booked their trip and we were able to file a claim to recover the costs of the missed hotel night and the excursion.  Without it, they would not have been so lucky.

I like to tell this story because it illustrates the value of travel insurance.  For many, the assumption is that travel insurance is just extended medical coverage, and for healthy travelers this would seem redundant to their current plan.  Travel insurance, in reality, has very little to do with medical coverage (although most good policies include emergency medical services) and is really a catch all to cover most events that could go wrong during a vacation.  A sample policy that I might offer to my clients usually consists of the following:

–          Trip Cancellation up to 100% of insured cost;
–          Trip Interruption up to 150% of insured cost;
–          Trip Delay up to $1000;
–          Lost or delayed baggage up to $1000;
–          Pet care boarding if you are delayed from returning home for medical reasons up to $300;
–          Emergency Medical Expenses up to $50,000;
–          Emergency Medical Evacuation or Repatriation up to $500,000;
–          Travel Accident Dismemberment or Death up to $10,000; and
–          24-Hr Worldwide Emergency Assistance

Some clients think that their medical coverage provides out-of-network care overseas, but that is usually limited to bigger cities. In the middle of a crisis, the ambulance will likely take you to the closest emergency room which may or may not be affiliated with your home medical coverage.

And even if by some lucky miracle the ER is affiliated with your home medical coverage, I can guarantee with absolute certainty that any emergency medical evacuation costs are NOT covered.  A medical evac or repatriation can cost upwards of $300,000.  When a plan – such as the one above – might cost an extra $180 it’s hard to think of a reason NOT to have the coverage on hand just in case.

It’s also very important to really understand what the basic coverage includes and doesn’t include.  Trip cancellation, for example, is usually limited to very specific circumstances such as (but not limited to): disabling sickness or injury of the traveling party; financial default of an airline, cruise line or tour operator; inclement weather; and the destination being devastated by flood, fire, volcano, or tornado.

Travel insurance also comes with optional coverage which I may recommend to clients depending on the nature of their trip.  Such optional coverages include:

–          Cancel for ANY reason;
–          Sports coverage;
–          Renters Collision Insurance; and
–          Increased limits to Medical and Baggage Coverage

Again, it’s important to know the limits of the coverage especially as it pertains to sports.  The coverage was designed for “low-risk” activities like skiing or even skydiving (in some cases), and may not cover accidents or injuries caused by other sports such as jet skiing or rapelling.  Even more so, if you were negligent or reckless in a covered sport, your claim for accident or injury will be denied.

I don’t go on any trip without travel insurance.  With more and more flights being delayed and cancelled, I want to know that I’ll be taken care of since the airlines no longer compensate you for anything less than a mechanical failure.  I’m also rather accident and sick-prone, and if I were to ever come down with a sudden case of malaria or fall and break my ankle, I never have to think twice about seeking medical assistance.

There are a number of great providers out there that offer quality plans in terms of coverages, limits, and premium price.  My personal preference is Travel Guard and Travel Insured.  (Travel insurance policies offered by airlines and cruise lines offer very different exclusions and waivers and it’s extremely critical that you understand what those are if you are considering purchasing through those carriers.) Both Travel Guard and Travel Insured offer a variety of plans to best suit the nature of your trip.  A basic worldwide plan, with optional cancel for any reason, costs on average about $250.  For an 8-day trip to Italy that costs about $5,500, that works out to about $30 a day.

At the top of this page, I’ve included a link to Travel Guard if you’re interested in seeing what a plan may cost for your upcoming vacation.  I encourage you to check it out and to bookmark this page to return to when you’re ready to purchase your travel insurance policy!

And now I’ll leave you with this great infographic which compares Marvin and Mark’s vacation and how travel insurance can really pay off in just a few unfortunate, but very realistic, scenarios:

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Have you ever purchased travel insurance?  
Now that you’ve learned more about it, will you in the future?

Cruise Control

If you’re considering an alternative to an urban city vacation, a cruise might be a great vacation choice for you.

My husband and I recently went on our first cruise.  I had long been a cruise skeptic.  I didn’t understand how hopping from port to port each day, spending an average of 6 hours at each port, was enough time to see and do everything…to really get to know a place!  I spent 5 days in Rome and still didn’t see everything.

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The Celebrity Summit at Port

So we went jumped in head first and went on a 7-night cruise throughout the Southern Caribbean.  It was definitely one of the best and most stress-free vacations I’ve ever been on!  With over 2,000 guests on board, we never felt like the ship was crowded.  We didn’t have to worry about packing, unpacking and changing hotel rooms while waking up in a different city/port of call each morning.

We were kept very busy by the variety of on-board amenities, activities, and entertainment options.  After spending all day at port sightseeing on our own or as part of an organized excursion, we would freshen up and enjoy a coffee or beer while watching our favorite singer/songwriter on board in the late afternoon before dinner. Others would lounge by the pool.  Some would nap.  The beauty of cruising is you can do whatever you want whenever you want.

Before we cruised, we gathered some GREAT tips from a variety of sources, including websites such as cruisecritic.com and from veteran cruisers.  All of this greatly enhanced our experience and helped us make the most of our time at sea.

TIPS FOR FIRST TIME CRUISERS

Spend a little time learning about what to do at Port — No matter how big or small the port of call is (say, Dominica vs Venice) you want to make the most of your time.  A little research ahead of time will help you learn if there are any must-see attractions and what shore excursions are offered (and if they’re offered within the time the ship docks and departs). Waiting until the last minute could result in an excursion being sold out.

Gratuity is expected — Tipping is expected for almost everything on a cruise.  If you didn’t upgrade to a premium drink package (the most basic of which usually includes soft drinks and alcohol up to a certain dollar threshold), your drink bills will automatically include tips. If you don’t pre-pay your dining and room tips up front when you book your cruise, you will be asked to leave cash on the last day before you disembark.

The suggested tip rate is about $12/day/person.

Anytime Dining/My Time Dining May Require Reservations for Prime Time Seating — Not hungry at 6pm, but don’t want to wait until 8pm?  Most cruise ships today offer some version of “anytime dining” which allows you to dine at your leisure typically between 6pm-10pm.  But there’s a catch.  With more cruise guests opting for freedom from fixed dining times and dinner companions they could do without, you will find yourself waiting for a table if you haven’t reserved a table for your preferred dining time.

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Typical Oceanview Stateroom

Mind the Dress Code — Most ships have an evening dress code.  While it’s beach casual during the day throughout the ship, dinner in the dining rooms or ship restaurants will be more “resort casual.”  Flip flops and shorts are often not allowed.  For those that opt not to participate in the formal nights, guests can head to the buffet and enjoy a meal there. We opted to forgo the formal nights, but there were those on board that truly enjoyed the formality of the evening.  Don’t ruin it for them.

Bring Cash — Even though most of your on-ship purchases will be settled using a common card (and linked back to a credit card), cash will come in handy to pay for services or souvenirs at port.  Some places may not accept credit card, and there are some places where you might not want to hand over a credit card.  Use discretion and be prepared.

Post-Cruise Motion Sickness — It wasn’t until after the cruise that I experience motion sickness.  Apparently, it’s very common for your brain to still think it’s on the ship.  It took a few days for my body to regain its equilibrium.

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Lobster and Champagne Lunch during our Catamaran Excursion in Grenada

As first time cruisers, we were amused and amazed at everything, particularly how relaxing it was to not be on a schedule, not feel bound to museum opening times, and not feel pressured to see famous monuments if we didn’t want to.  I can’t wait until our next one!

Do you cruise?
What are some of your favorite tips?

Guest Post: How to Stay Healthy When Traveling Abroad

Traveling outside of your home country can be a thrilling and enriching experience…until you get sick.  Getting sick is no fun, and getting sick far from home can be particularly challenging (and stressful). As a frequent business and personal traveler, … Continue reading

Travel Safety Part III – At the Hotel (Motel, Holiday Inn…)

This is the third post of my travel safety series.  Read on for common sense tips on how to stay safe in your hotel so that you can get a good night’s sleep!

Over the years, I’ve stayed in all kinds of lodging.  Hotels, motels, hostels, guesthouses, B&Bs…some reputable, some not so reputable.  I don’t require much.  A clean bed.  A cleaner bathroom.  Enough plugs for my phone (and iPad, and laptop), hair dryer, and straightener.  And a working wifi connection.

I routinely hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside my locked door at night using the deadbolt – and latch or chain if there is one – before (safely) tucking myself in for the night.

Once upon a time I was on a business trip in Wichita, Kansas (long story).  We were put up in an average 3* hotel located near the office.  In the middle of the night someone started pounding on my door.  It sounded like a very angry man who kept shouting the name of a woman (not me).  He attempted to jiggle the handle several times and pushed his weight against the door.  My initial thought was “WTF? Is this really happening?” Once my brain started working again, I dialed the front desk to report the attempted break-in (intrusion?).  I don’t know what happened next, but the banging stopped and I was able to (finally) get to sleep.

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Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi, India

Fast forward a few years later, and I had just arrived to my New Delhi hotel.  It was my 4th or 5th visit to India and easily my 3rd stay at a very nice 5* hotel. The staff knew me well since my visits were often 2-3 weeks long, and one in particular had taken a liking to me. He always offered to help me with my luggage upon arrival (usually around 3am).

On this trip, he began appearing at my door without notice to ask if I needed anything.  He also made several unsolicited phone calls to my room to inquire about my day and to offer to take me out on the weekend. Finally, I reminded him that I was a guest at his hotel and that all visits and phone calls needed to end immediately or I’d have to bring this up with the hotel manager. Thankfully, he respected my wishes, but it could have easily gone a different way.

As a solo female business traveler, specifically, I’ve since learned that there are additional precautions that I can take to avoid any unnecessary attention and keep myself safe at night.  However, these tips can be used by anyone – male or female – and will bring additional peace of mind during your stay at your home away from home.

1. Request a higher floor.  Ground floor rooms are easily accessible by other guests, staff, and visitors.  Guess where my room was in Wichita?

2.  Ask that your room be in a heavily trafficked part of the hotel and not isolated.  That way, if something happens, there will be enough people around in the event of an emergency.

3. Throw a rubber door stop in your bag.  Instead of using it to prop the door open, insert it from the inside of the room.  This helps to keep the door closed in the event someone is trying to force entry into your room.  The door stop doesn’t take up much room and it slows down a potential intruder possibly deterring them altogether.

Rubber Door Stops can slow down a potential intruder

4.  DO NOT give your room number to anyone (unless this person is someone you know and trust and you feel comfortable doing so).  If you have to meet someone, arrange to meet in the lobby or breakfast room.

5. Grab an extra business card at check in and carry it with you at all times. If you need to duck into a taxi and cannot communicate in the native language, you can quickly share the hotel information and be on your way.

6. Don’t open the door just because the person on the other side claims that they’re part of the hotel management, room service, etc.  If you didn’t call for service, and feel uneasy about the situation, call down to the front desk and confirm.

7. Don’t let others know that you’re not in your room.  Avoid using the “Please Make Up Room” (or whatever the variant is) when you leave.  This is a clear marker that you’ve left your room and an open invitation to anyone who’s ready and willing.

Part IV will be the last installment of my travel safety series. In this post, I’ll discuss tips for how to stay safe in emergency situations. Things can, and will, go wrong.  The key is being prepared so you know what to do when it does.

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Making Travel Affordable

If I were to ask a random group of people about what prevents them from traveling, do you know what the overwhelming response would be?

Not lack of time or interest.
Not because they have small kids or pets at home.
It’s because of money.

Yet they often tell me how much they wish they too could take off for a week or more to [enter your favorite destination here].  What they don’t understand is that they can.

Traveling – whether for a weekend, a week, or a year – does not have to be a luxury affair.  With proper planning and budgeting, you can make that dream vacation or career break a reality.

So where should you begin?
Here are eight great tips to get started.

Make Travel a Priority The reason I travel so often is because I want to more than I want to do other things.  That means I’m more willing to put money aside for this purpose.  Until you’re willing to make travel a priority, it won’t be.

That’s a fact.

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Montego Bay, Jamaica

Set Realistic Budget Expectations Once you’ve decided you are willing to make that long weekend in the big city a priority, it’s time to get real about what it might cost you.  This will help you keep your budget in line as you start to plan your trip.  Lodging and food are the two biggest travel costs (aside from airfare) that you’ll incur.  They are also the two biggest variables that you can control.

Something else to consider is the cost of your destination.  Some cities in the U.S. are more expensive than others; SE Asia is typically less expensive than W. Europe.  I work with budget travelers, luxury travelers, and everyone in between. Having a realistic budget for your category of travel ensures that you are able to travel comfortably and stretch your dollar as YOU see fit!

Make Your Credit Cards Work for You Don’t misunderstand me.  I am NOT advocating that you open a credit card and charge your vacation to it without the means to pay it off without incurring thousands in interest charges.  I AM advocating that if your current credit card isn’t earning you any miles or exchangeable points – dump it.

If you don’t have one already, I recommend opening a credit card with any of the major airlines that you fly frequently (United, AA, Delta). Upon opening a new account, you can typically earn 30,000-50,000 miles after you spend ~$1000 in purchases that you would have made anyway.  That’s a free roundtrip in the U.S. or to Europe!  An added benefit of most of these cards also include no foreign transaction fees and some premium benefits (free checked bag) on the affiliated airline.  Those are other savings that can quickly add up!

Trim Unnecessary Expenses So you want to take that trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu. You’ve set your budget and you just opened airline-affiliated credit card. Now what? Unless you have an unlimited amount of disposable income (which I don’t), it’s time to start cutting back on costs temporarily.

It might mean reducing the number of nights you eat/go out with friends, negotiating lower rates for your cable and/or cell phone bills, switching to public transportation where possible, putting off your shopping spree, and curbing your Starbucks addiction. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s only temporary and isn’t that trip worth it?

Be Flexible Americans, especially, have so little vacation time so it’s important to make it count.  That being said, one of the best ways to keep travel affordable is to be flexible to the extent you can.  If you know you don’t want to spend more then $800 on airfare, then keeping your dates open allows you to monitor deals and airfare specials to book when it’s convenient for you.

Alternatively, if you travel during the off-season you will often find lower rates and fewer crowds.  The weather may not be the warmest or the driest, but it can be the most affordable.

Book Alternate Accommodations If a hotel room at $120/night is not part of your budget, then book something else.  Hostels are a great alternative to the traditional hotel stay, as are apartment rentals, guesthouses, and bed & breakfasts.  Make sure to vet things properly through reputable sources such as Curious Tourist or other online rating sites, like Tripadvisor.  Some travel experts recommend couch surfing – because it’s free – and because it provides an opportunity to really integrate as a local. This is not ideal for everyone, but it is a viable option for those who are looking to travel on the cheap and meet new people along the way.

Enjoying an English breakfast at a local cafe instead of the pricy hotel restaurant

Enjoying an English breakfast at a local cafe instead of the pricy hotel restaurant

Eat Like a Local Locals don’t dine at 5* hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants.  Locals eat in cozy, neighborhood locales and so should you.  Not only will it likely be the best meal of your life, but you’ll feel more like part of your surroundings and less like a tourist. I’m also a BIG fan of street food.  Not only is it really good, but I’ve found I’m less prone to get sick watching my meal cooked in front of me in New Delhi, India than eating in some of the nicest hotels where I’ll never know if they washed the vegetables or not.

(In full disclosure I like to splurge on at least one “fancy meal” during any trip.)

Join Frequent Flyer/Point Programs This is the 2nd most effective way to reduce travel costs. If you travel any airline at least twice a year, join their frequent flyer program. If you travel for work, sign up for every airline or hotel loyalty program (unless otherwise prohibited) so that you can accrue miles/points with each trip.

I fly at least 50,000 miles each year for my day job.  I haven’t paid for an international flight in years.

Travel, unlike other hobbies or interests, doesn’t require any pre-requisites, specialized skills, or your life savings.  With these tips, you can look forward to a fun, relaxing, and affordable vacation.

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