Ten Things I Don’t Travel Without

Whenever I travel, I always have that feeling that I forgot something as soon I check in at the airport. Often times, whatever I left behind wasn’t really that important and can easily be replaced with a quick trip to the store at my destination.

But sometimes I head to places where a convenience store just isn’t on the itinerary.

These days, whether I’m headed on a leisure trip somewhere in the U.S. or off on a TDY assignment in Southwest Asia, there are the top ten things that I do not travel without.

1. A small medicine kit which includes essentials like Imodium, Mylanta, Melaleuca Sustain Sport (to replenish electrolytes and keep me hydrated!) and painkillers.  

You never know where you’ll be when your gastrointestinal system betrays you.  The last thing I want to deal with is how and where to find the remedy!

2. An airplane neck pillow.

Even Leo uses one!

I fly economy, sometimes premium economy, and it will be a long time before we will see lie-flat seats in the main cabin.  Which means lots of preventable kinks in necks. If Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t too good for a neck pillow, neither am I!

3. Wet Ones Hand Wipes. Hand Sanitizer may kill bacteria, but it doesn’t clean your hands and actually remove any debris or residue you might have on them from touching doors, subway handles, clothes, etc. I don’t go anywhere without ’em. ANYWHERE.

4. Melaleuca Revive Fabric Freshener Spray.  Think Febreeze, but with serious staying power.  After a few days on the road and limited clothes in rotation, this liquid miracle keeps my clothes smelling fresh and clean. I’ve even used it on jeans and a sweater which reeked of a grassy substance (not mine!) after a Jay-Z concert; it was like they had just came out of the wash! As an added bonus, it also acts as a wrinkle remover. I just pour what I need into a travel spray bottle and off I go.

5. A scarf. A large pashmina-type scarf can come in handy for all kinds of occasions.  It can be draped around the shoulders for warmth in the evening, used as a shoulder/head covering when visiting certain houses of worship, worn around the neck for style, used as a bag cover, worn as a belt…the possibilities are pretty much endless.

6. Dry Shampoo.  Washing your hair every day can be drying and hard on your hair, and in between washes I like to make sure that my hair looks and feels clean as if it were first washed.  This dry shampoo from Oscar Blandi is a staple in my travel bag.  It’s paraben-free and I LOVE that it smells like lemons!

7. Ear plugs. I cannot over-emphasize this one. Not only are they great to block out some of the ambient sound in the main cabin of the airplane (or the awful snorer two rows over), but they are also great to mute out noise at my hotel. Whether its street noise, calls to prayer, or just the settling of the building, I’m more apt to hear everything the first couple of nights. These are so small and for a few dollars are worth every penny when it comes to preserving my sanity.

8. Extra canvas tote bag/reusable shopping bag.  It’s not uncommon to pick up a few extra goodies when you’re on vacation.  When it’s time to come home, I use the extra bag as a carry-on with any extra stuff that won’t fit into my checked luggage.

9. My iPad mini.  Using he Nook app from Barnes and Noble, I can keep current on my reading without lugging four books around, which takes up valuable space in my carry-on. I also use the iPad to store photos which frees up space on my iPhone which acts as my primary camera.  On shorter trips, I prefer to just travel with the iPad mini and leave the MacBook at home.

10. A handful of Melaleuca Attain Bars.  Not only do they make great snacks on the road to curb hunger, the bars are also super easy to pack.  I often stuff a few in my carry-on and stash the rest in the nooks and crannies of my checked bag.  They’re packed with protein to keep me going when my next meal is still a few hours away, and are far more nutritional than munching on a sugar-packed granola bar.

 Do any of these make your “must pack list?”

Why Is My Flight Cancelled?

Because “the Cancellator” said so, that’s why.

So dubbed by American Airlines employees, it’s a computer system comprised of programs and predictive models that manages which planes take off and which are grounded.  Bill Saporito of Time magazine said that factors include “…who’s flying, where they’re going, where are the jets, and where are the pilots.”

Who’s less likely to be a victim of the Cancellator? Those flying internationally, or domestic flights with crews connecting to an international flight.

Flights with no connections or those flying to major hubs are more likely to be grounded by the Cancellator because of the ability to rebook those flights.

You really can’t make this stuff up!

Check out the original story on Yahoo! Travel News here.

How to Behave on the Subway

The Tokyo Metro system has been reminding passengers on its crowded public transportation system how to behave since 1974.

The campaign got a facelift last year and continues to remind riders to turn off their cell phones, shake their umbrellas before boarding, not to play loud music, and give priority seats to pregnant women with a series of adorable posters.

Tokyo Metro poster

See the whole collection here.

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:

infographics-900TI

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

Would You Pay More for a Better On-Board Experience?

I read an interesting article the other day comparing air travel preferences between Millenials (those born between 1980-early 2000s) and Generation X (those born between 1960-1980) travelers.  The big takeaway from this study of nearly 3000 participants was that Millenials were willing to pay more for flights in return for a better on-board experience.

The type of on-board experiences contemplated by Millenials ranged from “open-bar” alcohol access, themed seasonal flights with matching snacks, drinks and movies, and in-flight connectivity to ideas so extreme as child-free planes.  Generation Xers, by comparison, saw these as nice-to-haves, but cared more about reasonable airfares and on-time arrivals.

From what I can gather, the airlines are listening to what the Millenials have to say.  Nearly all major U.S. airlines offer wifi on many its planes.

Virgin America and Airtran offer it aboard all of their flights.

Virgin even takes the concept of on-board experiences to a new level by offering guests with an array of extra options such as: seat-to-seat delivery; virtual chatting with other guests on board; and even an “open tab” concept for food and drink all through its seatback entertainment system.

With flight times growing longer and longer, and passengers spending more and more time in transit, it’s no wonder that the on-board experience is so critical.  From my own experience, there is nothing more insufferable than a 10-hour flight to Dubai with a broken entertainment system.

As a Millenial myself, I like inflight wifi, and can certainly get behind the open-bar concept so long as flight attendants reserve the right to cut off any guest who has reached a point of excess before said guest creates any distractions on-board.  But as we make all of these tech and entertainment upgrades to our flights, let’s not forget about other in-flight services that enhance guests’ comfort that have slowly been phased out of the U.S. domestic market  in recent years: the availability of pillows and blankets, free headsets for flights longer than 3 hours, free checked luggage, and gratis meals in economy class (like in Europe).

And for everything else, you can charge my Visa.