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Travel insurance: Your answer to getting medical care when abroad

Most people think of travel insurance as a safety net if they need to cancel their trip. If an unexpected sickness, injury, or some other emergency occurs, travel insurance is there to cover the costs. The more you travel, the more likely it is that an illness could affect a trip before you leave or while you’re traveling.

It happened to me. I was bedridden with a stomach bug in between two trips. There was no way I could get on a plane. But I bought travel insurance, which is something I always do. I provided the travel insurance company with a note from my doctor, and they reimbursed me for the cost of the trip.

But what happens when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, and you get a stomach bug, sprain your ankle, or some other malady? How will you find a reputable doctor or hospital? Will your health insurance cover you? Will your travel insurance cover you? Will you be out-of-pocket?

It’s enough to make you want to stay home. Fear not! The solution is, in all cases, travel insurance. The travel insurance policy Friendly Planet recommends covers up to $25,000 in medical costs and another $25,000 in emergency medical evacuation.

When you’re outside the country and there is a medical emergency, simply call the underwriter, Travel Guard. They will give you the guidance you need and ensure your needs are covered. The Travel Guard service is online 24/7. And as you might expect, they even have a translator available to ensure accurate communication between you and the doctor or hospital.

Beyond medical attention, there are other things you want your travel insurance to cover. For example, prescription eyeglass replacement, prescription drug replacement, relaying information to family members, making travel arrangements for visitors to the bedside of the hospitalized, and a lot more.

A friend of a friend was at Disney World with his family. It was a hot summer day, and he was perspiring. His five-year-old son had just stepped off the merry-go-round. As he bent over to scoup him up in his arms, his glasses slid off his sweaty face, hit the ground, chipped, and cracked.

Worse, he’s extremely nearsighted. He spent the rest of his vacation with a broken lens that not only impaired his vision, but looked funny. If he had travel insurance, he would have quickly been seeing things clearly again.

While travel insurance protects you, be prepared to pay for treatment at the time of service. Make sure you get a receipt and a copy of the bill. Store them in a safe place. Better yet, take photographs of them with your smart phone or camera. If your smart phone supports e-mail, send the pictures to yourself.

Now, no matter what, you’ll be sure to have copies of the bills and receipts. You’ll need them to be reimbursed when you get back to the U.S. Even then, if you’re hospitalized and the cost is beyond your means to pay, there’s a fail-safe. Travel Guard will handle the billing for you.

The best part is, in addition to the peace of mind, the insurance cost is minimal. It runs between $99-$159 per person, depending upon your total trip cost. Tell us you want it, and we simply add it to your Friendly Planet invoice.

It’s important to note that you must sign up for travel insurance before you make your final payment to Friendly Planet. Even more important, note that pre-existing conditions are ONLY covered if you sign up for the insurance within seven days of making your reservation or deposit.

Even if you’re not traveling with Friendly Planet, you can still get travel insurance. Just hit Google and search for “travel insurance.” Plenty of companies, mostly tour operators, will appear. Here’s a consumer tip: If you buy the travel insurance from your tour operator, you’ll save money on the premium.

I can’t say this clearly or strongly enough: Travel insurance is something you should absolutely sign up for in hopes that you’ll never have to use it. And the odds are, you probably won’t have to use it. But it’s important to have this blanket of protection should something unexpected happen. From my own personal experience, I can tell you, it will pay for itself.

Morocco: What you should know before you go

STUNNING: Koutoubia mosque, Marrakesh

When I heard from Peggy that Friendly Planet was introducing a nine-day Treasures of Morocco tour, it brought back a flood of images from my trip to this exotic country.

I’ve never been anywhere quite as bizarre, exotic, and diverse as this North African country, the world’s oldest surviving monarchy, dating to AD 788. Here African, Arab, Berber, and French influences have produced a culture as ancient as Fez’s medieval walled city and as cosmopolitan as Casablanca’s Hyatt Hotel, where bar staff dress in costume from the classic film “Casablanca.”

This predominately Muslim country was a French protectorate from 1900-1956. The two cultures, and some 270 different ethnic groups, raise interesting contrasts.

One day I sunbathed at a Casablanca hotel pool with bikini-clad Europeans. On another, I explored Old Town Fez, a walled medieval maze where mules carry goods, and veiled Muslim women sweep through narrow passageways.

One magical night I found myself in a nomad’s tent in the desert, sitting on carpets around a huge, low table, eating aromatic lamb stew and being entertained by belly dancers and horseback riders.

A few days later I was shopping trendy boutiques in Casablanca. The namesake of the famous Humphrey Bogart film is also home of Hassan II Mosque, one of only a few that is open to Westerners.

To me, the excitement of Morocco culminates in Marrakesh’s market square, Djemaa el Fna. In its “Court of Marvels,” snake charmers compete with acrobats and musicians. A turbaned man threw a small chattering monkey on my shoulder for a photo op. A few coins were expected in return, a small price to pay for entering this enchanting world where so many cultures mingle.

Unlike visiting a homogeneous country with one language and one set of traditions, visitors to Morocco will need a few tips for navigating this complex culture. It might feel like a movie set, but there are some things to keep watch for.

Bargaining is standard practice. Offer half the price and work from there.
Shops close at noon and re-open around 2 p.m.
Stick close to your guide in Old Town Fez to avoid getting lost in the intricate maze of passageways.
Reserve the word “imshee” (Arabic for “take a hike”) for overly aggressive vendors and unofficial guides.
Keep your bag or wallet secure and consider a money belt.

Eating is one of the great adventures in Morocco, where you can dine on elegant French or Mediterranean fare accompanied by fine wines in European restaurants, but I recommend trying the flavorful Moroccan dishes.
Try my favorite dish, the traditional lamb stew of raisins, garlic, ginger, cumin, and curry atop a bed of couscous.
Order the sweet tea as your drink. It’s served hot in a glass stuffed with fresh mint leaves.

Never eat with your left hand; it’s taboo. The left hand is the “toilet” hand in many African and Muslim cultures. Never pat a person on the head or take a photograph without permission. Be discreet drinking alcohol in public.

Bring some toilet paper in your purse. It’s optional in Arabic bathrooms, and you might be required to pay for a few squares.

French is widely spoken, and so is Arabic.
Practice these helpful Arabic phrases:
Hello: salaam wa laykoom
Goodbye: ma’salaama
Please: afak Thank you: shukran
Where is the bathroom?: Ayna Al Hammam?
How much?: bish-hal?
That’s too much: ghalee
Take a walk/leave me alone: imshee

I had a great time traveling through this country, and I can assure you that it’s an experience you won’t forget.

Hello everyone, I’m Mary, the newest Friendly Planet blogger

Me paddling in the Florida Keys

Greetings Friendly Planeteers! I’m Mary Burnham, travel writer, kayak guide, book author, and now, the newest Friendly Planet blogger.

I’ve written about travel topics and trends for all types of publications, and I’m very excited to get started and blog for Friendly Planet. I’ll share with you the hottest new travel destinations, the latest gadgets and gizmos, and tips for planning your next adventure.

For the last 15 years, my husband, Bill, and I have combined our love of travel, adventure, writing, and photography into a career. We write and travel, and write about our travels.

We specialize in hiking, paddling, and off-the-beaten-path travel, from kayaking the length of the Florida Keys, biking inn to inn over the Blue Ridge mountains, to hiking the Albanian Alps.

We’ve published eight books, including “Hiking Virginia” and “The Florida Keys Paddling Atlas,” both National Outdoor Book Award winners. Between writing, we guide kayak trips on the Eastern Shore of Virginia spring through fall, while winter finds us in the Florida Keys. Our personal favorite trip — the 100-mile paddle from Key Largo to Key West.

I want to thank Peggy Goldman for inviting me to become part of her fantastic organization, and more importantly, her wonderful blog. So let’s start our conversation. What would you like to know more about? Don’t hesitate to e-mail me and I won’t hesitate to tell you everything I know about traveling.

Valentine’s gift ideas for travelers you love, and travelers who love to travel

You can go traditional again (e.g., predictable!) with roses, wine, and chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Or you could put some imagination into making your loved one’s next trip even more special, more comfortable, and more memorable. Here are my 2010 suggestions for romantic travel gifts. Best of all, these fit any budget!

The Gift of Travel

Of course, no Valentine’s Day would be complete without a gift certificate for a Friendly Planet Travel exotic tour. Our Western Mediterranean Concordia Cruise will take your lover (and you) to the romantic ports of Marseilles, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Naples, Italy. It’s 10 heart-pounding days starting at a sweet $1,499 per person.

The Gift of Language
Learn a Romance language together in anticipation of your future romantic getaway. Speak French, Spanish, or Italian — the languages of love — on CDs that you can listen to in the car, or rip to your MP3 player. Macmillan’s Behind the Wheel series cost about $50, and includes a great companion book.

The Gift of Entertainment
Pick up two mini ear bud headphones and a splitter, so you can cozy up and watch a romantic movie on the laptop or portable DVD player together. This is perfect for those times when you’re counting off the hours in a noisy airport, the plane, or even in your hotel bed (blush). I like iblink’s $30 ear buds, with their multi-colored power lights. Get pink for her and blue for him. The splitter will set you back a mere $5. Throw in a romantic DVD and you’re set for cuddle time.

The Gift of Gab
Stay in touch with friends and family while traveling the globe together with a traveler’s webcam. Download and install a free Internet videophone service such as Skype, and when you check in, it will be almost like you’re in the next room. Microsoft’s LifeCam Pro couldn’t be any smaller or more portable, yet it packs a techno punch with a high-resolution video camera and high-fidelity microphone.

The Gift for Him: The Portable Humidor
OK, smoking is bad for you. But an occasional cigar won’t kill ya’ — especially if it’s a good cigar. And for the man who has everything, there’s the pocket Ci-Garage. It holds one cigar, comes with a stainless-steel cutter, a box of matches, and a portable ashtray. It’s about $25, and can even be monogrammed.

The Gift for Her: The Traveling Spa
This one’s a no-brainer. Put together her favorite scents in massage oil, bubble bath, and scented candles. Handmade soy candles in a variety of scents in tiny tins are available from the Travel Tin Company, starting at about $6.

That’s it for this year. So what are you waiting for? Warm up that credit card and start shopping. There’s only a few days left (which I know is enough time for the gentlemen out there, because I see you all lined up in the card aisle at the drug store on the 14th). :-)

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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