Travel Notices

Posts Tagged ‘Travel insurance’

If I could give one piece of advice to a first-time international traveler, it would be …

I’m often asked what advice I have for travelers who are leaving the country for the first time. While I have lots of advice of my own, like purchasing travel insurance, we also have a network of travelers who have some great knowledge to share.

What better way to tap into our travelers’ expertise than on our Facebook page? So, in an installment of our Mad-Lib Monday series I posed the question: “If I could give one piece of advice to a first-time international traveler, I would tell them _____.”

We got over 40 responses, and I thought there was great practical and thoughtful advice! Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Be friendly to the locals and be respectful … you are a guest after all!”
  • “Pack light!”
  • “Be flexible and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
  • “Keep your passport with you.”
  • “Eat local and try everything.”
  • “Bring an extra charged battery for your camera so that u can take pictures of all the memorable places and things u see along the way :)”
  • “Keep an open mind.”
  • “Take public transportation and find your way off the beaten path.”
  • “Be patient. Pack only what you can carry. Learn ‘thank you’ in every language!”
I can’t resist mentioning a few thoughts of my own for a first-time international traveler: smile, smile, smile. There was absolutely no one, in any culture I’ve ever encountered, that didn’t respond positively to a sincere, friendly smile. And by the way, that smile will keep you in the right frame of mind to relax, ignore small inconveniences, and simply enjoy the adventure of being in a brand new place!

What would you add? Start the conversation here in a comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page to add your tips for first-time international travelers.

Travel precautions for weathering Hurricane Irene

If you’ve turned on a TV at all this past week, or checked your Twitter feed, then you know about the string of natural phenomenons that have been affecting the East Coast. First, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck in Virginia and its effects were felt from Georgia to Martha’s Vineyard.

Now, Hurricane Irene is headed for the East Coast, and meteorologists project it will be the worst hurricane to hit the coast in decades. Friendly Planet’s office is based right outside of Philadelphia, and we’re preparing ourselves for potential flooding and strong winds as we speak.

We have six tours leaving from or arriving to Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Charlotte this weekend, and have already made arrangements to do our best to avoid significant delays and cancellations for our travelers. Travelers scheduled to depart on Sunday from these airports have been rebooked on earlier flights to avoid losing days of vacation due to the storm.

Travelers returning from destinations to eastern cities have been rerouted to other arrival cities predicted to miss the storm, or they have been rebooked on later flights to arrive a day after the storm. Airlines have waived change fees, and our hotel partners abroad have offered very special extra night rates for our travelers in case they need to arrive a day early or stay a day longer.

As always, our emergency phone is staffed by professionals who will know how to assist passengers who need us, so come what may, we’re ready. As I’ve said before, when it comes to traveling, safety is key, and we’re preparing as much as possible in advance for Friendly Planet customers.

For anyone who is traveling to or from the East Coast this weekend (or ever finds themselves traveling during a natural disaster), there are a few simple things you can do to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

  • Stay calm. Don’t become overwhelmed as you’re navigating busy crowds and security lines. Staying calm, doing as asked, and going with the flow will help make your travel experience as pleasant as can be under the circumstances.
  • Don’t waste any time. Take action yourself, and don’t depend on someone to come rescue you. If you’re supposed to be leaving for a vacation, find out what’s going on from your travel provider or tour operator. Will there be any change in plans? If you’re trying to come home, do the same. Some states have already declared a State of Emergency due to Hurricane Irene, so be aware of what’s going on in your area. Finally, if you’re in an area that is being evacuated, follow direction and get out. Take precaution and use your best judgment to ensure safety for both you and your family.
  • Keep your cell phone fully charged. Same goes for your tablet, computer or any other device you use to stay connected. If possible, buy a redundant power supply that works like a case for your phone. Most electronics stores offer these handy combination cell phone cases and extra battery supply for less than $50. Having one of these devices will extend your cell phone’s battery life at least 100 percent. If power goes out, or if you’re stuck without ability to recharge, this extra battery power can make all the difference.
  • Have cash. Always have extra cash on hand. Hopefully you’ll never have to dip into your stash, but if you have some extra costs in an emergency, you’ll be covered and won’t feel panicked.
  • Be informed. Stay up to date with what’s going on around you so you can make informed decisions based on the most current information. Use the internet to find out the latest information, or just stay close to the TV monitor in the airport lobby. This may be a great time to carry a small, battery-powered radio. You know, the old fashioned kind that you couldn’t live without before the internet?
  • If you don’t have to travel, stay put. The best way to avoid chaotic airports and jam-packed highways is to forget your plans and stay home. If it’s a business trip that could be postponed for a day or two, or a weekend with friends, think carefully before you put yourself in a messy situation.
    When you’re planning a vacation months in advance, it probably never crosses your mind that the storm of the century will hit the exact day you’re planning to leave. And that’s why so many forgo travel insurance. If you’re one of the people who’s concerned about money wasted on vacations planned for this week, use this as a learning opportunity. Travel insurance is relatively inexpensive and can eliminate your financial stress during an already stressful situation.

    We hope that all our of fellow East Coast travelers are preparing themselves for Irene and will take all precautions this weekend. Be safe, stay dry, and we’ll see you when it’s all over!

    The 5 most annoying airline passengers

    I was listening to NPR the other day and they had on Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, authors of the new book, “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us.” The book looks at why certain actions annoy us.

    It got me thinking. There are a lot of things that annoy me about flying — including fellow passengers. Unless you’re flying with a big group of friends, going on an airplane puts you in close quarters with complete strangers. And you don’t always get the best seatmate.

    After being a frequent flyer for over 30 years, I’ve identified the five most annoying passenger types to sit next to on a flight. They are:

    1. The person who decides to make you a best friend by talking to you all night. Sorry chatty Cathy, I use flights to catch up on work or relax by watching the in-flight entertainment or reading a good book. Small talk is fine, but spare me your unedited life story.

    2. The person who is drinking too much and making you nervous. Drinking is for the bar, not the airplane. It’s actually much better for you to drink plenty of water while flying and keep the alcohol to a serious minimum. Sure, some people need a drink to relax their nerves on a flight. That’s fine. But when you can’t control your alcohol intake and you start getting sloppy, you’re only embarrassing yourself and making people around you feel very uncomfortable.

    3. The person who makes you get out of your aisle seat all night to go to the bathroom. If you know you’re the type of person who needs to use the restroom a lot, just book an aisle seat. If you book early enough, you should be able to snag that sought-after spot. I don’t mind getting up a few times if I’m in the aisle seat, but if I’m trying to sleep or eat a meal, having to get up and down every time you need to use the restroom is anything but convenient.

    4. The person using a computer in the aisle seat, who resents having to move when you need to go to the bathroom. This doesn’t contradict #3, and here’s why. I know I will eventually have to use the restroom if I am seated in a window or middle seat. I even try to go the same time as someone else in my row, just so that person won’t have to get up twice. So it really annoys me when the person in the aisle seat gives me the evil eye when having to pick up electronic equipment to get up. If you buy an aisle seat, expect to have to get up every now and then.

    5. The person who has a cold (or allergies) and sneezes and coughs all over you during the flight. I know you can’t help getting sick before a flight, but take medication before you fly or, if possible, cancel your flight all together if you’re really sick. Travel insurance protects your investment in your ticket as long as you can verify your illness with a doctor’s note. Just remember that your germs are entering the plane’s air circulation with every cough or sneeze, putting not only me, but every other passenger, at risk of getting your illness too.

    So, how do I handle myself if I have to tolerate any of these troubling passenger types? I do my best to use charm, sympathy, and a big smile to get a little relief. The chatty person will leave you alone if you just say, clearly and sweetly, “That’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing,” and promptly return to your book.

    For the frequent bathroom visitor, you could offer to switch seats, as even a middle seat might be less bothersome than having to get up frequently from your aisle seat. The same strategy can work in reverse for the person using the computer in the aisle seat, and if not, you’ll definitely have conveyed the message to your seatmate. Hopefully, they will understand and respond with a bit more patience.

    The person who’s drinking too much is much harder to control, but you can speak privately to a flight attendant and see if a different seat can be found for you. Flight attendants might not be aware of the amount your seatmate has had to drink, and your report will put them on alert to avoid serving more.

    The only troubling traveler for whom I have no strategy is the one who is sick, sneezing, and coughing all over the place. Even if that person is flying in another cabin, there’s a good chance those germs are circulating throughout the plane, through the air and all over the surfaces in the bathrooms.

    Your only true weapon is to take good care of yourself, drink plenty of water while you fly, and wash your hands as much as possible (or use hand sanitizers). That’s really the best you can do. Personally, I travel with cold medications in my carry-on. So if I do get sick, I can at least treat the symptoms that could ruin my trip once I arrive at my destination.

    What type of passengers annoy you on a flight? Tell me about it on a comment on this post. In addition, let me know how you deal with handling annoying passengers on a flight.

    How to stay healthy while traveling

    In this past weekend’s New York Times Travel sectionMichele Higgins covered “How Not to Get Sick From a Flight.” While there’s some handy advice in it, some of the measures air travelers take are extreme.

    I agree with Michelle that frequent hand washing is the best way to take care of germs that might make you sick. But you’ve heard me tell you this before, and why it’s important to buy travel insurance in the event you get sick when traveling.

    However, the excessive attention paid to trying to make our environment as germ-free as possible has, in my opinion, made us incapable of fighting germs the way we were meant to — using our body’s natural defenses.

    I like to believe I’m not germaphobic. I don’t use hand sanitizers, except when I know I can’t get to water and soap. And did you know that hand sanitizers can’t kill the number one thing that most people catch — the cold. I’ve also concluded from personal experience that products such as Airborne appear to be ineffective.

    Despite traveling frequently, particularly by air, I almost never get sick with anything but a cold, which can’t be avoided if someone on the flight has one. And those nasty cold germs don’t even need to come from your seat mate. Someone sitting in another cabin who is hacking and coughing can make you sick.

    After 30 years of being a frequent flier, I’m still healthy. So here are some normal precautions I take when I travel by air:

    • I wipe off the tray table before using it. 
    • When I wash my hands in any public space, I use the paper towel (after drying my hands) to open the door. 
    • I use the protective paper seat covers before using the commode. 
    • I try not to touch the hand rails on the moving sidewalks or escalators inside the airport.

    You can buy all the health items described in Michelle’s article that are marketed to make you feel germ-free when traveling by air. But it’s like buying expensive facial creams. You know you’re paying a fortune for something that probably works about as well as mayonnaise. On the off chance the expensive cream might actually work, you pay the money anyway. You do it on the basis of a promise of some potential benefit, and in my opinion, the same is true for many of these products.

    That said, it is possible some of these products might be helpful. Not having completed my own advanced degree in microbiology, I can only attest to my general knowledge and experience, but I wouldn’t go to a tremendous amount of trouble to stock up on all of that precautionary stuff. I would just remember to wash my hands a lot. What are some steps you take to avoid getting sick when traveling? Tell me about it in a comment.

    Why it’s important to buy travel insurance, part one

    Travel insurance is something you buy hoping you never have to use it. However, not everyone purchases it when booking a vacation — a big mistake in my book. I’ve told you how travel insurance covers medical expenses and the steps to take to use your insurance, but it also covers a lot of other events you might not have expected.

    With an estimated 43.6 million people traveling by air this winter holiday period, I’m sure some of your trips might not go as planned. When something does go wrong and you have to foot the bill, you’ll either sigh with relief that you bought travel insurance or kick yourself that you won’t be reimbursed for any of the additional expenses.

    In this new series, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about travel insurance. Why a whole series instead of one post, you might ask? Honestly, there is a lot to cover.

    While it might not be the most fascinating part of planning your trip, it’s vital for success that you have all the facts! Believe me, I’ve used my own travel insurance before, and you’ll say “Really?” when you find out what’s covered. From trip interruptions, to lost prescriptions, to lost luggage, the list goes on and on.

    Since skies will be busy this season, let’s start with what travel insurance covers around your trip to the airport. As an example, here is Friendly Planet Travel’s policy to give you an idea of what travel insurance can cover.

    Trip delay. If you’re stranded in an airport because of weather, mechanical problems, or you got in an accident on the way to the airport, etc., your travel insurance will cover you for costs associated with the delay. For example, if your flight gets delayed, it will likely fly out the next day. The insurance will pay for your hotel and meals for that night if the airline does not.

    Now you arrive at your destination and you need a transfer to meet up with the rest of your group tour. The travel insurance will cover that. You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket, but will be reimbursed as quickly as possible. So keep your receipts.

    Travel insurance will cover up to $100 per day for up to five days. It will reimburse you for additional expenses incurred by you for hotel accommodations and meals if you are delayed 12 hours or more. However, it will not pay benefits for expenses incurred after travel becomes possible.

    Trip interruption or cancellation. An interruption is when you get stuck in a location for three or four days due to forces you can’t control. For example, there’s a strike that shuts down roads or closes airports and you can’t leave that country for three or four days. Travel insurance covers all of the expenses to stay a few extra days because your trip was interrupted.

    Interruptions are usually coupled with trip cancellations. So if you have to cancel your trip because you get sick, injured, or anything similar, travel insurance typically covers up to the total trip cost. And if your trip is nonrefundable, it covers trip payments up to the air and land cost for cancellation prior to departure or trip interruption after departure.

    Missed connection. If you find yourself without enough time between your connecting flights, you might be making a mad dash to your second gate. Unfortunately, your best attempts to hurdle over luggage and slow walkers in the terminal might not get you to the gate in time.

    There’s no need to sweat. Travel insurance covers costs up to $500 and additional transportation costs to join the trip once you get on a new flight. Also included are accommodations and meals if inclement weather or the carrier itself causes the cancellation or delay of regularly scheduled airline flights for three to less than 12 hours.

    Now, don’t just sit back and let the travel insurance do all the work for you if you find yourself in any of these situations. You need to be a good advocate for yourself. But do it respectfully, but insistently. Depending on the situation, a lot of travelers might be in the same boat trying to reschedule a flight or book a hotel room. If that’s the case, take matters into your own hands knowing that the travel insurance will reimburse you later.

    You can start by booking a new flight yourself. Once you do that, tell the ticket agent that you’ve booked yourself on another flight and you need authorization from the other airline to accept your ticket. If they give push back and say no, remember you have the right to be accommodated, just do it respectfully.

    And when it comes to booking a hotel room, avoid the Waldorf Astoria if you can. Travel insurance will cover reasonable accommodations, not luxury. You don’t have to rough it, but a Marriott or a Holiday Inn will provide you with a roof and bed.

    So stay tuned, or bookmark the travel insurance tag. In my next post I’ll cover lost luggage, personal effects, assistance, and more.

    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.

    What to do if you’re stranded in an airport

    I don’t have to tell you about the calamity that hit European (and other) air travelers last Friday. Only yesterday, flights began getting off the ground and air transportation finally started to return to normal. According to a report I heard on NPR this morning, it will be weeks and weeks before the backlog of flights is cleared. Who knows how long it’ll take for all the thousands of stranded passengers to get where they need to go.

    It’s not every day that you have to worry about what to do if a volcano erupts and halts air traffic. On the other hand, as we learned this week, it can happen. That got me thinking. What do travelers need to know in the event that some force of nature grounds air traffic and throws their plans into gridlock?

    Here are a few suggestions you can follow if you find yourself stranded, sharing an airport with hundreds of other travelers in the same boat as you.

    • Call the emergency numbers your travel agent gave you. Friendly Planet gives everyone emergency numbers to call in their destination as well as our own number that is manned 24/7. Report what has happened and ask if any assistance can be provided by your agents and their representatives and what you should do.
    • Stay calm. Don’t look for anyone to blame, and don’t become overwhelmed. And don’t shout at the ticket agent who is dealing with the snaking line of equally upset travelers. Be the one traveler who is sympathetic to that agent. Out of gratitude for your graciousness, the agent will be more inclined to help you before the guy behind you, who has turned red from frustration.
    • Don’t waste any time. Take action yourself, and don’t depend on someone to come rescue you. If your flight is canceled and you have not gotten immediate instructions from your agents, take matters into your own hands. Start working to find yourself a seat on a different airline. You can go the Web sites of airlines that fly from where you are to where you need to go, check availability on the spot, and often, grab a vacant couple of seats way before that hassled reservation agent behind the counter gets to you. Call the toll free numbers of the airlines if you can’t get online. In an airport, you can even go from counter to counter, if necessary, to look for seats.
    • Book a new seat. Once you’ve found a seat and booked it, take your luggage and go to the new airline’s counter. Check in and say you have a reservation. Make sure you wrote down the new reservation number. Show the agent your original ticket and say you want to go on the newly reserved flight. The airline might ask you to pay additional fees , and I suggest you pay the fees if necessary. If the fees are extreme, try and negotiate. The agents behind those counters have more leverage than they want us to know. And you can always ask for a supervisor in an effort to lower those fees. But even if you have to pay something for a new ticket, buy it if you can. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
    • Get a receipt. You can claim that extra money from your travel insurance. If you purchased travel insurance (everyone should purchase it), you will be reimbursed for your extra ticket expenses due to involuntary rerouting, as long as you rebook yourself in the same cabin as your original flight. If you’re flying in coach, don’t rebook yourself in business class if you want the insurance to cover your entire involuntary rerouting expense. If you don’t have travel insurance and you have to swallow the cost of that new ticket, consider yourself lucky. You got home and didn’t have to spend even more money on hotel accommodations and food. Some stranded passengers will be spending more than a week or even two weeks in a hotel, at their own expense. And if you’re missing work on top of that, the extra cost for the new ticket might start to look like a pretty good bargain after all.

    What to do if you can’t book yourself on a new flight

    • Book a hotel room right away. If you have to stay overnight, the same rules apply. Don’t wait around for someone to offer you a free hotel room. If one flight was cancelled, then yes, the airlines would get you a room to stay in. But this will not happen when air traffic is suspended. Find a hotel room on your own or you’ll be sleeping on cot in an airport gate area, along with hundreds of other stranded travelers.

    Remember, if you’re traveling away from home, be prepared for the unexpected. Always have extra cash available before you go away on vacation in case an event like this one occurs. Hopefully you’ll never have to dip in to your stash, but if you have to bear some extra costs in an emergency, you’ll be covered and won’t feel panic.

    Most important of all, try to keep a level head. There are things that happen over which you have absolutely no control. When that happens to you, you need to think creatively and calmly about how you will solve the problems that arise from those things that happened.

    You have no control over the volcano or the grounded flights, but you do have control over how you will choose to handle yourself during the crisis. Sometimes, the very best and most wonderful adventures are those that happen serendipitously.

    At the very least, use that extra time that you’re stuck to check out one new thing about that destination that you wouldn’t have had time for otherwise. Browse the bookstore at the airport for a new read. Give yourself the luxury of a nap in the midst of chaos. Watch the people go by. Write in your journal. Whatever it takes to make the time pass productively until your life is back in your control once again.

    If you follow these steps, you’ll get back to the United States much faster than waiting for the airlines to help you. If you have any questions about what to do in a travel emergency, write to me directly.

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