Traveling Thursday – Travel insurance – what to cover and where to buy

This week we’re wrapping up this little series on travel insurance.

Which expenses should you cover when buying travel insurance? All prepaid non-refundable costs should be covered. This could include lodging, transportation, the cost of your group tour or the cost of any day-tours if you are traveling on your own, cruise fares…anything that you have to pay for in advance and can’t get fully refunded if you have to cancel.

If you don’t know all of your prepaid costs when you first make the arrangements, then use the known amount but be sure to add coverage later. For example, if you book a group tour a year out and ask the operator to make air arrangements for you, they may not be able to give you an airfare amount. When they do contact you and you pay for the airfare, be sure to contact the insurance company immediately to increase your coverage amount. Forgetting this step can lead to a rude awakening if you have to cancel and won’t be able to recoup the cost of airfare.

If you are taking a cruise and plan to prebook shore excursions, check the cancellation rules. If the policy states that you can get a refund for cancellations within 24-48 hours of the excursion, you would not have to cover this expense. Similarly, you shouldn’t cover anything you anticipate buying or booking once you are already on the trip.

Where should you buy trip insurance? The short answer is a reputable company, with good customer service that provides the best service for you at the most competitive rate. There are a number of sites that serve as aggregators for travel insurance companies. By allowing you to compare a number of policies at once, these sites make it easy to decide which policy to pick. I recommend InsureMyTrip or TravelInsuranceReview which features a wonderful insurance primer and travel tips.

You may also want to consider buying traveling insurance coverage through the company that your travel operator recommends. This is especially true if you are traveling with a membership-based organization (alumni association, museum, or another affinity group) because often they can provide some basic assistance if you have to file a claim and they generally make a commission off your premiums. You could consider the insurance as another way that you are helping them out. Of course the insurance available through these groups is a bit more expensive because that commission has to come from somewhere.

Finally, keep copies of all your travel documents because you will need them if you need to file a travel insurance claim. Also, be prepared to show documentation to backup the reason you cancelled the trip. Your doctor will have to sign off on forms if you cancel for a health reason. The process and paperwork will be a hassle but the hassle will pay off when you are able to recoup your costs.

Traveling Thursday – Considerations when buying travel insurance

After reading last week’s post, you decided that buying travel insurance might be a good idea and now you need to know what to look for when buying travel insurance.

When traveling abroad, the two big categories that you want your insurance to cover are trip cancellation and medical emergencies. Other coverage (evacuations, trip interruption and loss/delay) are often included in these bundled package plans.

Let’s first look at trip cancellation. This is coverage that protects the money you have invested on prepaid expenses related to your trip. Almost every policy allows you to cancel for sickness or death (either your own, your traveling companion’s, or a family member’s). Of course there are a number of additional reasons that trips must be cancelled. Things like natural disasters are sometimes covered by a company’s standard plan; it is important to carefully look at the policy. You can almost always expect to pay more for “cancel for work reasons,” “coverage in the event of the travel provider’s financial default,” “terrorism,” and “cancel for any reason.” This is when you really need to think about your life and what kind of coverage makes sense for you.

If you are still working, I highly recommend “cancel for work reasons” coverage. This generally means that as long as your supervisor signs an affidavit saying that you were given the time off but can no longer be away, you will get your money back.

“Cancel for any reason” coverage might be a good idea but remember that you may only get a portion of your total trip cost back when using this coverage.

I have been told from a travel insurance representative that the “cancel for terrorism” coverage is often not what people think they are getting. Things that travelers see as terrorism may only be viewed as “civil unrest” by the insurance company.

Now let’s move on to medical coverage.  No one plans to end up in a foreign hospital but it happens and when it does, the fees can be alarming. Even people with good insurance in the US can find it to be inadequate when traveling abroad. Medicare doesn’t cover its participants when traveling abroad. The last thing you want to do is end up sick and in debt. The good thing about most travel insurance policies is that they will act as the primary payer if you need to seek medical treatment. This means that your own medical insurance would only be billed as secondary coverage to pick up any costs not paid by the travel insurance.

When looking at this coverage, it is also important to understand whether preexisting conditions are covered or not and how the company defines preexisting. In many cases, preexisting conditions are covered if you buy shortly after making a trip deposit or if you buy the most expensive level of coverage. Preexisting conditions are generally classified as any existing condition that you had to seek treatment for within X days before signing up for the trip. If you were treated for cancer but haven’t had treatment in two years, this would not be a preexisting condition for most providers. If you received your last chemo treatment 55 days before booking the trip, it would be. In some cases, even a change in maintenance drugs or other medications X days before signing up for the trip can trigger the preexisting condition exclusion. Look at the details and think about your life. My advice is to buy insurance immediately after booking your trip. By doing this, you can often get a waiver for preexisting conditions while avoiding the premium coverage cost.

If you are traveling in the U.S., you should still buy cancellation coverage but you may not need medical coverage depending on your own policy. If you own insurance is lacking or there are few in-network providers in the part of the country you are visiting, you might want to consider medical coverage as part of your travel insurance.

The cost of your travel insurance coverage will vary based on how much medical coverage you want. To determine what you’ll need, consider your health and what (if anything) your health insurance will cover. If you are going to Antarctica or another remote location, make sure the policy provides adequate medical evacuation coverage.

Next week we’ll wrap up with a look at what you should cover and go over some sites that offer information and quotes.

Pearl Fryar’s Garden


On our way to spend Christmas at the beach, we made a side trip to Bishopville, SC where we toured the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. This destination has been on my list since seeing the documentary “A Man Named Pearl” several years ago.

pfg9The film tells the story about how Pearl’s quest to win the local gardening club’s “yard of the month” award turned into the stunning garden that attracts about 20,000 visitors each year.

More importantly, the film tells the story of a determined and patient man who has a way of coaxing the potential out of the plants he encounters. Many of the plants in Pearl’s garden were rescued from the compost pile of local nurseries. Not having formal horticultural training, Pearl wasn’t afraid to take a chance on these specimens. He studies them to determine their pfg13strengths and then patiently molds them into stunning creations, often using innovative techniques that defy what should work in gardening.

Pearl’s ability to see potential and nurture new creations applies to the people he encounters too. In addition to giving young people the opportunity to work in the garden, Pearl also has a scholarship fund that offers opportunities to average students who might fall through the cracks without a little help. Just like his plants, these students blossom with a little attention and encouragement.

Visiting Pearl’s garden was a wonderful and uplifting experience. While walking through this lovely garden I could feel the love and care that Pearl showers on the garden. Since Pearl does not try to make specific shapes, visitors can use their own creativity when looking at the garden. It’s a bit like finding characters in the clouds. There is such sense of joy and whimsy.

pfg2The highlight of the visit was meeting Pearl and listening to him talk about the garden, his techniques and life in general. If he ever decides to hang up the trimmers, Pearl could make his living as a career counselor of philosopher.  He said if you want to get noticed, you have to do something that no one else is doing. He also advised that if you are the smartest person in your group of friends, it’s time to make some new friends. While the garden was gorgeous (see more images below), it was Pearl’s words that were the highlight of the trip for me.

If you have the opportunity to visit Pearl’s little garden in Bishopville, you really should. There is something magical and inspiring there.


Traveling Thursday – You need trip insurance.

Many people see trip insurance as a waste of money. It’s something for overly cautious people but I’ve seen enough sickness and travel SNAFU’s to tell you that travel insurance should be purchased whenever you are making non-refundable arrangements.

Imagine you are in the airport on your way to the trip of your dreams. It’s almost time for your flight to leave and you want to make one last trip to the restroom before boarding the plane. You get up and start walking only to find yourself stumbling over a carry-on and landing with a thud on the floor. Your arm is broken in the fall; there’s no way for you to go on the trip.

The instance above really happened. If you don’t have travel insurance you will lose every penny you spent on the trip. With travel insurance, you will still have the disappointment of a cancelled trip (and the pain of a broken arm) but you can recoup the money you spent and put it toward a trip in the future.

Trip insurance can help pay for…
– Single supplements if your travel partner has to cancel the trip but you can still go. In the case of a cruise, the single supplement is almost as much as your original fare.
– Medical treatments needed during your trip. Even if you have great coverage in the U.S., most health insurance coverage is reduced when you are traveling abroad so you could wind up with a hefty bill even for simple treatments.
– Costs associated with trip interruption or delay. For instance, you are supposed to fly home on Tuesday but due to a transportation strike all flights are cancelled. The insurance can help pay for a hotel until you are able to get home two days late.
– The cost of medical evacuation. Depending on your destination and ailment, this can be a huge cost.
– The cost of bringing a family member to you if you become seriously ill during your travels. Generally, this coverage only begins after you have been hospitalized for several days but it can be a great money saver.

Travel insurance can cost between 5-15 percent of your trip cost depending on your age and the level of coverage you want to purchase. When you are spending a few thousand dollars on your trip, this can seem like a big expense for something you hope to never use but by now, I hope you are getting the idea that the insurance is well worth the cost.

Next week I’ll review the types of coverage available and what kinds of costs you should cover.

Grill Marks

During our last trip to downtown Greenville, Mr. McB and I had lunch at Grill Marks, 209 S. Main Street.

Since Grill Marks is part of the Larkin’s family, we went in with high expectations.

interior_gmWe were promptly greeted by the hostess and seated at one of the tall tables near the bar. The restaurant is smaller than I expected and the layout is a little disjointed. Things seemed cramped and this was  exacerbated by the fact that one of the sections was closing and everyone had to be seated in either the main dining area or the tall tables near the bar.

The decor was also confusing to me. This is a grill, albeit modern and upscale, and a large part of the beverage menu is focused on the milkshakes and floats, including the spiked versions of these classic treats. Yet there are empty wine crates displayed on a loft above the bar. There is also a big focus on wine in the decor at the bar. It wasn’t very cohesive.

milkshake_gmEnough about the decor and seating, let’s get to our meal. Mr. McB had the Madagascar vanilla version of the $5 shake. Five bucks is a bargain for the high quality milkshake you’ll get from Grill Marks. First, it is served the way it should be with patrons receiving the main portion in a frosted glass and the remainder in the metal mixing cup. Second, this shake is made with premium ingredients. It reminded me that vanilla is indeed a flavor and not just a synonym for “plain.” McB was very happy with his milkshake. I will definitely indulge in a shake of my own (salted caramel? chocolate chili bacon?) during our next visit.

We both decided to get a burger and split an order of “fat” fries.

The fries are nothing special. They were not piping hot or crispy. I believe the restaurant puts most of its effort into the truffle fries and the other options (skinny, fat, and sweet potato) are not given as much care. I would probably order a side salad instead of fries on my next visit.

gm_angelaburgerIn this picture you see my burger, the left coast, and our basket of fries. The menu says that burgers will be cooked to medium unless otherwise specified. I ordered the burger medium and found it to be quite undercooked. The center was bright pink, barely warm, and had a consistency of raw meat. I sent the burger back and was quickly greeted with a fresh replacement. This one might have been a bit closer to medium-well but that was just fine with me. The manager said that they would rather undercook than overcook the meat but he agreed that my original burger was not medium. Keep this in mind when deciding how your burger should be prepared. I really enjoyed my second burger. The cheddar, avocado, and bacon added a nice element to this juicy burger.

gm_cheeseburger2Mr. McB ordered his burger well-done and it was served that way. More importantly, it was juicy. It’s almost impossible to get a juicy, well-done burger; he was very satisfied. He was also happy with the brioche bun.

Other than the fries, we enjoyed our meal and would recommend Grill Marks to others.

Traveling Thursday – Portable Medicine Cabinet

Looking for an easy way to take an array of over-the-counter remedies along on your next trip? Make your own portable medicine cabinet using a large pill dispenser.  The $2-3 you pay for the pill dispenser is roughly the same price you’d pay for just one dose of an OTC med in the airport or hotel gift shop.

pharm1I came up with this idea when I was traveling for a living. Each compartment holds a certain kind of pill – Advil, Imodium, Benedryl, motion-sickness tablets, or anything else you might need. I used a permanent marker to label each compartment. I purposely left the final box open without a label so I could have some flexibility depending on when and where I was traveling.

pharm2Between Mr. McB and I, this medicine chest has been on a great number of trips and in several countries. Whether in a checked bag or carry-on, this kit has never caused any problems in the security line. I highly recommend making your own  before your next trip.

Cafe at Williams Hardware

DSC_0376Back in October, we decided to go for a little drive and wound up in Travelers Rest for lunch at the Cafe at Williams Hardware (13 Main Street).

Located right along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the cafe was hopping on this gorgeous autumn day. The line was long when we arrived but there was a greeter handing out menus and the ordering systems seemed to be both fast and organized. I opted for the chicken salad sandwich with potato salad while Mr. McB ordered the grilled cheese BLT sans “T.”

Unable to secure a spot on either of the porches, we took a high-top table inside the cafe. We enjoyed chatting and people watching.

A mother and her teenage daughters soon sat near us. They were our first indication that the ordering system (you place the order at the register and get a number to take to your table) might not be so efficient since they made it to their table without a number. They flagged down a server and after trying to find the order, she took it again. It was when these ladies got their food that we really noticed that we had been waiting for more than 30 minutes on our sandwiches. We asked our server about it. She set off to find our order and said that she would get us a free dessert to make up for the wait.

DSC_0351Within five minutes our sandwiches made it to the table. My chicken salad was really very delicious. It was prepared with a mix of herbs that made it light and delicious. The chicken chunks were plump and juicy. The bread was good and the tomato and lettuce were both very fresh. The potato salad (made with redskin potatoes) had a nice flavor but the potatoes didn’t seem to be cooked thoroughly. I like the potato to retain a little of it’s bulk but I don’t want to encounter a bite of potato that borders on raw.

DSC_0348McB’s grilled cheese BLT came with the “T” despite his request and assurances that this was no problem. It was an easy remedy since the tomato was simply added to the top after the sandwich was prepared. It was still a little disappointing that after waiting all this time the simple request wasn’t fulfilled. They were very generous with the bacon which had a smoky flavor that I enjoyed but that he didn’t find as appealing.

DSC_0352We selected a piece of chocolate cake for our dessert. It was very moist and nice.

We decided that the cafe was a nice spot if you were out for a walk or ride on the trail but that it didn’t merit a special trip.

Traveling Thursday – What to have in the car during the winter

If you’re winter travel plans mean driving in the snow, it’s a good idea to gather the items below and put together and emergency bag for your car.

Blankets or an emergency sleeping bag
Bottled water
First aid kit (or at least bandaids and pain reliever)
Non-perishable food items like nuts, peanut butter crackers, dried fruit or granola bars
Flashlight (Crank-style is ideal.)
Flares or glow sticks (to make your car visible if you slide off the road)
A can of Fix-A-Flat
Sand or kitty litter (for traction and to give you a bit more weight)
Windshield washer fluid
A shovel (you can find compact models that easily fit in the trunk)
Windshield scraper and/or small broom

These items should help keep you safe until help arrives.