Traveling Thursday – It’s worth a shot.

Mr. McB and I are booked on a Med cruise in the fall. Last Friday we were looking up some details about the cruise and noticed that the price of our cabin had decreased by $900 per person and that there are now other goodies (free WiFi, shipboard credits, prepaid tips) in addition to the reduced fares. I decided to call the cruise line to ask about a fare adjustment and am very happy to report that Oceania gave us the new price and incentives.

The moral of the story, watch for price breaks even after you book a cruise and don’t be afraid to ask your cruise line or travel planner to honor the new price.

Traveling Thursday – That’s a liquid?!

When writing last week’s post about the new guidelines for carry-on items, I thought about those “surprise liquids” that can throw off even the most careful traveler.

What do I mean? Did you know a snow globe is governed by the 3-1-1 rules? If you want to carry on a snow globe, the globe part must be no bigger than a tennis ball (about 3.4 ounces of water) and the whole thing, base included, has to fit in a quart-sized baggie.

Peanut butter and yogurt are also governed by the 3-1-1 rule. Grapes, which actually seem more watery than peanut butter, are not.

When there’s any question, consult the TSA’s prohibited items database for guidance.

Traveling Thursday – What can I carry on?

Earlier this month, the TSA announced changes to the list of prohibited carry-on items. Starting April 25, passengers can carry on small knives with non-locking blades no longer than 2.36″ and less than 1/2″ in width. Ski poles, toy bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs (two per passenger), ski poles, and pool cues are also allowed as carry-on items.

There is already a good deal of confusion about what is allowed on the cabin of a plane and this change will surely create additional questions and longer security lines, at least temporarily. If you have questions about what you can take in your hand luggage, please check out the TSA prohibited items page. There is a handy tool where you can type in the questionable item and get a specific response.

It will be interesting to see how these rule changes are implemented and what kind of delays this might cause. I see a lot of time spent measuring blades in security. I can assume (hope) that the screeners and passengers will get better as time goes on.

Traveling Thursday – Riding the Bus or It’s OK to be Afraid

A few weeks ago, I took Greyhound from Greenville to Atlanta to help my employer save a little money while I was attending a conference. This was my first experience with Greyhound and the bus station.

As I sat down to wait, I immediately went on full alert. My senses were heightened and every noise or sudden movement made me jumpy.  I am normally a mellow traveler but I was not in my normal travel environment. I was in a situation where it made sense for me to be weary. It was new and I was alone. I hate to admit to being afraid but I was.

By time I boarded the bus, I had begun to talk with other passengers who were waiting and gradually became more comfortable. The bus ride itself was a treat. I had a row of seats to myself and enjoyed the free wifi while I stretched out. Really, it was the most relaxing drive to Atlanta that I’ve ever had.

When I left Atlanta to come home, I was a little better prepared for the bus station but still felt a bit uncomfortable. There is a stark contrast between the order of an airport and the chaos of the bus station.

The point of this post isn’t about the bus but it is about the fear we experience in an unfamiliar setting. It’s OK to be scared. Sometimes our fear keeps us safe by prompting us to be smarter and more vigilant. So don’t avoid new experiences, whether on a trip or in your daily life, but give yourself a break if you give in to fear now and again.

Traveling Thursday – Valentine’s Edition

In the spirit of the day, I’m breaking from travel tips and instead reflecting on love of travel. There’s something magical about starting a journey and having new and amazing experiences. Of course it isn’t always amazing. There are times when the trip is hard and the hotel is bad, but good travelers always find something to salvage the journey – even if it’s just the hilarious stories they’ll have to tell.

I’m leaving you with some of my favorite quotes about travel. If you have some of your own to share, leave them in the comments.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“A wise traveler never despises his own country.” – Carlo Goldoni

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson


Traveling Thursday – Free language resources

When traveling abroad it’s great to learn at least a few phrases so you can converse with the locals. One great way to accomplish this goal without spending any money is to use the resources at your local library. In addition to CDs, many libraries now offer free access to online language learning systems like Rocket Language, Mango, or Muzzy. Check out what your library has to offer before you next big adventure.


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.

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.

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.

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.