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 – Beauty Bargains

Christmas clearance sales can be the perfect time to stock up on the toiletries for your travels in the coming year.

Remember those special “value” sets of fragrances and lotions or “limited edition” holiday makeup palettes? These items are now half-off and the price is bound to drop again in a few days. These special deals can be found at all levels of the retail ladder – drug, discount, and department stores. A bevvy of deals can also be found at Bath and Body Works semi-annual sale.

Last year I bought a set of four body-sprays for two dollars. I found all of the fragrances to be nice and light. They’re not my favorites but they’re also inexpensive so if I leave one in the hotel, it’s no big loss. The same is true for the discounted eyeshadow I bought on clearance last year. They were cheap enough that I tossed some of the more outlandish colors and kept those that fall within my comfort zone. The colors don’t have as much staying power as my normal makeup but for vacation, they work just fine.

This is also a great time of year to stock up on manicure sets and other beauty tools. These might not be durable enough for daily use but they work just fine for vacation and again, if you leave them behind, it’s no great loss.

Happy bargain hunting!




Traveling Thursday – Frommer’s

Oh Frommer’s, how I love your website and all it’s many helpful tools for travelers.
First, let’s talk about the walking tours. When we traveled to New Orleans a few weeks ago, we took two organized tours but I also printed out a copy of the Garden District walking tour from the site. It was easy to follow the instructions and very informative. While I’m a believer in organized tours, I also like to mix it up with some independent exploration and this was a great way to do that. There are walking tour itineraries for a great number of cities. Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Boston, Rome and Hong Kong are just a few. Many cities have multiple tours.

This brings me to the city guides. There is so much information on these pages including attraction and restaurant recommendations, tips for getting around, special listings for active pursuits, suggested itineraries and listings of available side trips.

There are other sections on trip ideas and tips/tools.

This site is a great resource for any traveler. Be sure to check it out.




Traveling Thursday – Try a little haunted history

As the temperatures drop and Halloween decorations appear in our neighborhood, I’m reminded of how much fun it can be to add a haunted history tour to your itinerary.

Just like a great teacher who uses an engaging story to educate the class, good ghost tours are a fun way to learn about an area’s history and culture. These tours often tend to focus on “forgotten” history or personal histories set against the backdrop of history’s big events like the Civil War or natural disaster. I find that these tours can really help to add context to what I’ve read in the history books.

From our experience, some tours are better than others. If you really want to have an educational experience, try a tour that is brought to you by a history museum, architectural society, or some other scholarly group. Often these organizations use ghost tours as a fundraiser during the month of October.

If those options aren’t available, do a little digging on the company that offers the tour. Some operators are more interested in giving their guests the ghost “hunter” experience instead of focusing on the stories and history. Ask questions and find the tour that fits your needs and interests.

No matter what time of year you’re traveling, consider a little ghost adventure of your own with a haunted history tour.

Traveling Thursday – Leaf peeping

Pumpkin spice latte season  Err, I mean autumn officially starts this weekend and soon, many of us will take to the road to do a little leaf peeping. I’ve put together a list of links to make your planning easier and your trip just a bit more enjoyable.

Oh before we get to the links, did you know that the US Forest Service has a fall color hotline?  800-354-4595

The Foliage Network (frequently updated maps)
Fall Photography tips
Unexpected Fall Color Spots
State by State Guide to Fall Color (includes links and state-specific numbers)
Fodor’s Guide to Fall
Travel + Leisure Ultimate Fall Guide
Scenic Drives in the Northeast

And a few links highlighting spots that are close to home, for me anyway…
Upstate SC Best State Parks for Color
Upstate SC Leaf Report
Romantic Asheville’s Fall Foliage Info

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway Gas Availability Map
Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Guide

No matter where you go to see the leaves, remember to have fun and be patient on the roads. Take your time and be open to unexpected stops like apple orchards, craft fairs, and small diners. Remember, it’s an adventure and not a race.

Traveling Thursday – Greetings and salutations

We’re always busy. We’re always running. We ask someone how they’re doing but rarely want to hear anything more than a cursory response. I’ve made it my goal to slow down a little and really mean it when I ask someone how things are going.
Even if you don’t do this during your everyday life, I challenge you to do it on your next vacation. I know it’s not always reasonable to have a long chat with everyone you encounter during your trip but when you have the chance, take it. Be a warmer, friendlier version of yourself.

Find out if the person at the front desk of the hotel is having a good day before diving into your questions about local attractions and restaurants. Talk to the servers at the restaurants and your tour guides. I’m not saying you have to find out their life history, or share yours, but just take sometime to treat them like a human being and you’ll be surprised how the conversations you’ll have can add to the enjoyment of your trip. By taking this approach, I’ve heard amazing stories, learned about other cultures and customs (even when traveling domestically), laughed my butt off, and been treated to great recommendations. You’ll also find that when you are friendly to those you encounter, they start to look out for you which is fantastic when traveling solo.

By doing this on vacation, I’ve also found it easier to incorporate this approach into my daily life. You be surprised how something so simple can make you happy and help bring a little of that vacation feeling into even the most mundane things.

Traveling Thursday – Alerts from your airline

Mr. McB’s last two business trips have involved flight cancellations the day before departure. In both instances, the cancellations were not weather related. Thankfully, he signed up for the airline’s alert service when booking the flight and received a call to announce the cancellations and give instructions for rebooking.

Every traveler should sign up for these notifications when booking a flight. Each airline has its own way of doing this  but it’s always pretty simple and I believe some automatically opt you in. Seriously, say yes to the alerts and save yourself a lot of hassle.

Oh and for those of you who are often on airport pickup duty like I am, I highly recommend FlightStats to track your loved ones travels. They also have a mobile alert system.