Buying Insurance-What to Expect
While it's difficult to address what could go wrong as the beginning of this blog, it is certainly one of the first decisions you must make when booking a trip abroad.
Travel insurance was designed to protect expenses you can’t get back any other way when things go wrong. Generally speaking, it covers unforeseen events, like an injury/illness that prevents travel, injury/illness of a family member, the loss of a job or a natural disaster, that force you to cancel or interrupt a trip. It can also apply in the event of a strike at a transportation company, a terrorist attack in your destination or when your travel provider goes bankrupt. These are referred to as "covered" reasons.
While policy prices vary based on age, length of travel and type of coverage, expect to pay between 4 to 10 percent of your entire trip for insurance. Make sure you work through a trusted travel insurance company that will honor and process your claims expeditiously. Not all insurance is created equal and the devil is in the fine print. (Your travel advisor can assist)
To have the largest coverage window for unforeseen events it is best to buy the insurance when you make the trip deposit. With many plans, purchasing travel insurance 10 to 14 days from your first payment entitles you to “early purchase” benefits such as a waiver for pre-existing medical conditions that could impact travel. If such a waiver is included, it is usually prominent in a summary of benefits, so read it carefully.
You can’t control the weather, but you can insure against its unexpected disruptions. For example, if you’re ready to jump on great rates in the Caribbean during the height of hurricane season, buy your insurance immediately after booking so that if a hurricane develops and your destination is evacuated, you’ll be covered. If you wait and the storm is named it will be too late to insure against it, because it is no longer an unforeseen event.
With trips being booked 6 to 18 months in advance, a lot can happen in the time period from booking and when the trip occurs!
If you have a specific concern — a family member is sick or you’re doing extreme sports— the best way to know if a travel insurance policy will cover you is to call the help line at the insurer to get advice. As an advisor we are able to provide travelers advice on which plans might best suit your needs, however travel advisors are not insurance brokers, so it’s best to leave the specific coverage questions to the professionals. Most policies also include medical coverage to cover you on the trip, which is useful abroad where your health insurance very rarely will cover you. Even the simplest ‘medical-only’ plans include additional coverage for lost baggage, flight delays and interruptions. Resist pressure to buy flight insurance from the carrier especially if a cancellation can be used for future flight credits and it’s an airline you will fly again. If you do wish to purchase flight insurance either bundle it into your other trip coverage or look at other options that are likely to cost significantly less. If your hotel is refundable and you can get the value of your flights back in credits, you can skip travel insurance. (except the recommended medical coverage when abroad).
Travel insurance does not cover a change of heart: Most standard travel insurance will not cover a you changing your mind, although some insurers do provide a policy upgrade “Cancel for Any Reason” (which is not available in every state) ,and will cover that change of heart, usually up until a few days before departure. Most only reimburse 50 percent of your costs and the purchase must be made within weeks of your initial trip payment. It will bump your insurance premium up 40 to 50 percent and you will still forgo 50% of the payments made. An advantage of booking a trip through a travel advisor or tour operator is that they should be able to negotiate credits for future travel with the local suppliers (except airlines).
Keep records: If you need to make a claim, you’ll need proof in the form of a paper trail. That could be receipts for clothing you purchased when your bags went missing, a hotel room required when your flight was canceled (along with flight cancellation notices from the airline) or a doctor’s note stating that you have Covid — or another illness — and are unable to travel.
Getting Ready for the Trip: Packing Smartly
As a travel advisor, Latitude Expeditions provides packing guidelines to clients based on location, time of year and activities. Often, there may be laundry options enroute, which can encourage packing light. If the itinerary includes small planes (eg, safari bush planes), there may be luggage size or weight limits.
As Bob Shepro will attest "Packing Cubes changed my travel-life!" They provide an easy, organized and efficient way to pack and can help keep clothes wrinkle-free. They can also organize a closet when you are on the move and don't want to fully unpack and hang up your clothes.
Depending on how long and to where you are traveling you most likely will be checking your luggage, so your carry-on bag will need to be well equipped for comfort and entertainment during your flights. Backpacks are convenient as a carry-on. Packing a change of clothes ,(if there is a stopover, you may be able to find a shower in the airport) as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste will go a long way to helping you feel fresher during your journey. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing and a pair of compression socks to combat swollen feet from so many hours with little physical activity.
Pack a power strip, the proper adaptors and battery backups. Electrical sockets have been bedeviling international travelers for as long as there have been appliances to plug into them. And even as more devices can adapt to different voltages, travelers are simply bringing more things that need juice. If you bring one adaptor to plug into the wall and a power strip you can charge multiple devices at once.
Planning Your Long-Haul Flights
Traveling from the U.S. often involves lengthy plane rides and extensive layovers.
You can mentally prepare by approaching it not as "a long stretch of time in a confined space," but instead as a long stretch of uninterrupted time with no responsibilities and where you cannot be contacted. You can also interrupt your journey with a mini vacation or stopover in a new city or break up that long flight by taking additional flights with stopovers to really stretch your legs and enjoy a good meal or cocktail. When I fly to Africa and I can’t secure one of those valued business class seats with miles, I often fly West coast to East Coast, East Coast to Europe and then Europe to Africa, limiting most of my flights to 8 hours or less with 3-4 hour stops to refresh, or sometimes a full day to site-see in a new location.
Adjusting to the New Time Zone
Some people recommend finding a way to sleep as much as possible, but I recommend setting your schedule to match your destination time zone. This may mean forcing yourself to stay up late on the initial flight segment, requesting meals at times other than the crew decides to serve you, planning when to watch a movie, when to read and when to work. Even if you sleep for 4-5 hours in the destination’s sleep time, you will be better equipped to handle the time change. Upon arrival try to stay up or go to sleep close to the bedtime you will adopt at your destination. If you have to nap keep it to an hour or less and get out and about.
Sleep: Some travelers consider sleeping pills or melatonin supplements as must-haves, though plan your sleep time to awake at least 1 hour before arrival – you don’t want to arrive in a new country in a groggy fog. Eye shades and noise-canceling headphones can reduce cabin lighting and help to dull the roar of the plane. A travel pillow that supports your neck can help when trying to sleep in an upright position. One recent recommendation I just read about that I have never tried is to wear a hoodie- it can provide warmth, covers the ears for less noise and perhaps your eyes to sleep- a private cocoon of sorts.
The Rest of Your Time: Plan how you will fill the time onboard: A multi-episode TV series will stretch out a lot longer than one movie. You can look ahead on the airline’s website to see what in-flight entertainment will be available on your flight. Be sure to download TV shows, movies, podcasts and music onto your devices before you get to the airport as airport and airplanes often have spotty Wi-Fi. Bring a good book you’ve been meaning to read. Have some offline games you can play on your phone or iPad.
Hydrate: The air onboard is extremely dry. Pack a decent moisturizer, lip balm, eye drops and a small nasal spray. Don’t overdo alcoholic drinks and drink as much water as you can throughout the flight: Bring your own empty water bottle to fill up at the airport after TSA. Powdered vitamins or electrolytes can be added to your water to maximize hydration.
Move: Many people prefer an aisle seat so they are able to get up frequently without disturbing their seat neighbor. Others prefer a window seat to avoid being disturbed by others. Ahead of booking, research the layout and model of planes on websites like SeatGuru to find the most legroom. Do some stretches while you’re waiting in line for the bathroom and walk a few laps of the terminal during a layover to get your blood moving.
On the Trip- You Made It!- Now Relax and Enjoy
Just a couple of tips to recall and share your memories...
Photo Organization: If you take a lot of photographs, the process of sorting out what’s what can turn into a post-trip headache. Take a photo of the hotel or park sign or landmark, or even just an admission ticket, before photographing the scenic views. That way your photos are easily organized in your phone or camera to remember where you were at the time.
Keep a notebook: Some travelers, like my husband Bob, like to keep a journal with all the names of places we visit, our guides, managers and special experiences, animals sighted etc. Even if you don’t have the propensity to be this detailed, use a notebook to attach business cards, (hotels, guides, good restaurants or shops that are worth revisiting), as well as brochures from sites and museum shows/ticket stubs from memorable events.
Upon your Return
Avoid long lines with the U.S. Mobile Passport Control app.
Download the the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mobile Passport Control app to shorten the wait.
While lines for standard passport control can often be several hundred passengers, many are not aware of the M.P.C. line. With the app download your passports ahead of time and when you arrive snap a photo, answer a few questions and breeze through the reentry immigration line
The Global Entry program offers some similar benefits but costs $100, requires an in-person interview and currently has an application backlog of up to 11 months; the Mobile Passport Control app is free and available to use at 33 U.S. international airports without any wait time. If you travel frequently abroad do apply for Global Entry- it lasts 5 years and many credit cards offer a full refund for the application fee.
Hopefully these travel tips will help you enjoy your journey as well as your experiences and enable you to arrive well rested and energized, and return home safely and happy that you added some extra organization to smooth your return.