Travel Insurance – needed ? or useless ?

As travel as a pastime, entertainment and necessity has become one the biggest ticket items sold and bought on the Internet, particular by a large seniors’ population, who incidentally require more than anybody else PEACE OF MIND (Oh my God, maybe I suffer a stroke while enjoying myself in a foreign country !), Insurance companies are advertising and selling at all cost and pressurising travelers to buy travel insurance. Sell at all cost, make as an agent your (who knows) 40% commission, but under no circumstances provide the most needed coverage to some poor sod who happens to have travelled out of country. Is travel insurance then useless ? unwanted ? not needed ? not necessary ? I would say so. Today when everything is bought and sold online, how do insurances make money ? They make money on the people who never use it. [ quoted from http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2013/05/24/the-travel-insurance-scam-read-this-post-before-you-book-your-next-trip/ ].
Point in case: Travel to Europe. Spend several months. Before leaving, buy some travel insurance package, including cancellation insurance, emergency medical insurance, delayed or lost baggage. The insurance company will provide an emergency phone number for the traveller. As you know, in Europe almost no one uses any landline phone, everybody is on a mobile phone (or as we call it: cell phone). Meaning expensive air time and roaming charges. When calling from Europe to North America, where these insurance agents physically reside, nothing but problems with their CALL COLLECT or TOLL FREE phone number (that would only work in North America). Call Collect works in misterious ways. A traveler has a medical emergency and needs to phone the insurance within 72 hours of that incident. If that person ends up in a hospital, a payment out front must be made (give me your credit card!). If that poor traveler is unconscious, he or she will most probably lie in some corner in the hospital, never waking up. Meanwhile the period of 72 hours to call the Travel Insurance overseas, has passed, and the policy is invalid. My recent case: I just spend three months in the South of France, using my cell phone with a French SIM card, that when used costs me a fortune, even if I would ever reach some call collect number. It would be an anwering machine, and waiting times at least ten minutes, costing from Europe like €20 at least. No matter, what kind of contact number the insurance gives you, there are still air time and roaming charges. Call Collect always costs the caller. [ http://www.howtocallabroad.com/qa/toll-free.html ] While international “Toll Free” numbers may work for the insurance company who sells them (usually residing North America), but not for the international traveler who tries to use them. All those (emergency call) numbers offered by North American insurance companies are foremost controlled by the country where a traveler currently resides.
Before leaving I had bought at Pacific Blue Cross $878 travel insurance for three months to cover emergency medical, and cancellation. When I needed them, using their Medi Assist call collect number, no contact, no way to reach them, my service provider hung up. Meanwhile I could have used a small amount (like not more than €50 to pay for a Doctor or Pharmacy). For the Pacific Blue Cross I tested their phone numbers after my return, typical wait times were way over ten minutes. The travel insurance industry has figured out that according to statistics – comparing insurances sold and emergencies covered – it has become extremely profitable to sell travel medical emergency insurance.
As mentioned before, insurances make money on the people who never use it.

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Banking Problems while Traveling

Many times I travel from North America to Europe, there is a problem with any of my Bank cards, either my regular Debit Card or a major Credit Card. The problem being not, that they are stolen or compromised by some hackers, the problem is always with the Banks themselves and their method of contacting them when such emergencies arise. Over the past years this situation has worsened because of the changing and more complex security devices the Banks invent. There are two types of banking privileges that can be cancelled by a Bank while out of country: (a) Using the bank card to get cash out of a banking (ATM) machine, or for payments; (b) access to online banking. Both are important to have as a traveler while having to rely on a mobile phone. But the worst situation arises if there is no way to contact the Bank. Mostly for technical reasons, telephone services, expensive mobile phones (foreign SIM cards and providers), and the banking telephone system itself: Either offering an international toll-free number, or even worse offering clients a call collect number. On another occasion, years ago, when my bank card got cancelled, I called a “collect” number, got someone from my bank on the phone who told me: “we do not accept charges”.
I have two cards, my regular bank card (that works via ATM, international Interac and PLUS* displayed almost anywhere), but which I not use anymore because it got cancelled in Europe (security reason, because I had removed several times a few hundred €). And my Credit Card, most precious, because it can be used anywhere for paying anything even food and super markets, and cash advances via ATM. Two cards from two different banks, I have been client of for at least thirty years.
However, if using a credit card for all payments, then when the payment for the card is due, it needs to be paid using online banking. One cannot pay off a credit card with the same credit card. This time in Europe for three months both my bank cards got cancelled/or suspended: (1) Credit Card because I accessed my online banking with my iPad tablet, a device the bank did not recognize. At least I could connect easily with the Bank and resolve that issue. (2) My online banking with my regular bank, because of a new security system, my error in logon, and telephone connection problems (I have an old unblocked cell phone, using a foreign SIM card), on my cell phone cannot enter other than regular phone numbers, but not bank card numbers, therefore, when calling I got cut off by my foreign phone provider.
This time I have someone here in Europe try out with a smart phone the process to connect to my bank with their ‘international toll free number’, going thru the process. If it works, then it is that old regular cell phone of mine, that is not usable. From all this, it appears that the safest way to have any money on you (at least for food) is, to take sufficient cash with you. Like in the old days. Either way, I still always inform my Banks that I will be out of country, and where, and how long.
It should always be remembered, that any banking or debit or credit cards are property of a Bank, not property of a client. Therefore, can be cancelled/suspended anytime by the Banks’ security system. The client does not need to know the reason. The client only needs to store their money with those Banks.

Travel on a Budget

Home away from home. Though I hate to generalize, but I can safely say – after traveling alone most of my life – that no matter if you find a way to “travel on a budget”, this only works if you NOT travel alone. Almost all accommodations advertise “sleeps 3, 4, 5, or even 12” (whatever that means). The odd times, I can find “sleeps 2”. Very seldom seen “sleeps one person only”. Rule of thumb: As a single traveler you usually pay more. This applies to renting vacation accommodations. [Cruises, you always pay double.] However, even the odd time I found vacation rental for €500 a month. Lots of ‘foot work’ to dig that up. Mostly it is much more.
I am considering for example the Bahamas, because it is half way between the Pacific Coast where I live and Europe, where my family lives. Plus, it is pleasant climate and few restrictions for Canadians. In the following link [ http://www.bahamasonabudget.info/ ], someone implies that ”
One of the biggest costs away from home is food and drink – ” (quoted from that web site). From experience I found that accommodation is the most expensive item when traveling”. Food is not. Having a decent “roof over your head” is priceless and costly. Unless you travel in a group (most people do not) and share with half a dozen others. What kind of fun is that ?!
Eating out in restaurants on the other hand is very expensive. Because of the service cost of a restaurant that is passed on to a customer. Super markets, grocery stores, any kinds of markets, food is cheap. No matter which country one travels to. Mostly it is much less expensive than the city where my home is. The other reason I do not eat restaurant food is, that I am a very good cook and do not eat what others present me with. Drink likewise. Anywhere in the world, one bottle of good wine cannot be more expensive than 20 or 30 dollars, in fact in Europe more like under ten €. Restaurant ?, try get a glass for that. Conclusion. To save while traveling: try get accomodation with at least a small kitchen. Try, not to eat street food in certain countries. Make sure the food you buy is clean. Wash your own laundry. Do your own cleaning. Find the best deals where to buy groceries and a decent cup of coffie. [Example: Here in Cannes, Côte d’Azur, one bistro asks €5 for one cappuccino, next door it is €2.50]. To look at pricing, first thing I do is check out how much a cup of coffie and specialty coffie costs.

Travelling – Taxi’s – saving money

How to save money when travelling. The answer and also the most important mantra is: behave local, pretend to be local, speak local. Meaning, do not behave like a tourist.

In general, careful with taxi drivers. Even when carrying luggage, which immediately makes you out as a tourist, avoiding explanations or talking about expensive adventure trips or giving the impression of arriving from expensive trips does not help to lower the cab fare, but will drive it up.
Especially if needing to make a “deal” with that cab driver. He may agree to an offer initially, but after listening to fancy travel stories, still must talk to his dispatcher. Result, the initially discussed fare has doubled.

Any transportation industry driven by unionized transport companies, or even private, can manipulate their pricing according to who they service. In many countries meters often are not regulated or turned on. Better, to use public transport.

Therefore, any time during my travels I try to blend in as a local, preferably speaking the same language. When it comes to discussing any pricing, not to mention any touristy stuff, or anything that sounds really expensive. Rather, pretending to be some poor schmuck, stuck somewhere, and not having a lot of “dough”, or just going home.  Remember, LOCALS PAY LESS. Even if someone is lugging a heavy suitcase, pretend to live there.

Marrakesh, Morocco: Crazy cab drivers, always want to go anywhere and everywhere, around and around (mostly ending up in the same market square – where their families are selling wares). Tell them right away (en français, SVP) “been in Marrakesh for weeks, go here, not there”. They’ll do it.
St. Martin, Caribique: Needed a taxi, only had a couple French Francs on me. Offering the nice local lady cab driver. She was fine with that. Coming back to my resort, Americans complaining: “cost us 20 Dollars”.

Vacation Rentals

One of my favourite topics (beside THE NIGHTMARE CONDO). Renting a let’s say small casita with kitchen for one person, but for let’s say at least one month, preferably two months or more. I have chosen Mexico. Prices are mostly per night. Why not per month ? The casita, or casa is mostly for more than one person. If it is rented for large groups, no wonder that the entire world (of vacation rentals) is complaining more and more about bed bug infestations. Naturally, if you have a large group of people living together, and who knows arriving from all sorts of different locations. And for that pleasure of living with bugs, one must pay a fortune. And no sleep with the added pleasure of living next to large groups of party-goers, up all night.

In the past I have found something – small casita for one – for US$500 a month. That is doable. But try to find something fitting via Google, always end up “Florida” (or some other questionable location) instead of Mexico. And Heck, I have done this all my life, specializing in information retrieval systems since the 60’s. Developing them. I know that my search algorithms are solid. We refer to this as ‘stereotyping’: Meaning, sleeps 12, and you need to go to Florida!

Transatlantic Cruise

Cruising or not, that is the question if you want to get to a specific location. Such as crossing the Atlantic. Some interesting site I discovered is actually discussing the advantages of cruising over airline travel. [ http://cruise-compare.com/cruiseSearch.php?destination=Transatlantic&gclid=CP7pnrLE8L8CFbRzMgodJSsA2g ] . A laugh really when you think that all transatlantic cruises (or for that matter most cruises) take off from a port which is “too far to walk to”. In other words, still needs a lengthy air flight to get to the port of embarkation. Plus one or two nights extra overnight hotel for the start and the end of a cruise. Mostly add several more nights. Might as well fly directly from let’s say North America/Canada over the Atlantic to Europe. Is much faster that way.

Secondly, planning a Trans Atlantic cruise means mostly a one-way air ticket, because the return travel is via different route. Which – when you must fly via any American port – means that you get stopped at the US arrival airport (which is also where the cruise embarkation port is) by immigration because you do not have a return ticket (or something else has gone wrong with their entrance/exit visa system). In the meantime you have spent the tremendous expense of having already purchased the fare for the cruise. The cruise line itself will not be responsible for any incoming flight documents required. On cruises I made in the past (a few only) I found most passengers came from a location close to the embarkation ports. Yet, here in Canada (Pacific Coast) they are selling cruises whose embarkation port is in Florida like hot cakes. End of story.

SOLO TRAVEL

For many years I have been travelling alone. I rent with a kitchen, so I can cook my own meals, is much healthier and less expensive.When arriving in a certain country, be it in North America, Central America, or anywhere in Europe, the next day after arrival I find the local grocery stores with the best prices. For late arrival bring some (next morning) coffee and dry foods for breakfast with you. By the way, last trip Sayulita, Mex. I did arrrive in dark with a cab driver – was totally safe. 

Even in St. Petersburg, Russia, – in that case I took a group travel, with a guide – we stayed in the largest hotel, the Moskwa – it’s as big as a small city. Next door was a huge underground grocery store, where you could buy groceries and water for your evening suppers. Cheap. And St. Petersburg is one of the more expensive cities.

Luggage. I take two small carry-on suit cases, one as cabin baggage, one for checkout. Easier to handle when moving, no need for renting cars or cabs. In fact, I try to never rent a taxi. Because as a woman alone, it is not safe in some locales. One looses control. And misses a lot of wonderful sights when stuffed inside a taxi cab. Then again, as much as I can I speak the local language.

Public transportation: I always before leaving my home research very thoroughly the public transportation system of the country to which I travel. Starting with a map of the airport (arrival), where to go to find the nearest bus station after arrival. Funny example: Spain, Alicante. I had all the information necessary to get out and get onto the bus. Upon arrival, hundreds of European travellers hanging out in the arrivals hall, trying to rent a car (expensive). The local bus was only €3 to get to Alicante, to my hotel. And fast, in couple of minutes I was out and on the bus.Being alone I also avoid to go out after dark. In all those years I had never experienced an attack in a city, no matter where, or anything stolen. Except when it was my own fault.

Usually I choose a town or city as a base, from where to make trips. Mostly using the local bus system, or of course the trains (especially in Europe). Or a boat. Whatever. Mostly I walk. Most importantly: I mix with the locals, using their language. With 4 to 5 languages, I never had a problem to get along. This cannot be emphasized enough. Everything costs you less if you can communicate in the local language.

I avoid tourist spots. And of course large gatherings of people. There were times I found myself in dangerous situations – as far as terrorist activity.  [using Firefox v.19]

TRAVEL EMERGENCY INSURANCES

TIPS ON BUYING TRAVEL INSURANCE

For travel medical emergency or any other travel insurance, my advice is, if you travel from the USA or Canada, try not to buy insurance in North America – be it via a travel agency or some local banks or insurance companies, or online.

My experience has taught me, to get far better deals buying the insurance either in Europe or wherever you travel to, in that country.

I buy everything on the Internet, be it air line tickets or hotels, resorts, travel packages or insurance for the trip.

Example: In 2010 I travelled to Germany and spent over 4 months there in Berlin.

I had taken out a medical insurance on a broker’s internet site. The insurance had their seat in Toronto, Canada. I had a claim, tried to call the insurance from Germany, on my cell phone, told them I need a claim number. They put me on hold at a cost of €20, while some old guy in the background walked away from his desk ?

In conclusion, I cancelled this insurance immediately requesting a refund on my credit card. Then also immediately one day after I bought a travel medical insurance in Germany (including every coverage possible) at a fraction of the cost that the one in Canada had cost me. The insurance in Canada eventually processed the refund, but not my lost telephone costs.

Cost comparison: Canada/USA = $2,000; Germany = €130 same length of trip.

Next example: Beginning of this year, I bought several package travels with a German agency (also online) including for each a good travel medical emergency insurance. Low cost again (for one month travel = €100).

You can trust these agencies there, they will deliver. And most importantly, they are reachable.

The reason for the high cost of insurances in North America most likely is the enormous cost for law suits and third party liability suits.