In discussing top travel questions, the issue of insurance is second to money concerns which were addressed in my last column. Should I buy travel insurance and if so what kind? There are many things to think about as insurance can add 3-15% (or more) to the cost of your trip.
In considering trip cancellation policies, ask yourself how much you are willing to risk if you have to cancel. If you are OK with risking loss of all your prepaid fees, then just think about medical insurance. What if part of a trip has to be cancelled due to weather? Make sure your policy covers “travel delay” and check to see if anything is excluded. Some policies don’t cover volcanic ash because it is considered an “ongoing” problem. Also make sure the insurer will cover your airline/tour/cruise for bankruptcy; sometimes they have a list of risky travel companies they will not cover should they go out of business. Travel insurance not only covers the cost of trip cancellation or delay but the insurance company can also assist you in rebooking or finding accommodations.
Make sure the policy covers preexisting conditions; many will if you purchase within a limited time frame after booking. “Cancel for any reason” policies are offered, but they often do not pay 100% reimbursement and some won’t cover if you cancel because of “civil disorder or unrest” where you are going.
Medical insurance is important as Medicare and some major insurance companies won’t cover treatment outside of the US and some that do won’t pay for out of network hospitals or Medevac. Check with your company before investigating more insurance. When purchasing travel medical insurance make sure it is primary. That means that they will pay providers directly. With secondary insurance, your company or you must pay first and then their coverage kicks in; this requires time delay and much more paperwork and annoyance. Look for high limits of coverage and make sure Medevac is included. You can buy plans that just cover medical evacuation.
Be skeptical of the insurance offered by tour/cruise companies and investigate it carefully. Often it will just cover trip cancellation (not delay), doesn’t cover 100%, may offer vouchers for future travel rather than cash reimbursement, and provides secondary medical coverage.
If you do invest in insurance, make sure you pack a written copy of your coverage as well as their 24 hour contact number.
There are a few issues about passports that are important. Some countries require that your passport be valid for the next 6 months before they will permit entry. If you need to renew, allow sufficient time for the process prior to your trip Routine renewal can take up to 6 weeks; expedited up to 3 weeks. If you have an old passport that meets certain conditions such as not more than 15 years old, you can renew by mail. If you don’t meet the criteria or are applying for a first time passport, you must do so in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility such as the one at the Collier County Clerk of Circuit Court,3301 East Tamiami Trail in Naples. The closest facility for an expedited passport is in Miami. Consult the government’s website travel.state.gov/passport for up to date information.
If you will be traveling among a few countries, make sure that you have a sufficient number of blank pages in your passport, one for each country. This may not be a problem but it could be if you meet up with an official who is a “stickler”. Make sure you keep a color copy of your passport in a safe location while traveling and scan a copy and store it in DropBox or some other online “cloud” service. When traveling, unless I am about to pass through a border, I keep my passport in my security pouch or safely tucked in my apartment and just carry a color copy in my purse. That has served me well whenever I have had to show my Passport such as on a train accompanying my rail pass, when using a computer at an internet cafe, or when purchasing a local Sim card for my iPad. It’s also a good idea to travel with extra passport photos; we once needed them to purchase a transportation pass in Budapest.
Concerned about losing your luggage? Technology can provide some assistance. There are services such as i-trak, ReboundTAG, and SuprSmartTag that track luggage via RFID (radio frequency identification microchips) or tracemeluggagetracker via bar code. A brand new offer is TrakDot from GlobaTrac. With Trakdot, you place a device in your luggage and it will send you a text when it arrives at a destination. It uses cellular networks that allow you to track the location via smartphone or Trakdot website.
Delta offers a smartphone app through which you can track your bags via the bag receipt number. Want some low tech assistance? Make sure you place a copy of your itinerary and contact numbers in your suitcase in a prominent place; I pin mine to the inside flap of my bag.
Speaking of technology, I’ve written some columns about using it while traveling but haven’t said much about how to use it safely especially when accessing public WIFI networks which we seem to be doing more and more of with smartphones and tablets. Public networks such as those at airports, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops leave you vulnerable to hacking and siphoning of your passwords. A way to protect your connection is with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which creates a secure network within that public one.
There are numerous VPN providers and you can download their apps for your laptop/phone/tablet. Some are free but contain ads and may not be the best as there may be some privacy (not security) issues, such as targeting ads based on your usage. Setting them up on an iPhone or iPad involves going to the Settings>General>VPN. The fees are usually monthly and do not require an annual limit; usually there is a limit on the amount of data based on the fee. Some VPNs offer free trials. Connection to a VPN will show up in a status bar. With some VPNs, you must hook up each time you use the device. A VPN is an inexpensive way to protect your privacy.