Monday, August 29, 2016

Passports... You can't travel without one!


You’ll not get beyond the check-in counter at the airport without a valid passport... if your destination is outside the United States of America.  Americans are even required to show their passport when traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. Applying for a US Passport is the most important item to consider once a decision to travel has been made. The US also issues a "passport card" which is about the size of a credit card.  This card can only be used to re-enter the United States at land border crossing and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It cannot be used for international air travel, so we'll not discuss this option any farther here.

If you have a passport, it must be valid for six (6) months after your travel is complete, that is, the day of your return to the USA. Rules differ by country, but for European countries, this is the case.  Additionally, your air carrier will not allow boarding for an international flight unless your passport is valid for six (6) months beyond your travel dates.  

I have witnessed several passport-related events that have caused much stress and even cancelled trips. I recall a young lady signing up and paying to travel to Europe with her French teacher and friends.  She (and her mother) waited a long time to apply for her passport and then worried daily when checking the mail, hoping it would arrive shortly.  Unfortunately, her passport did not arrive before her travel date and she had to stay behind and watch her friends go off to Europe without her.  On another occasion, a friend realized his passport would expire during his scheduled trip to Europe.  To make matters even worse, he realized this only a couple of days before his trip was to begin.  Thankfully, he called the National Passport Information Center, made an appointment and drove 500 miles to renew his passport in person. 

Applying for a new US Passport

Applying for and obtaining a US Passport, or even renewing an old one, can take some time.  The average standard delivery time is 4 to 6 weeks. For an adult (18 years or older), the application and service fee is $135 for a passport with a validity period of 10 years. Children under the age of 16 are only eligible for a passport with a validity period of 5 years and the application fees is only $105.

When applying for a new passport it must be done in person at an Acceptable Facility or US Passport Agency. Applicants must complete Form DS-11 and bring it along with an approved original document showing evidence of US citizenship, a photo identification document and two recent approved passport-sized photos.  Full details and online printable forms can be found at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html.

There are many agencies where you can apply for a passport. Some include:
  • Federal, state and probate courts,
  • Clerk of the Court Offices,
  • Post offices, and
  • Some public libraries.
For a complete list, search here.

When applying for or renewing a passport, why not asked for extra pages?  You can request 52 pages instead of the usual 28 and it won't cost a dime.  This can only happen when requesting a new passport.  See the details here.

Renewing a US Passport

If you have a current passport and it is no older than 15 years, you can renew it by mail without having to visit an agency in person.  You will need to complete Form DS-82, pay the application fee ($110), include two recent passport photos and send it by mail to the passport agency.  There are restrictions to this process, so it is a good idea to read all the applicable information at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/renew.html

Name Changes and Errors

If you find spelling or date errors on your passport or you have had a legal name change, you'll need to get a new passport.  This is an easy process and can be completed by mail. https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/services/correction.html


Faster Service on the Application

For an extra FEE, a passport renewal or new application can be expedited.  See the websites mentioned above for rates and details.

You have your passport, so now what?

Once you have received your passport there are a few things you should consider.

  1. Make copies of the first couple of pages of your passport. Give one copy to someone at home and bring another copy with you on tour stuffed in an inner pocket of your suitcase.
  2. It is also a good idea to keep two extra original passport-sized photos on hand with you when traveling.
  3. When traveling, keep your passport with you at all times. The safest and best way to do this is to keep it in your moneybelt. I put mine is a small plastic sandwich bag to keep it dry. Keeping your passport safe is very important.  If it is lost while out of the country you’ll be stuck for several days trying to get a replacement.  Replacing lost passports requires a trip to the U.S. Embassy which will take precious time away from your tour experience.
  4. Many countries, especially outside of Western Europe, require a VISA.  A VISA is an official document which is attached to one of your passport pages.  It takes some time to apply for and receive a VISA and it requires that you send in your passport to have the VISA officially attached to your passport.  This mean that you passport will not be in your possession for some time. Be sure to do your homework, check the US Department of State to find out if you need a VISA and leave yourself plenty of time to complete the VISA process before your departure date.  
  5. Be frugal with your blank passport pages.  Often an immigration office will open a passport to the first blank page he encounters and stamp it.  This is ok, if you seldom travel and have plenty of blank pages.  But for many frequent travelers this wastes a lot of useful passport "real estate."  Consider placing sticky notes on blank pages to help direct the agent away from the useful totally blank pages.  
  6. If you are a frequent traveler, consider applying for Global Entry.  This is a program for US citizens to expedite their re-entry back home at a US airport.  There are fees and an extensive application process, but if you travel a lot, it is work the effort.
  7. Enroll in the S.T.E.P. program, an acronym for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This is a free service for US citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. There motto is "stay informed, stay connected, stay safe!"  Enrollment is a simple process.  Each time you leave the USA on a trip, visit the S.T.E.P. website and register your trip, destination and duration.  Should a problem arise, you'll be contacted by the Embassy in your destination country.  Additionally, the Embassy will contact you or family members in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency.



Traveling Americans and Passports

There are about 340 million people in the USA and according to US Department of State, there are 125,907,176 American citizens who possess a valid passport. That’s only about 37% which means there are a whopping 63% of us that have never left the USA!  Just imagine the cultural shift if those numbers were flipped and 63% of Americans had passports and traveled to at least one other country.  We might have a better understand of other people groups and a more tolerant outlook on the varied cultures in the world today.


http://www.theexpeditioner.com/

If your Spouse or Travel Partner has a Passport… you should too!


Recently, we were touring with a group around London and one of our passengers became so sick he had to be admitted to the hospital.  This gentleman had a US Passport (obviously) and travel insurance which we provide to all our guests, free of charge.  The hospital wanted to keep him for several days.  We contacted his wife at home in the USA and suggested she take advantage of the travel insurance’s feature and fly to London to be with her husband.  To our shock, she informed us she could not fly over because she did not have a passport.  Luckily, the gentleman was in the good care of the hospital and flew home in a few days.

Summary

A passport is essential to travel outside the USA and it takes a bit of work to jump through all the hoops to get one.  Apply for or renew a passport as soon as you think you might travel internationally.  Passports must remain valid for at least six months beyond your travel period. For a fee, expedited service can get your passport issued in as little as 2-3 days.  It is a good idea for all US citizens to hold a valid passport just in case an emergency arises.  Unfortunately, only about 37% of us do. Once you have a passport, keep it in a safe place, make several copies, never carry it in your back pocket, and consider getting extra pages with your application.

If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.


David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Toilets and Tubs and Bidets, Oh My!

Get the Lowdown on Bathrooms in Europe

When traveling for the first time, the cultural differences can catch you off guard. If you’ve done your research, you’ve probably heard of the big ones, like differences in tipping customs, for example. But the little things that you never expected to be different can really leave you at a loss. From sinks that are operated with foot pedals to toilets with fancy controls, a trip to the bathroom can be the most unexpected “tourist trap”. Here are some tips to navigating toilets, tubs and showers, and bidets abroad.

TOILETS

Public Toilets
For clarity’s sake let’s define a public toilet as any toilet outside a private home or your hotel room.  Public toilets vary greatly from country to country in Europe. I’ll try to break it down by toilet type, starting with the best and moving to the worst.

Highway Rest Stops
Super-Clean Highway Toilets - https://www.sanifair.de/
These are usually the cleanest facilities you’ll find anywhere.  Normally highway restaurants are spaced every 100 km or so along major four-laned limited-access highways. In France and Italy, you’ll be expected to give a tip or even pay an entrance fee to use these toilets.  The usual cost is fifty euro-cents to one euro per person, so be prepared to have a few euro coins available.  In Germany and Austria, you’ll be expected to pay an “admission” fee of a euro or so to enter the toilet area.  Upon entering you’ll receive a ticket, be sure to keep it because it can be turned in at the cash register in the store or restaurant for a credit against items purchased.

Restaurants 
Toilet facilities can vary widely in restaurants and my general rule is to stay out of them if you can.  Most restaurants, especially in towns and cities, are located in century-old buildings which were not originally built with toilets in mind.  Consequently, they have been retrofitted with bathrooms that range from disgusting to adequate. The toilets can be especially lousy in restaurants found in France and Italy where they are usually located in a basement or cellar.  The worst toilets date from the early 20th century and are basically a simple hole in the floor with a foot rest on either side.  Simply step up, aim, go, and drip dry. Others can be a bit more user friendly initially, but flushing can become a problem.  The best solution is to look up for something to pull, look down for some to push, or look around for something to lift up or push down.  Of course there are clean and modern toilets too, but you’ll need no help with those.  Unless it is one of those fully automatic models, in which case you’ll need to move quickly!

Amsterdam 
In Amsterdam there are public urinals unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  Imagine a pristine canal-side scene: swans floating serenely, bikes cluttering bridges, little boats floating by with couples in love, pastel classical buildings lining the lovely canals, and you’ve got a front row view from the public “pissor”!  These public urinals date back a hundred years to the age of art nouveau and the turn of the 20th century.  I can’t imagine turn-of-the-century gentlemen needing to go so badly that these things just had to be out canal-side, but who knows? 
Keep in mind, this description is for real!  In Amsterdam (and in Brussels too, I’ve been told) there are public urinals for men.  These urinals, known as “pissors” are constructed of thin sheet metal, painted green in color, and divided from the ground up into thirds.  The lower third is uncovered and exposes the subject’s (a.k.a. the pisser’s) legs up to the knee.  The middle third is constructed of thin, but solid sheet metal covering the “pisser” from the knees to the waist.  The final third of the “pissor” is made of sheet metal with small cut-outs in a “plus-sign” design to enable the “pisser” to look out (and the passersby to look in).  What a concept!  Now for you guys, let me explain what’s going on inside—other than peeing that is.  Basically, you walk into this “nautilus” shaped contraption.  Once to the center you encounter a flat piece of steel, on which you are to pee, and below is a simple hole in the ground.  So while you are standing there doing your business, your pee is splashing all over you, but you’ve got a grand view of all of Amsterdam!  There is nothing like it.  Try it once just for the thrill!

self cleaning toilet in FranceAutomated Toilets
These public toilets are usually found in big cities in France or Belgium and cost about a euro to use.  The entire toilet complex is a kiosk which is normally clean and pretty sterile.  Here’s how to use these toilets: look at the control panel beside the door; determine if the toilet is occupied or vacant; once vacant press the button and enter; do your business; exit the toilet kiosk.  Once you exit, the kiosk will go into self-cleaning mode and spray water, cleaner, and disinfectant all over the interior.  Then the entire interior is blown nice and dry.  Once the cleaning cycle is completed, the outside door panel will display that the toilet is ready for another customer.

TUBS AND SHOWERS

Bathing is necessary and we tend to take it seriously. I mean, how many of you go more than a day without a bath or shower? Well that’s a whole different story in Europe, where daily bathing has just come into vogue in the past few decades. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood on crowded subways or buses and been stifled by body odor. So… it’s no wonder that not much thought goes into planning European bath and shower facilities.

Today, most newly constructed two-star hotels in Europe have private baths locate en-suite. Most all three-star hotels (old and new) have private baths en-suite.  This simply means that sometime in the past ten years, a hotel owner has taken an already small room with no bath or toilet facilities and added an even smaller room with a sink, toilet and tub or shower. But for American travelers, those en-suite facilities are essential.  So, here is my “run down” on bathing in each country.

I travel in Europe over 100 days a year sleeping in a different hotel, guesthouse or B&B every other night.  It is interesting to note that there is absolutely no standardization in shower and tub water controls.  On a recent tour in Scotland and Wales, my travel partners and I had a laugh each morning when we discussed what type of water controls we encountered the night before.  Twelve nights and twelve totally different faucets and controls!

Italy
Just last week I was checking out some hotels in Italy and ran across a bathroom that had a sink and toilet, then on the same level there was a curtain dividing the shower area. Now having the shower on the same level as the rest of the room is common for Italy. I often laugh because in an Italian bathroom, it is possible to use the toilet, brush your teeth, and take a shower all at the same time. Well this particular “shower area” had a bidet sticking precariously out from underneath the shower curtain too. Talk about multitasking!

France
Bathrooms are generally small in France.  As with Italy, many of the hotels have retro-fitted bathrooms into already small bedrooms.  Most often you’ll find a shower, sink, toilet and bidet.  Newer hotels come equipped with modern showers and sometimes even tubs.

Spain
Think of Italy without bidets.

Germany and Austria
Bidets are not common here and you’ll also find a better selection of tubs.  In many of the larger cities that were destroyed during WWII, you’ll find relatively new and modern hotels featuring bathrooms similar to those back home.

UK
Like France, many of the UK’s hotels are older properties dating from a time when en-suite baths were not common.  You’ll find city center hotels similar to those in France.  The UK is loaded with B&B’s.  These are often private homes located in rural areas that the owners have opened to rent out a room and serve breakfast.  These offer a great value and usually come with up-to-date bath facilities.  Although it is still common to find “bathrooms-down-the-hall” in B&B’s, it is usually well publicized so you won’t be caught off guard.

Ireland
Here you’ll find mostly up-to-date hotels and B&B’s.  Yes, there are exception, so be sure to look at the sales literature or website before booking.

Now certainly there are exceptions to every rule.  Every country mentioned sports fancy four- and five-star hotels with huge rooms, marbled baths and air conditioning.  You’ll pay extra for this style, but for some it is worth it. 

BIDETS

bidet
Most of us Americans get a kick out of an encounter with a bidet.  To many, it’s often intriguing, entertaining, funny, or even sexy in an odd sort of way.  But in many parts of the world, it’s a normal fixture in the bathroom.  In French, bidet comes from the word for “pony.”  How appropriate, because you ride a bidet much like you would a pony.  That is… straddling it.
I take a lot of Americans around Europe and believe me, I’ve heard lots of “bidet” stories.  Here are some ways in which my tour members have utilized the bidets in their hotel rooms:

·         a foot washer
·         a water fountain
·         a urinal
·         a place to shave one’s legs
·         an object for “truth or dare”
·         a replacement for bathing
·         a laundry
·         a dishwasher
·         a cooler for beer

Bidets originated in France several centuries ago as a means to wash after using the toilet, after having sex, or even after a day at the office.  In short, its purpose is to maintain clean personal hygiene without taking a full shower or bath.  So, now you know why lots of Europeans think they are clean when their pits smell to high heaven!

Here’s how to use a bidet:
1.      Test the water controls before getting on!  Some bidets have high pressure jets that squirt up to the ceiling if turned fully on.  Others have a faucet similar to a sink.  Some have hot and cold water valves while others have just one water valve.  The point here is to SLOWLY test out all the knobs, valves, and controls before getting on.
2.      If you are wearing pants, you have got to take them off!  Otherwise hike up your skirt or dress. Then straddle the bidet, facing the wall, so you’ll have full control of the knobs, controls, and valves.  Then, by positioning yourself and the faucet, direct the water to the area you want to clean.  It’s ok to use soap and your hands.  Some people prefer to face away from the wall and manipulate the controls in a contorted manner.  I ran across this hilarious video on YouTube that shows you how to do it from a Spaniard’s perspective.  Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cunTYbi9yM
3.      Once finished, use toilet paper to dry off.  The towels hanging by the bidet are to dry off your hands after the whole procedure.  Don’t stick the towels down there to dry off, or you’ll hear it from the maids the next morning!


My Toilet Story


I was at a restaurant along the Autostrade in Italy where we’d made a stop for lunch.  These restaurants are located conveniently every fifty kilometers or so along the major highways in Europe. They have great food, either from a buffet or from a selection of fresh-made sandwiches, and they offer clean bathrooms.  When making a tour bus stop, the first thing everyone does is rush off the bus and head to the bathroom.  These restaurants (branded as Autogrill) usually have the bathrooms downstairs which are maintained by a female attendant who keeps the bathrooms sort of spotlessly clean.  This “cleanliness” usually comes with a compulsory fee of fifty to eighty euro cents per visit to the toilet, but it’s a small price to pay for a clean toilet! 
Well, this particular day, the restrooms were booming with business and the lady attendant was having a tough time keeping up with collecting her “tip” and keeping the bathrooms clean. So when I went downstairs and deposited my change in her dish, I noticed the ladies’ line for the toilet was about twenty deep.  There was no wait for the men’s room, which I guess you ladies will say is typical. 
I walked in the men’s room and headed for the urinal which was just a ceramic tiled trough against the wall.  It was “backed up” with guys “going” so I did have to wait here!  While waiting, there was a commotion in the hallway.  Women were speaking loudly in rapid-fire Italian. only some of which I could understand.  But the general tone and message was, “We’re not waiting out here any more, let’s overtake the men’s room!”  Moments later, the men’s room was invaded by several Italian women looking for an open stall.  Well I had to go, and now it was my turn!  So up I stepped, down with the zipper, and …uhmm you get it, right?  OK, now I was ready to go, but all the confusion behind me had caused a momentary “blockage.” So there I stood doing nothing!  Concentrating real hard and focusing on the wall right in front of me, I began to go… relief!  Then to my horror, I felt something hitting my shoes.  Had I missed?
Looking down I saw a grey mop being swished back and forth between my feet, and behind me holding the handle was the lady attendant going about her business of keeping the toilets tidy!

Summary

I hope this article has given you the confidence to boldly face the bathrooms in Europe. Just remember, public toilets vary in quality. Your best bet is a highway rest stop or a fully automated toilet on the street. The more modern your hotel, the more likely you will encounter the bathing facilities you are used to in the US. Be sure to check the website before booking to ensure your hotel or B&B has private bathrooms. In some countries, the bathroom will also have a bidet, which is meant for cleaning your nether regions.

If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about painted sheep and traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.


David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Road Less Traveled

Take the small roads for a local experience

It’s great to see the famous sights and big cities when traveling, but the real memories are made in off-the-beaten-path adventures where you get to slow down and experience the country, not just watch it fly by through a tour bus window. The best vacations include a combination of the two. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of benefits to traveling on a tour. Tours allow you to travel care-free, with no planning. But sometimes, you have to just wing it and see where the adventure will lead. Here is a story from one of my trips to France and the surprising places you can find when things don’t go as planned.

After a flight up from Madrid, we arrived at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport by mid-afternoon.  I rented a small car and soon we were out of the airport and on the highway toward Paris.  It being Friday afternoon, I was prepared for some traffic jams, but so far it didn’t seem too bad.  The highway leaving the airport was virtually free of cars, but by the time we reached the Périphérique, Paris’ big ring-road around the city center, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It wasn’t quite at a standstill, but we were inching along at less than 10 mph.

Gregory Deryckère - http://www.smokefilledroom.co.uk
Knowing Paris, I figured we were in store for at least an hour of stop-and-go traffic. But surely by the time we turned off the Périphérique and headed southwest it would thin out to nothing.  After two hours and less than 20 kilometers, I knew it would be hours before reaching Amboise.  To make matters worse we had no hotel reservation, no real plan for the next two days, and no plans for the night’s dinner.  What we did know was that reaching Amboise in the afternoon was now out of the question.

Luckily I had my GPS unit with me and we got it up and running.  After another hour on the highway, in the miserable traffic, we finally found a two-lane road that would take us through the countryside to the Loire Valley.  Well anything would be better than sitting in traffic for hours on end…so we took the little road.

Immediately the road was clear, and it was smooth sailing.  Until we came to the first town.  Friday afternoon must be the time for everyone to get out and go somewhere because there was loads of traffic.  Although, it was nowhere near as bad as what we had encountered on the highway.  The next hour passed with us speeding along our way in the rural areas between each little town and then slowing down in the town centers. This wasn’t bad though.  We got to experience several small rural towns in France.

By now it was getting late, probably close to nine o’clock.  I’d planned on finding a hotel in Amboise, but that was still an hour away.  It really didn’t matter what time we arrived as long as we could get rooms for the night and a good meal.  We were somewhere along the Loire River near Chambord when I saw it…and drove right on by.  We had a goal and destination in mind, but that place back there looked like my kind of place.  So at the next round-a-bout I did a 180 and decided to go back to check it out.

La Ferme des 3 Maillets

The place was an old two-story stone building with ivy climbing up the side.  There, in huge painted-on letters, was a sign advertising “Hotel** and Grill.”  Even with my limited French vocabulary I could tell we could find rooms and food.   As I pulled into the gravel parking lot I knew I’d made a good choice.  There were several cars and the people milling around were all speaking French.  I walked into the lobby and really had to dig deep into my French vocab to ask if they had two rooms and dinner.  The lady at the desk said “no problem” offered a really good price and booked our dinner for us too.

We settled in and then walked back downstairs for dinner.  The restaurant was just what you’d think a farmhouse grill would look like in the US.  In sort of the “Cracker Barrel” style there were ancient tools and other decor hanging from the walls and ceiling.  On one wall there was a huge stone fireplace, complete with a cozy fire.  Large picture windows looked out onto a little garden and the wheat fields beyond.  I think we were one of the last seatings of the evening because all the other tables were either empty or filled with people involved in dessert or conversation.

The food was wonderful!  Natalie and I had escargot, an assortment of duck, steak, vegetables, and dessert.  All was washed down with a local Loire Valley wine.  La Ferme des 3 Maillets is one of those rare finds that only happen if you let go of your inhibitions and get off the beaten path.  Even though the staff spoke very little English and Natalie and I spoke very little French, we all managed to get our points across and have a great time.

Often, I have people ask about the idea of the “French being a bit arrogant.” First of all, I don’t buy into the idea and secondly, experiences like this one are proof that this is just a stereotype.  The staff at the inn were wonderfully hospitable and went out of their way to make our dinner and our stay a grand experience.  I’d go out of my way to eat and stay here again.



Summary

So when you’re traveling, just remember not to panic when things don’t go as expected. It is often the unplanned adventures like this one that turn out to be the most fun. And if you are ever in the Loire River Valley near the town of Avaray, find La Ferme des 3 Maillets, stay a night, have a great dining experience, and really get a chance to explore another side of France.

If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about painted sheep and traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.


David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Choosing a Travel Insurance Policy That's Right for You

TRAVEL INSURANCE


There was a time that I would strike off on an international trip without even thinking about travel insurance. Why spend the extra money on insurance when I could use it on my trip?  As I’ve become older and hopefully a little wiser, I’ve recognized the benefit of travel insurance and the peace of mind that it can bring.  Travel insurance can come in many varieties. In this article I will explain the various travel insurance plans, offer some purchasing advice, stress the importance of knowing the details of your insurance product, and offer a few recommendations on where to purchase travel insurance.  It is also important to note that travel insurance coverage varies from company to company.  Before making your final decision, you should always understand the insurance product, how it applies to you and be sure to read the nitty-gritty fine print.

TRAVEL INSURANCE COMPONENTS


Travel insurance can come with many options and coverage plans.  Before you purchase travel insurance it’s important that you understand what products are available and how they apply to you and your travels.  In general, travel insurance includes one or more of the following components: Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption, Trip Delay, Missed Cruise Connections, Emergency Medical, Dental, Medical Evacuation and/or Repatriation, Lost or Stolen Personal Effects, Baggage Delay and Accidental Death and Dismemberment.  All these components can be mind boggling, so let me explain each one.

Trip Interruption – This covers the nonrefundable unused portion of your prepaid trip cost and additional costs to return home or rejoin your trip due to a covered reason.  I look for plans that provide 100% to 150% coverage in this area. Note that trip interruption is defined as beginning your journey and having to cut it short for some reason.
Trip Delay – This pays for additional transportation, meals, accommodations and nonrefundable, unused prepaid expenses if you are delayed 12 or more hours en route to/from your trip. A good plan will have at least $1,000 dedicated for trip delay coverage.
Missed Cruise Connection – This may not pertain to your particular trip, but this item is often included in comprehensive travel insurance plans.   Be sure to read the fine print.   If included, this pays additional transportation costs to join your cruise if you miss your cruise connection due to flight cancellation or a flight delay of 3 or more hours. It also covers accommodations, meals, and nonrefundable trip payments for the unused portion of the cruise or tour.
Emergency Medical Coverage – This provides reimbursement and/or medical evacuation should you or a close relative become seriously ill while traveling abroad. This is the most important aspect of your travel insurance program—don’t skimp on funding here. You should look for plans that provide at least $100,000 of coverage dedicated to this area.
Dental Expenses – This is an added benefit that may be included in some travel insurance plans.   Typically, it provides a reimbursement of about $750 should you require dental treatment while on a trip.
Emergency Medical Evacuation/Repatriation – This feature is also very important and typically provides transportation to the nearest appropriate medical facility if necessary.  If hospitalized more than seven days (read the fine print because plans vary here) a person chosen by you will be sent to and from your bedside if traveling alone.  Additionally, should you die while traveling, your remains will be returned to your residence or burial place. 
Loss, Stolen or Damaged Baggage or Personal Effects – This provides reimbursement should your luggage be lost or damaged, items are stolen from you or personal items are damaged.   Coverage plans vary, but typically range from $1,000-$2,000.
Baggage Delay – This feature pays out a certain amount if your baggage is delayed more than 24 hours. 
Accidental Death & Dismemberment – If included, this pays benefits for death, loss of limbs, or loss of sight as the result of an accident occurring on your trip.  Often, the same feature is written for an accident that occurs when you are riding, boarding, or alighting from a common carrier.  Typically, these benefits range from $10,000-$25,000.
Trip Cancellation – This provides reimbursement of the nonrefundable prepaid trip cost in the event that you are not able to travel for a covered reason. Covered reasons vary by insurance company, but most include full reimbursement if you or a direct family member become seriously ill or injured, you lose your job, you or a family member die, and many other reasons (read the fine print).   Look for a policy that pays at least 100% of the trip cost.  Note that trip cancellation is when you do not go on the trip at all.
Trip cancellation insurance is the most expensive element of a travel insurance policy. The policy becomes effective the moment it is purchased.  Typically, you should purchase this insurance as soon as you submit an application and deposit for a group tour or cruise or when purchasing an airline ticket for independent travel.  Most insurance companies require that a trip cancellation policy be purchased within 7 to 10 days of signing up or committing to travel.  For me, this is worth every penny!  People who are healthy, unattached, young and/or frequent travelers often forgo this type of coverage. I’ve traveled for 40 years and have often elected not purchased trip cancellation insurance.  Luckily, I’ve never had a serious incident where it was needed.   However, the older I get the more inclined I am to purchase this very important insurance element.
Insurance companies have very specific reasons when trip cancellation insurance can kick in.   You will have to read the fine print of your insurance policy to confirm what is and is not included.  At a minimum, I recommend policies that address most of the following concerns: sickness, injury or death of you or your travel partner, death or hospitalization of host at destination, jury duty, quarantine, court-ordered appearance, traffic accident, residence uninhabitable, strike, felonious assault, military duty for natural disaster relief, termination/layoff/transfer, weather, terrorist incident, bankruptcy/default, natural disaster, and hijacking.

Cancel for Any Reason – Many insurance companies provide a “cancel for any reason” policy which comes as an added option with an additional cost.  Often this pays out at less than 100% so you’ll need to check the policy’s fine print before purchasing.  You’ll have to jump through some additional hoops to purchase this coverage, but for many it offers full peace of mind when booking travel.   Typically, you must pay for the plan within 7 to 10 days of your initial trip deposit, you must purchase full comprehensive coverage for the complete value of your trip and if you cancel, it must be done within two days of your departure date. 

Rental Car Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) – This may be something you’ll want to consider if renting a car at your out-of-country travel destination. Restrictions apply and it comes at an additional cost, which is usually less expensive than what a rental car company will offer.

WEIGH THE COSTS AND RISKS          


Travel insurance plans that include all or most of the above components are known as Comprehensive Travel Insurance plans. The cost of Comprehensive Insurance is determined by a sliding scale based on the insured’s age, the cost of the trip and duration of travel.  Normally it is about 10%-15% of the tour cost, but shop around for a comprehensive plan that will meet your needs.  Don’t skimp on cost.

I organize European tours for living, so I put in a lot of miles each year, both on the ground and in the air.  At a minimum, I always travel with an insurance plan that covers emergency medical, trip delay and interruption, emergency medical evacuation and repatriation, and lost, damaged or stolen personal effects. It’s a tossup sometimes between full comprehensive insurance with trip cancellation or a less expensive package covering medical, trip delay, theft and baggage loss or delay.  When considering which insurance products to purchase, it’s a good idea to consider:
·         your health,
·         the health of your loved ones,
·         the amount of nonrefundable funds invested in the trip,
·         the value of your luggage,
·         and the financial stability of your tour company and airline.

CARRY YOUR INSURANCE DOCUMENTS WITH YOU WHEN TRAVELING


Purchasing a travel insurance policy is useless unless you have your policy information with you while traveling.  Usually, a small wallet ID card is issued containing the policy number and emergency telephone numbers of the insurance company.   I suggest you make several copies of the ID card.  Leave one at home with a friend or relative, just in case you’ve panicked and can’t remember were you put it. Put another in an inside pocket of your suitcase.  Finally, and most importantly, carry the original in your money belt with all your other valuables.  All insurance companies publish toll-free telephone numbers for you to call in the event of an emergency.

SUMMARY


Travel insurance comes in many varieties and includes varied components. It is important to understand each of these components and how they may or may not assist you when traveling abroad.  Prices vary widely, so do your homework and choose a plan that works best for you.    Trip cancellation is the most expensive component and possibly the one which offers the most benefit. Each traveler should consider their health, the health of loved ones and the amount of nonrefundable funds invested in the trip when choosing a travel insurance policy.  Finally, before making your final decision, you should always understand the insurance product, how it applies to you and be sure to read the nitty-gritty fine print.


CONVINCED YOU NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?

This link will take you to the SEVEN CORNERS TRAVEL INSURANCE Homepage. 

Once there, scroll down and click on the "TRIP PROTECTION INSURANCE" ICON and select an insurance package to receive a quote.  I suggest either ROUNDTRIP Choice or ROUNDTRIP Elite. 


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Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at my website. Visit now at http://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

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