Monthly Archives: March 2010

In the Suitcase: Trip insurance!

I briefly mentioned the value of purchasing trip insurance twice in this blog: once when our honeymoon to Thailand was nearly sabotaged by the hundred thousands of protestors taking over the airports in Bangkok, and another regarding injuries while on vacation.

Now, Jon and I are cashing in on our trip insurance, which we bought for one purpose (anticipating the death of a family member) and are applying for another (not anticipating Jon would rupture his spleen while skiing). We had planned a quick trip to Tahoe for the end of Jon’s spring break at my cousin’s timeshare when we got wind of the potential family emergency, but then on the slopes of Alpine Meadows, a skiier got in his way and Jon ended up tumbling several times, skis and poles flying in four directions. After hearing Jon complain of pain in his abdomen AND shoulder, the medics called an ambulance and whisked him away to the local hospital for a CT scan. Apparently the combination of stomach and shoulder pain meant the spleen could be affected. They were correct: Jon was bleeding internally, and sent into surgery right away.

Fortunately, he still has most of his spleen and is finally snoring away in his hospital bed. Tonight I am opting to sleep in the neighboring bed instead of at the house, which was  warm and festive with lots of people over the weekend, but after everyone left, it became a ghostly large house in the woods and the lightning did not comfort me much, all alone there.

Also fortunately, I was able to file a claim on our trip insurance which would cover any additional expenses that our health insurance plan will not cover, as well as additional costs to change our flight, daily expenditures, even phone calls. I was extremely relieved, and everyone – from the airline and rental car to the insurance agent, was very sympathetic.

Our insurance is through STA Travel, which is valid for travelers under 35 years and only cost us $48 a person for 8-day coverage. The coverage also extends a week after the last day of our trip, so any hotels, meals, and necessary costs will be covered up to that date without our needing to purchase additional coverage. Plenty of insurance companies offer trip insurance, and it’s important to review what you’ll need; for example, in a disaster area, medical evacuation is a good item to include. If you’re going on a trip, even domestically, that involves dangerous activity (I will now rate skiing on there – even though we’re fairly careful skiiers, those surrounding us are not. Jon was not the only spleen surgery this weekend from skiing). Also, any anticipation of cancellation or change of plans, or if you are bringing very expensive items in your luggage, trip insurance is a good idea to consider.

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Now Boarding: “Fly Girls” on the CW

O.M.G! The CW has debuted its own reality show where they follow around five very sexy, pretty young female flight attendants through all their drama and daily woes. Viewers of “Fly Girls” fly around with the Virgin America flight attendants donning straight-jacket-tight white button-up shirt uniforms and tight skirts as they spend their layovers going to parties in South Beach and New York. CW did attempt to diversify with one black attendant, one Asian attendant, two blond ones and a brunette, but somehow they all seem to look alike anyway. And they also apparently all live together, which should just be enough drama in itself. The first episode, which premieres tonight: ” Louise and Mandy are invited to a party by an IFB (“in-flight boyfriend”) they meet while working a flight, while Tasha and Farrah prepare their crash pad for their controversial new roommate, Nikole. The girls then fly to Ft. Lauderdale for an inauguration party filled with scandal.”

Wow. What a life as a  flight attendant! Whatever was I doing working in a newsroom in my partying years? (Perhaps there will soon be a reality show about five hot journalist girls trying to make deadlines and having drama with their computers and catfighting over bylines). I suspect, however, that the majority of flight attendants do not live this sort of lifestyle. I suspect most of them just pass out on the hotel bed upon arrival. I have a friend who is a part-time flight attendant on the smaller routes – between LA and Cleveland – but her way of going crazy is by taking advantage of employee discounts on airfare to exotic countries where she might ride some elephants and go white water rafting. I’m sure some of the younger ones have their wild n’ crazy nightlifes in every port, but if Virgin America and the CW are smart, they will not show their employees working flights the next day with hangovers from these extravagant evenings. Just a thought.

I will, however, give CW credit for showing actual working individuals instead of Real Housewives who are just catty socialites living off their husbands’ income (although some of them actually do have jobs, but it’s not really emphasized).

If you’re looking for other in-flight entertainment, I highly recommend the hilarious “View From the Top” in which Donna Jensen (played by Gwenyth Paltrow) is looking to leave her small-town life to become a world traveling flight attendant.  Mike Myers is the flight attendant instructor. Most movies with Mike Myers are pretty entertaining, at least more so than what I expect out of the CW. But I shall not judge until I have watched.

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Cool Tools: SteriPen water purifier

Nothing can ruin a great trip to an exotic country than consuming some exotic bacteria and setting off what’s more euphemistically referred to as “Montezuma’s Revenge”. You can soak your hands in Purell all your want and run all your silverware under rubbing alcohol, but even brushing your teeth with tap water or eating fruit cut with a wet knife washed in tap can bring on some digestive complications.

I always travel with a portable hot water boiler and a metal cup to kill all the germs for water to brush my teeth. But no more! Now there’s this cool new tool: the SteriPen “Traveler mini” version which uses UV light to purify drinking water in just 48 seconds. Resembling a miniature Light-Saber, the tool is like a thick pen, weighs 3.6 ounces and runs on two CR123 batteries. Better than my hot-water boiler, which requires a plug, this fits in your purse or backpack and you can whip it out at any restaurant and zap any bugs in your drinking water.

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Now Boarding: Trouble in Paradise

Recently, we’ve been trying to book my inlaws on a much-deserved tropical vacation for a week. They wanted somewhere quiet, clean, comfortable, ocean view, with good restaurants and weather, minus screaming kids, minus drunk college students, minus drunk middle agers pretending to be in college. So we chose St. Martin – an island for those with refined taste, slightly pricier, but oh-so-beautiful sand and beaches and astounding restaurants.

Then mother-in-law found out some disturbing information: that there was crime in St. Martin.

Well, of course there is crime – nowhere is safe. But I did a little research, and it appears that some parts of the Caribbean, including St. Martin, have experienced a rise in crime targeted at tourists, ranging from pickpocketing and hotel robbery to mugging. Though few actually get hurt, the incidents are enough to ruin a vacation. (The Washington Post ran an article about this rise in crime rate last year).

Crime has risen in the Bahamas, Belize, Honduras, Jamaica, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Why the rise? Well, blame the economy (everyone does). Caribbean residents, for the most part, are not wealthy. They depend heavily on the rich tourists who come in with money to spend, and those who do not profit from them begin to resent them. As the economic situation worsens personal situations, people become desperate and tourists become quick and easy targets.

That shouldn’t keep you away from visiting the beloved islands, of course. Jamaica and parts of Mexico are notorious for terrible crime, yet they still attract millions of tourists a year. Some experts say that people are actually safer in the Caribbean than in their home cities.

Locals hate the crimes as much because it ruins tourism in their area. When we were robbed in Costa Rica, the perp was caught and stuck in the back of a police car, while local businessowners taunted and scolded him for being part of the problem. My in-laws don’t want to go to St. Martin now because of the reputation built by these criminals.

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise the same amount of caution as you do at home. Lock your doors, leave valuables at home and out of sight in cars, watch your wallet and purse, and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk around alone at night and ask your concierge about what areas are safe and where to avoid. If you are approached, don’t put up a fight. Your money will be recovered and your wallet/ purse can be replaced. Then call the local police.

 Bottom line? In most likely scenarios, you’ll be perfectly safe and your vacation will go without a hitch. So enjoy, be safe, be aware, and have a great time!

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Cool Tools: Tripadvisor!

One of my favorite travel tools of all time (though taken with a grain of salt): TripAdvisor.com. I’ve been on there multiple times while researching several trips for people who wrote requesting help with travel planning.

Talk about an open forum! People go on there all the time to rant or rave about a hotel and even suggest other ideas from their trip, including restaurants and activities. Of course, you have to really read people’s reviews thoroughly to understand what kind of people they are. Since I like clean, nice, and not-too-pricy, I found that the majority of respondents who like similar types of accommodations tend to be the following:

  • Backpackers who are psyched the place comes with sheets and towels;
  • Backpackers who are so snobby about trying to be as “real” as possible that they think sleeping with sheets and towels is so touristy;
  • People who only travel in the U.S. and have U.S. standards for service;
  • Rich people trying to find a good deal and being sorely disappointed or pleasantly surprised;
  • Not-so-rich people trying to find a good deal and thinking that they paid too much for the service and room or are pleasantly surprised;
  • Ordinary people who expect a hotel to be everything like they have at home (the types who complain about the pillows);
  • Families

Usually, I find that the hotels that get a lot of positive reviews and few negative ones are pretty good bets. It’s important to read the bad reviews because they could be isolated incidents, but if it appears that many people have experienced similar situations, then that may be a red flag. Some hotels have caught on with social marketing and make a point to respond to every critique, which shows effort.

Another tip: if there aren’t too many reviews, be aware if some are written by parties affiliated with the hotels. Particularly if the hotel is located in a country where English is not the first language, you can often tell if the rave reviews are fake if they seem to repeat themselves and are vague and pointless.

Based on a lot of comments made by hotels to negative reviews, if you arrive at a hotel and it is not up to par, it’s always best to point it out to management rather than sulk and ruin your vacation.

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In the Suitcase: What to do if you get hurt or sick while traveling

The worst case scenario in any travel adventure is that people can get hurt! Tourists wander around in a bubble, observing their new surroundings like visitors at an uncaged zoo, avoiding the water and washing their hands with alcohol wipes but never expecting that they can be just as vulnerable to accidents and injuries. And why should you?  Unfortunately, tourists get hurt all the time, whether from lax regulations overseas, reckless activity, bad earthquakes, new bacteria, or just from being human.

My friend Janice (who this picture is not of), who has one of the most serious cases of wanderlust right now, abandoned Corporate America for South America and now southeast Asia. Unfortunately, halfway through her wanderings in the Phillipines, she was in “a motor accident” (unsure if that means motorcycle, moped, motor scooter, tuk-tuk or automobile – she has not clarified) which broke her shoulder (clavicle) and re-directed her to rest up in Bali for a month with her arm in a sling. When she reached Bangkok and went to see a doctor for a check-up on her shoulder, he examined her and said due to complications, she would need surgery.

Jon, of course, was mortified: surgery in Bangkok?? I reminded him that Bangkok, which we had visited, was very modern and had real hospitals with electricity and clean water and maybe even a color photocopier. I could see him picturing Janice laid up in the back of some apothecary hut with a witch doctor hovering over her, chanting. She went through the surgery, and recuperated in the hospital, but has to cut her trip short and return to the U.S.

Here are some tips for handling emergency care while traveling overseas.

1. Prevention. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date and that you have received any required ones for the areas you are going to.

2. Pack a first-aid kit. I always carry one of these. It should include Tylenol (or equivalent), band-aids, neosporin or bacitracin, alcohol prep wipes, Pepto-bismol, laxatives, antacids, an Ace bandage, powdered Gatorade (it comes in little individual tubes and essential if you’re dehydrated and need electrolytes) and spare tissues. Ask your doctor about receiving Cipro for emergency purposes.

3.  Check your health insurance coverage. You should make sure you are covered internationally and for medical evacuation; if not, purchase additional insurance. Make sure the insurance covers different items as necessary: for example, if you’re skiing, you’ll want search-and-mountain rescue, ambulance and air costs. This would be in addition to your regular traveler’s insurance.

4. If you are injured, seek medical attention as you would in the United States. Go to the nearest hospital or clinic. Even if you’re in a remote part of the world, there are trained doctors who can help you better than you can help yourself (unless you’re a doctor). If you require hospitalization, call your country embassy for help too.

5. After treatment you can decide whether to stay on or go home. It may be best to go home, so you can received further care from your own doctor and rest up in your own bed.

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On My Itinerary: Kilimanjaro?

Jon and I are starting to plan out the details of going to southern Africa this summer for an entire fortnight (i.e. 14 days for non-Shakespeare fans; also a LOT of time for American travelers! two whole weeks!). We’ve decided on a five-day safari that would zoom us around the major parks of northern Tanzania, then three or four days on the island of Zanzibar exploring Stone Town and sitting on a beach recuperating, and then we’re trying to figure out how to spend the rest of our precious, precious time. Jon would like to volunteer at an orphange or somewhere in Kenya and get acquainted with some locals and see regular life, which I do like to do, and I would like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but we both agree we’d be happier if we could just climb Kilimanjaro for 2 days, not the suggested 6-8 days (the longer the better for acclimization to the higher elevations. Jon’s colleague did it in five days and said half his group was throwing up because they didn’t spend time acclimizing).

The reason for my fascination with Kilimanjaro is not because I have anything to prove to myself – since I like hiking and I’m in good shape, I’m pretty positive I’ll be able to handle it. And I’m sure I could get to the top, but even if I don’t, my life will go on without my feeling like some giant failure. I’ve also recently re-read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air  about the Mt. Everest disaster, and for some reason reading about people dying on Everest is making me want to go climbing Kilimanjaro. Not because I’m looking to die, because Kilimanjaro is actually an easy, safe climb as long as you’re in good shape (and as long as climate changes doesn’t keep melting the ice caps and send falling boulders onto tourists like it did a few years back) – and I do miss hiking, and it would be cool to stand on top of Africa for a few minutes before descending back down.

The other hesitation, besides short amount of time and the $1,200+ to climb Kilimanjaro is we have to pack – a lot. Apparently, people just stop changing their shirts after a while (but they do change their socks and underwear, thankfully), but we would have to pack basically all our ski clothing. Thermals, wool socks, fleece, winter jacket, some kind of warm active pants, hiking boots, etc. This sort of packing does not fly with my desire to carry-on only, especially when changing at least two planes.

In reality, I wish we had an entire month, but that is highly frowned upon in American corporate society to abandon your job as such just so you can go see the rest of the world (How dare we be open minded!). That way, we could do all three activities and spend even more time lounging around Zanzibar and even venture towards the seaside of Mozambique, which piqued my interest initially. I will keep you all updated on our planning!

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