Today on Gilt, one of our favorite travel organizers, is on sale. It’s the Flight 001 Seat Pack. We’ve had this travel organizer for about two years and it goes everywhere. It’s several good sized zippered pockets one one side and a large zippered pocket on the other. And, don’t let the size fool you. You can put lots of stuff in here. We use ours for everything we need on a plane. It can hold chargers, adapters, USB drives, personal items, phone, earbuds, etc. It’s much better than having things in multiple pockets in your backpack or carry-on and it keeps things easily organized. The only thing you need to remember is take it with you when you leave the plane. Make sure to check out Gilt today before this item is sold out. If it is, you can always pay a bit more over at Flight 001.
Over the weekend, we were making last minute preparations for our upcoming trip to Spain at the end of the week. We were searching the iTunes App Store for an iPhone/iPad app that had subway and city maps for Madrid. In the past, we’ve pretty much stuck to Lonely Planet apps, but this time around we wanted to try something different. We were also looking for something that gave us offline map and GPS capability. Enter, mTrip. After reading a few reviews, we’re going to give it a try and see how well it works. mTrip has guides for many different cities in Europe, America and Asia. Plus, they can be updated daily with the latest information. Very handy. We took a look at the app after we downloaded it and I must say it’s very impressive. Very easy to use and does a good job of suggesting things to see and mapping them for you. We’re anxious to try out their “augmented reality” feature, which allows you to point your iPhone at a location and find things nearby in a live video format. Check back here the week of the 12th and we’ll let you know if mTrip’s app can cut the mustard.
Want to know more about the back story of this video? Check out this article about how and why the video was made from the Daily Mail in the UK.
Check for travel advisories at your destination
If you’re planning on a trip abroad, you should always check the US Department of State or the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth office website for the latest in travel advisories for the countries you are visiting.For more detailed information about what’s happening in the country your about to visit, another great resource is the Overseas Security Advisory Council.They have links to recent news stories in the country that may affect your travel plans.
Travel insurance is always a good idea
Travel insurance is a must if you’re traveling internationally. While you may think that you’re invincible, trip insurance can keep your trip from being ruined. Whether it’s a bad case of the flu, or a twisted ankle, you don’t want to be without insurance. Most people think that their health insurance will cover them anywhere. That’s not necessarily true. Do you really want to come up with $1500 in cash to pay for a doctor in Singapore? Do you want to spend two weeks in a hospital in Poland, or would you rather be in a hospital at home? Evacuation insurance is usually part of better trip insurance policies. Remember that if you do end up needing medical care while you’re gone and can’t pay your bill in full before you leave, you may not be able to leave the country your in.
So you can make sure you have maximum coverage for your trip, you’ll want to buy insurance as soon as you make your first trip payment or deposit. Many policies offer lesser coverage the longer you wait. Travel insurance varies in price based upon your destination, how long you’ll be gone, your age and how many people you’ll be insuring. You’ll be surprised at how inexpensive it is. For medical only, you’ll probably pay around $39 or so for a week long trip. Make sure to shop around for the best rate and options that fit your type of travel. Before you buy insurance, check with your current medical insurance carrier and regular insurance agent to see what coverages you may already have when you travel abroad. That way, you can just buy the insurance coverage you need.
Where to Buy Insurance
There are many different places on the web to buy insurance. You’ll want to make sure you stick with reliable companies, so that you don’t end up uncovered. All companies that sell travel insurance in the US are rated by AM Best. AM Best rates all insurance companies, so you can be assured of the companies financial viability to pay your claims. We use Squaremouth to purchase travel insurance when we travel. It allows you to compare all kinds of companies and coverage side-by-side. For some companies, Squaremouth also will give you a satisfaction guarantee, which most individual carriers do not. If you’re planning on doing sporting activities while traveling, you should also check out World Nomads. They often cover you against potential injuries that other companies won’t.
Find the Right Fit
Just like any insurance policy you buy, there are a lot of different flavors of travel insurance. You certainly don’t want to buy more coverage than you need, but you definitely want to make sure you have the right coverage.. Where to start? Here are some features of the major basic coverages:
- Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption
This provides reimbursement for non-refundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled and/or interrupted for illness, death or other specific unforeseen circumstances.
Provides coverage in the event of a terrorist incident. Coverage varies widely for terrorism, so make sure to read the details closely.
- Financial Default
Even the best known companies can have unforseen financial issues. This covers you if there is a complete suspension of operations by your tour operator, airline or other travel provider due to financial circumstances whether or not bankruptcy is filed. Coverage details vary based upon many factors so read the fine print carefully.
- Hurricane & Weather
Covers you if there’s a travel delay coverage due to a mandatory evacuation; complete cessation (meaning the destination airport has been closed for a certain amount of time)of either a common carrier (ticketed public transport) or travel supplier (hotel, condo manager etc.) or your accommodation at destination being rendered uninhabitable by weather (meaning it has either been flooded or so damaged that you cannot stay there).
- Missed Connection
Will reimburse you in the event of a missed flight connection or for the additional costs to “catch up” to a cruise if the cause of delay is an accident or bad weather.
- Travel Delay
Travel Delay provides reimbursement for meals and accommodations when a trip is unexpectedly delayed.
- Baggage & Personal Items Loss
Provides reimbursement for lost, stolen or damaged baggage or personal items.
- Baggage Delay
Can reimburse you for clothing, toiletries and other essential items if luggage is delayed for a specific amount of time.
- Emergency Medical & Dental
Reimburses you for the cost of treatment associated with a medical or dental emergency incurred while traveling.
- Medical Evacuation & Repatriation
Emergency Evacuation arranges to medically transport you to an appropriate medical facility. Medical Repatriation arranges for you to return home to receive care. Repatriation of Remains arranges for return of your remains back to the place of your residence.
- Life Insurance
There are various flavors of Life Insurance coverage, so read your policy carefully. Basically it provides cash payment for accidental loss of life or limb while traveling.
- Rental Car Damage
Collision loss/damage insurance for rental cars covers the costs of damage to, or theft of, a rental car. You may want to check with your credit card company to see if they will provide this coverage at no charge.
There is a Difference
In addition to checking for the type of coverage you might need, you need to look at more than just the total price. The last thing you want when you have a claim is a hassle. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, check to see if the companies offer these features:
- Cancellation of your Trip for any Reason
Provides reimbursement for non-refundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled for any reason. Be cautious, however, as some plans provide only return of premium.
Deductibles vary by each plan and can range from $0 to $2500. Many plans offer $0 deductibles, so determine how much your willing to spend out of pocket, if you have a claim.
- Hazardous Sports
This is one aspect of coverage you’ll want to pay special attention to. Most policies exclude any “activities” that are considered “dangerous”. Definitely read the fine print and if you have any “out of the ordinary” activities planned, you may want to make sure you’ll be covered.
- Trip Duration
Many policies limit the amount of time you can be away. A trip starts when you leave your home and ends when you return to your home regardless of the number of destinations in between.
- Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions
Some companies may cover pre-existing conditions after a specified waiting period, while others may not provide any coverage. Read the fine print.
- 24 Hour Assistance Service
This is one of the most important. When you have a problem, you want to reach someone….NOW. Move companies that offer a 24 Hour Hotline to the top of your list.
- Money Back Guarantees
Money back guarantees are provided to allow you to decide if the policy you purchased is right for you. Your guarantee or “free look” period can last for up to 14 days depending on insurance company although it expires as soon as you use the policy by making a claim or reaching your departure date.
IAH TIP: World Nomads is one of the few insurance companies that will cover most sporting activities. You can check them out here.
- Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption
Specialty: Limited time deals on airfare, hotels, vacation packages, cruises and entertainment around the globe.
We’ve used Travelzoo almost since the day we began traveling together. We’ve booked many deals listed on their website (mostly hotels) and have never had any issues and have always been very pleased. Every week, Travelzoo lists their Top 20 deals, but you can also search the site by location and what you’re looking for (hotel,airfare,etc.). When you subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll get notified once a week (usually on Wednesday) when new deals are announced. When you get two of your friends to sign up for their newsletter with your invitation, you’ll become a VIP member which allows you early access to deals before they send out their weekly announcement.
Travelzoo has deals in all price ranges, categories and destinations. We’ve saved a lot of money over the years using the deals they’ve advertised. One thing we have learned is that when a deal comes out, jump on it. Their deals can sell out quickly and sometimes they last only a matter of days.
Upside: Great deals that are hard to match elsewhere. For hotel deals, you don’t always have to prepay as you do on other sites.
Downside: Deals go fast, so you can’t delay. For some destinations, there can be a “deal drought” for a few weeks without any specials.
Recent events in Egypt over the past few days show how easy it is for political situations to change in foreign countries. Situations can deteriorate rapidly. If you happen to be in a country when things change, are you prepared? By taking a few simple steps before you leave, as well as remain “in-touch” while you’re traveling, you can be ready for most things that come you’re way.
Register Your Trip
In the US, you can register with STEP, at the US State Department. In the UK, you can register with LOCATE, a service of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Each service allows you setup an account, so it makes future registrations quick and easy.
Travel insurance is always a good investment. If unrest or an emergency situation breaks out before you leave home, your policy may help protect your travel investment. Make sure to check policy coverage before you purchase to make sure you’re covered in these types of situations. Some companies like Global Rescue or Red24 provide evacuation or extraction services while traveling.
Know Your Options
Before you leave on your trip, take a few minutes to know what your options are should you need to leave a country unexpectedly. Last year, we went to Thailand during the protests in Bangkok. Even though we were headed to Koh Samui, over 500 miles away, Bangkok was our main airport gateway back to the US. We researched other options of leaving Thailand by air from other cities, just in case there was a take over or shut down of the Bangkok airport.
Vacations and holidays are for relaxing. Getting away from the rat race and “checking out” of daily life. Unfortunately, the rest of the world carries on and things happen. As difficult as it might be, you should tune in to world news on a TV from time to time, so you can stay posted on developments. BBC World is carried in most hotels worldwide. It’s an excellent source for up-to-date information and repeats it’s top stories every few minutes. Many hotels in foreign countries provide their guests with one-page mini-newspapers from outside countries during breakfast.
Knowing who to contact in an emergency situation is key. Before you leave home, program the phone number of your Embassy in the country your traveling to, as well as their address, into your wireless phone. Even if your phone doesn’t work in your destination country, you’ll have the information available to use on a land line. Also take the phone numbers and websites of other airlines that you may need to use, if you can’t go back to your arriving airport or if your original airline stops flying. Many people in Egypt were unable to leave Cairo because many of the major airlines stopped flying when unrest broke out.
Don’t rely on the internet when traveling abroad. Egypt severed all internet connections as the situation grew worse. If your wireless phone won’t work in the country your traveling to, consider purchasing a cellphone that accepts SIM cards. You can purchase a SIM card when you arrive in your destination country and insert it in your phone. That will allow your phone to work on the local cell network.
Taking a few minutes before you leave to plan for unexpected emergencies, can help you cope with any situation that may arise. Most of all, remember to stay calm.
You’ve finally made it. You’re at your final destination. Here are some airport arrival tips to make things go smoothly.
Tips for clearing foreign customs and immigration
Upon arrival in another country, your first stop after departing the plane will be customs and immigration. For most countries, you were probably given a form by the airline prior to your arrival. Make sure you have this form filled out prior to leaving the plane. Some countries, like EU countries, don’t require a form.
If you’ve brought food items from home to eat on the plane and still have a few left, it’s probably a good idea to leave them on the plane. Most countries don’t allow you to bring in food items, even if their in the original wrappers or other sealed packaging.
When you arrive at customs, make sure your cell phone is off, your forms are ready and you have your passport in hand. The immigration officer you’re about to encounter, will control whether or not your permitted to enter the country your about to visit. You want to be on your best behavior and give them your full attention. The last thing you want is to be detained or even worse, sent back home.
IAH TIP: Before you leave home, see if the country you’re traveling to requires a visa-on-arrival fee and/or departure tax. Chile, for example, charges citizens arriving from some countries a visa-on-arrival fee. For US citizens traveling to Chile, the fee is over $100 per person and must be paid before you can pass on to immigration.
Well, maybe you’ve made it to your final destination, but the airline had other ideas for your luggage. First, don’t panic. You’re luggage will most invariably catch up with you.
When you’re luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel, find the airline luggage desk. It should be in the same general area as the luggage carousel. If you’ve taken multiple airlines, you’ll want to go to the luggage desk of the airline you just arrived on.
You’ll need your luggage tag receipts that you received when you checked your luggage at your first departure point. These are key for the airline being able to track down your luggage. If you took photos with your camera or wireless phone before you left home, those will be very helpful to the agent in describing your luggage on the required forms. You’ll also need to know the contact and address information of where you’ll be staying so the airline can deliver the luggage to you.
If you’ve traveled from another country, don’t expect your luggage to arrive quickly. Depending upon how far your luggage traveled with you before it went another direction, it may be a few days before you see it. Hopefully, you took our advice and packed a day or two worth of clothing in your carry-on.
We’ve been fortunate that our luggage has only been lost two or three times in the past 10 years. Once in Italy, it took 4 days to catch up with us. In Malaysia, it arrived less than 24 hours later. The good news is is that every time, we did eventually get our luggage….and everything that was supposed to be inside, was inside.
Tips on transportation from the arriving airport
Once you’ve cleared customs and collected your luggage, your next step is to get to your hotel or wherever it is your staying. If you don’t have your transportation already lined up, make sure you use only official cabs or shuttles. In many foreign countries, there are “unofficial” cabs and shuttles that can take advantage of you by charging exorbitant fees.
Arriving at Your Hotel
When you check-in at your hotel, ask if there are room upgrades available. If you are in the right place at the right time, you may just end up with a better room. You never know if you don’t ask.
Shopping & Souvenirs
It’s a good idea to keep receipts for everything you purchase on your vacation. Many countries offer visitors a tax refund for any purchases made in their country. Before you leave, you’ll need to visit the tax refund office usually located at the airport. Most countries require you to show the items you purchased as well as the receipt. So, you should probably visit the refund office before checking your luggage so you can pack your purchases afterwards in your checked bag. Another reason to keep the receipts is so you can fill out your customs form correctly on your return flight home.
We’ve learned from traveling all over, that it never hurts to have a small flashlight with you. Ours have come in handy during power outages overseas, reading on an overnight flight or even looking for house numbers on a dark street. We prefer the small travel size LED type flashlights. The batteries last forever and you can’t beat the brightness and the distance of the beam. Plus, it can also come in handy in an emergency to signal for help. Almost all of travel-size flashlights are extremely small, lightweight and very easy to pack.
I’m always amazed at the number of fellow travelers we see who are wearing expensive jewelry. When you travel, the last thing you need is one more thing to worry about. When you wear gold necklaces, fancy watches (or at least those that look like the real thing), rings, etc., all you’re doing is making yourself a potential target. Whether you choose to believe it or not, no country, city or hotel is completely safe. Why take the risk?
Sure, okay, you say, I’ll just leave it in my hotel safe. Well, that’s not as secure as you think either. You can take a look at this video demonstrating how easy it is to get into “…the most secure safe” or just take a look at these articles from Gadling and the BBC.
When we travel, we leave the Tag Heuer watches at home and switch to the Timex. We’ve had several of these over the years, as each one lasts us about 2-3 years. Rather than spend $9 for a new battery, it’s just easier to buy a whole new watch for less than $30. The best thing about these watches is that if you lose one, leave it behind in the hotel, or have a monkey take it off your wrist, you’re loss is limited. We’re especially fond of the Timex Expedition series of watches. They have multiple time zone capability (usually 2-3), multiple alarms, Indiglo night light and all-use wristbands.
For travel alarm clocks, we’ve had a few, but our favorite is the Elgin Travel Alarm Clock. It’s relatively small, compact and easy to read both during the day and night. It does use two AAA batteries, but we’ve had ours two years and have yet to replace them. The other things we like about this clock is that it’s lightweight and easy to set both the time and the alarm. Plus, at less than $8, should you accidentally leave one behind when you check out of your hotel, you aren’t out a huge investment.