How Many Cities Have YOU Visited

Many of us have seen the lists circulating on Facebook, asking how many places we’ve visited. One list includes those tourist hot spots that are on EVERYONE’s Bucket List, such as Kabul, Pyongyang, Lagos, and Tehran. Really?

Here’s a list that is far more achievable. You might not be able to claim to have visited all 100, but I’ll bet most can get to about 20 – 25.

How many have YOU visited?

Trip Insurance–Is it Worth It?

Things are slowly starting to open up, despite the Covid variants. We restless souls are once again thinking about traveling. Several of my friends have asked about travel insurance, so I decided to update this post that I originally wrote oh so long ago, in 2019.

Is Trip Insurance worth it? Here’s the Cliffs Note version: It all depends. For some, trip insurance is definitely worth it. But there are caveats. Know what you need, know what you are buying, choose a reputable company, consider other options.

Know What You Need
Medicare does not cover you when you are out of the USA, so for some people, the main reason for buying trip insurance is to get medical coverage. We are fortunate enough to have a very generous medicare supplement, which DOES cover us for emergency services wherever we are in the world. So, for that reason, I chose the AIG policy that offered minimal medical and dental coverage, and the medical coverage was secondary. (That means they will pay after other insurance has paid first. So, you need to submit to your primary carrier, and then whatever isn’t covered, you would submit to the secondary carrier.) If your health plan has a high deductible, and high out of pocket maximum, then you may want or need more generous travel insurance benefits.

For some people, “cancel for any reason” protection may make sense. This might be true for someone still in the work force, who may have to change vacation plans because of work responsibilities.

In the past, before Covid, our main concern had been trip cancellation for health reasons (either ours or a family member), or trip interruption. Remember when the volcano in Iceland erupted and people were unable to continue with their original travel plans? That’s the sort of thing that worries me.

You can get plans that offer trip interruption at 100% of the cost of the trip (the amount you are insuring) or 150% of the cost of the trip. Why would you want to purchase coverage for more than the cost of the trip? Well, if your trip is interrupted, you may have to stay in another country longer than planned or you may have to change flight arrangements (which could be very expensive).

What about Covid? Different travel companies have different policies. If a trip has been canceled by the tour company, most are offering the travelers a choice of either a refund or of rebooking with some kind of bonus. It is wise to check the tour company’s policy before submitting your deposit.

What if YOU cancel? Again, check the tour company or airline/hotel/Booking site for their policy. We are frequent travelers with Overseas Adventure Travel. They will allow travelers to rebook without any change fees up to 24 hours before the original departure.

But what if you are not on a group tour? What if you are traveling on your own, driving to hotels that allow you to cancel within a day or two of arrival? You may not need any trip insurance at all.

Know What You are Buying
I have used Insuremytrip.com to compare various travel insurance options. There are other companies, such as Squaremouth.com, but I’ve had good luck with Insuremytrip, so they are the only company that I have had experience with.
Others may be more comfortable using an insurance agent to find the plan that best meets their needs. If you DO decide to do it on your own, be sure to download the complete policy and read it carefully so that you know exactly what you are getting.
Things to look out for: Pre-Existing condition exclusion clauses, what qualifies as a covered reason for trip cancellation, what level of coverage is offered for things that are important to YOU and is that coverage primary or secondary?
For example, I never check anything valuable when I travel, so I don’t care about the level of coverage for lost luggage. The airlines offer some coverage for delayed or lost luggage, and the airline is usually considered primary.
If you are uncomfortable purchasing a plan from the internet, you can speak with a representative for Insuremytrip.com. They are not paid commissions, so they do not have a financial interest in your choice of plan. That may be true of similar companies.

Choose a Reputable Company
Take the time to read the reviews. Insuremytrip, for example, includes Better Business Bureau ratings, AM Best ratings, years in business, and reviews by users for each of the companies offered, and allows you to do a side by side comparison of the plans. You can also do a google search.

Other Options
Check your credit card for any coverage they might offer. You need to read the booklet that they give you when you first enroll, or compare the benefits of the various companies on line.
I had never considered the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, because of its $550 annual fee. Then I read a post from a fellow traveler who explained that Chase reimburses you up to $300 for any travel expenses you incur during the year. They also offer trip interruption and cancellation insurance, up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence, with a $40,000 per year maximum. To us, that coverage is easily worth the remaining $250 per year charge.
Some of my friends swear by one of the premium American Express cards. It is also possible that Citibank has something competitive, but I have had no experience with either.
You may also consider purchasing the insurance that your tour group offers. I always take a look, but so far, have been able to find more attractive options. That may change as we get older.
If the thought of doing all that research gives you a massive headache, you can always choose an agent who is knowledgeable about trip insurance and can help you find the coverage that best meets your needs. If you don’t already have an agent, Dan Drennan was highly recommended by a traveler on a travel forum, and rightfully so. I’ve had positive experiences with Dan and am pleased to share his phone number with you: 402-343-3621.

Tips for Filing a Claim
Sadly, in 2019, on our trip to Australia, we had the opportunity to investigate in great detail how Trip Interruption Coverage works. We were pleased (and quite frankly, amazed) by the speed with which we were reimbursed for our expenses.
Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the claim process, should the need arise.

  • Notify the insurance company as soon as you realize you will be submitting a claim. They can email you the claim form, tell you what to include when you submit your claim and provide moral support. The medical team at AIG Travel Guard was wonderful. Although I didn’t need their help, it was nice to know they were available, if I wanted them to check up on me and my husband.
  • Keep ALL receipts. I immediately bought a spiral bound notebook and scotch tape, so that I could enter every receipt, by day, into the notebook, with notations indicating what the expense was for. It is very easy to lose small pieces of paper, like taxi receipts.
  • If you can, pay everything with one credit card. It makes documentation much easier. If you are in a foreign country, your credit card statement will have a record of the currency exchange rate for that item. You simply match the receipt against the credit card charge, and you save the claim examiner that extra task, which brings me to the next point.
  • Make it as easy as possible for the claim examiner to pay the claim. A claim for trip interruption is far more complicated than one for trip cancellation, so more information was needed to process our claim.
  • I created a “claim package”, with a cover letter and a table of contents. I explained what was being provided and identified the attached exhibits. I also created a spreadsheet showing what I expected to collect. It took me a day to get everything organized, but I didn’t have any back and forth with either insurance company.
This will give you an idea of the paperwork I submitted. Can you see why I wanted to help the claim examiner out?

Let’s hope we are all safely traveling again, real soon. Happy trails!

Cape Cod Dinner Train

Since long before Covid, I’d been dreaming about traveling to Denali via a dome topped train. That dream, like many others, has been delayed indefinitely, but to my surprise, I found an alternative close to my childhood home.

Although I spent the first 25 years of my life in Massachusetts, and have since visited there more times than I can count, I never was aware that Cape Cod had one of those magnificent dome topped trains. I have no idea how long it has been in existence, and I never knew you could choose to enjoy a fabulous dinner on it during your three hour ride.

It seemed like the perfect option for a belated Father’s Day present for my 93 year old dad. Yes, this year, I celebrated Father’s Day in July. It’s the rebel in me. Who cares what the calendar says? I’ll celebrate whatever I want, whenever it pleases me, damn it.

The 5 course meal included crudités, chowder, this lovely salad,

your choice among four entrees (vegetarian, seafood, chicken and beef) and dessert.

My dad had the beef tenderloin. I chose the chicken cordon bleu. Both were delicious, and beautifully presented.

The price of the meal is included in the cost of your ticket. You choose among three classes of dinner service: First Class, Premium (the dome top) and Platinum (a club car). We went with Platinum so that we could experience the dome top. Even though it rained briefly during our trip, it still was a beautiful ride. If anything, the rain made the scenery look like an impressionistic painting.

Wine and cocktails can be purchased, so why not? How could I pass up an opportunity to get my dad a little tipsy? We bought a bottle, and I was driving, so you can guess who slurped up most of that bottle.

You can choose to depart from Falmouth, Hyannis or Buzzards Bay. The choice of day will determine which will be your departure station (or vice versa–your departure station determines the day of the week you’ll be riding.)

We were seated far enough apart, and the air conditioning was blasting away, so we felt comfortable and safe sharing this indoor space during COVID. (Plus we were both vaccinated).

More information is available on their website: Capetrain.com
See the canal from a different vantage point. You’ll be glad you did!

Morocco, Take Two

We were originally scheduled to fly to Morocco on March 30, 2020. Well, we all know how THAT went. As late as March 3, 2020, we pondered canceling our trip, still uncertain as to whether or not it was safe to travel. Fortunately, the decision was made for us, so we were spared the anxiety and turmoil that other travelers experienced when they had to cut their trips short before everything closed completely down.

We had planned to take three other trips in 2020, our most ambitious travel schedule ever. So much for well laid plans. Like all the other travel enthusiasts out there, we discovered that 2020 would be the year that our big travel plans centered around obtaining groceries.

Fortunately, all our trips were with OAT and the company made rebooking painless, with generous travel credits. In fact, our rebooked trip is even better than the original, because we are including the pre-trip to Chefchaouen, an option that was not offered for our 2020 departure. Our fingers are crossed that in about three months, we will be doing an instant replay: packing and getting geared up for our trip.

So what do you do when you have about a year and a half interlude? If you’re me, you read a whole lot. The photo atop this post shows just some of the books I’ve read in preparation for our trip. These were all purchased from Thrift Books, an on line store that has an abundance of affordable second hand travel books in great shape.

If you are only going to read one book, I highly recommend “Dreams of Trespass” by Fatima Mernissi. Written in 1994, when she was 54 years old, Mernissi takes us back to her childhood and introduces us to two very different harems: the Fez home of her paternal grandparents and the country farm of her maternal grandparents.  What I loved most about the book is it is written in the voice of a 9 year old girl. She asks “what makes a harem”?  Do you need to have multiple wives (“farm” grandfather had 9) or can you have only 1 wife (like her father and uncle) and still be a harem? Does the harem have to have high walls (like in the city of Fez) or can it be wall-less like in the country? Ultimately, she concluded that unless you are a sultan, a harem was simply the home for an extended family; it offered a refuge for divorced and widowed women.

When Mernissi was a child, Morocco was a French “protectorate”.  Remember that famous scene from the movie, Casablanca, where the Germans are out-sung by the French, who stand up and belt out La Marseillaise?  Were there any Moroccans in that scene?  If you are wondering what life was like for those  conquered by the European “Christians”, Mernissi gives us this glimpse: “Christians, just like Muslims, fight each other all the time, and the Spanish and the French almost killed one another when they crossed our frontier.  Then, when neither was able to exterminate the other, they decided to cut Morocco in half.  They put soldiers near Arbaoua and said that from now on, to go north, you needed a pass because you are crossing into Spanish Morocco.  To go south, you needed another pass because you are crossing into French Morocco.”  I wonder what song the Moroccans would have sung had THEY been in Rick’s cafe?

Mernisi learned about World War II by listening to her male relatives who “talked about the Allemane, or Germans, a new breed of Christians who were giving a beating to the French and British, and they talked about a bomb that the Americans across the sea had dropped on Japan, which was one of the Asian nations near China, thousands of kilometers east of Mecca.  The news about that bomb plunged father, Uncle Ali and my young cousins into deep despair, for if the Christians had thrown that bomb on the Asians who lived so far away, it was only a matter of time before they attacked the Arabs” 

That’s the beauty of travel.  It allows you to connect with people who, on the surface, seem so very different only to learn how much of our hopes, fears and desires are shared.  

 

The Tesla Chronicles- 4. Service

There are four ways your Tesla can be serviced: The usual ways, by bringing your car to their service center, or through a road call, but you can ALSO get your car serviced over the phone, via wifi, and with a “house call”. During my first 10 months of ownership, I’ve experienced three out of the four.

My first experience with Tesla’s service was a house call to install my garage door opener, ‘Home Link’. I made the appointment using the Tesla app on my phone, got instructions to ensure that the service rep would not be exposed to any Covid danger, and received confirmation of the date and time. Easy and efficient.

One of the many nice things about Teslas is there is so much routine maintenance you will never need, like periodic ‘lube, oil, filter’, tune ups, brake jobs (I rarely use my brakes). The maintenance schedule tells you to check your tires, your fluid levels and your wiper blades. That’s it. And you don’t even have to do that, because your car will TELL you if something is amiss…which it did several weeks ago, with an alert on my screen that the front passenger airbag needed attention, leading me to my second experience, service via phone and wifi.

Although the service rep certainly gave it her all, we ultimately concluded that I needed to bring the car in. Still, our time together wasn’t a waste because I learned that you “reboot” by simultaneously pressing both scroll buttons on the steering wheel, a handy thing to know. (Yes, I also could have read the manual, but what fun is that?)

After the technician determined it was safe to drive, I headed for one of the two Tesla Service Centers in New Jersey, my third experience. Lucky for me, it is a mere 17 miles away.

The loaner I was given was another Model 3. If they had been smart, they would have given me an S, so I could notice all the cool things THAT model had that my 3 didn’t. Instead I got a “standard” 3, which made me congratulate myself on the wisdom of my choice. One difference that I noticed immediately were the shiny metal pedals. I figured those were what you got when you bought the cheaper “standard” model. Nope. I subsequently learned were PERFORMANCE pedals, available for $150 from the Tesla Store. As I mentioned earlier, I RARELY need to use the brake, and I only use the accelerator when I’m not in self driving mode, so I can’t comprehend why ANYONE would pay more for shiny pedals. Does it make the car go faster? Does your foot grip the pedal better? Maybe it’s a guy thing? Speaking of “guy things”, I discovered the car was set to “chill” mode, which prevented me from driving like a 17 year old, experiencing the power and grandeur of a Tesla for the first time. (Okay, that was definitely sexist. There are certainly female speed demons out there.)

It turns out that the problem was with the front passenger seat, which had to be replaced, so a new seat had to be ordered and delivered. The Tesla App on my phone kept me updated on the expected completion date. How wonderful not to be subjected to the annoying prompts on an Interactive Voice Response System: “Press 1 if you want to buy a new car, press 2 if you are considering killing yourself so you don’t have to listen to this annoying music while you wait for what feels like hours…” Another easy, positive experience.

I can’t report back on the fourth experience, road service, because so far I haven’t needed it. I’m thinking that a flat tire might be likely reason for summoning help. Teslas do not come equipped with a spare tire in the trunk, although you could probably buy one if you so desired. I definitely don’t desire, because I haven’t ever changed a tire in my life, and I have no intention of starting now. But for those who have the “do it yourself” itch, there is also something that you can buy from the Tesla store (which will be discussed in a future post). If I DO use road service, you can count on me to report back.

Bottom line, as I approach my first year of ownership (March 5th is our anniversary), I have to give high marks to Tesla for service, especially because of the need to access it infrequently.