To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.

Car Buyer or Cult Member?

Am I having a midlife crisis? Or did I just join a cult? I’m way too old for either, but here we are.

I feel like I have done the car buying equivalent of bungee jumping, except I haven’t jumped YET. I’ve been strapped in, led to the edge, and am waiting to either jump or be pushed. My emotions keep swinging from exhilaration to terror. What have I done? The bigger question: Does every future Tesla owner go through this while awaiting delivery?

First, let me say that although I am still in shock that a car can cost almost as much as our first house, I didn’t buy one of the super expensive Teslas. And our little first house, bought decades ago, was in Ohio, a much cheaper area of the country. Still, for someone who views a car solely as a means of transportation, it’s a LOT of money, even for the Tesla 3, which is the least expensive model. (I DID spring for the mid priced 3–the one with the battery that lets you go a longer distance. The top of the line, the Performance 3 is DEFINITELY for those with a need for speed.)

So, how did this happen? How did a non-car aficionado end up ordering a cool set of wheels? Simple. My son guilted me. He took the number of miles that I drove last year plus the amount that I spent on gasoline, and converted it into how much carbon I released into the atmosphere. Not as much as most, because for the last 11 years, I’ve driven a Prius. Even so, he calculated that in 2019, I was responsible for one TON of emissions. He’s an electrical engineer, so the odds are good that his calculation was accurate. But then again, he knows I don’t have the skills needed to check his math.

He knows my vulnerabilities. I am passionate about protecting the environment. For years, I’ve carried a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags (including reusable produce bags). I recycle, reuse and refrain whenever I can to minimize my carbon footprint. Because I love to travel, I figure I need to do whatever I can to offset my the carbon from the flights I take.

I also really liked the Tesla’s safety features, such as blind spot monitoring, and assisted cruise control. For an additional $7,000, I could have had the self driving feature. I didn’t get it, and not just because of the cost. Quite honestly, when I tried it out, I was terrified. What is REALLY cool, however, is that all of Tesla’s model 3’s (built after 10/2016) have all of the sensors, cameras and radar needed for self driving already built in. Should I become comfortable enough to add that feature in the future, all I have to do is pay for it, then download the software via wifi. And that’s another cool thing: Tesla updates the software regularly, so once you own a Tesla, you benefit from the updates that flow over your wifi network. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Only time will tell.

But back to those safety features. Even if you don’t spring for the super duper self driving feature, you still get “auto pilot”. If you are like me, and get into your zen mode while listening to the radio, you know that sometimes your foot gets heavy and you lose track of space and time – or maybe just the speed at which you are traveling. Am I right? Auto Pilot KNOWS the speed limits of the road you are zipping along, and will limit you to a number that you choose ( like +5 MPH over the limit). You can override the limit, but usually my problem comes from going too fast, not too slow.

Anyway, I am 4 days away from picking up the car that I ordered 5 weeks ago. What have I done while waiting? I’ve been reading the manual. Mike has been busy too. He oversaw turning our garage into a charging station. His mission was accomplished today.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hanging out on the Tesla Message Boards. I wanted to find out things like, does it get hot in the car because of the glass roof? Approximately how far can you go on 1 Kilowatt of electricity? (And is it a Kilowatt or a Kilowatt hour? ) How much does it cost to use a Tesla Supercharger? Stuff like that. Instead I found posts like this one, chosen at random and cut and pasted:

I have a pair of Model S non-P caliper in my garage just for that purpose. However, I’m on the fence about it once I did more research. The big gain for the RB S caliper option is the increase thermal capacity of the larger and thicker rotor. On the other hand, the P3D pad is slightly larger than S pad. And there are already a number of track oriented pad on the market for P3D. Whereas the S pad is available in street pad only, the only other car that uses the same pad shape is Chevy Cruise econobox.

Did it scare me. You bet. Even though I am generally fluent in English, I had no bloody idea what that post was about! But then I realized that many of the Tesla buyers are engineers or car enthusiasts — most likely both. I am neither. I’ll stick to reading the manual. And keep my fingers crossed. Four more days, but who’s counting.

Trip Insurance–Is it 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.

If you read my Australia blog posts, you will recall that my husband had a freak accident, which put him in the Alice Springs Hospital for three days. We missed several days of our trip, but were grateful that everything ultimately turned out well.

Tips for Filing a Claim

  • 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?

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.

Our main concern has 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).

But what if you are not on a group tour? What if you are traveling on your own, 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 use 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 $450 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. That coverage is easily worth the remaining $150 per year charge to us.
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.

Bottom Line
It all comes down to how risk averse you are, what you want to spend, what coverage is important to you, how much time you want to spend researching alternatives.
Every situation is different. Make sure you choose the best option for YOU.
Please feel free to share YOUR experiences and trip Insurance knowledge with the rest of us. Happy travels!