Published in the Toronto Star Thursday May 23, 2013
Laura Takahashi and her wife Jackie Skinner have no problem juggling many travel plans. They know they’ll take a major international trip every four years, with smaller ones in between.
“Right now, we’ve got a trip to P.E.I. planned and a trip to cottage-country planned,” says 28-year-old Takahashi. “And, in February we’re planning on traveling to Costa Rica for a wedding, then traveling four or five weeks after that through Central America.”
Infographic: The Prepared Traveller
The couple from Toronto put their plans into action one year in advance by costing out flights, planning routes roughly and budgeting daily costs. With this information, they create a savings plan that works within their monthly budget.
“If there’s anything major we want to do, like this time we really want to take a sailboat between Panama and Colombia, we will need to plan that into the budget,” she says.
“We don’t just drop down in a country and not have idea of what we’re going to do and how much it’s going to cost,” says Takahashi. “Most of it is spontaneous, but overall we do prepare ourselves.”
Preparation doesn’t just mean budgeting. Takahashi and Skinner want to feel protected on the road.
“We always book through our travel credit card, so all our flights are insured,” Takahashi says.
Credit cards may also offer collision coverage on a rental car at preferred rates. This is a smart way to save funds and stay protected when you travel.
“The next step is pricing out any shots, medications and travel insurance.
“I’ve never had to use my travel medical insurance — knock on wood! — but it’s pretty reasonable, I think.”
Seasoned travelers know accidents can happen at any time.
Payments to Canadian policyholders in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, amounted to $620 million, reports the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. But 40 per cent of Canadians are willing to take the risk and forgo travel insurance.
Veteran globetrotter Brice Gosnell, vice-president of publishing at Lonely Planet, which publishes travel guides, has experienced a medical emergency first hand.
“I got a scratch on my cornea the day I got to France,” he says. “It felt like I was blinking glass.”
Gosnell, who is American-born and lives in Los Angeles, went to a doctor who sent him to an eye hospital. They gave him a prescription and asked that he return to make sure the medication was working.
“Worst-case scenario is that you go blind in your eye. At the time, I was more concerned with making the pain go away,” he says. “In my case, I was lucky that I was in France, which has a social medical structure. There, it doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist or not, you can take advantage of their services.”
In the end, Gosnell’s medical costs amounted to $50. He may not have had such an inexpensive experience had he been travelling elsewhere.
Medical costs in many foreign countries are expensive. A hospital bed in the United States, for example, can cost a Canadian upwards of $10,000 per day.
Canadian provincial government health insurance plans may offer as little as $100 per day in cover for U.S. medical expenses.
“If you don’t have travel insurance, you’re taking a big personal financial risk because those bills are coming right to you,” says John Thain, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.
Depending on the country you are in, Thain says, “medical care can be very expensive. These bills can be in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars if you end up in-hospital.”
Consumers must keep in mind, however, that travel insurance is for medical emergencies and does not cover regular care.
“It’s for unforeseen situations. It’s not replacing your OHIP, for example, while you’re out of the country. It doesn’t cover your regular care, or a chronic condition you may have if you choose to see a doctor out of the country,” he says.
That’s an important point. Many consumers who purchase travel insurance believe they are automatically covered should something happen.
That’s not always the case. It’s up to the consumer to inform his or herself by reading and understanding what the policy covers.
Insurance policies and their premiums vary. Age, length of travel, country of travel and personal medical considerations all come into play. If a traveller is more than 60 years old, they’ll likely need to fill out a questionnaire before they are considered.
Consumers are advised to shop on benefits, not just price. If a person has a heart ailment, for example, make sure the policy covers that condition.
Travellers should also purchase policies with a 1-800 assistance number.
“If you’re in some remote location, and, if you did have a medical situation arise, what are you going to do?” asks Thain. He adds that staff whose job it is to help the traveller can help a person navigate through a medical problem in the country he or she is in.
While it is always good to go see your doctor before you travel to get specialized knowledge about a destination, travellers should be careful about last-minute changes to medication.
Most travel-insurance policies will exclude pre-existing conditions unless they are deemed stable.
If a traveller has a pre-existing condition, with no change in treatment or no change in medication for 180 days before the date of departure, the condition will, most likely, be deemed stable and will be covered.
But if a doctor is changing any medication before a person travels, an insurer may deem the condition unstable and then is not likely to cover it.
“That’s where a consumer has to get in there and read their insurance policy. They have to really understand it,” says Thain. There are ways to access the policy electronically, so why not read it through online?
Why put yourself through the risk by not doing so?
Tips for keeping hold of your money
Lonely Planet’s Brice Gosnell wants to keep your money safe on the road. Freelance writer Kristin Kent asked him for his advice:
Kristin Kent: Where do you keep your cash?
Brice Gosnell: If I’m carrying cash, I’ll have some on me and I’ll put some in my hotel safe. The only time you’re going to reconsider this is when you’re in a destination where your accommodations might not be the safest.
KK: Should you just keep it in your pocket?
BG: Definitely spread it out. You can carry some of your cash with you and you’ll want to find a spot that no one will be rifling through . . . so, in an envelope, or in a book that is hidden in a secret slot in your bag.
KK: How much should you keep on your person?
BG: It really depends on the destination. If you know you’re going to have access to an ABM, I wouldn’t stress it too much. Exchange a few hundred dollars so you have cash on you when you’re on the ground.
KK: Does that apply to rural destinations?
BG: Even if you’re going to a rural destination, in most cases you’re flying into a city. And in most cities, if they don’t have ATMs, they have banks.
KK: What about debit or credit?
BG: I wouldn’t use a debit card. Debit cards aren’t always used internationally. I would definitely use a credit card. Plus, you always have protection with your credit card company.
KK: Any last-minute tips?
BG: Take a scan of your documents: ccredit card number, passports, important addresses. You don’t need to carry that stuff as paper nowadays.