Insurance & International Travel

A recent incident involving an acquaintance and a conversation with a travel friend have highlighted the importance of international travel insurance. We will take this opportunity to offer our thinking on this matter along with the results of a little research. Please understand that this is focused on American travelers but we are also aware of similar plans offered in Canada and other countries.

There are a number of different categories of travel insurance and you need to understand how your specific travel plans should determine the insurance you buy. Generally, insurance is available to cover problems in five specific areas:

  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption
  • Theft of Property Loss
  • Health and Accident
  • Medical Repatriation
  • Life

In truth, we have maybe been too casual in selecting our own travel insurance. Our concerns have been focused in three main areas. First is a concern in having to cancel an expensive trip at the last minute and losing our invested money. The second is travel interruption causing us to miss difficult connections or a cruise sailing. Lastly are medical cost concerns while being out of the country.

We usually buy a cruise policy for longer cruises to cover us in the event we have to cancel or we unavoidably miss a sailing. Normally we forgo this insurance on shorter cruises because the potential loss in dollars is small and there is little likelihood of missing the cruise. In general, these policies provide medical cost reimbursement and property theft and loss protection. Some also, but not all, cover the cost of medical repatriation.

As a habit, we do not buy air travel insurance. The cost of these policies is mainly focused on the life insurance component and not on trip interruption, which, in most cases, is the airlines responsibility.

Our health insurance does have an international travel component that pays up to $50,000 with a lifetime cap of $50,000.

We have also carried a medical evacuation and repatriation policy for the past number of years that, to us, seems a reasonable expense. Less than $200 for an annual plan.

Situational Considerations

Cruise only – Let’s say you are taking a Mediterranean cruise with flights into and out of the sailing port, a cruise insurance policy probably provides the appropriate amount of coverage in most areas. We have at times been charged for medical services while onboard and had to submit documents to get reimbursed under these policies. We also had one occasion where a camera was stolen and we never seemed to be able to provide enough proof to get the loss paid but that is typical with many insurance policies. Most cruise policies also cover medical expenses if you need care in a local clinic or hospital while on the cruise as well as medical evacuation and repatriation. The same policy usually covers booked cruise/land packages.

Cruise with an extended land itinerary – If you are taking that Mediterranean cruise but then plan to go off on your own for a couple of weeks in Europe, chances are that a cruise policy will terminate on disembarking the ship. For that reason you need to understand that you will not be covered for medical emergencies above the limits of your American health insurance and, based on the incident involving our friend, that can be financially catastrophic.

Frequent international travel – If you are a frequent international traveler it is most important to analyze your risk concerns and how much you are comfortable paying. You have options of buying a complete medical plan (Geoblue) , a medical evacuation plan (EA+) or a complete annual insurance policy (Allianz, Amex) that offer some coverage in virtually all areas. Most policies however only provide coverage while on trips of less than 60 days each.

In our case we take a number of cruises and international trips a year and our biggest concerns are medical emergencies and evacuation so we keep an annual MedEvac plan in place. We believe our Medicare supplement offers adequate (we hope) medical coverage for now and will buy cruise policies on individual trips as mentioned above.

There are also complete annual travel policies, which should be considered if you travel internationally often. Generally they have lower limits on coverage, especially in areas like trip cancellation and property loss. For example most annual policies limit cancellation protection to $2,000 per year. Following is an example from a recent annual generic quote provided by Alianz for a typical retired couple.

Note: 26 European countries require health insurance to visit.

In early 1995 twenty-six European countries signed an agreement that abolished enforcing their borders between member states. As a result the area mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. Anyone from a country that requires them to apply for the Schengen visa to enter Europe must have international health insurance.

The 26 countries in the zone are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

A letter from your insurance company is required, and this needs to mention that you will be covered in Europe for any medical, evacuation and repatriation expenses during your whole stay. The medical expenses have to be covered for at least 30,000 euros.

Americans and Canadians along with a number of other nationals do not need this visa to visit. Because of the immigration crisis of the past years there have also been a number of Schengen countries that are again enforcing their borders on an emergency basis.



Packing for the Trip


Traveling light can become a lifestyle once you give packing some thought. It actually makes the trip much easier on you when you no longer are hauling around oversized and heavy luggage.

Pick your wardrobe carefully. Check the weather where you are going to help determine what clothes to pack. Also try to determine any special events that may require dressing up or dressing down. With this information you will be able to determine what you will need but also what isn’t necessary.

Eliminate items that need special care. Don’t take clothes that wrinkle easily or need ironing. (You can pack a small spray bottle and use water to spritz out most wrinkles.) Avoid items, like silk, that are easily damaged in a laundry.

Packing cubes

Stage clothes you’ve selected in one place so you can make an evaluation. Ask yourself questions like what combinations do I have and how many items work with each other. It’s important to be able to mix and match. Many environments also lend themselves to layering your outfits.

Select clothes designed to travel. Give priority to clothes that can be rinsed out and dried quickly. There are growing choices in miracle fabrics that are designed to keep you cool and dry fast. These items are generally lighter in weight so they take up less space when packing.

Pick shoes with a purpose. We travel with very lightweight tennis shoes (actually running shoes), a pair of sandals and we usually wear our everyday shoes. Pick a comfortable pair that will fit into your wardrobe choices. When packing, fill fold-top sandwich bags with socks and small items and put them in your shoes. This keeps things organized and also keeps the shoes from creasing.

Select the right suitcases. It is awkward to find yourself on a crowded train with an oversized suitcase that you can’t lift or will not fit in the overhead. In places like Italy, people will offer to lift the suitcases and place them in the overhead racks for you but then they will demand a substantial tip. On commuter trains, you cannot place suitcases on the seats without being lectured or, at best, glared at the entire journey.

We have gotten into the habit of traveling mostly with two carry-on size suitcases and a couple of backpacks. We have started using packing cubes to organize the suitcase contents and reduce items shifting around. We also usually carry a light- weight foldable backpack for holding things acquired along the way.

The following is a collection of links for light weight, easy dry clothing that can save you time and space while traveling:

32 Degrees – We’ve become very fond of this line of clothing. Available in thermal and sweat wicking shirts and other apparel. We both wear their T’s and thermals.

Exofficio – They offer a wide assortment of fast dry under garments for men and women along with interesting travel ideas.

Balanced Tech @ Amazon – another good collection of fast dry clothing.

Under Armour – This company was the first in the market with sweat wicking clothing and was originally marketed to the military and police.

UNIQLO – this is a Japanese clothing company that is expanding quickly worldwide. We believe they offer a premium line at reasonable price. We have bought and traveled with their moisture wicking polo shirts and while heavier than Columbia they still seem to rinse and dry quickly.

Columbia – has built its brand around cool travel clothing. I have had issues with their polo shirts developing pulls in the fabric and am beginning to rethink this shirt.


The Power of Lists

Getting ready for a trip can be very stressful. There are endless things to remember to do before you leave home and lots of things to remember to pack. The latter can be particularly important because sometimes, when traveling, you cannot find the items you need or they are very expensive. This is where lists become helpful.

People who travel a lot may keep the items they normally take with them in a drawer or in a box but infrequent travelers probably don’t do that. The best solution is to keep a list of all the items you will need and then check them off as you put them in your suitcase. This can include simple items like shampoo, conditioner, etc. or packs of cold medications, band aides and the like. If you’re traveling with children, a separate list of their items will also make for a happier journey for all.

The other list that comes in handy is all of the things that need to be done before you head to the airport or get in the car for a road trip. This can include things like shutting off the icemaker and the hot water, backing up computers, charging electronic devices and even unplugging the coffee pot. Once these things are checked off your specific list, you will get on the road feeling a lot more relaxed, knowing that all your travel prep was taken care of.

Sample Lists

Travel Prep:  

  • Turn up air conditioner temp
  • Shut off ice maker
  • Unplug coffee pot
  • Dump trash
  • Shut off hot water
  • Shut off water
  • Back-up/charge tech devices
  • Stop mail
  • Close toilet lids (prevent evaporation)

Things to Take:

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Lotion: face, body
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Deodorant
  • Razor, shaving cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellant
  • Chapstick
  • Hair spray
  • Dry shampoo


Houseplant Care While Traveling

If you have indoor houseplants, they require care when you are away. Unlike cats and dogs, there is no kennel where you can take them and pay a set fee for someone to make sure they get the light and water they need. If you have caring neighbors, you may be able to make arrangements for one of them to come in and do some watering once or twice while you are away. If you are going to be gone several weeks or a month or more, this may not be the best solution.

There are lots of gizmos on the market that claim they will keep your plants hydrated and some work and some do not. The best solution is a self watering pot with a bottom reservoir. Manufacturers claim these pots will keep your plants watered for up to two weeks but, the truth is, they may not work that long if you have the air conditioner running (more evaporation) or the pot is small.

The best solution is to fill the reservoir and then stand the plant in a plastic container. Put enough water in the plastic container to go several inches above the top of the reservoir opening. This will keep the plant happy for many weeks and, if it is kept in a well lit environment, the plant will be alive and happy when you get home.

There are lots of self watering planters on the market but one of the better choices is Misco (available at Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and other fine stores). They offer several different sizes and colors so you can mix and match for all your plant needs.

Laundry: A Problem With a Solution

Traveling Tips

A Travelon Inflatable Hanger and Woolite Travel Packets

Having enough clean clothes while traveling can be a problem. If you’re on a ship, laundry services can be pretty costly although “frequent cruisers” on some lines get free or reduced pricing on a limited amount of laundry. If you’re traveling on your own, you may be able to get laundry services at your hotel but that also comes at a premium price. The other alternative is to find a laundromat (more common in the US then overseas) and spend a few hours washing, drying and folding.

A better solution is to travel with clothes that wash and dry quickly. There are any number of brands on the market that are lightweight and can be washed in a sink and then hung to dry in the bathtub/shower. The advantage here is that these clothes take up less room in your suitcase, generally wrinkle little or not at all and, because they can be quickly washed, you can pack fewer items.

Three great products to help you handle your own laundry are a universal sink stopper, travel size packs of detergent and an inflatable hanger. The sink stopper is necessary when you end up with a sink that doesn’t have a good stopper. The travel size detergent packs take up little space and, because they are single use, they can be disposed of as you use them. The travel hanger takes almost no space and can be blown up when needed and then deflated when it’s time to move on.