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Monthly Archives: May 2016

About Travel Insurance

I’ll start off with the fact that as a prior Emergency Room nurse, patients have never greeted me with, “I was TOTALLY planning on being here today!”

Accidents, are just that – accidents. False assurances like feeling smart, educated, young, and healthy have never secured people from getting sick or injured. Which leads me to my first point to bust:

# I won’t need it.

Nothing – NOTHING – can assure you won’t need medical care on a trip. Is it unlikely? Possibly. But most urgent and life-threatening events happen from simple ailments in everyday people – not rare and unexpected medical mysteries.

Diarrhea, vomiting, infection, and severe dehydration are the commonest conditions that afflict travellers. And even the healthiest of people can get very sick.

That time I stayed in a foreign hospital for $2,000+/night

Overconfident nurse Jen decided last year to self-manage a bladder infection while living overseas on Australia. Hear me out: I already had everything I needed – the prophylactic (“just in case”) antibiotics prescribed for our backpacking trip 6 months prior. I took the meds, dodged a doctor’s visit, and my symptoms disappeared.

Five days later I had paralyzing abdominal pain out of nowhere. That quickly progressed to dizziness, blacking out, and finally the moment every nurse dreads: oh s***, I have to go to the hospital.

On arrival I collapsed on the pile of chairs triage in the ER (no nurse ever willingly touches those). I was swiftly jabbed, hooked up, and pumped with IV fluids. Later I was diagnosed with severe bilateral pyelonephritis – an infection in both my kidneys.

Though I’d done all the right things, like being healthy, fit, even having the right medication (which had probably become ineffective sitting in a warm backpack), I got very sick, very quickly. As I signed my agreement to stay $2,000+/night (not including treatment), I prayed our insurance company would accept our claim (they did – phew!).

As many other bloggers have touted, there are plenty of other travel horror stories that happen. Breaking backs on rafting tours, having life-threatening asthma attacks in a foreign bar, and being in tuk-tuk accidents on what you think is just a trip from Point A to B. No one ever expects such events to happen and ultimately, there’s no good reason it can’t happen to you.

# It’s cheaper to get medical services abroad than buy insurance.

Medical services abroad can be significantly cheaper than home. But will they always trump the cost of insurance? Definitely not.

Is a dental cleaning in Thailand cheaper than Canada? I can tell you firsthand, yep it is. But what about the price of a clinic visit, or a hospital admission? Aren’t those cheaper than the cost of insurance? I really can’t say. It depends why you’re admitted, where the hospital is, if it’s public vs private, if you’re being flown or transferred to a specialty centre, what procedures you need done, and so on.

Put simply: it’s impossible to know just what you’ll need that insurance for, and what the costs will rack up to. And let’s be real – those can be seriously high.

# Claims are often rejected anyway.

Reputable companies are that way for a reason; they become well-known for accepting claims from travellers. Are there companies that reject claims? You bet. But do good ones exist out there that do as they should? Thankfully, yes.

Before choosing a company, read up on customer experiences. Be smart, thorough, and don’t ever pick a company solely for its cheap rates – it could burn you big time should you actually need it.

Choosing insurance: Questions to ask

You need to decide which of these points are relevant to you, and find a company that ticks all the boxes you want. Also check to see if you have any pre-existing travel insurance from your credit cards or work (some employment insurance plans could cover this too). In these cases, be absolutely sure of what is and isn’t covered.

Insurance types & coverage

1. The “all-inclusive” broad option for travellers : World Nomads

  • Arguably most popular and reputable, recommended by travellers and travel companies, including Lonely Planet & Rough Guides
  • Has many reviews & successful reimbursements for claims
  • Includes health coverage and electronics theft and/or loss
  • Vast destination coverage, including travel to over 140countries
  • Coverage for nearly all activities, from adventure sports, white water rafting, to scuba diving. What isn’t covered is clearly stated on their site
  • You can sign up and extend your policy while travelling (few insurers allow this)
  • Claims are made by simply filling them out online 

 2. Short term, less broad coverage for health insurance only

If you’re on a budget, don’t have piles of electronics to cover, and know that health is all you want covered on a trip, then this may be the option for you. The price tag will be much smaller, but so too will the extent of coverage, which is healthcare only.

Companies that offer short-term health coverage:

  • STA Travel
  • Allianz
  • April in the U.S. and Canada

We used April on our first long-term backpacking trip years ago, as we had hardly any electronics then and wanted health coverage . So if healthcare is all you want, this is it. Take note though, reputation and popularity-wise, these companies aren’t as big as World Nomads and it will be harder to find reviews.

3. Expat insurance: for nomads & those living abroad

Expat insurance is different from travel insurance in its coverage, and may be right for you if:

  • You’re travelling indefinitely or living abroad
  • You want coverage for routine health check-ups and tests, and not just emergencies
  • You want basic coverage as opposed to broad (e.g. insurance on lost luggage or stolen items is not essential for you)

Companies that offer expat insurance include:

  • April (in the U.S. and Canada)
  • Ingle Insurance
  • BUPA (U.K.)

Since we’re occasionally in a semi-stationary status (as we are currently indefinitely in Australia), we’ve made the switch to expat insurance. It’s cheaper but covers the basics that we need, including routine check-ups or non-emergent care.

The final

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an Emergency Room nurse would recommend travel insurance. Healthiness and even tripduration offer no guarantee against illness or injury (I’ve personally been stung by a scorpion on just a 2-week trip to Nicaragua!).

Whether you obtain coverage is up to you. No matter what you do, make an informed decision. Assess the risks at hand, research thoroughly, and choose wisely.

For us, the safety cushion of insurance will always be worth it. Bad things happen, and there’s no good reason they can’t happen to you. It’s always better to be prepared.

Book Cheap Hotels?, Here Its Tips

book-cheap-hotelsTo simplify things, we’ve laid out the cheapest accommodation booking options out there. That includes sharing the best ways to snag a deal (even free!), to our ultimate hotel hacks and tips. Here’s how to book the cheapest accommodation possible!

# Sign in for savings

That one minute it takes to sign up on a hotel or booking website can amount to some serious members-only savings. Skeptical? Check our example below or try comparing for yourself!

Many booking sites offer rewards programs (where you earn credit or free nights after a certain # of bookings) or members programs (where a membership earns you exclusive discounts). If you’re hesitant to sign up because your inbox is perma-flooded with e-mails, fear not! You can still snag deals with a one-time sign-up to get a log-in ID, click “unsubscribe” from all e-mails thereafter.

A few companies that take advantage of members-only rewards programs include:

  • Booking.com (earn members-only prices)
  • Hotels.com (earn members-only prices and points – after 9 stays your 10th is free)
  • Agoda (earn members-only prices)
  • C-trip (in China – earns account credit with each booking)

# Use the best search engines

As you’ve probably learnt by now, not all booking services are created equal. Many sites tack on sneaky commissions to already inflated rates. The websites we’ve found to consistently have the best prices that also search broadly include:

  • Hotels Combined (combines multiple hotel and hostel search engines including Hostelbookers)
  • Booking.com (offers special rates with free membership)
  • Hotels.com (often has coupons)

Tips : Reserve as far in advance as possible for best price – intentionally waiting for last-minute deals is a huge gamble, especially considering tip #3 (up next)!

# “Hold” great rates by booking ahead with free cancellation

Booking a reservation that has “free cancellation” can help you secure great rates in advance. Most booking sites have free cancellation on the majority of listings, but always be sure of the cancellation policy and check how long that is valid for (e.g. sometimes it’s only free cancellation until 48 hours before the booking date).

# Sign up for membership discounts

Many (non-hotel/booking site) memberships provide discounts on hotels and hostels worldwide. Often you simply type the membership/discount code in a coupon box when booking online. Some programs that offer discounts include:

  • Hostelling International (HI) (provides discounts at HI membership hostels worldwide)
  • CAA/AAA (provides members-only discounts on international hotel chains and car rentals)
  • International Student Identity Card (ISIC) card (provides discounts on accommodation, transport, and attractions worldwide)

# Scope out coupon codes

Found the best hotel price? Next, find a coupon for that hotel chain or the booking site you found it on. Always put in the year and/or month to filter out expired coupons, e.g. “Hotels.com September 2015 coupon”. Some of the more reliable sites that offer coupons include RetailMeNot and Coupons.com.

Find region-specific search engines and hotel chains

More often than not, broad search engines miss smaller, region specific search engines and hotel chains. It pays to ask around on Tripadvisor forums, friends, and Google to see if there are local hotel chains or booking sites you may not be aware of.

# Try bidding or find last minute &/or mystery deals

Mystery Deals & Bidding

“Mystery deals” happen when the hotel name is only revealed after payment, in exchange for a deep discount off regular rates. Price bidding is a virtual auction, and involves offering your own price on a known hotel (keep in mind that a bid is a commitment to that price each time). Websites that offer mystery deals include Hotwire and Priceline (which also does price bidding).

Last Minute Deals

Last minute deals happen when rates are reduced to sell a room. Such prices can be found on normal booking sites or via HotelTonight, which specializes in last minute deals (get $25 credit using promo code TAVERY19). That being said, it’s notrecommended to delay booking in hopes of finding last minute deals – at least make a Plan A and “hold” a room with free cancellation first (tip #3)!

# Use the sharing economy

The sharing economy relies on “sharing” in one form or another, such as renting someone’s home while they’re on vacation. This is often hugely cheaper (and sometimes even nicer) than hotels, hence its worldwide explosion in popularity.

What does it cost to stay somewhere using the sharing economy? Anywhere from FREE to as much as you want to fork out for a high-end apartment rental. Couchsurfing, housesitting, and house swapping are all cost-free. It doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Saving Money while Traveling to Japan Tips

# Get take-away meals from grocery stores

Cheap and fresh bento, take-away sushi, noodles, and udon are just some of the grab-and-go options available at Japanese grocery stores. They’re great for picnics, hikes, and people-watching in a city park. Prices range from ~¥130-¥300, though we regularly (and effortlessly) spent ~¥200 per box (~2 $USD) per bento in our 6 weeks there.

hint: hit up grocery stores in the evenings when these boxes are further discounted – presto, tomorrow’s cheap lunch!

# Hit up $1/plate conveyor belt sushi

¥100 (~$1USD) per plate conveyor belt sushi can be found throughout the country. This is a great way to sample a variety of affordable sushi and linger with locals. Locations include:

  • Nationwide: Sushi Ro
  • Tokyo: Genki Sushi (Shibuya)
  • Osaka: Isono Ryotaro (5 min walk from Namba Station)

# Take buses over trains

Similar to European travel, a cross-country rail pass has become a popular but overpriced staple of touring Japan. Scenic as it is, you can save huge by taking the bus to get around.

There are several bus companies, but Willer Express offers a ¥10,000 3-trip pass and a ¥15,000 5-trip pass (~$100 and $150 USD respectively). These 3 and 5 travel trips (referred to as “days” on the site) can be used anytime, non-consecutively within a 2-month window. There are even overnight routes, which saves on accommodation. The buses are quiet, clean, and cozy, complete with reclining seats and a pull-over head blind to block out light.

If you’re contemplating the Japan Rail Pass, check out our Japan Rail assessment here to decide whether it is worth the cost for your particular trip.

Popular Willer Express destinations include Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya. At a fraction of the ¥29,000+ price-tag of a 7-day rail pass (which must be used within the 7 days), you’ve got added flexibility for half the cost. If you don’t purchase a bus pass, taking the bus in general over trains equates to big savings.

Where to buy: the Willer Express pass can be bought online and used at the respective terminals of your departure.

Note: for flying cheap around Japan, there are several discount air passes which are only available to tourists. Peach Air is Japan’s budget airline, and with flights for as little as ~$40USD across the country, flying can be hugely cheaper than the rail pass. For more tips on flying cheap, check out our popular guide “How to Book the Cheapest Flight Possible to Anywhere“.

Dine at Japanese fast food chains

Think all fast food is deep-fried, processed junk? Think again. In Japan, “fast food” means steaming bowls of rice, savoury meats, crispy dumplings, miso soup, with a side of green tea. Basic meals (e.g. a rice bowl and green tea) can be bought for as little as ¥130 (~$1.30 USD), but bigger and fancier dishes (below) range from ¥300-¥600 , or ~$3-$6 USD.

Cheap restaurant chains to find eats like these include:

  • Matsuya (rice bowls, Japanese breakfast, Japanese curries)
  • Sukiya (same as above)
  • Yoshinoya (again more delish Japanese dishes, from curries to udon)
  • Mister Donut (you must try the star-shaped donuts)
  • MOS burger (Japanese-style burgers, many of which have rice as “buns”)
  • CocoCurry House Ichibanya (curries)

“Button” style restaurants are often cheap (easily <¥500 or ~$5 USD). You simply select and pay for your meal based on the photos and prices listed on the machine (pictured below), bring the receipt to the cook, get your meal and enjoy!

Get a Grutt pass for sightseeing

If you plan on seeing even a handful of museums and art galleries in the Tokyo region, the Grutt Pass is a well worthy purchase for savings. At ¥2,000 (~$20 USD), the pass pays for itself quickly, as it provides free admission and discounts to over50 impressive museums, art galleries, and attractions across the Tokyo area.

Being in Japan for 6 weeks, we made excellent use of our Grutt pass – the magnificence and abundance of attractions granted entry by it cannot be understated. To see Japan’s famous robots and other technologies to tickle the mind, check out theNational Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. For a colourful array of Japanese history, biology, and modern science, the National Museum of Nature and Science is a must-see. The MOMAT has contemporary art displays from retro to modern art in a variety of mediums. For a fascinating walk through the Japanese Edo period, be sure to check out the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Where to buy: The pass can be purchased at the Tokyo Tourist Information Centre (1st floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building), LIBRO (Ikebukuro, Kichijoji, Shiodome SIO-SITE, Chofu), PARCO Book Center in Shibuya, Ueno Park Information, Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, TIC TOKYO (Nihonbashi Exit of Tokyo Station), and plenty more.

# Search broadly for accommodation

In my experience, Booking.com and HotelsCombined consistently found the cheapest accommodation options in Japan. When in less travelled areas, the Lonely Planet Japan guide was the best resource for hotels, hostels, and ryokan (Japanese-style guesthouses). Tourist Information Centres are also a reliable source of English-speaking assistance if in less-touristed areas.