Do I Need Travel Insurance?: How to Know if You Do

Travel Insurance Need

I recently had a good friend contact me who is headed out on a trip. She wanted to know what I knew about travel insurance and what I would recommend. Quite honestly, I was little ashamed to admit that I knew very little about it. My current health insurance covers me while I am abroad, but many companies do not. I decided to take a look into some of the pros and cons of travel insurance for Generation-Y travelers and whether it’s something we really need (especially if we are operating on a budget).

Travel insurance does not just cover medical expenses.

Depending on the package you use, travel insurance can cover a lot more than just if you happen to have an emergency abroad. It can also include flight cancellations because of illness or personal problem, and you can almost completely recoup the cost depending on how much you’ve paid initially for the service. If you are working a full time job, a family member is ailing, or for any other major reason you might have to cancel at the last moment, travel insurance can be invaluable.

It also covers lost or stolen baggage. While this might not mean a ton to Generation-Y travelers (I know I could care less if someone stole my bag of dirty laundry and smelly shoes at this point), it can mean something if you are transporting something valuable.

Some credit cards include travel insurance.

If you aren’t into buying a full amount of travel insurance, there are some other options. Credit cards actually have some great reimbursement rates. Chase Sapphire, for example, will reimburse up to $10,000 if you have booked your trip with your Chase card. However, cards don’t tend to cover any health insurance—so if you are worried about that, you might want to pay the extra and invest if your health insurance doesn’t cover you while abroad.

What’s a reasonable rate?

When looking around, I found that most companies charge around 5% of the total trip cost. So if you spend a few thousand dollars, it really only ends up being a few hundred more. However, most Generation-Y travelers might not be willing to lay down the money (let’s be real, we can spend that on another few nights at a hostel or cheap hotel).

In my personal opinion, if you can afford it, it doesn’t hurt. If you can’t, it’s okay to go without. Before you head to your next location, though, make sure that you check to see if your health insurance covers you while you are away and if you are heading to a place with socialized medicine—you might end up spending very little or even nothing at all if you need to head to the doctor.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

 

Interview with Mathias Friess: CEO of Webjet

Plane Webjet CEO

I recently sat down with Mathias Friess, the CEO of Webjet—a new company that has made its way from Australia over to the United States. Webjet has taken the idea of buying a plane ticket to a new level by allowing customers to buy their tickets in payments rather than all at once. I thought I would ask him a few questions on what exactly Webjet hopes to accomplish in the United States and how this might benefit Generation-Y travelers.

Friess has an impressive background. As the Head of Sales for American Airlines and Lufthansa, he has worked to move Webjet from Australia to the United States. Friess noticed that many customers were willing and able to travel, but they might not necessarily be able to afford the initial cost of a large plane ticket upfront.

Webjet is for a global citizen, someone young. Younger people are much more likely to have a passport than any other generation. Webjet can work for college students or those on a gap year from the ages of eighteen to twenty-five who are looking to experience travel outside of the United States,”

Friess says.

Webjet CEO Book

It also offers young people to prioritize whether or not cost is more important than convenience—something that other airline companies tend to assume would not be important to customers. As a Generation-Y traveler, I have chosen to spend more time in an airport in order to keep costs down. In some ways, it has allowed me to see other cities I would not have because I’ve had time to explore. Friess agrees, mentioning that Webjet “lets the customer decide” whether or not this is beneficial price-wise from him or her.

So how does Webjet work? Friess broke down it down to the basics for me.

Almost every other large purchase, you can make in installments. Whether it is a mattress or a car, you can make payments rather than the full amount. Why shouldn’t it be the same for airplane tickets?”

As a Generation-Y traveler, I could see how this could be greatly beneficial to those looking to study abroad but who find themselves struggling with being able to pay the full price of the ticket. As Friess mentions, those customers should not have to miss out on the experience of travel. I agree, though I wonder whether students will be willing to forgo their time abroad because they already have student loans and debt.

What do you think? Is this a service you would use?

*I have received no compensation or benefits for this post.*

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Unknown Cusco: Exploring the Ancient Capital

Cusco Peru TravelIt’s pretty obvious that when you head to Peru that you should check out Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail—they are by far the most-touted attractions and it would be a shame to miss them. However, I found myself more and more enamored with the city of Cusco while we stayed there. The city held secret dance clubs, historical locations, and most of all, some amazing culinary talent.

The former capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco was likened to El Dorado, the lost city of gold, when the Spanish first found it. Cusco has since evolved into a modern city where you can easily walk to most major sights.

One of my personal favorite activities were the salsa clubs. It’s been a while since I had pulled out my salsa skills, but even the most basic of beginners were not lacking a partner. Peruvian men are happy to spin you on the dance floor. (They are great leaders and can make anyone look like a pro.)

Cusco Cathedral Peru

The Cusco Cathedral is definitely worth checking out, as well. After falling into disrepair after several earthquakes, it has been restored to its former glory. One of the things I liked best about the cathedral were the hidden hints back the Incan Empire—both the Virgin Mary and Jesus were depicted with darker skin. I loved this nod to the “pachamama,” or the mother earth that the ancient Incans worshipped.

Another wonderful thing about Cusco that I loved was the fact that everything was very easy to walk to. You will want to check out the markets where you can sample some fresh juice (some of the best I’ve ever had) and bread. From there, it’s a simple walk to the main temple. Cusco is said to be shaped like a puma, and the head of the puma is located at the beautifully designed temple to the sun god.

I had heard that there was a budding culinary scene in Cusco, and I was eager to try some unique foods. I ordered alpaca (which I felt guilty eating after meeting a few in person). Served with sweet potatoes and a type of polenta, the alpaca tasted almost like venison or some other type of wild meat. It was delicious, as were all my meals in the city.

Food Cusco Peru

I would recommend spending a day or two more in Cusco than you would on a booked itinerary if you can. Along with hidden night clubs, delightfully cooked alpaca, and ancient sites, Cusco was one of my favorite parts of my adventure with Contiki.

Have you ever been to Cusco? Have anything you would recommend?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Why I Have a Problem with Voluntourism: Are We Really Helping Others?

Voluntourism Travel Bad

I remember scanning my Facebook feed not only after graduating from college. Many of my friends had gone on to travel after graduation, and many had chosen to journey to distant locations on “voluntoursim” trips. Looking over pictures of friends (and people I didn’t know as well, either), I started to get a weird feeling in the put of my stomach as they posed with children from impoverished areas.

#blessed was a common theme, along with how rewarding their experiences had been abroad over the week or two they had been there. “How lucky that they’ve found WiFi so they can show us how their lives have been changed,” I couldn’t help but think sardonically. I hadn’t even known that I personally had a problem with this type of tourism until more and more of these photos popped up.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to volunteer, and on a superficial level, I have no problem with my peers traveling to other areas of the world in order to help others. In practice, it’s much more complicated than that. As Ian Birell states in this article for The Guardian,

Once again, clumsy attempts to do good end up harming communities we want to help. We have seen it with foreign aid, corrosive in so many countries by propping up despots, fostering corruption and destroying local enterprises. We have seen it with the dumping of cheap food and clothes, devastating industries and encouraging a dependency culture. And now we see it with ‘voluntourism,’ the fastest-growing sector of one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet.”

I have mixed emotions about this as a travel writer—someone who is supposed to encourage travel and the industry. But I can’t do that in good conscious when I know it is affecting so many lives negatively. I suppose I travel for, in some ways, a much more selfish reason: to make my own self a better person and more aware of what is going on in the world around me.

Helping others can be as simple as volunteering in your own community, or making a donation to a charity you believe in. It doesn’t have to involve thousands of dollars and Instagram pictures of how the lives you are affecting are better because of the trip you made. Chances are, in a lot of cases, they probably aren’t.

If you choose to travel and help others, I’m reminded of a shining example from a dear family friend, my “Aunt” Lucy. Living for years in Africa and Japan, Lucy devoted herself to teaching and truly getting to know the people she spent time with. This was before social media and before many of these places were deemed safe to go to.

For me, that is an example of helping others.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Travel Book Review: Among Warriors by Pamela Logan

Among Warriors Review

Reading a travel memoir is always such a huge treat for me—I’ve been slowly collecting a number of them to have in my library. There’s nothing I like more than curling up with a good book, especially if the book happens to be about a particular journey. A few weeks ago, I cracked open Among Warriors: A Woman Martial Artist in Tibet by Pamela Logan. Written in the 90s, I was curious to see how the author portrayed solo travel for women before there had been a big boom.

Logan starts the book out with a goal to visit the Khampa warriors in Tibet. Most of the book consists of the author combatting the strict laws set by the Chinese in the 90s that made it almost impossible to visit certain sites. It was entertaining to read about Logan’s exploits as she stowed away in trucks as a foreigner, how she communicated with others, and the connections she made along the way. Logan had some beautiful phrases tucked into her narrative, including:

Outside, the wind gusted and wailed. Sitting miserably on my thin mattress, huddled by the stove, I wondered how many more storms might cross my path on all those roads I had yet to conquer.”

The book started out with a great setup—I loved the goal the author had and how she tried so hard to make her dream of meeting the Khampa warriors happen. However, about two-thirds into the book, her goal doesn’t seem like enough. Instead of becoming a complete narrative, the book starts to take a turn for the observational. While some of these insights are interesting, others feel tedious and redundant. I felt as though the book could have ended before the last hundred pages, or it could have been expanded much longer. It almost would have been better as two books with one half as the author’s experiences in Tibet, and the second in Nepal.

Among Warriors Book

Also, the ties with martial arts at some points seemed strained. As Logan got farther and farther away from her original intent, she would insert “routines” that her martial arts colleagues would have been participating in at her home in California. While it was great that she recognized that her story had become a little disjointed, the connections she made between her home and Nepal were a little stretched.

Overall, the observations were what kept me reading and her gusty experience as a woman abroad. I was incredibly impressed how she took this venture on—learning two languages and biking across China in order to do so.

Read any good travel books lately?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

When to Complain: Knowing When to Contact Airlines

Submit Airlines Complaint

The last time I flew home to Montana, I ended up missing my connecting flight by ten minutes. I was put up in a hotel in Salt Lake for the night—but it still ended up being almost a day later before I was able to make it back to Kalispell. I’m not much of a complainer, but the process was so frustrating and beyond a simple, delayed flight, that I ended up talking to Delta about the issue. Knowing when to step in and complain might not always be apparent, especially if you are usually an easy-going person. Here are some times when you might want to think about submitting a complaint.

When a delay greatly ruins your plans.

If you’ve scheduled a flight at a specific time for a reason (i.e. because you have work the next day or there is an emergency back home), it’s often worth it to contact the airline through the website. A serious delay can sometimes have serious consequences—so if you have had a delay that has caused you emotional stress, then you might want to talk to someone from the airline.

When a delay costs you money.

I’ve known of some people who have had to rent a car when flying into another airport because their flight was delayed. While the airline probably won’t compensate you on the spot, they will likely reimburse you later. Keep any receipts of any extraneous expenses that might come up because of the delay and keep a record of what you spent.

When the delay is most definitely their fault.

The reason I ended up missing my flight was because the pilots of the aircraft did not arrive on time for departure. While you might not be able to complain about a busy airport or most mechanical problems, you can if it is related to the staff or the quality of service. For more information, you will want to look up the terms on the website of the airline you took—they tend to have different conditions.

While there is no guarantee that you will be able to get some benefit from your time delayed, most airlines are at least willing to hear you out. After contacting Delta, I was given 35,000 miles for my account—a more than fair compensation for my time and the cause of the delay.

Have you ever received any benefits from filing a complaint with an airline?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

5 Great Beaches from around the World

Beaches World Great
When summer rolls around, the first thing I want to do is hit the water and relax on a nice beach. When I was younger, I used to spend my time on Flathead Lake, but more and more I’ve looked into finding locations where the sand is softer and the water goes on forever. Here are some of the favorite beaches I’ve found on my travels.

1. Jones Beach, New York

Jones Beach NY

When I grew up thinking about New York, I never thought about heading to the beach. However, Jones has been a great haven when I want to see some white sand. The water is cold and you can only swim a few times a year, but Jones also has a number of events going on throughout the year that are fun to go to. A pass costs ten dollars for the day, but it’s worth it to get a break from the city.

2. Chacala, Mexico

Chacala Mexico Bay

It was such a treat to head to this little village in Mexico to visit my friend Karla. The village itself was charming, but one of the best parts about it was the fact that we had almost the entire beach to ourselves—making it the perfect spot to relax and spend an evening looking out into the bay. This area was also incredibly cheap, so it would be a good spot for those who want to vacation on a budget.

3. Chalkadiki, Greece

Greece Chalkadiki Beach

Beautiful white sands, gorgeous, multi-colored water, and the Greek attitude of relaxation make this spot worth checking out. Also, there are very few tourists—it is mostly populated by locals looking to get out of nearby Thessaloniki. There are also some great restaurants worth visiting that serve some of the delicious local cuisine.

4. Mondello, Italy

Mondello Beach Sicily

From the Palermo city center, Mondello is about a fifteen-minute bus ride. It also is a great escape—Sicily’s bustling hub can be overwhelming. The sand is incredibly soft and the water swimmable even in the spring and fall. Make sure to wear enough sunscreen since the rays of the sun here are stronger than other locations in Italy.

5. Deerfield Beach, Florida

Deerfield Beach Florida

Although crowded, it’s one of Florida’s best and cleanest beaches. Finding parking is tough, but the weather is often amazing and it stays within the range of the 80s for most the season. I loved seeing a variety of people and enjoying the slight breeze that would come through every now and then. There are a lot of great beaches in the United States, but this was one that stuck in my mind.

Where do you like to beach?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Learning Something New: Museum Hopping in Zagreb

Museum Hopping Zagreb

I took a solo backpacking trip through Europe a little more than a year ago. Making my way through Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary, I had no idea what to expect when stopping by the capital of Croatia. Zagreb seemed like a strange mixture of Western and Eastern European ideals—the architecture was similar to what I had seen in Austria, but the lifestyle was much more like what I had experienced in Greece.

Museums Zagreb Sign

However, one of the most interesting parts about seeing Zagreb was seeing how many museums were available. I took an evening and headed to the Museum of Broken Relationships, an intriguing name for an equally intriguing museum. After paying a very reasonable ticket price, I entered in the museum with no idea what I was about to face. Recently, the museum has expanded to several other locations around the world, but I had never heard of it before.

Bob Dylan Museum

Museum Broken Relationships

Wandering through the exhibit, viewers were allowed glimpses of former relationships through items that had been donated to the museum. One of my favorites was a dog toy that had summed up an entire relationship in a few words. Other items included a toaster, shoes, a book by Bob Dylan, and more. Oftentimes very funny, but also incredibly sad, this museum made me realize how fleeting a relationship can be—even when you’ve spent years together and you’ve invested so much time in making it work.

Toaster Museum Relationships

I also headed to the Modern Gallery in the heart of the city, which featured work from Croatian artists since the 1800s. I loved seeing exhibits from little-known artists, but ones who had shaped the country’s identity. Holding over 10,000 works of art, it took up most my afternoon. Some of the most fascinating works were from the two World Wars—you could see the influence of that period in history in even the colors that were chosen.

Art Modern Gallery

Zagreb itself was not my favorite city on my trip, but I did love having access to some amazing museums for very affordable prices. Also, they weren’t like any other museums in any other place I had been to—making it a reason to visit the city just to take a few afternoons and peruse the exhibits.

Have you ever been to Zagreb? Which museums were your favorite?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Guest Post: Remembering Istanbul

Istanbul Turkey Coup
Image courtesy of Daniel Horowitz.

This is a guest post from my boyfriend, Daniel Horowitz. You can connect with him on social media on Twitter and Instagram.

There is something fascinating about having an extended stay in a city while traveling. Not just a day or two, but a week, or a month. It’s like staying in your house. You start to become familiar with the shape and size of things, find comfort in every nook and crevice, like it’s a part of who you are.

Turkey Istanbul Architectire
Image courtesy of Daniel Horowitz.

Standing aloft the Bosphorus Strait, the would-be conqueror Napolean Bonaparte once said that

If there Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”

After spending nights by the Blue Mosque, walking up and down Taksim Square and the Bosphorus Bridge, I would most definitely agree and felt like the city had really become a part of me as well. This is why it was all the more heartbreaking to hear about the recent attempted military coup in Istanbul.

Sunset Turkey Istanbul
Image courtesy of Daniel Horowitz.
Daniel Eric Horowitz
Image courtesy of Daniel Horowitz. Photo is of author and his brother.

When you hear about fighting in a foreign part of the world, it always seems like it’s outside of your known world. When you don’t know the political or cultural situation, a conflict seems like a statistic. When the stakes aren’t personal, it’s hard to feel like one tragedy after the next really matters, as though they are just a slideshow of reality reels flashing on and off your media devices.

But the stakes of the attempted military coup in Istanbul felt real to me. I knew where the fighting took place, I understood the political situation, I felt immersed in the culture, and having been to Istanbul twice (so far), I still do.

Istanbul Turkey Mosque
Image courtesy of Daniel Horowitz.

The military throughout Turkey, but in Istanbul especially, keeps a sort of secular check on the Islamic influence of the Turkish prime minister and newly created role of president inhabited by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a divisive leader with fascistic leanings. The military in Turkey, or at least the ones who staged a coup, are like a modern version of the ancient Roman Praetorian Guard. So when a military coup happens, which seems to in Turkey every fifteen years, the military is attempting to restore the ideals of their Augustus, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

A military coup like this is bad both if it’s successful and if it’s not. Better to not have violence at all. But when you know and understand a city, like it’s a part of who you are, then you understand why this happened, better than the motives of any terrorist.

Statue Turkey Istanbul
Image courtesy of Daniel Horowitz.

And that’s what makes this jarring as an outsider who has been able to peer in. To know that you walked among the roads of this peaceful city, to know that any person who has a problem with Muslims would change their mind if they just spent a week there.

But now I’m not so sure.

*

Want to see Daniel and I enjoy a European Road Trip together? Vote for us here at GoEuro!

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

The Bastille Day Tragedy: Is Traveling in Europe Safe?

Bastille Traveling Europe

After the recent events in Nice, I’ve had more and more people ask me whether or not it’s worth heading abroad to Europe at this time. With several tragic incidents in Europe that have occurred lately, it seems more and more like Americans should think twice about heading abroad. I wrote about a similar feeling we had a few years ago when travelers began questioning safety.

There’s no way you can tell someone to be careful on which locations are safe and which ones are not anymore. A few weeks ago, Nice would have been considered a “safe” spot. But when destinations that used to feel idyllic are suddenly become sites of tragedy, it can change whether or not you view traveling as worth the risk.

I remember traveling to Greece during the time when the country was asking for a bailout. There were riots in the streets with young police officers with shields and ak-47s. This should have been a sign that I should have left, but for some reason, I didn’t feel like giving into my fear. It ended up being one of my favorite trips because it wasn’t the “ideal” vacation. I learned a lot from staying, even though many might have told me to leave.

The tragedy in Nice is not the same thing, but I don’t think it is totally out of place to compare the fear I experienced in Greece to the fear others might be feeling as they think about heading to Europe now.

Nice Alex Beach

Terrorism has been such a concern lately, and as I have written before, it thrives on fear. The very definition of “terrorism” means that it influences others with fear more than any other emotion. I believe we shouldn’t give into this fear, and the best way to combat it is to continue to travel and to continue to experience the world. As a result, we as travelers can make more of an impact than any act of terrorism. We can change the world because we will know better than those who simply are too afraid to find out.

If you are worried about traveling abroad, that is a fair concern—that is exactly what the terrorists are hoping for. And it is scary. But as Ambrose Redmoon stated,

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

(Always) keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander