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February 2013
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April 2013

Many different currencies of the world. With baggage theft and loss real threats, what is the best way to carry money at your destination?Congratulations! If you’re reading this you’ve more than likely made the decision to go outside your home country, and experience another culture and way of life. I do this about four to five times a year – and all it requires is five hours in a car to Canada. But later this year, I’m hoping to finally get out of my comfort zone entirely and make it out to Europe again. Because frankly, I very much miss Europe.

So outside of my routine planning – where I’ll be staying, what to see, preparing for trip delay, etc., I’m also looking towards another equally sensitive issue. Once I get to where I’m going, I’ve got the distinctive problem of having to spend money once I’m there. It’s not the worst problem to have, by any means. But it does make me wonder where and how I’m going to get the best value while I’m abroad.

After looking into several different options on how to spend my money while not in my home country (in this case, the United States), below is my rationale when traveling to another country. When it comes to spending my money abroad, there is one surefire answer…with many other options available to me if I need them:

(Local) Cash is King

Ask any small business and they will tell you they would much rather have cash rather than process credit cards. Why? Processing a credit card incurs a fee for the merchant, meaning they don’t get all of the $20 you just spent with them. Plus, not all places may accept credit or debit cards – meaning cash guarantees you can get what you want when you want it. While cash is more susceptible to loss (by theft or otherwise), it does serve as the most direct way to purchase the products you want. I always recommend carrying a small sum of local cash wherever you go (at least $100), just in case you need it. If you’re not comfortable carrying more than that, there are alternatives you can consider.

Travel with a Travelers Cheque

While Travelers Cheques have been in decline since the turn of the millennium, they still remain available for purchase in many banks across the United States. The great thing about carrying Travelers Cheques are the fact that they are available in several currencies (including Canadian Dollars, British Pounds Sterling, Euros, and Japanese Yen), and are more secure than carrying cash. If lost or stolen, all one has to do is call the local number for replacement of cheques. However, because of their decline or lack of use, Travelers Cheques may not necessarily be accepted by merchants and would have to be taken to banks for processing and trading. If you don’t mind the inconvenience, this could be a great way to set (and keep) a budget while traveling. But for those who don’t want the hassle, another alternative could be…

Credit Cards are your Friend

So, you’ve decided you’re going to go with credit cards. This can be a very easy choice that requires little more than having an internationally recognized and valid credit card (like Visa, Mastercard, or American Express). The good news: with a credit card you get the flexibility of cash and a level of security in case your card gets lost or stolen. The bad news: most will charge you a fee for using it abroad – which generally hover around 3%. Even with “no international fee” cards, you may still have at least a 1% service charge from the card payment system. Not to mention the conversion rate of the day. Still, if you don’t mind paying the additional fee, this could be a very easy way for you to pay while you’re abroad.

Personally, I carry a combination of some cash and a no international fee points-earning card. I use the cash for small transactions (day events, cab fare, tips, etc.) and my card for larger transactions (gifts, expensive meals, and the lot). By doing both, I’m able to keep flexible on my ability to spend, while having access to money wherever (and whenever) I need it.

How  do you make your spending work while traveling abroad? Let me know in the comments below – I’d really like to hear your tips! 

Two cruise ships dock at the Port of Long Beach. Are you concerned about mechanical failure on your next cruise vacation?The news about the Carnival Dream (and the fact that this was the second Carnival ship to have troubles in the past 60 days) sparked an entertaining debate here at Travel Insurance Services HQ. Linda (our customer service manager), Gwen (associate blog editor) and myself all began debating the future of cruise ships in the United States. More importantly, we discussed how this would change cruise preparation for the end user, and how this could change the planning and expected experience for those going on a cruise ship.

Gwen and Linda made a convincing argument that this season does put a bad taste in peoples’ mouths, and illustrates all that can go wrong as a result of cruise ship malfunction. In the unlikely event that something were to go bad, you’ve now wasted vacation time that you won’t be able to get back, have a horrible experience from what was supposed to be a great memory and a voucher for a discounted cruise that you may never use. Furthermore, with the same cruise line having publicized issues twice in a short amount of time you may reconsider whether or not traveling with that carrier is the best use of time and money.

I understand where they are coming from. But from my position, this is an isolated rash of highly publicized situations that have resulted in passenger discomfort. But these discomforts (aside from the lack of indoor plumbing) are not unlike any other situation you may come up against while traveling on vacation. Trip delay, cancellation and baggage loss are all risks that one assumes when they get in the car, step on a train or go through airport security – and can be reasonably planned for while traveling.

In addition, looking back at 2012, mechanical failure was an uncommon experience. Of all cruise ship incidents in 2012 (as reported by, only four cruises originating from the United States suffered a mechanical failure. And only one of those ships was forced to return to port after the incident – the rest were able to carry on. The bigger issues that posed a threat to travelers were: legal issues, human error and norovirus.

As I wrote in my last blog post about cruises, mechanical failure is a part of traveling. Remember the 787 Dreamliner debacle? With a new plan for battery management, the 787 could be back in the air soon. The troubles that the Dreamliner had won’t stop me from booking my ticket. The only major difference between the airplane and a cruise liner is that I won’t be on the airplane for 7 days.

So should you reconsider your cruise vacation as a result of these incidents? Or should you move forward and let things happen as they will? Before considering a cruise vacation, there are steps you can take to make sure you are best prepared for the seas:

1. Learn more about the ship
Before you book the cruise, learn more about the ship and what others have to say about it. Sites like CruiseFever and Cruise Critic have detailed reviews about each ship and offer forums where you can ask questions from people who have vacationed on those ships. By learning the ups and downs from other people (as opposed to the cruise operator website), you can get a better glimpse of what to expect while on your vacation. Additionally, you’ll get a better idea of what to pack, what the customs are on the boat and how much to budget.

2. Have an emergency plan
If you decide after your research, that cruising is still an option for you, then go prepared with an emergency plan. If something happens, do you know who to contact? Do you know how to get important documents, such as your passport and credit cards replaced? Keep a list of important contacts and numbers with you wherever you go – this way, when you travel, you’ll always be able to contact those who can assist you in the event of an emergency.

3. Don’t forget to pack travel insurance
So what happens if you have a trip delay because of a mechanical failure?
Or you come down with something on the ship and need to see the doctor? Travel insurance, in this situation, can become a huge benefit for you when you go on the boat. With a travel insurance plan, everything from rebooking and rearrangement costs to medical evacuation and doctors fees can be covered. If you’re going on a cruise, packing travel insurance is a key item to ensuring your safety.

Where do you stand on this issue? Are you going to more carefully plan your cruise, and even reconsider going on the boat? Or do you plan on cruising the high seas anyways? I’d love to hear your side of this issue. Let me know where you stand in the comments below!

IMG_0068The winter blues seems to have it’s grip on us all about this time of year. I am no exception to that. If you’re a regular reader of the Travel Insure blog, you’ll know that I need to get away to help preserve my own sanity – to the extent that I took a trip from Columbus to Cleveland, via Denver and Charlotte, all for fun (and miles)! (Mostly for fun.)

But because the leaves are brown and the skies are gray doesn’t mean that we can’t dream for warmer destinations. I’m planning my next escape already, to Temecula, California in April. And if I do it right, I’ll be able to take advantage of excellent pricing with the help of diligent planning, as well as some assistance from my cache of miles and points.

So how can you position yourself to take advantage of the best fares, and even get away with some cheap deals in the coming year? With a little planning and flight preparation, you too can get to your destination with some spending money left in your pocket.

1) Set up fare alerts for your destination
In many situations (unless the fare is really good), buying today may not be the best move. Because one website says they have the “best available fare,” doesn’t mean that it’s the best for you – it could be the best for them. One of my favorite search tools available is Hipmunk. It shows flights based on total travel time, connecting locations, and price. Plus, you can set up fare alerts and get an e-mail anytime the price of airfare changes. (To get a good idea IF airfare is going to change, I also like to search on Bing Travel – their price indicator serves as a barometer to the direction of prices.)

2) Compare at alternate airports
Another easy tool for looking for good prices is Google Flights, as their map view gives me a good look at all the available airports. I’m hoping to fly into LAX for my trip to California in April, but they may not have the best price for flying in the area. This is where Google Flights comes in – as they can show me where and how to get to where I’m going:


In this case, for the dates that I’m planning to travel, it appears that flying into Los Angeles International Airport is a cheaper option than any of the surrounding airports. This is okay for me, because it’s I have friends I want to see before I go to Temecula, and I also happen to have family in that part of the world. So, all’s well that ends well. When you’re not sure of a fare, Google Flights is a great way look at other ways to get to your ideal destination. (Ed. Note: The screenshot above reflect the prices on Feb. 19, 2013. Your pricing may vary based on many factors.)

3) Consider a play on points
Do you have an idea of how you’re getting to your destination? Have you already decided what airline you plan on flying, or which hotel you would like to stay at? With that planning behind you, are you still stressed that you won’t be able to get the price you want to pay? This is where you can consider making a run at using points, or a combination of points and cash to make your travels as cheap as possible. In the event that you don’t have the points, many credit cards offer high points bonuses for signing up – which can, in turn, be used to offset costs of your trip. My only caution is to be careful when taking this approach.  Credit card sign-ups and spending isn’t for everyone, especially if you like to carry balances on your cards. Additionally, having many cards open at a time can open up channels for fraud. Which is where a product like USI Affinity's ID Recovery comes in pretty handy.

Making your springtime getaway affordable is easier than it looks. And with all the right planning, you can get there for little more than a song. Where do you go when you’re getting away for the spring? Let me know your ideas in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product or service mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)