57 posts categorized "Travel Tips"

02/14/2014

Sochi Problems: A Lesson in Murphy’s Law and the Olympics

Not even the Olympic Athletes are immune from the Sochi Problems. Just ask those who have been skiing or snowboarding on Krasnaya Polyana this week. Though I doubt that travel insurance would cover gold medal expectations...We’re now a week into the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. But overshadowing the events  are the stories surrounding the Olympic Village. Social media has helped us get in touch with the Olympic Games more and more every year. However, this year it has taken that access to a whole new level.

It all began when international journalists started arriving in Sochi ahead of the opening ceremonies. Unlike what the world was told leading up to the games, these correspondents shared a completely different look across their Twitter accounts. Everything from incomplete hotels to broken restrooms was put on display for the world to see. This was followed by the trials of bobsleder Johnny Quinn, who seems to have a penchant for getting stuck in the most random places. Next, a Canadian journalist got left a note informing him of the charges that come with placing personal effects on the second bed in his room. And this week, veteran NBC host Bob Costas was sidelined for the first time since 1998 as a result of a particularly bad eye infection. All of these combined make the non-expanding snowflake look like a minor hiccup.

So far, it’s been a tumultuous Olympic season. With only a week’s worth of competition under our belt, I’m a little hesitant to ask “what’s coming up next?”

While these games may be remembered for the rather humorous, behind-the-scenes look that we’ve been given through the lens of social media, more important is the lesson that every traveler can learn as a result of these games:

1. Research your accommodations before you book
Just because a hotel is marketed as a “five star resort” — that doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Before you make that non-refundable, pre-paid booking, make sure you do your research. There are many peer-review websites where guests post reviews after their stay, giving you a more objective idea of where and how accommodations rank. If you’re staying in an area with less established hotels or where reviews may not be as available, then your best bet may be sticking with the big name brand hotel chains, as opposed to the lower-priced accommodations that you know little about.

2: Always have a backup plan for your travels
Even Olympians experience problems along the way. When making your plans for your travels, always have a backup plan in place for what you’ll do if “Plan A” doesn’t work out. Something I always do before I book my hotel is search the location I’m going to, and the area I’ll be surrounded by. This way, I can make better decisions on what I should see and do when I get to where I’m going, and have alternate plans available to me should I need them.

3: Travel insurance gets packed when traveling abroad
If you happen to get an eye infection while traveling in your native country, you would know what to do:
go to a doctor, get a prescription and rest until everything’s cleared up. But what would you do in a foreign country? Not all health insurance plans cover you while you’re outside your home country. Additionally, finding proper medical care may not be as easy as following road signs. By packing a travel medical plan in your suitcase, you may be able to detour around some of these problems if you get ill or injured during your travels.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a result of these Olympic Games? How will the lessons of these games affect how you prepare for travel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

02/05/2014

Let the Games Begin: Travel Tips for the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi

The slalom will be just one of the events that athletes from around the world will be competing in at the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russa, starting this week. It's not my favorite sport, but I'll watch it none the less, and root for our American competitors none the less. I wonder if athletes purchase travel insurance as part of their equipment list...Citius. Altius. Fortius. Faster. Higher. Stronger.

Three words that I believe capture the true spirit of the Olympics. It is with that same spirit that millions will descend upon the resort town of Sochi, Russia this week. This Friday, February 7th , the torch will be lit in Fisht Olympic Stadium, signifying the beginning of the XXII Olympic Winter Games. 88 nations will be represented in competition spanning 90 events, with competition taking place throughout the month of February.

With such an undertaking, the world will be watching everything that happens in Sochi. From the first drop of the puck, to the last curling stone thrown. From the first triple axel attempted, to the running of the final bobsled. Athletes, fans, and tourists alike will bear witness to history at this year's Olympiad.

With the start of the Olympic season comes much preparation and precaution from the Russian government, as well as their international partners. Considering that this is the first set of Olympic Games that is taking place in Russia in over 30 years, there’s a lot of reason for caution when it comes to an event of this size.

If you plan on being one of the many that don’t want to wait for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to be a part of history, be sure you’re prepared to root on your country before you board a plane, train, or automobile. Here are my best tips for making the most of your Olympic experience in Sochi:

1: Don’t leave home without your Visa
Russian regulations require that many international travelers (including American travelers) have their Visa ahead of time, before their travels begin. In many cases, this requires having a sponsor – such as a tour operator or hotel – to endorse their Visa application. However, during the Olympic Games, the Russian Embassy website states that visitors to Russia can be issued one-month tourist visas based on copies of confirmation letters and tickets for Olympic events. In some cases, you can get your Visa in hand same-day, with proof of ticket. Before you buy your ticket for Sochi, make sure you have your Visa in hand. Otherwise, you could be denied entry to the country - and out a lot of money trying to find your way home.

2: Know the rules and regulations – and what to do in an emergency
Should you end up traveling to Sochi for the Olympic Games
, it would behoove one to take a moment to revisit the rules that travelers are subject to while in Russia. All travelers to Russia are required to carry their travel documents with them at all times, and are subject to inspection upon demand. Additionally, throughout the Olympic Games, the Olympic Village will be subject to “controlled” and “forbidden” zones. Should you find yourself inadvertently in trouble, make sure that you are registered with your home nation’s Consulate upon your arrival. The Consulate office may be able to help you in certain situations.

3: Add travel insurance to your equipment list
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow website says it best:

“The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in Sochi are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics.”

With the major crowds expected and the unpredictable environment that comes with the Olympic Games every season, travel insurance can be your best bet if something were to happen. Make sure your plan covers emergency evacuation and repatriation as well, in the event that you need to be returned to your home country. Our Travel Insurance Select can provide these benefits and more, including emergency assistance while abroad.

May your Olympic experience be one that will bring you joy for years to come, and allow you many great memories. If you’re going to the games, be sure to share your memories with us on our Facebook page! What competitions are you looking forward to the most? Olympic travelers: what advice would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

01/31/2014

#EuroTour14: Travel Tips from the Emerald Isle

The Tri-Color flag of Ireland flies proudly over the Kilmainham Jail museum. It's actually quite a fascinating story of how it became one of the national symbols of Ireland - if you're into Vexillology.It’s disappointing, really. #EuroTour14 has officially come to an end, with my return to the United States on Tuesday. And already, I miss the wonders and people of Europe. From watching the Changing of the Guard in Buckingham, to singing bad karaoke with my new friend Tony in a pub in Dublin, this trip to Europe was exactly what I needed to get myself re-centered, and re-focused on why travel means so much to me in this world. I can’t wait to go back to Europe again – if nothing else, at least once more in September to Munich.

Dublin, as I’ve explained to so many I’ve come back to since, fascinates me as a city – as Ireland fascinates me as a country. For an island nation so proud of their place in history, they also view themselves as a very young country. In truth, Ireland is much younger than many of their European counterparts – only having claimed their independence from the Crown in the gap between the two world wars.

None the less, my trip to Ireland was nothing short of lovely. Between the history lessons learned at the Kilmainham Gaol and the National Museum of Modern Art (formerly the Military Hospital), to the liveliness and night life of Temple Bar, my trip across the pond will be one that I will long remember. I certainly hope that, as a result of all this travel, I’ll get to head back to the Emerald Isle sooner rather than later.

But as with anywhere I go, I learned valuable lessons from this trip that I plan on taking with me as I move further down the road. And unlike other trips, I picked up a unique set of tips that I don’t think I would have learned anywhere else. Here’s what I learned while I traveled to and far across the green hills of Dublin:

1: Know the road that leads home
Something that struck me about Dublin was, unlike London, the city was not as friendly to pedestrians as many parts of Europe are. This caused me to hop a lot more buses than I intended to while I was in the city. And in some cases, it caused me to get lost in places that were well off the beaten path. My first travel tip seems like it should come out of Travelers’ 101, but it’s a good reminder: always know which bus takes you to your destination, and which takes you home. Just because a bus has a number on it, doesn’t mean it’s the one going in your direction. If you’re unsure, pop into a shop that has WiFi, and do a Google search on where you’re going, and the bus number and line that should take you there. Another great travel tip: if you’re unsure, ask your bus driver, or use the free WiFi provided on the Dub lin Bus!

2: Pay in the local currency
I found it particularly entertaining that everywhere I went in Dublin, I had the opportunity to pay in either American Dollars or Euros. What they didn’t tell me was that the bank was trading 1 Euro for $1.30, while the shops were usually trading 1 Euro for $1.40. While a dime doesn’t sound like much, that’s $10 off of every $100 I spent. One of the most important travel tips that I’ve talked about before is to always pay in the local currency. This way, you know you’re getting (within reason) the same rate you would get at the bank – and save yourself some money as well!

3: Pre-Clearance is your friend
My final tip for visiting the Emerald Isle is to take advantage of the Customs Pre-Clearance at Ireland’s airports in Dublin and Cork.
The nice thing about flying through these airports is that you’ll ultimately clear Customs before you arrive home, thanks to the great facilities at their airports. This saves you some time, prevents you from going back through TSA once you land, and gives you more freedom in what you bring back from the Duty-Free store! Enjoy being able to pre-clear and be on your way back home!

I can’t wait to go back to Ireland, and have a much better time armed with these great travel tips! Where do you have planned to visit this year? What tips do you have for those going abroad in 2014? Let me know your ideas in the comments below!

01/23/2014

#EuroTour14: Mind The Gap - Travel Tips Learned from London

IMG_1088Fresh off my trip to London, and I already can’t wait to go back! Despite only being there for two days, and a 40-hour trip delay caused by weather, I can’t wait to get back to Britannia sooner rather than later. What struck me the most was the eloquent approach to the history of London and the ceremony of the city – demonstrated by the memorial walkways, and the preservation of history, and the great care in the monuments of Parliament Square. Additionally, I was very impressed by the gardens of the city – each one having its own personality and artwork that seemed to complete the community.

While it was a quick trip, I was surprised by how much of London I was able to see on foot. More importantly was what I was able to catch in just walking – including the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, high noon striking at Big Ben, and the bustle of Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. While I didn’t stop down for tea time on Sunday, I did end up in a pub for a pint and a plate of bangers and mash! Despite what people say, authentic English food was delicious!

While my trip was a lot of fun, it reinforced a lot of travel lessons that I learned from my years as a student traveler. There’s plenty of adventure and excitement to be had in Europe, but knowing these great travel tips ahead of your trip can save you a lot of time – and hassle – when you get there:

1: Carry a credit card with an EMV chip embedded
This travel tip is one that I often read about, but didn’t realize how important it was until I stepped up to a ticket kiosk at the Underground.
None of my cards would be accepted, nor would they fit in – the machines were configured to accept EMV chips only, and not magnetic stripes. Lucky for me, I just happened to have an EMV enabled card, and was able to buy my tube ticket with ease! While traditional cards are accepted in many places, automated machines (like the ticket machines and ATMs) only operate on EMV chips. Carrying one of these cards can be a huge asset, are available from several banks, and may offer consumer protections when traveling abroad (such as zero-liability protection if your card gets stolen). Every time I cross the pond, I have at least one EMV card with me.

2: Keep a schedule for your travels
I thoroughly enjoyed walking everywhere in London – and with the old downtown of the city so accessible, it makes sense to do just that! However, there was no way I would be able to walk from my hotel to the downtown , as my hotel was out by Heathrow Airport. For this, I utilized many different phone and tablet apps to keep my schedule running with the busses and the underground. This travel tidp helped me make sure that I could get wherever I needed to go – be it to my hotel, to one of the historic sites, and anywhere in-between!

3: Map out your journeys with a start and finish point
Let’s face it – London is an extremely large city, and it can be very easy to get lost on maze of one-way streets and back alleys. This is why having a map turned out to be one of the best travel tips I utilized on this trip. My map allowed me to easily navigate my starting points, my stops along the way, and how to get back to my hotel from the Tube. And while I kept a paper map in my backpack just in case, using my tablet allowed me to navigate in real time – plus, I didn’t obviously look like I was a tourist.

With one more leg of #EuroTour14 coming this weekend in Dublin, Ireland, I can’t wait to get back across the pond! Be sure to follow us on Twitter as I document my adventures (as WiFi allows). What travel tips would you give someone going to London for the first time? Leave me a comment with your ideas below!

01/16/2014

#EuroTour 2014: Preparing for the Trip

Shutterstock_107597459This weekend, I finally get to complete a trip that’s been 13 years in the making. Thanks to a strategically-placed airfare in the ecosystem, I’ll finally be able to get back to London. Not a bad way to start off the New Year, right? This weekend starts one of two consecutive weekends of travel – first to London, followed by another weekend jaunt to Ireland.

This one isn’t just about taking a trip overseas because I can – personally, this gives me a chance to reconnect to my student traveler roots. And while I will enjoy the 14,000 miles that will come from this run (putting me two Columbus-Los Angeles runs away from making silver status), I’m more excited about getting back to Europe – a place I discovered many years ago and gave me my love of travel.

As much as I’m excited jumping on an airplane again, this trip is going to come with just a little bit more preparation than usual for me. I realize that I’m going to a country much more geographically north of me during the lowest point of winter. This creates an environment ripe for trip cancellation, trip delay, and a whole mess of other problems that I just don’t want to deal with. So for this trip, I’ve already primed and prepared for the worst case scenarios that can take place. Here’s how I prepared to make the best of my European Tour this winter:

  • Packing warm for one extra day – just in case
    I’ll only be in London two nights – which means I can easily get away with packing light for the weekend. So why am I packing an extra day’s worth of thin layers to stay warm? With the cold temperatures comes the possibility of trip delay and trip cancellation. And if I’m forced to stay in London an extra day (which, in of itself, wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world), I want to make sure that I stay warm with clean clothes. Packing an extra set gives me a little extra assurance in the event things get pear-shaped.
  • Adding Global Entry status
    Remember about how I wrote about getting my NEXUS card last year, so I can get in and out of Canada a lot easier?
    One of the best things about NEXUS is that it comes with Global Entry, at half the price of just Global Entry alone. This allows me to use one of the kiosks when I re-enter the United States by air. This will make my run through Customs a whole lot easier at the end of the day.
  • Adding travel insurance to my adventures
    I know that talking about travel insurance on a travel insurance company’s blog might be a little redundant, but this time travel insurance is a very important part of my planning.
    Traveling alone as a tourist to a foreign country makes me a target for a lot of bad things which could happen to me. Additionally, as I outlined above, winter is not known as the most contusive season to go traveling. Travel insurance gives me some flexibility when it comes to trip delay, and trip interruption in the worst of scenarios. For the next two trips, travel insurance is going to be imperative to my adventures.

I can’t wait to get back to Europe this month – and share some of the adventures that I found while I was there! Be sure to follow along with my adventures on Twitter with the hashtag #EuroTour14! How do you prepare for a major international trip? Let me know what tips you would add in the comments below!

12/23/2013

The last minute gift giving guide for the traveler in your life

Sorry, friends - back to the stock photos. I'm kind of in a hurry to get out of here - for the next three days will be spent racing, watching movies, and with the merriment of friends! Good news is, however, that I will be back on a plane in a couple of days - which means more unique traveler photos in 2014!In two days, many people around the world will take a day of pause to observe the holiday season with the company of friends and family, festive foods and the exchange of gifts. Even I will not take the opportunity to step on an airplane, and instead observer the holiday amongst my inner sanctum.

Odds are, you might have someone very similar in your life. Be they a student traveler who spends their time between school and the rest of the world, or the business road warrior who spends at least one week a month in the air or across the land, these might be some of the most difficult people to shop for. What do you give the person who never seems to stand still very long?

The good news is that we crazy travel types aren’t that hard to please. In fact, a simple gift can go a long way for the traveler in your life, and it won’t cost you a terrible amount of time or money to bring a smile to your wayward friends and family. Here’s some of my picks for great last-minute gifts for those just flying in on the last sleigh flight of the night:

Gift Cards
Yes, this may seem like a passé gift, but you have no idea how useful gift cards can be to the everyday traveler. While in our hands, gift cards can be cumbersome and collect rather quickly, a gift card can be a huge value to someone looking to stay at their favorite hotel, or take their preferred flight overseas. Plus, in some situations, gift cards can also be applied to upgrades and other fees faced by travelers. And for a student, using a gift card to wipe out some of the extra baggage fees can be a huge deal when going to their next destination.

Charging Accessories
One of the biggest frustrations that I find is not being able to charge all of my devices when I travel – be it my phone, my tablet, my laptop (either of them), or anything else I can come up with to put together. I think the hardest one of all is my phone – which also doubles as my e-mail device, camera, social media machine, and music player when out on the road. For the traveler in your life, a small device charger can be a lifesaver. Many of them are battery operated, and have at least one USB port on board. When there’s no power outlet around (like on the airplane), a portable USB charger can make the difference between a short flight and a very, VERY long flight.

Power Strip/Surge Protector
I’m pretty sure you’re now asking yourself: “Holiday gifts are supposed to be cool and fun. What’s cool and fun about a power strip?” While this just might be another necessity of your office space, the power strip can be a lifesaver for travelers of all shapes and sizes. Airports (and even airport lounges, for that matter) are not world renowned for their power outlet access. So what do you do when you find one? Plug in a power strip, and enjoy the benefits of the power outlet. This way, not only can you charge your items, but also have several outlets available for those around you to enjoy as well. Instant win for everyone involved!

On behalf of all of us at Travel Insurance Services, I hope you all have a safe and festive holiday season. What are you hoping to get as a gift this season? Let me know in the comments below!

12/09/2013

Brace Yourself: Winter Trip Delay is Coming...

I had a great meme here about bracing yourself because winter is coming. The suits, however, didn't agree with me that it was as entertaining as I thought it was. So here's a picture from one time where a giant snowstorm forced me into a 4-hour trip delay on an airplane. Now you know why winter travel always equates trip delay and trip cancellation in my mind.Okay, the title is a misnomer. Winter trip delay is already here. I believe we discussed this right around Thanksgiving time?

None the less, winter storm season is now officially in full effect. Over this immediate weekend (the weekend of December 7-8, 2013), thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed due to winter storms. And on Monday, December 9th, USA Today is reporting nearly 3,000 flights are delayed or cancelled as a result of winter storms. And the storms and situations aren’t just isolated to certain parts of the United States: major hubs like Dallas/Fort Worth, Philadelphia, and Chicago are suffering the worst in delays, creating major trip delay log jams in places like Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Greater New York (JFK/LaGuardia/Newark). As airlines start trying to play catch-up, there’s not a whole lot we can do except brace ourselves – for winter trip delay is coming.

While I feel that I write about this every winter season, the message remains entirely relevant. Winter storms, at their worst, can be unpredictable, and create some very instable conditions for traveling across any method. Regardless of whether you’re taking a road trip, running on a train, or taking to the skies, winter weather can force you to delay your departure, your arrival, and can entirely change your situation once you get where you’re going.

Until we complete work on the weather control device straight out of our favorite Science Fiction movies (the one from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is one of my favorites), I’m afraid that we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to winter trip delay and trip cancellation. However, there are things that we can do – before our trips, at the airport, and after we get back – to make sure our winter adventures are as smooth as possible. Here’s what I recommend when planning around winter travel:

  • Plan for extra time in your trip
    During the winter months, I’ve grown very accustomed to adding extra time into my trip – be it traveling the day before to make sure I get there for the meeting, or planning on not being into work until the day after I’m scheduled to get back. By building extra time into my trip now, I can better buffer myself for trip cancellation or trip delay – and be flexible if the opportunity comes up to miss a flight for an airline credit.
  • Know the alternate routes
    This is just good advice regardless of how you’re getting to where you’re going. Sometimes, the most direct route just isn’t available by any means: be it weather related or otherwise, the most direct route can breed trip delay and trip cancellation woes. Wherever you’re going, know if there are alternate routes and routings available to you, and how to work those into your schedule. Taking the long way about can save you some time ultimately, and also assure that you get to where you’re going on your time.
  • Reach out for help
    Sometimes, despite our best planning around factors such as the weather, we’re just not able to make everything come together. And when you’re standing in a huge line at the airport, the last thing you seem to want to do is wait for half an hour to figure out what to do next. When you’re stranded, those friendly(?) faces at the desk can be your biggest assistance in figuring out what to do under a trip delay. If you don’t want to stand in line, there are other options available to you: frequent travelers can try the airline lounge for assistance, while others might go to Twitter to get help from the airport directly. Shaking a hand instead of a fist might be the ticket to get you out of your winter travel situation.
  • Consider travel insurance for winter travels
    In all seriousness, travel insurance plans can come in handy when considering your winter travel options. In the event you have a trip delay, or are forced to cancel your trip due to extenuating circumstances, travel insurance may be able to assist in some of your costs. From benefits for extra charges to lost luggage, travel insurance may be able to assist you in the midst of the winter travel season. Plus, if you don’t want the hassle of purchasing travel insurance for every trip, an annual plan might be better suited for your needs.

While we can’t control winter storms and the trip delay that comes with them, we can control how we manage the situation. And a little planning and management now can help you get to where you’re going when you do travel. How do you manage trip delay or trip cancellation in the height of winter storms? Let me know your plans in the comments below!

10/31/2013

The Trip of a Lifetime: Making Travel More Rewarding

IMG_1390By the end of the Star MegaDo day two, I was already overwhelmed with information. It was like taking a long drink of travel information through a fire hose – and for me, that wasn't a bad thing.

As if the tour of Rimowa wasn’t enough to get any travel aficionado started, day two had us spend the day with both Marriott and Air Canada. On this day, we got to go “behind the scenes” and understand how they do business for travelers of all kinds – from casual travelers passing through, to regular business travelers who call a hotel home for months at a time.

Each of the presentations provided a very unique look into how travel providers operate, especially when it comes to the customer experience. Making sure that each customer has a pleasant experience, from start to finish, is paramount to the success of a trip. Travel providers understand that, and work towards creating an experience for travelers of all kinds. Here’s what I learned about how they try to achieve it:

Study the consumer for best practices
With every customer that flies the skies, or stays at a hotel, that much more information is gathered about the customer’s habits. This allows each of the providers to learn what customers prefer – and don’t prefer – during their travels. Having one bar of soap in your hotel room, or boarding by zones, are all the result of research and feedback by you: the end customer. Of course, your experience may vary. And there might be times where you need an extra bar of soap, a pillow for comfort, or an item not originally provided in service. In those cases:

It’s okay to ask for more
If you need that extra soap, feel free to call housekeeping and ask for more. Within reason, travel providers are more than willing to accommodate your requests. So if you’re in need of that sip of water while flying, or the extra pillow in your room, let the front desk or flight attendants know of your request. In some cases, they can (and want) to help you. Remember to keep your queries as requests and not demands – you’ll always be able to get farther with honey.

Creating a better experience for everyone – not just elite travelers
One of the things that became apparent in both of our sessions on day two were the need to create elite experiences for everyone who steps onto an airplane or into a hotel lobby – whether or not you have status with them. To those means, travel providers are working to make required much more simple – from the check-in process to the boarding process. New, more intuitive software is being installed into kiosks to make checking in less of an ordeal, and checking in on a mobile device or 24 hours ahead of time is also becoming more available for travelers. Of course, for those elite travelers, airlines are continuing to find ways to reward you for your status – with everything from dedicated lines, to (in some airports) entrances that lead you directly to a lounge.

My thanks to Air Canada and Marriott for the behind the scenes look at how they operate with the customer in mind. Have you had a customer service experience that has changed your outlook recently? Or have you noticed your experience getting better or worse? Let me know where you stand – and if the changes you’re seeing are making a difference – in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No compensation nor 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, service, or brand mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)

10/23/2013

A Trip of a Lifetime: Preparing with NEXUS

 

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Photo Via: Techcitement.com

After nearly a year of anticipation, the week is finally upon me. All this week, I'll get to be up close and personal with nearly everything Canadian travel, as I join the ultimate pilgrimage for travel aficionados like myself: the annual Star Alliance MegaDO.

The first Star Alliance MegaDO (or SMD, as those in the know abbreviate it) was dreamed up five years ago, when a group decided they wanted to charter an airplane and tour where it (and many like it) were made: the Airbus factory in France. Five years later, MegaDO has become an annual tradition that gathers many frequent flyers, industry influencers, and other excited travelers, much like myself.

This year, the annual gathering centers around one of my favorite places in the world: Toronto. During the trip, we'll not only be flying a private United Airlines charter, but we'll also see where some of the best luggage in the world is made, go behind the scenes at a major hotel operation and airline, and tour the world famous airplane boneyard in Arizona. This week is truly promising to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Of course, my preparation for this trip began quite a while back - before any payments were made and plans were prepared for, this trip began with a much more simple action. To begin this trip of a lifetime, I started by applying for my NEXUS card.

As I've written about several times in this blog, NEXUS is a trusted traveler program for frequent travelers between Canada and the United States. The system effectively pre-screens potential travelers who plan on going back and forth on a regular basis. To apply for NEXUS (or any of the trusted travel programs), one has to start at the GOES website - the Global Online Enrollment System - operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office.

My experience applying for NEXUS was a relatively easy process. I started with the application form - and the hardest part of the form was trying to remember all of the places I've lived in the past ten years! With this information, I submitted my information for a background check by both Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Canada Border Services Agency. While they advise the process can take up to eight weeks, my application did not get processed for the better part of three months. Once it was, it was time for the part I dreaded the most - the screening interview.

I elected to do my interview at Fort Erie, on the other side of Niagara Falls. Fort Erie is one of the enrollment centers which completes iris scanning as part of the application finalization, which meant that I could use NEXUS when flying into Canada as well as at ground crossings. Once there, the interview process took all of 45 minutes. I was asked to submit my fingerprints, and confirm the information stated on my application. Once that was confirmed, I was interviewed by both a CBSA officer as well as a CBP officer, who each explained how the system worked from their perspective, explained all the potential violations that could have my card revoked, and answered any questions I had about the process. At the end of the process, my NEXUS status was approved, and I received my card within a week.

In addition to NEXUS, my trusted traveler card also gives me access to the TSA Pre-Check program (where available and when selected), further expediting my travels through the security checkpoint. Also included with the trusted traveler program is access to Global Entry when I am coming back into the United States - which will make my re-entry back to the US that much easier every time I come back from an overseas trip. For the process of the background check, six-hour drive to the interview, and $50 application fee, NEXUS was well worth the effort - and comes with plenty of benefits as well.

As I land in Canada, I'm incredibly grateful that I'll be able to utilize NEXUS to make my travels through security that much easier. Have you applied for NEXUS or another trusted traveler program? Has it been of much benefit to you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

09/18/2013

Flying with Both Feet on the Ground

I wasn't sure which image to use here, really. I figure this one would be as good as any when talking about managing credit and budgeting. I could have used a stock chart, but that would have implied something different.One of the curses of having chronic wanderlust (I promise it’s a real condition) is planning around and between trips. My mind is always wandering about when and where my next adventure is going to take place. At least once a day, I’m looking to Google Flights for cheap flights to and from Columbus that I can turn in a weekend. And if I’m not reading websites for ideas about places to go, I’m going over the brochures of my favorite places to see what I’ve missed along the way. What can I say? I was born with a suitcase in my hands.

The subsequent problen is finding the time to balance my responsibilities at home and abroad. How can one continue to adventure if they don’t have the means to do so? Furthermore, how can one make plans to stay in perpetual motion, if it comes at the cost of bugetary hyperextention, or neglect of other long-term plans wherever you call home?

I’m not just talking about working and balancing paid time off. I’m talking about balancing the budgets, keeping an eye on credit, and protecting the things that I care about when both home and away. Keeping my stuff safe from baggage theft and baggage loss while traveling is one thing. Keeping my eye on the bigger picture is something completely different, but equally important while on the road.

So how does one make it all work when trying to see the world at the same time? Here are some of the tools that I use to balance everything together:

1) Credit Monitoring
When traveling domestic or foreign, I’m always using credit cards for the security features they provide me (not to mention some of the awesome rewards). But I also want to make sure that I’m using it responsibly, and that nobody else is using it but me. I like the tools Credit Karma and Credit Sesame to get an overall view of my credit, how many credit pulls I have, and where all of my balances lie. Add in alerts to my smart phone when there's a drastic change in my account (such as a higher balance change, or credit report pull), and I'm prepared no matter where I go. 

2) Budget Planning
This is one of the key pieces of my travel strategy – as having a strong budget allows me to travel anytime I see a good deal.
Aside from the tools that my bank offers to keep track of my accounts, Mint is a good tool as well – as it allows me to plug in my projected expenses for the month, and can help me start saving for my next big adventure.

3) Rewards Tracking
I’ve talked about rewards tracking in the past, but I wanted to mention it again as it can be a critical part of your travel planning. Who doesn’t love to get a free ticket, hotel room, or perks at the hotel? And if you don’t use the points, you’re giving free money back to the companies. For reward tracking, I like Award Wallet, as it keeps my major accounts in one place. The only downfall is that Award Wallet isn’t supported by all travel providers, but it still gives me a good idea of my status and balances across the table – so I can plan for that reward trip that much sooner.

Keeping everything balanced is a key to flexibility. And the better I can balance now, the more fun I can have on the road. How do you keep things moving at home while you’re away? Let me know your thoughts 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!)