Monday, January 29, 2018

Another testament for travel insurance

So you still don’t buy travel insurance. But you do have car insurance, home insurance, and health insurance. Have any of these netted you a payout large enough to cover all the premiums you’ve paid throughout the years? Probably not. But you still have insurance—just in case.
Well, that ‘just in case” can happen when you are traveling, too. And the costs of a major illness or accident or weather event can be much higher than the premiums paid out.

Unexpected illness in Nepal
We recently returned from a trip to India and Nepal. After two marvelous weeks exploring wildlife parks, temples, countryside, and much more in India, we headed to Nepal. That was about the time my husband Larry started feeling bad. A hotel doctor diagnosed him with bronchitis, gave him medicine, and suggested he rest for a couple of days. We canceled our trip to Chitwan National Park and stayed in Kathmandu two extra nights before flying to Pokhara.

The night before leaving Pokhara, things started going really downhill for him. He was admitted to the local clinic which determined he needed to be at a better equipped facility in Kathmandu, where he was taken by helicopter the next morning.
Without going into specifics, suffice it to say he was in the hospital for eight days receiving treatment before he was cleared to fly back to the States. Even though the cost for medical care in Nepal is significantly less than equivalent services in the U.S., it doesn’t take long in a hospital to incur a large bill.

Most U.S. insurance companies (especially if you’re on Medicare or Medicare advantage-type program) won’t guarantee payment to a hospital in a remote location like Nepal, which means we had to pay our bills (make sure your credit card limit is fairly high) and then file claims for reimbursement. 
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The one thing our travel insurance did cover upfront was our flight home. However, they only provided economy fare, although our original, but canceled flight, was in business class. And Larry needed to be in business class as per the doctor’s recommendation because of how weak he was. So getting reimbursed for the extra fee is an issue I’m still working on. Even so, I was grateful for what the insurance did cover on the 40-hour flight home, which was a significant expense since it was a last-minute booking. And I’m hoping coverage will extend to a good portion of the other expenses.

Weather event in Antarctica
That was the second time we had a large claim during travel. About two years ago we went to Antarctica with an extension to Easter Island following the icy expedition. Weather created the problem this time as we could not get back to mainland Chile when scheduled, which played havoc with our flights to Easter Island and later return to the U.S. In all we paid out nearly $7000 more to continue our journey and return home afterwards, which the insurance company covered in full. Yes,  travel insurance cost can be hefty, but we would never have gone without it because of the uncertainty of traveling in remote parts of the world.

Before each trip, check the credit card on which you book travel (cruises, flights, tours, hotels, etc.) to see what kind of coverage is offered for non-refundable expenditures as well as medical expenses. If it’s substantial, you may be able to lower the amount of coverage purchased for regular travel insurance. You can consider a med-evac type of policy, too, although most regular travel insurance policies include around $150,000 for that service (which is highly unlikely to be used and does not guarantee transport back to the U.S. only to the nearest facility that can provide necessary treatment).
Even if your destination isn’t so far away as Antarctica or Nepal, travel insurance is a good investment. Many costs are incurred prior to travel, and things can disrupt your plans (luggage didn't arrive where you did? Flights delayed or cancelled?) even before a trip as well as during. I would never book a major trip without insurance—just in case.

Photos from free sources


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Paamiut is a secret treasure of Greenland

Brightly painted houses keep the cold winters from being so dreary.
While tourists to Greenland often prefer itineraries filled with all the famous sights of bigger towns, Paamiut naturally attracts travelers who want to go off the beaten path and gain a different perspective. Fortunately for us, it was a port stop on our Regent cruise to Iceland and Greenland.

What makes this tiny town so special? The people of Paamiut, which is located on the southwestern corner of Greenland, are very friendly. When they spot tourists they are quick to share all the good spots in the region. Sightseeing in Paamiut is about appreciating the beauty in simple experiences--hiking, skiing, and wildlife viewing.

Famous church in Paamiut
You can easily walk to the Stave Church, one of the finest churches in Greenland, and you might even get to hear a local person playing hymns on the small organ. Built in 1909 the red and green steepled church is like a work of art with its fancy Norwegian-style designs inside and outside. Imagine what it takes to build such a wooden structure in a country with no trees.

This mural on the side of a building depicts the fishing lifestyle.
A replica of a ship hangs from the ceiling in tribute to the fishing lifestyle and strong connection to the sea. For its 1500 inhabitants, 90 percent of whom are native Inuits, every aspect of life revolves around water. The town grew because the sea is free of ice during the winter. Fishing for redfish, sea salmon, and cod is the primary occupation.

Additionally, icebergs drift from the east coast and up the west coast bringing seals and a prosperous hunting season, and whales can be hunted on a quota system. 
Icebergs float in from the open sea.

Often shrouded in fog, Paamuit means “those who reside at the mouth” of Kuannersoaq Fjord. Started as a trading post for fur and whale products when founded in 1742, Paamuit has become known for its soapstone artists, too. The town is a mixture of old and new cultures and provides amazing nature experiences for those with a different perspective of life than more urban folks.

Summer flowers brighten the simple landscape in town.
In summer beautiful hiking trails attract nature-lovers; and as with everywhere in Greenland, sailing is a summertime favorite in Paamiut. If you take a boat ride through the fjord, you might see the town’s guardian, the white-tailed eagle, called Nattoralik. It is plentiful in Paamiut, and the townspeople feel a strong connection with it as with all wildlife in the area.

The Inuit culture has a long history of whaling.
The town is quite small, so we easily walked through the city center as our school teacher guide pointed out the school, fire station, hospital, fish market and museum where displays showed how women turned thousands of tiny beads and pieces of sealskin into extraordinary national costumes that are still worn today.

The green building behind the bridge is the school.
We stopped along the bright red and white bridge in the center of town and listened to the babbling river beneath. We watched children riding bikes and playing everywhere, even on the roof of a house—easily accessible because of being built on a hill. Summer flowers grew wild throughout the town and were especially lovely in the field beside the iconic whale-bone arch.

We trekked to the observation tower.
Later Larry and I set out on our own to climb the rocky coastal hill and then scale the stairs leading to the observation tower.

Despite a brisk wind at the top, we had excellent views of the entire town’s streets and buildings in one direction and the fjord in the other. Colorfully painted houses stood out in a toy-city panorama against volcanically formed, blue-black mountains. We felt we had discovered a hidden treasure in Greenland.
Volcanic rock surrounds the fjord where Paamiut is located.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, January 5, 2018

More seats, less room when flying

Getting ready for an airplane trip? It’s crunch time.
Seats on airplanes are getting smaller and closer together.
That’s how it feels when you settle into your economy seat on most airplanes.

These days the average economy seat pitch (distance from any point on the seat to the corresponding point on the seat in front or back of it) is 30 to 31 inches on the three major U.S. airlines—American, Delta, and United. Low-fare airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit have scaled back as low as 28 inches, making your available legroom even more cramped.
Allegiant offers low fares but
less leg room.
Of course, these are averages, and you should keep in mind that big airline companies have many different types of planes. Pitch can change when new planes are built or when older ones are refurbished. Bottom line, every inch counts for comfort, especially if you’re making a long-haul run.

But there’s an airline you may not have even heard of that offers the most legroom in North America. Interjet is a Mexico-based, low-cost carrier that offers a generous 34 inches of seat pitch (i.e. legroom) on all its planes. However, it may not be convenient for U.S. travelers. Interjet flies to Mexico and Central and South American destinations from only a handful of U.S. cities.
Considering well-known airlines that fly most places Americans want to go, JetBlue could be the best choice. With 32 to 34 inches of seat pitch on all its planes and 37 inches on its Even More Space option, JetBlue offers more leg space that any other well-known carrier.

Virgin America is another airline that features 32 inches of seat pitch, but that may change since Alaska Airlines purchased VA. Alaska is downgrading its main cabin pitch to 31 inches—pretty much in line with most planes on the three big airlines.
Low-fare airlines like Southwest are best for short
flights since seat pitch is likely to be less.
Foreign airlines tend to be more generous, with many offering seat pitches of 33-36 inches. If you’re traveling overseas, check out the seat pitch of these international carriers: Air India, Air Tahiti Nui, Asiana, EVA, JAL, Air China, and Turkish Airlines.

The trend among airlines is to add more seats and subtract more inches from the seat pitch, and that’s not likely to change. The best advice is to put as little as possible under your seat, so you at least have that space to put your feet.
Information culled from 

Photos from free sources.