Are you your own worst enemy?

Travel writer, Christopher Elliott, started his own consumer advocacy website in 1997. On a daily basis, Elliott receives dozens of emails that have added up to tens of thousands over the years. If you want help from his team of advocates, one is asked to fill out a long form that helps them evaluate the problem and work through the issues that have the traveler feeling wronged.

Elliot and his team, have divided complaints into those that can be handled on their own, with his guidelines, as either resolve on their own or avoid the problem completely. More complicated ones can use his advocacy services.

Over the years, Elliot says, he has become a “very careful traveler. When I read nothing but horror stories all day long, you get this sense, you’re glad that it wasn’t you.”. “When my people read about the horrible things that happen, inevitably we get to the point where we realize they could have avoided it by using a travel agent.”

Here are Elliot’s top 6 to do's, to avoid, stress and trouble and have a happy, before, during and after vacation.

1. Take the time to fully understand what you are booking

“Just because you can look up a fare and book it, that doesn’t mean you understand the airlines’ complex fare rules. The travel industry has its own rules and sense of logic, and most people don’t understand it,” he said, noting airline ticketing and refund rules and hotel prepay restrictions. “It’s all illogical and even airline customer service departments have a hard time explaining it.” A common problem is “’the airline spelled my name wrong on my tickets.’ Airline websites only print out what you, the consumer, put in. In most cases, if you catch your mistake within 24 hours, you can get it corrected with no charge. It’s amazing how many people do not review their confirmations.

2. Purchase travel insurance

“Even just thinking about travel insurance isn’t common,” said Elliott, who believes half the complaints he and his staff review could have been avoided if the consumer simply had purchased travel insurance. “Everyone thinks, ‘My vacation is going to be fine. My connections will be fine.’ And then they end up losing everything and contact me to get help. They send threatening letters to the local newspaper, or ‘7 On Your Side,’ and that can sometimes work. But it would be so much easier if they just purchased travel insurance,”

3. Do your due diligence

“Read the fine print before you purchase. Read it twice, and click once,” Elliott said. “If you had taken the time to read everything, you might not even have purchased the product.”

4. Plan for the unexpected

“People are overly optimistic when it comes to travel. “They think planes take off on time and that hotel rooms will be ready when they arrive. All of their dinner reservations will go flawlessly,” he said. “The people who contact me for help thought nothing extraordinary would happen, but of course, something did. Travelers need to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

5. Pack your manners with everything else

“Often you will find people are their own worst enemy. When something goes wrong, they make it worse by their rudeness. A customer service representative is a human being, and if you treat that person, who probably isn’t happy about the events surrounding your misfortune either, politely, you may never need to contact me,” he said. “But so many people have an event on the first day of their trip, they get really bent out of shape trying to fix the problem, and they end up ruining the rest of their vacation. If they had packed their manners, they likely would have had a much better trip.”

6. Book through a travel agent

“Most of the people who contact me think they can DIY their way through their vacation,” he said. “I tell them, next time, find yourself a good travel agent, not just any agent. You’ll keep yourself out of trouble that way. A good travel advisor tells the clients everything I do, so the consumer can make an educated decision and protect themselves.”

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What can we learn from HIM (Harvey, Irma, Maria)?


In the aftermath of Harvey, Irma and Maria on her way, I think the issue of travel insurance is important to consider. Travel insurance is not only about your health or missed connections.

Consider this: You were smart and didn’t plan your Caribbean vacation during hurricane season. Pat yourself on the back. You planned Christmas, New Year’s or President’s Day week. Well Irma may have blown your lovely little piece of Paradise to smithereens and it won’t be rebuilt in time. And whatever she missed, Maria will be sure to get. Try getting your deposits back or the paid air fare. The airlines may be flying, there just won’t be any place for you to stay. No place to stay is a covered reason in a travel insurance policy. “Your destination is uninhabitable because of a natural disaster, fire, flood, burglary or vandalism.”

To buy or not to buy Travel insurance; that is the question.

I get it all the time.  It seems people fall into 2 camps, those who want to buy and those who think it’s not worth the price.  Well it’s not worth the price if nothing happens.  Just like your home insurance, it isn’t worth the price unless your house burns down.  Yes the travel insurance industry is a billion dollar a year business.  But we aren’t talking statistics when it comes to your vacation that you have dreamed, planned and saved for, that is ruined.

I am a personal believer.  I have a travel agent policy that covers me for small trips.  When I go on a longer trip, I buy an individual policy for that trip.  Premiums vary depending on age, destination and duration. Children 17 and under are free if they are traveling with a parent or grandparent. 

Are you 65 and on Medicare? Medicare does not cover medical costs outside of the USA. If you have a supplemental policy, it may or may not include some minimal foreign medical coverage. Look at your passport, Item 3 under “Important Information”, advises you to check on your health insurance coverage to see if or what it pays outside of the US. Does it pay the foreign hospital or doctor? Or do you have to pay and get reimbursed.  Do you have $30,000 or more available to you, should you need it?

If you buy a policy within 14 days of your initial trip deposit, you can have preexisting conditions waived for yourself and close family members who may not be traveling with you. I have 2 clients who didn’t want insurance and then just within the 14 days they decided to buy.  Both had claims.  One’s husband had a heart attack, the other needed knee replacement.  Both are very thankful that they bought insurance.

I can go on and on about clients, families with young kids, that used their insurance and were happy to have it.  My feeling is this; it costs between 5-10% of your trip. Is that really out of your budget?  What if your bags get lost or delayed?   It can happen to anyone. You trip and break a leg on safari in Kenya, do you want to stay in Kenya or would you prefer to be medevacked to another county for treatment?

Don’t buy a policy through a cruise line or tour company.  Those have the least coverage.  Some are only good for the cost to be put towards a future trip, not for reimbursement. If the supplier goes bankrupt, you are out of luck. If you are adding on to your cruise or tour and it is independent of the operator, that portion is not covered.

Always buy a policy from an insurer that has an AM Best rating of A or higher. I offer Allianz and Travel Insured International to my clients. Only insure the amount of money you have at risk.  Don’t insure for the whole trip if you only have made an initial deposit.  No use paying for more insurance than you need.  As you increase your trip costs, you can increase your insurance coverage.  Just remember to increase within the 14 days to keep your preexisting condition waiver valid.

So you are saying to yourself, I’m not elderly, I’m healthy. I’ve already confirmed with my boss, 3 times that I can have the time off. Nothing is going to keep me from going on vacation and nothing is going to go wrong while I am there. Right? 

Consider these possibilities:

One of your parents falls and injures them self and needs you to be their caregiver 

One of your adult children falls ill or needs surgery and has nobody to watch the grandchildren…they need Grandma! 

Your flights to Miami are delayed or canceled due to the new Polar Vortex and you miss the Caribbean cruise you have been planning all year…The ship has the nerve to sail without you! 

2 days before your Italy tour, your largest client at work announces that they will be canceling the contract if you aren’t in their offices by 9:00am, 3 days from now

The volcano in Iceland erupts again, spewing ash into the sky and all transatlantic flights are canceled for 3 days.  You are stuck in Paris for an extra few days where the average hotel room is $400 per night and you miss an important sales call back at work that costs your company a huge contract. 

And the list goes on.

Isn’t protecting your dream vacation worth the minimal cost of travel insurance?  

Is your peace of mind and financial well-being well worth the investment?




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Could this be what you forgot to pack?

You are ready to take off on that fabulous vacation you are eagerly anticipating. 

Have you prepared and packed for everything? What about your health?  Are you prepared and packed for that?

According to Jacquie Schwoerke, vice president of Global Patient Services, Sharp Health Care in San Diego, CA, “Many travelers incorrectly believe their U.S. health insurance will automatically cover them wherever they are. The majority of U.S. health insurance plans (including Medicare) do not cover you traveling outside the U.S., except for U.S. territories.  Be sure to check with your health plan to see if it provides worldwide coverage and assistance in the event of a medical emergency.”

Some HMO plans do provide coverage for true life-threatening emergencies while traveling outside the country, but it depends on the plan. The important question to ask your domestic health plan is: Does the plan have a benefit to cover medical emergencies outside the US?  If the answer is yes, request a copy in writing of what the travel benefits include and exclude, as well as the contact information when traveling abroad.”

Jacquie recommends you ask a few more questions:

1.   How much does it cover for medical care and medical evacuation? 

2.   Is there a maximum amount per person?

3.   Must I pay and submit for reimbursement, or will the health plan guarantee payment and wire             funds directly to the hospital?

4.   Who is the contracted travel assistance company? What is the phone number?

5.   Does the coverage only coordinate air ambulance evacuation to the nearest medical facility or will they coordinate air ambulance transport to the US? 

6.   Is the cost of the air ambulance arranged and paid by the travel assistance company? 

7.   How long does it take to coordinate an air ambulance to transfer you home?

8.  What is the process for notifying the travel assistance company and expediting a medical evacuation?

Travel Insurance can cover many, if not all, of these costs, if your HMO does not.

Jacquie also recommends you take these medical records with you as well.  I know it sounds like overkill, but if you do get hurt while white water rafting or horseback riding or fall from a misstep on a cobblestone street, you might be glad you took the time.  Do it once and then you’ll have it for every future trip.

  • Physician name, phone and fax number
  • Name and phone of home hospital
  • Insurance ID cards or a copy with the ID number and Customer Service phone number
  • List of known medical problems (i.e. high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems)
  • List of hospitalizations and past surgeries, including dates, diagnosis and type of procedures
  • ID cards for any surgical implants (i.e. joint surgery for hip or knee, pacemaker, cardiac stents)
  • List of current medications with dosage and times of day taken. The complete list should also include prescriptions, over the counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements.
  • Allergies to medications and foods
  • Blood type
  • List of vaccinations and when received
  • ICE Contact - In Case of Emergency – List name(s) of person to notify back home, include relationship and phone numbers. Leave a copy of all this information with that ICE contact, including copies of insurance ID cards (front and back), copy of passport, travel insurance policy information, and travel itinerary.

While you are doing all this, I recommend that you take a color copy of your passport.  Keep your passport in your hotel safe and only walk around with the photocopy.  Photocopy the front and back of your credit cards and ATM card.  Leave that copy in the safe as your back up and at home with your ICE contact. I know, from personal experience, you’ll be happy you did.

Now you are packed for a worry-free adventure.

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