8 Crucial Things You Need To Know About Travel Insurance

Are you planning a big trip or getting ready to travel? If so you may be thinking about travel insurance and whether or not you need to purchase a policy. Is it money wasted or is it an investment in your trip?

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1. When Do You Need Travel Insurance?

Personally, I buy travel insurance for every international trip I take. From luggage going missing to flights being delayed to something going wrong before the trip and forcing me to miss it, there are so many things that can happen.

summer travel image conde nast traveler 8 crucial things you need to know about travel insurance

Overseas travel normally involves a substantial financial investment and I want to make sure that A) I don’t lose that investment and B) the trip doesn’t get ruined by me not having clothes when I get there.

For domestic travel I don’t normally buy a travel insurance policy unless I have significant expenses attached. If I’m just flying to the opposite coast for a few days it is an expense I will do without, but if I’m flying to Hawaii for a vacation I will insure the trip.

You need to weigh out how drastic your financial loss will be if something major happens.


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2. When Should You Buy Travel Insurance?

I have my Glam Italia Tour travelers purchase travel insurance as soon as they have paid their deposit and booked their flights. You need to get covered as quickly as possible.

Most of us buy the less expensive airfares that have zero allowance for cancellation or changes to be made. (Read the fine print on your airline ticket) This can leave you with no recourse if something happens between buying the ticket and flying out. As with many boutique travel services, deposits and payments on my tours are non-refundable, which could add up to a significant amount of money lost should something go wrong prior to leaving.

Many travel insurance policies don’t cover you until 14 days after purchase, so you want to purchase your policy as quickly as possible.

In life, anything can happen. You could break your leg, have a heart attack, lose your job – the list is endless. Of course we hope none of these things do happen, but should something major go wrong you want to be past that 14 day window and be able to get some financial relief.

RELATED POST: HOW TO PACK A SUITCASE LIKE A PRO

3. Should You Buy Travel Insurance From Your Airline?

Do your homework on this one.

When you are purchasing your airfare the airline will offer you an insurance policy. I have never bought one of these so can’t speak to their value. Make sure you do your due diligence before clicking that purchase button. My feeling is that the policy probably will serve the airline better than it will serve you. (I could be wrong though.)

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Your insurance policy needs to cover more things than just the airfare and lost bags though, so really read up on that policy as well as any you may consider buying. It seems to me they don’t want you to spend time making comparisons as you will see a timer clicking away, warning you that you only have minutes before you lose the price on your airfare. I always buy a separate, freestanding policy.

Three years ago on a flight from Charlotte to Rome I sat next to a couple who were supposed to fly from San Francisco to Rome two days prior, to go on a cruise. The airline had cancelled their flight while they were at the airport. They were stuck in San Francisco (along with everyone else from their flight) for 2 full days before American re-routed them to Charlotte and from there onto Rome, costing them not only 2 nights in a hotel in a very expensive city, but the first 3+ days of their cruise as well.

4. Does Your Credit Card Offer Travel Insurance Coverage?

Depending on the credit card you used and whether you charged your entire trip to it or not your credit card may offer international travel insurance as part of your membership.

I had a situation a couple of years ago where my son and I were flying back from New Zealand with United (I seriously do not recommend flying United) The tickets had been purchased months prior, but shortly before our trip United decided to cancel our Los Angeles-Phoenix flight, leaving us stranded at LAX overnight. United being United basically just said “sucks to be you”.

Our flights had been purchased through American Express who said “no problem” and put us in a nice hotel overnight and paid for dinner. The moral of that story is that AmEx is good and United is bad.

Before booking your trip find out what type of travel insurance your credit card offers, if it does offer travel insurance.

RELATED POST: 7 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ACCESSORIES

5. Read The Fine Print and Trip Cancellation Policy

Before buying a travel insurance policy be sure to read all the fine print, including the trip cancellation policy. You will only get your money back if the reason for cancellation falls within the reasons listed on the policy.

euros paper money

Reading the fine print is really important as you need to know ahead of time about any exclusions and what documentation you need to have to make a claim. For example, your stolen handbag may require a police report, your medical claim may require additional documentation, your asthma attack may not be covered.

Also an act of terror, an act of God like a hurricane or earthquake, or the outbreak of war may not be covered. Obviously we aren’t planning for any of these things to happen, but you need to know what to do, and what is covered in the event that something goes way off the rails.

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6. Should You Buy Evacuation Coverage?

Medical transport coverage is in my opinion one of the most important thing to consider when purchasing travel insurance. Should something catastrophic happen – you get hit by a car, have a heart attack or aneurysm or stroke, break a leg or break your back, you need a travel insurance policy that will bring you home on the appropriate type of plane, with a nurse.

Of course the chances of something like that happening are incredibly slim, and of course you would be stabilized and treated in hospital wherever you are, but the getting back home factor could potentially be a huge deal. How would your family get you back home if you were incapacitated?

tourist being evauated by helicopter

I recently read a post from a travel blogger whose friend slipped and broke 2 vertebrae somewhere down in South America while they were hiking. They not only had a travel insurance policy that provided medical escort home, but also had an evacuation policy. This covered being heli-vac’d out of the rain forest. I have never purchased evacuation cover but I don’t do any trips that involve hiking or high danger sports. The most dangerous sport I engage in is drinking a spritz while looking over the Grand Canal in Venice.

Evacuation policies normally only cover heli-vac to the nearest hospital, not to the hospital of your choice. They also don’t cover getting you from that hospital to the next, or back home. A helivac is incredibly expensive, and can run more than $100,000 depending on where you are.

Always make sure you have a travel insurance policy that gives you between $50,000 and $100,000 medical travel home.

RELATED POST: HOW TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD FOR FREE

7. Pre-Existing Conditions

Before purchasing a travel insurance policy be sure to find out what their policy is on pre-existing conditions and if your pre-existing is covered or not. You may have coverage from your medical insurance policy at home, but be sure to check first as most medical insurance policies are not likely to cover you overseas.

8. Check The Travel Insurance Help Options

Before purchasing a travel insurance policy check to see what help the company will give you should something happen while you are out of the country. Some companies have international help lines or toll free help lines, others have nothing.

I got sick while traveling overseas 2 years ago. My travel insurance company was able to not only find me English speaking doctors in the places I was traveling, but also facilitate the appointments. They were incredibly helpful.

Another time one of my travelers’ luggage didn’t make it to Italy with her. The airline was about as much help as a bar of soap, but the insurance company got on it and chased after the suitcase as it made its way around the world. It saved my client hours of being on hold with the airline (at international calling fees) and also meant she didn’t have to waste vacation time trying to chase her bag down. The bag didn’t get to us until day 8 of an 11 day tour, but in the meantime the travel insurance company covered the purchase of new clothes, shoes and toiletries.

Ideally you want to use a multinational travel insurance company that offers you proper help when you need it.

RELATED POST: HOW TO SLEEP ON A PLANE

Have you read my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) ? In it I talk about my Free Resources, a set of PDF’s including trip planning guides and pre-travel checklists that you can use over and over. Download your Free Resources HERE


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Should You Fly First Class -Tips You Need To Know

When you are planning a trip involving airline travel one consideration is which class to book your flight. Most of us end up booking economy tickets, yet dream about riding in the front of the plane in the luxury and decadence of first class.

American Airlines First Class

If you are in the financial bracket that can afford first class all the time this post may not be for you. But if like me you typically travel on a budget, here are 8 times you may want to consider booking your flight in Business/First class.

Domestic Flights

Personally I don’t bother with paying the extra (or heaven forbid, wasting miles) on flying first class on domestic flights. Here in the U.S. most domestic flights are no longer than 5 or 5 1/2 hours. For the extra cost of first class you get a slightly bigger seat (1.5x) get to board early and get a free glass of crappy wine or non-top shelf spirits. For the cost differential you might as well just buy yourself a couple of drinks and just ride in the main cabin.

International Flights

My theory with international flights is that if the flight is less than 8 hours, for example Chicago to Dublin, which is 7 hours, it’s not worth the extra cost. If a flight is 8 hours or more it can be a really great option to turn left when you are boarding!

champgne in first class on al italia
“Ms Cooke, can I interest you in a pre-flight glass of wine?”
“Actually, it just so happens you can…”

Some of the benefits flying Business or First class internationally include extra luggage allowance, use of the club lounge in the airport (which can be worth its weight in gold), early boarding – there are an average of 300 people getting on this flight so it helps to get ahead of the crush, and in most cases have a separate entrance onto the plane.

business class menu on alitalia flight from LAX to Rome
The food was actually pretty fabulous

You get greeted by name, escorted to your seat, your coat is hung up for you. There are pre-flight champagne, a la carte menus and you eat from real plates, have real cups and glasses, and best of all you have a wide seat that lies down flat so you can sleep. It’s fabulous!

International business class food on American Airlines
Business class appetizer on American Airlines flight from Paris

Related Post: 10 Best Tips To Help You Sleep On A Plane

When Should You Fly First Class?

Let me preface this by saying I am a single mom so don’t normally factor first or business class flights into my travel budget.

I generally find that most international flights seem to have a hybrid first/business class instead of the old school economy, business and first class configuration. When I talk about first class for the most part that is the first/business combo.

I tend to buy economy tickets but by using the tips and tactics I tell you about in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) I get upgraded a lot. Not quite half the time I fly, but close to it. I doubt I will ever spend $6000 on a business class ticket, but I do sometimes pay for an upgrade – I just don’t pay much for it.

But let’s look at 8 times you might want to fly first class

1. When It Is A Really Long Flight

I have a personal (budget) rule that I won’t pay to upgrade to business class on any flight that is less than 8 hours. On international flights anything under 8 hours is in my mind not worth the extra cost – I’ll keep the money for shopping.

However when you are flying 8 hours or more, I think it is really worthwhile, especially if you get a good deal on your ticket. Flying from Los Angeles to Australia or to the main hubs in Asia can take 14 to 16 hours, with L.A – Asia being the hardest route on your body for jet lag. I do my best to get upgraded or find a deal on a business or first class seat on those flights.

2. When You Have To Work

If you have to work during the flight, be that prep for a meeting or get a paper written etc, that business class seat can be a Godsend. Not only do you have the benefit of a good sleep and arriving well rested, but also your seat table converts into a really good desk space too.

Business class American Airlines Barcelona to JFK
The table on the seat across from mine on a flight from Barcelona. Plenty big enough to use as a desk and get work done during the flight. Or to line up drinks…

One of the flights to Milan that I flew up front on had seats that converted into office style leather chairs that turned to face the window, where the side panel turned into a perfect desk space. It was really cool, and if you were working (I wasn’t) would have been incredibly functional.

Want to know how I fly around the world for free? Read this blog post where I explain it all!

3. When It Is A Special Occasion

Another great time to splurge and fly first class/business class is when it is a special occasion. Honeymoons, anniversaries, major birthdays all are great opportunities or excuses to turn left when you board that international flight!

Corinna Bs World first class American Airlines
Flying home from Barcelona in Business/First Class on American Airlines on a birthday trip.

4. When You Are Exhausted

When you arrive at the airport completely exhausted, flying business class or first class can be a game changer. Having the ability to lie flat in a comfortable bed-chair with a fluffy pillow and a comforter in the quiet that happens in front of the engines (no annoying engine hum to keep you awake) is just fantastic.

First class seat on American Airlines international flight

A couple of years ago I arrived at the airport in Los Angeles beyond exhausted after having worked 7 days per week for weeks on end. I was flying to Paris to work and wasn’t looking forward to being in a cramped seat for 12 hours. I was upgraded to business/first class, and although I barely slept because it was too fabulous to miss one minute of, I still arrived at Charles de Gaulle feeling rested and ready to take on the world!

Want to know how I get upgraded so often on international flights? I go into detail on how I do it in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget)

5. When You Need Pampering

Sometimes life gets difficult and you just need pampering. (I pretty much always feel like I need pampering) If I had the disposable income available I would fly up front all the time, but of course I don’t and can’t. But if you need or feel like being pampered in the air and your budget allows for it, try flying business/first class at least once in your life.

6. When Jet Lag and DVT Are A Real Concern

Jet lag happens due to crossing multiple time zones flying east/west. You can’t get jet lag flying north/south. There are many factors that contribute to jet lag and travel fatigue but I sincerely believe that lack of comfort on long flights contributes to them. I have never deplaned from business/first class and felt anything less than fantastic. If you have to bop off that long international flight and roll into a garden party looking your most fabulous, this could be the answer!

RELATED POST: HOW TO BEAT JET LAG

DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis is very, very serious. Also known as an economy class disorder, it doesn’t happen nearly as much in business class or first class. Basically DVT is deep vein blood clots that primarily occur in the lower legs, sometimes upper legs. Those clots can then dislodge and work their way into the lungs causing pulmonary embolism. DVT can be fatal.

I always recommend taking an aspirin before you fly to thin out your blood, (in case that actually works) and to wear compression socks or hose to keep pushing the blood and fluids up and stop them pooling in your lower extremities. Studies have shown that keeping the feet/legs elevated on long haul flights is a powerful remedy. If you are at risk for DVT and have a long flight coming up, getting an upgrade or buying a business class seat can be invaluable.

If that isn’t in you budget it is worth your while to pay for an exit row or bulkhead seat and once the seat belt sign has turned off put your carry on bag on the floor in front of you and rest your feet on it. Most Premium Economy seats have a bar that comes down below the seat in front of you to rest your feet on. When it comes to DVT you have to do whatever you can to avoid it.

7. When The Price Is Right

Sometimes you can get lucky and find deals where Business/First class doesn’t cost much more than economy. This is especially true on days that aren’t popular flight days. Always check the prices the consolidators have and click on their business and first class options as well as economy. Every so often you will find a flight that is priced too low for Business/First. When you see it, grab it!

Al Italia Business Class
An ottoman to put your feet up on (the seat lies out into a flat bed incorporating the ottoman) with a hotel pillow and fluffy comforter. Alitalia Business Class

8. When The Timing Is Right

Other times you can get lucky and find your way into an airline computer glitch. Should you find some ridiculously low fare, jump on it. If you don’t someone else will, or when you come back after thinking about it the airline will have already corrected it.

And sometimes the airline just makes mistakes. Last year I flew Los Angeles – Amsterdam – Rome. The airline emailed me and offered me an upgrade on the Amsterdam to Rome connection for $221. Normally I would have declined as it was a short flight, but I had to get through passport control in Amsterdam and back to the gate, and I figured a business class connection might help me. Somehow the airline’s computer messed up and instead of just putting me in seat 2A on the Amsterdam to Rome flight it put me in 2A all the way!

On top of that there was bad weather in Amsterdam and we had a four hour delay. The upgrade gave me entry into the club lounge in Amsterdam and then when my business class flight arrived into Rome too late for me to catch my train to Florence I was comped a hotel room for the night!

Keep your eye out for airline errors and take advantage of them.

Bonus

Does the thought of planning a trip or getting organized to leave on one feel a bit overwhelming or stressful? I have a set of Free Resources to help you plan, organize and get ready for your trip. These are the same travel planners, questionnaires and checklists I give to my Glam Italia Tour travelers. This is a set of PDF’s that you can use over and over. Get Your Free Resources HERE

You Need To Know About This Abandoned Monastery In Tursi!

It’s hard to imagine that there are still places in Italy that feel undiscovered. Each year Italy gets somewhere between 33 million and 58 million tourists, but the bulk of them stick to the most famous destinations. It amazes me that you can escape the crowds and still find totally incredible places, filled to overflowing with priceless art, history and treasures, without a t-shirt shop in sight!

This year when my June Glam Italia Tours were done I slipped off down to the deepest south, (very) southern Basilicata, to stay with my friend Martine at her idyllic Orangery Retreat. I wrote about the Orangery Retreat here. (Make sure you check this post out – this place is fantastic!)

In case you don’t know where Basilicata is, imagine Italy being the shape of a boot. The long, thin heel of the boot is Puglia, the toe of the boot is Calabria, and the instep, running between the two is Basilicata.

The Orangery Retreat is a series of vacation rental apartments in historical La Rabatana, a hill town just above the town of Tursi. La Rabatana was built in the 800s by the Arabs (Saracens), who ran the show for the next 400 years.

RELATED POST: SECRET BASILICATA – THE ORANGERY RETREAT

The Convento of San Francesco

At some point after they left, a church and monastery, known as the Convento San Francesco, was built across the gorge from La Rabatana, sitting atop its own hill with its own majestic view.

The Convento San Francesco seen from the Mandarin apartments at the Orangery Retreat in Tursi, Basilicata, Italy
View of the Convento San Francesco from the balcony of the Mandarin at the orangery Retreat in Tursi, Basilicata

From the balcony of the apartment I stayed in, the Mandarin, I had a clear view of the convent. Martine told me it was abandoned and had frescoes dating back 700 years. I live for opportunities like this, so the next morning we drove over there to have a look. The Convento is only 5 minutes drive from Martine’s resort, plus another few minutes walk along an undriveable road.

The town of La Rabatana in Trsi, Basilicata, southern Italy
Looking back at La Rabatana from the Convento san Francesco

Standing in front of the convent/monastery I looked back across the gorge at La Rabatana and my apartment at the Orangery.

I would love to be able to give you the full run down on the abandoned church and monastery, but google as hard as I might, there seems to be very limited information available about it, and that which I did find was both full of holes and what appear to be some inaccuracies. Which just makes it even more fascinating.

My heart was pounding as we walked in – Martine wasn’t kidding when she said it was abandoned!

walking into the abandoned church at the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, Basilicata

It has also been raided.

Interior of Convento San Francesco in Tursi, Basilicata

I saw one blog post about the convent that said it was abandoned in 1914, but somehow I think it was possibly long before then. This place has been stripped to the bones.

There are gaping holes in the floor where tombs used to be.

empty tombs in the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, basilicata
The tomb on the left is where the noble woman was found

Not too long ago a tomb containing a noble woman holding her baby was excavated. Her dress was intact and is in the local museum. I am dying to know who she was, why she was buried in the nave of the church (in terms of hierarchy this is quite significant) and how she and the baby died.

The Art Hiding Inside The Abandoned Church

Inside the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, Basilicata
There are frescoes hiding behind these baroque walls

At some time during the Baroque period, the inside of the church got a retrofit. Huge baroque installations were built over the original frescoes, hiding them for centuries. As the baroque pieces were stolen and carted away frescoes emerged underneath.

hidden frescoes in the abandoned church at the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, basilicata
Hidden frescoes in the church
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frescoes behind the walls in Convento San Francesco, Tursi, Basilicata

Here is where it gets even more interesting. As I researched the convent/monastery I kept seeing a construction date of 1441. But that cannot be correct because frescoes freed from behind the baroque fixtures are dated to 1377.

frescoe in Convento San Francesco, Basilicata, dated to 1377 A.D
Fresco dated A.D. 1377

Similar to the artwork in Matera, which is perhaps an hour drive from Tursi, the style of painting is very Byzantine. This shows just how cut off from the rest of Italy Basilicata really was. This was the era of Giotto. Italy was full of artists painting in a gothic, gilded style. Faces had changed, art had changed. But not in deep Basilicata, where the art movement was two to three hundred years behind.

byzantine art in the Convento San Francesco, and abandoned chhurch in Tursi, basilicata, Italy
Byzantine style fresco, painted in 1377 inside the abandoned church in Tursi

Seeing these frescoes made me feel the same as when I first saw the frescoes in the rupestrian churches in Matera and at the Crypt of the Original Sin. It knocks the wind right out of you, leaves you speechless.

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

And how crazy that these treasures sit unprotected in a church that has been stripped? Looking along the length of the wall at the baroque architecture all I could think was how many exquisite paintings are hidden away behind here?

Italy is full of little towns like this, economically disadvantaged but with sensational church art that goes unprotected. In my travels across the country I always get excited to find these churches and have always marveled at how the local people have taken care of them despite a complete lack of funds. So seeing the Convento San Francesco in this terrible state was totally jarring.

RELATED POST: 10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT PUGLIA

The Abandoned Monastery

Attached to the church is the (also abandoned) monastery. This has been attempted to be repaired but in a particularly nonsensical, grotesque way. Concrete, and badly done concrete at that, defies logic.

ugly concrete restoration destroys the look of the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco, Tursi, Italy
Ugly modern concrete restorations at the abandoned monastery make no sense at all.

But you can still walk into the monk’s cells and see where and how they lived, while marveling at their views across the valley below. Unfortunately they now have ugly concrete floors, but it is still pretty fantastic to see.

Window in a monk's cell in the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco in Tursi
Room with a view. Inside a monk’s cell in the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco
view from monk's cell in the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco in Tursi
missing floors inside the abandoned monastery at th Convento san Francesco in Tursi, basilicata
Missing sections of floor and pieces of walls, the interior of the abandoned monastery also feels stripped

Another thing I found interesting with regard to when the Convento was built is the dome on the tower. It looks very Arabesque, which makes me wonder if it predates the 1377 frescoes, or if it was a later addition? I will have to add studying the architectural history of Basilicata to my to do list, just so I can figure this one out!

modern concrete restorations below the dome at Convento San Francesco in Tursi
Ugly concrete making for a surreal restoration attempt of the monastery. Look at the dome and its interesting shape

Next time I stay at the Orangery Retreat in La Rabatana (I seriously cannot wait to get back there!) I want to find a local historian to explain everything here at the Convento to me. And then to take me on a walking tour through the fascinating town of La Rabatana. This place is an absolute treasure trove for anyone interested in history.

Did I mention I cannot wait to go back??

Is planning your trip to Italy stressful? Get insider info on everything from finding the best deals on flights, to how long to stay, where. Find out which wines and foods to order in each region of Italy, tips on everything from how to use the trains, the ins and outs of shopping, how to order coffee, what to do if you get sick while you’re away and much, much more in my Best Seller Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget)

For more information on the Orangery Retreat see their website here


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