How Long Can Canadians Stay Out of the Country?

One of the questions most frequently asked by Canadian travellers is, “How long can we stay out of the province or country?” There are a few things to consider on this one. For starters, it depends on your destination.

Here are the entry requirements and stay limits for the countries most visited by Canadians:

United States: Six months (about 182 days), whether all at once or over several cumulative trips, during a 12-month period.

Europe: 90 days, with no visa requirement however there are changes slated to take effect in May 2023.

The United Kingdom: Six months, or 180 days, with no visa requirement.

Cuba: Six months, however you must obtain an extension from immigration authorities for a stay beyond 90 days.

Mexico: Six months, or 180 days, however you must complete a Mexican tourist card, known as FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple).

Dominican Republic: 30 days, however you must obtain a tourist card for entry.

China: 30 days on a single-entry visa.

Australia: Three months on a mandatory Australian Electronic Travel Authority.

Now here comes the curveball: be sure to check the residency requirement in your home province. This is a set of rules that specifies the number of days that you must be physically present to qualify for provincial health benefits. While most provinces require that residents be present for six months to maintain their health coverage, it’s worth checking before planning a long-term vacation. Your residency requirement doesn’t affect your ability to leave Canada for vacation but it does impact your eligibility for provincial health benefits when you return.

No matter your destination country, it’s recommended that you always maintain at least six months of validity on your passport. Some countries may also require that your passport have a certain number of blank pages so be sure to do your research on entry requirements.

For peace of mind during your travels, take MSH coverage with you. Get a quote today!

Now, get packing!

 


Do you not see the answer to your question in the comments below? Feel free to get in touch with our experts for more assistance.

Getting Worse Before It Gets Better: Why This May Be the Toughest Time of the Pandemic

Here we are at the end of January 2021, and it will soon be a year that we have been living through the pandemic. It’s been a difficult year with ups and downs, but I would consider right now to be the toughest time in the pandemic.

When it all started in March 2020, we were in a state of shock. Suddenly, it became apparent how widespread the infection had penetrated in North America and around the world. We saw a serious situation unfold in Italy and New York City. We quickly shut everything down, hoping to gain some understanding of what exactly was going on and what we needed to do to contain the outbreaks. Then we slowly relaxed the stay-at-home measures and instituted newer ones, like wearing masks and physically distancing. In short, we learned how to be able to move around the world more safely: what to do and what not to do.

Our new “freedom” helped our collective moods. In the summer, camps for children were cancelled and indoor dining in restaurants remained a risk, but at least we could be outside and gather socially with friends in small, physically distanced groups. We could visit an outdoor patio at a restaurant, or swim at a pool or beach. We could play sports like tennis, golf, or baseball. It wasn’t in any way completely normal but at least it was something.

With the arrival of fall, we have seen a gradual restriction of our activities. The virus has surged again. This is understandable given the change in climate which restricts outdoor activities. People are congregating more inside, and viruses really like that, because that makes it easier to spread. Viruses also tend to spread more easily in colder climates as warmer weather makes it harder for them to survive. We knew it was likely for things to unravel again in the fall and winter, and we were right. We have lived through and are now in the midst of the second wave and it isn’t proving to be easy.

But we have a big reason to have hope now. The COVID-19 vaccine is here. It’s the durable solution that we had all hoped for and it came much more quickly than we expected, thanks to the wealth of resources devoted to its development. It has a strong safety profile and most importantly has been shown to be very effective. As a front-line emergency physician, I have had both of my doses. Being vaccinated has allowed me to go to work with some peace of mind, with the ability to better focus on helping the many people in need of assistance at this most difficult time.

Unfortunately, this good news is tempered by the reality of some recent developments. There are new variants of the virus circulating. These new variants are more infectious, meaning that the virus is passed more easily from person to person. It remains unclear, but there are also some concerns that these variants can make you more sick and more likely to have complications.

This development is a bit of a setback. It means that we need to be even more careful now. The public health restrictions need to be intensified. The fact that we are in the thick of winter when this situation has changed doesn’t make it very easy. Most of us are stuck inside our homes all day, working from home, some of us with children doing virtual school, with all the inevitable technological glitches and challenges that complicate our days. Many people are even more isolated than before, as even sitting outside or going for small walks can be hampered by the weather. The impromptu small social interactions are fewer and fewer. At least in the summer we could go and sit on a park bench or on a beach and feel somewhat normal. Most of us are feeling far from normal right now, and that is hard.

But then there is the reality of the vaccine which is the light in the distance. It will be there eventually for all of us, just like the spring and warmer weather… if we can just get there. The vaccine is still effective against the new variants, thankfully. The next few months will be tough, but we must hunker down and get through them and do our part to keep the virus at bay. Especially now with the variants in our midst, we must double down on our efforts to avoid close contact with others outside of our household. No social gatherings. No travel. Keep shopping trips to a minimum, as we know indoor spaces are the riskiest places. We should wear good quality, 3-ply masks whenever we are in those locations and limit our time there.

Most importantly, we all need a specific strategy to address our mental health. If we are able, trying to get outside daily and go for a walk for at least half an hour is a great simple rule to institute for ourselves. Even seeing other neighbours at a distance and saying “hi” can do wonders. Other safe activities include hiking, skating, or tobogganing. We must be mindful, however, that getting too close to others, even while outside, can be a risk. With the new variants, transmission occurs more easily. We must distance ourselves when outside and even wear masks when needed. This is not the time to take chances. We are so close to the end of this pandemic and I can just feel it. Better days are within our grasp.

MSH Americas and StudyInsured™ are proud to announce the launch of the International Student Wellness Hub

Our mission at MSH Americas will always be the same: to respond to the needs of today’s globally-mobile individuals and organizations with innovated products and industry leading duty of care solutions.

We have been protecting international students and supporting schools to improve the study aboard experience in Canada and around the world. Being able to anticipate the changing landscape of the international education industry and responding to the needs of students and schools is what sets StudyInsured™ apart from the competition.

To continue this legacy, we are proud to bring the International Student Wellness Hub to our students, schools, and partners here at home and around the world.

The Hub is the ultimate resources for international students and schools, to find useful and practical information during this uncertain time due to COVID-19. The Hub includes information on:

1. Mental Health Tip Sheets for students: Information and tips for your mental health, and learning From the Front Lines with our Medical Director, Dr. Michael Szabo

2. COVID-19 Useful Links for students: To guide our students regarding Government updates

3. Provincial Resources for students: International Student programs and COVID-19 information by province

4. Finance & Job Opportunities for students: How students can manage their finances, plus job searching tips

5. Information & Resources for Schools: Tips for educators and administrators to assist students with well-being

We hope the Hub helps international students, schools and administrators through this difficult time! We would love to hear from you, feel free to share your feedback and suggestions to marketing@americas.msh-intl.com

Battling COVID-19 Episode 7: Being Patient in a Challenging Time by Dr. Michael Szabo

Remember back in early to mid-March when the reality of COVID-19 was sinking in?  Before that point, we knew it was an issue of concern, but we didn’t think it was much to stress over.  However, we slowly began to realize that the virus was spreading in the community in North America.  We heard horror stories from hospitals in Italy, where health care staff were overwhelmed.  We began to see the same thing happening in New York City.  All of a sudden, it changed, and our lives were altered dramatically.

We immediately went into lockdown. We didn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary.  March Break vacations were cancelled.  Restaurants and stores were shut down.  Schools were closed.  We started working from home. We carefully wiped down our groceries and washed our hands obsessively.

I listened to a podcast recently where one of the speakers likened it to what happens when someone drops a glass on the floor of a crowded house party. I really like that analogy. The glass shatters everywhere, all among everyone’s feet on the floor. The first instinct in these situations is for someone to shout, “Nobody move!”  We say this because everyone knows that the shards of glass can go everywhere in these situations, in places you would least predict; places so far away that you are dumbfounded at how they got there. It’s also amazing how so many tiny pieces of glass are produced from such a smash, some so small you can barely even see them.  But those small ones can often prove to be the most damaging as they can become embedded in the bottom of your feet and be almost impossible to get out later. With everyone standing still, someone then gets a dustbin and a brush and tries like the dickens to clean up all the pieces of glass, looking in all possible places they think they may be hiding.  Then, people slowly and carefully start moving around again, realizing that surprises can still happen, and they may end up standing on a piece of glass.  So, we take our time.  Eventually, people start moving around normally with more confidence.  But we all know what can happen: a few hours, days or even weeks later, another small piece of glass is discovered in the strangest of places. We can never be truly confident that we are out of the woods for quite some time. However, at the same time, we cannot be paralyzed forever.  Life and the party must go on.

We are coming out of that initial phase right now. We are much more aware of what is happening. We have a better grasp of where the virus is in the community and how it spreads. We know how to prevent ourselves from being exposed, with face masks and hand washing now a part of everyday life. Staying six feet away from others is common practice whenever we walk down a sidewalk or take a trip to the grocery store.

The challenge right now is deciding how confident we feel in resuming our regular lives. Should we start having friends over who we feel are “safe”? Should we allow our kids to play with the neighborhood kids in small groups? Should we send our kids to day camps this summer? Can we visit our elderly parents? These are some of the questions many of us have.

I think what is required from us is patience. Patience with an imperfect process that must take time and be dictated by science, data and expert opinion. We need to trust our expert decision makers, who are tasked with the impossible job of devising a plan to optimally protect us. The process cannot be rushed because we are in the midst of a complex and new situation. As we all have noticed, experts haven’t always gotten it right.  First, they said no face masks, then they reversed their opinion. First, they said not to worry about asymptomatic spread, then they said to be concerned about it. First, they said not to worry about children because they are only rarely adversely affected. Now we are discovering that may not be true. These things happened because we learned more. The virus has affected more and more people, so with that increase in the number of infections comes more and more understanding. We are so early in the process of comprehending every nuance about this new virus. In three months, we have come a long way, but at the end of the day, it is still just three months. Our ability to be confident in making big decisions like allowing all children to go to overnight camp for the summer has to be tempered with the humility of what we actually know to be true right now.  We may overcall some things in this process but understand that we may undercall some things and live to regret them dearly. It’s a tough position to be in. When do we walk around freely after a glass has been shattered on the ground? When do we risk getting pierced by a wayward tiny shard of glass? No one has all the answers. Let’s not be paralyzed by fear, but let’s not be overconfident. A tough line to walk, but here we are. Let’s be patient, trust the process and we will overcome this.

Are Snowbirds Ready to Plan for Life After Covid?

Any other year, Canadian snowbirds would be anticipating the release of early-bird travel insurance deals for the coming winter season in the US sunbelt or other warm subtropical location. June, July, August—that’s when insurers normally begin rolling out their products for the coming season.

But this is not just any other year. The attack of Covid-19 coronavirus has seen to that.

As we know, many of you got back north of the border by the skin of your teeth in late March and April before the border shut down. A few others didn’t quite make it and had to pay the price of quarantine.

And now the quandary: what to do about winter 20/21? A lot of questions to deal with.

When will the US/Canada border restrictions end? Will you feel safe travelling to your winter home?  Will you have to wear a face mask all winter? How do you know who to believe? Is it time to look beyond the fear?

Let’s start with some facts–as provided by John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre, official data monitor for coronavirus Infections and deaths worldwide.

The US, which is the winter home to most of Canada’s snowbirds, has attracted much attention for its  COVID-related death toll—now exceeding 80,000. That amounts to 242 deaths per one million inhabitants. (The US has a population of 330 million). Actually, that’s quite modest when compared to other major developed nations: 757 deaths per million inhabitants of Belgium; 569 per million for Spain, 505 for Italy; 479 for UK, and 393 for France. As for Canada, Covid-related deaths stand at 134 per million population, and for Germany, only 92 per million. These figures are current for May 11.

But in looking more closely at the US figures, we note that the states of New York and adjacent New Jersey account for almost one half of US COVID-related deaths while there remain huge swaths of America where the infection and death rates vary dramatically. Of special interest to snowbirds,

their home-away-from home states generally record considerably lower COVID death rates than many less populated ones. California, Texas and Florida are the top three most populous of US states, in that order. Arizona has a far smaller population but is second only to Florida in hosting Canadian snowbirds.

Florida, with a population of about 22 million, has recorded 1771 COVID-related deaths as of May 11. That’s slightly better than Ontario, which with a population of just over 15 million has recorded 1669 deaths. (The population figures are rounded to 2020 estimates). 

California, with a population of close to 40 million has recorded 2717 COVID-related deaths; Texas, with a population of about 29 million has recorded 1088 COVID-related deaths, and Arizona, with a population of about 7 million has recorded 536 such deaths.

A personal note from MK. Recording numbers of deaths is a grim business. No death from COVID or any other such plague is acceptable. But if we are to deal with our fears, we must take a step beyond, and deal with the facts that underlie those fears.

The re-opening—so far, gradual and measured.

All of these states are now gradually reopening small businesses such as restaurants, small retail outlets,  and generally inhabitants are adhering to physical distancing and face mask rules. Florida has opened up most of its beaches to small groups, properly spaced. The spring break outbursts that made headlines around the world in March and April were quickly quashed by Florida’s governor. The exception to Florida’s beach re-opening so far are the highly-populated southeast counties of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. But central Florida, the Gulf coast, northeastern Florida and the panhandle are well into re-opening. 

In Arizona too, the lights are being turned back on. To quote a report from the Washington Examiner:

“At OSO Brewery in Gilbert, customers lined up at the bar Monday afternoon (May 11) and sat in every other dining room table. In North Scottsdale, Cien Agaves had new clear plastic dividers between booths as mask-clad staff offered digital menus to customers.”

In Texas, restaurants and retail stores have been allowed to re-open (with 25 percent occupancy), so have some malls and golf courses (one person per cart and a four-player maximum groups).  In the Rio Grande Valley, ground zero for Canadian snowbirds, barbershops and nail salons have also opened up—six feet minimum between stations and all other social distancing rules in effect.

In California, the “stay at home order” was lifted for most of the state on May 8, and hardly a week later was reinstated for Los Angeles county for a projected three months.  Nonetheless, businesses in less- populated areas were allowed to move into phase two of four phase statewide re-opening.

It’s a beginning. How long will it take? Will it be successful or turn out to be a mistake? It’s only May. But Canadian snowbirds like to do their planning well ahead of time. To be a successful snowbird, planning is the rule.

We’ll be following up on the re-opening efforts, not only in areas of interest to snowbirds, but for other leisure travellers as well.  Stay with us.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Time to Think About Travel Strategies—After Covid-19

That Air Canada expects the pandemic hangover to last at least three years, exposing the airline industry  to endure its “darkest period ever,” portends deep instability for all aspiring travellers for the foreseeable future.

Canadians and Americans have a lot of places to go and activities to enjoy within a day’s drive—anticipating that the border shutdown between our countries doesn’t last indefinitely.

But without the sustenance of air travellers, the tourism infrastructure—hotels, entertainment venues, theme parks, all-inclusive resorts, and mom and pop roadside operations, can’t operate at full capacity and with complete menus for long. A winnowing of destination choices and services becomes inevitable.

As Air Canada Chief Executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement dated May 4,  “We expect that both the overall industry and our airlines will be considerably smaller for some time, which will unfortunately result in significant reductions in  both fleet and employee levels.”

What you can extrapolate from that prediction is that other smaller airlines will suffer the same fate, perhaps even more acutely. And what this represents for your summer, fall and perhaps even winter 2021 travel plans, is that you prioritize your choices, get the most you can for your dollar, perhaps stay with what you know, scrutinize those “too good to be true” deals carefully and above all make sure you are protected should your plans change through no fault of your own.

Hold on to your money

Don’t commit to large deposits unless you have an assurance you can get all or most of your money back if you cancel. In these days of uncertainty there are plenty of hotels or resorts that are willing to cancel at the last minute (or at least within 48 hours of your scheduled arrival). But make sure you have those terms in writing and you can get your deposit or full prepayment back in cash. A refund in the form of a voucher or credit for future travel is no good to you unless you’re prepared to be an interest-free lender to your venue of choice for an unspecified amount of time.

This is particularly true if your choice of vacation is a cruise, as cruise lines don’t normally offer cash refunds—except when really pressed—as they are now that their ships are empty and idle. Today it is possible to get some guarantees of cash-back refunds from some lines, but that won’t last once the worldwide embargoes on cruise travel are lifted. And even if you have private travel insurance from an independent broker, unless you have a Cancel for any reason upgrade, don’t expect the insurer to provide a cash refund if your cruise line offers you a voucher or credit for future travel. That’s seen as payment in kind, and your insurer looks askance at double dipping.

The same is true for many airlines that continue to refuse cash refunds –even despite federal government orders that they do so. Both Canadian and US airlines are still resisting paying cash refunds for trips canceled due to Covid—despite government orders and class action court suits. In Europe, the governments of 12 countries are challenging the European Union to revoke a law requiring air carriers to offer cancelled-out passenger cash refunds instead of credits.

You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of these disputes. Read your travel documents carefully—every word. Don’t get locked into a situation where your money is tied up indefinitely even if the deal you’re offered  “is too good to be true.”

And if you’re using a travel advisor—travel agent or travel insurance broker– make sure you understand the deal you’re making. And as a bottom line-put out as little cash as possible, and only at at the last possible minute.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 6: Wearing masks properly by Dr. Michael Szabo

The decision by public health authorities on whether or not to recommend the use of face masks was a difficult one.  One of the biggest reasons was that educating the public on how to safely wear a face mask is challenging, because of the many details involved.

During my recent forays into the public, here are the top 5 issues I have seen with people wearing masks:

  1.  Pulling the face mask down over your chin.  This is probably the number one mistake.  After wearing a mask while outside for a walk or going to the grocery store, you may need to talk to someone more clearly, eat or just “want a break” from it – so you pull it down over your chin. By doing this, you effectively contaminate yourself with any virus particles that were on your mask prior to that. The rule is once you put your mask on, don’t pull it down.  It’s either on or it’s off and there is no in between.  Minor adjustments to its position can be made but only if done safely (see below).
  2. Not covering your nose.  We breathe through our mouths and our noses.  Many people cover only their mouth with their face mask, which means they can easily breathe in the virus through their nose. They can also transmit the virus to others through their nose.  Always cover both your nose and your mouth.
  3. Touching the mask.  Never touch the mask once it’s on your face. You can transmit the virus that was on your hands onto your mask that way. Before putting on your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.  After putting the mask on, you will need to wash or sanitize your hands again.  Do not touch the mask again, unless you just need to make a minor adjustment to its position.  If an adjustment is needed, wash or sanitize your hands, adjust your mask slightly, and then wash or sanitize your hands once more. 
  4. Wearing the mask upside down.  If you are wearing a medical grade mask, the metal piece on the mask is to be worn around the bridge of your nose and adjusted to fit. The folded edge of the pleats on the mask itself should be on the bottom. 
  5. Wearing a moist mask. Once a mask is worn for a period of time, it can become moist.  A moist mask no longer acts as a protective barrier and is dangerous to wear. While running the other day, I observed a lady doing heavy gardening and lawn work with a face mask on, which had obviously become sweaty and moist. For the same reason, jogging with a mask can be problematic. It would be best to practice physical distancing measures when participating in such activities rather than wear an essentially ineffective mask. 

Wearing a face mask is a public health measure that is likely to be helpful at this time of the pandemic.  However, doing so requires a careful understanding of how to wear one properly.  Remember, once you arrive home, wash or sanitize your hands, then remove your face mask. Immediately place it in the wash or dispose of it, and wash or sanitize your hands again right after.  Please stay safe, everyone!

[Battling COVID-19 Episode 5] A Vaccine for Coronavirus: Are We There Yet? By Dr. Michael Szabo

The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented effort by scientists around the world to develop a vaccine. Vaccines are important to protect us where the risks of natural infection are significant.

COVID-19 is a more deadly and dangerous virus than the flu. While we still do not have definitive data on the true risks of infection with COVID-19, one can safely say that places like New York City or Italy have never seen a flu season similar to what they are currently going through. Since mid-March, more than 60,000 people have lost their lives in the United States due to COVID-19.

It is important to note that this has happened despite the institution of public health measures like physical distancing, quarantines and self-isolation. If not for these, thousands more would have died. 

Is Allowing Natural Infection a Good Option?

One way to protect the population is to allow the infection to spread so that most of us successfully fight it off and become immune. Once that happens in a significant percentage, the virus has a reduced ability to spread and we can better contain it. Scientists currently estimate that around 60% of the population needs to be immune to COVID-19 in order to considerably reduce its ability to spread. We call this herd immunity.

The problem is that if we allow COVID-19 to infect that many of us, the loss of life and the impact on the health of many individuals would be too great, even if we allow only “low risk” individuals to become infected.

Experts have estimated that the COVID-19 infection fatality rate (the ratio of deaths divided by the number of actual infections) is approximately 0.5%. That’s lower than the case fatality rate (the ratio of the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases) of 5 to 8%. Why is this? Because it considers all infections, including those that are asymptomatic or with minimal symptoms where individuals did not see a doctor to get tested. 

If we allow 60% of the population to get infected, the estimated deaths could run as high as 1 million in the United States and 111,000 in Canada.

That’s unacceptable. We must find another way.

The Safest Route

Vaccination is a way for most of us to become immune, while not placing our lives and health at risk.

But developing a vaccine is not easy. We must be able to prove that we can create a significant immune response with it. That immune response then needs to be shown to be protective when exposed to the virus.

We must also demonstrate that the immune response lasts for a considerable length of time; it wouldn’t be useful to have a response that only lasts for a few months. It should last for at least a year, and longer, to be helpful. More importantly, it must also be shown to be safe. 

Patience is the Key

Vaccine development requires following a very careful and sound scientific process that takes time. It is estimated that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before we can develop a vaccine that is acceptable for use in the mass population.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently reports that there are five candidate vaccines being studied in 71 preclinical studies. From here, there will be clinical studies where they will be tested in small groups and then larger groups of patients.

We must be patient with this process. The last thing we need is for it to be rushed. A good example is what happened in 1976 when a vaccine for swine flu was fast-tracked for development. When rolled out to the mass population, it was found to cause a significant number of cases of a serious neurological outcome called Guillain-Barré syndrome. 

What to Do While We Wait

In the meantime, public health measures like physical distancing can lessen the spread of infection. Many clinical trials are also looking at the use of different medications to improve outcomes in those who have been infected. It goes without saying that optimizing our health with good diet, exercise and sleep as well as reducing stress likely helps the ability of our own immune system to fight off an infection.

All these interventions act as a bridge until we are able to develop a safe and effective vaccine that will hopefully protect all of us and allow us to return to a more normal life.

Five Self-Isolating Tips From A Nuclear Submarine Captain

The evolution of the brain is the most obvious example of how we evolve to adapt.

Rick Potts, Director of the Human Origins program at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

We’re all living in a new world, and the self-isolation that comes with it. As social beings, we’re used to living our lives by connecting and empathizing with others. Read on for some survival tips on how to cope with our new reality, as told by a nuclear submarine captain about his experience on a U-boat.

1.           Ask questions: “How are you feeling today?” has become our new greeting – and that’s fine. We need to reach out to friends and family and check in every day. It instills empathy and reminds us to feel that we’re not alone.

2.           Think first, act later: When living through stressful situations, we tend to act on instinct. Let’s slow down the decision-making process and implement a ‘think, then do’ action plan.

3.           Focus on one thing: As with days, it’s important to take one task at a time. Multi-tasking during this time may compromise the quality of what you’re trying to do.

4.           Discipline: Create a ‘downtime routine’ in a quiet space. By this point, you know what routine works best for you, so stick with it, at your own pace.

5.           Maintain a clean environment: Your external world reflects your inner world. Keeping everything in order helps to maintain levels of calm and boost your creativity

The most important thing is to focus on what you can control, one day at a time. No matter how challenging our new world may be, we have the capacity to think creatively to get us through it.

Cruise Bargains Sound Tempting. Can You Afford to Bite?

Despite the lingering images of cruise ships stranded at sea with passengers begging to be freed, the world’s cruise lines continue to drum up business for 2021 and even 2022. And bookings are said to be brisk–thanks to deep price-cuts and on-board cash value incentives.

When US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts its “No Sail” order depends on when it considers the COVID-19 plague under control. And though cruising is a worldwide industry extending far beyond US ports, the world’s three biggest lines*are headquartered in Florida, and their vessels at some time or other sail in US-controlled waters patrolled by the US Coast Guard. Thus, CDC jurisdiction is quite clear. (*Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Holdings account for 60 percent of all cruise traffic).

However, none of these lines, and very few others, are flagged in the US, thus they have not been included in US congressional economic stimulus programs and while sitting idle and empty they’re generating no revenue. Fortunately, according to cruise ship analysts, all of the big three have sufficient liquid and credit reserves to take them into 2021 and so cruise fanatics have a bountiful choice of bargains to choose, even though they may have to wait six, twelve, even 18 months to get the goods.

Is cruising in your future?  Here are some things to consider.

Cruise patrons whose trips scheduled into early summer 2020 have already been cancelled are being offered some generous future cruise credits (FCCs)—some exceeding the initial cruise value (i.e, 125 percent). A few are even offering cash rebates of fees already paid to those whose enthusiasm for cruising may have waned. Cash rebates are a rarity in the cruise industry. But for future cruises, the cash rebates may well disappear, leaving FCCs the only means of recouping your travel investment should you wish to cancel.

All cruise lines offer trip cancellation policies and promote them heavily, but cancellations must be based on specified circumstances such as job loss, illness, family death, call too jury duty, etc. You can’t just change your mind, although virtually all lines now also offer Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) policies which cost about 40 percent more than basic plans and which expand the range of cancellation options. However, even these are not without restrictions and need to be thoroughly examined before purchase.

Most decrease the cancellation payout the closer you are to departure.

And even the CFAR cancellation plans offered by cruise lines, for the most part provide only for future cruise credits, not cashbacks to you or your credit card.

For Canadian cruise enthusiasts, out-of-country emergency medical plans (most of which provide some limited cancellation/interruption benefits), or stand-alone trip cancellation plans allow cancellation for specified situations already explained. But they too will pay cash rebates only for non-refundable costs, so if a cruise line offers vouchers for future travel, that obviates your chances of getting your money back (or some portion of it).

And most important, if there should be a resurgence of COVID later on, that will disqualify any  claims for cancellation rebates as it is a known event and you will have been warned about its possible consequences and also warned that its effects would not be covered by travel insurance.

What does this boil down to? Trip cancellation/interruption coverage has a lot of contingencies attached. You need to discuss it well with your travel advisor and you need to read the policy—all of it.

If planning and pre-paying a cruise six months or more in advance sounds attractive because of the 25 percent reduction in fare, weigh all of the possibilities. The belief that “We can always cancel” is not necessarily so. Know your policy.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 4: Why we need to keep physical distancing By Dr Michael Szabo

In Canada, our efforts to flatten the curve are going well. Thankfully, we haven’t seen the same surge of cases that hit New York City, Italy and Spain.  Don’t get me wrong, those of us on the front lines here have seen a lot of cases, but so far, our health care system hasn’t been overwhelmed. While our good fortune has much to do with our heeding of public health guidelines, collective uptake of physical distancing rules and staying home as much as possible, I’m still a little worried. There is something about our human nature that concerns me.

At times, public health strategies can become the victims of their own success. Vaccines are a great example. The incidence of diseases that were once part and parcel of everyday life has been greatly reduced, and in some cases, eradicated completely with the advent of vaccination. As we don’t see these diseases much anymore, we don’t learn to fully appreciate their potential severity. With time, we begin to think that the diseases are nothing to worry about. Some may begin to think that it would be acceptable, and perhaps even beneficial, to get these diseases naturally in order to build “natural immunity”, which can sometimes be more robust and lifelong. With time, some people begin to fear vaccinations themselves, focusing on the associated tiny risks, rather than the risks of contracting the diseases they prevent. This loss of perspective plays a large part of the anti-vaccine movement.

We must stay the course right now.  Physical distancing has reduced the impact of the infection we are seeing in Canada, but this does not mean that we can breathe a sigh of relief and head back to a normal life anytime soon.  Our success with public health measures should only harden our resolve to keep it up even more.  We need to look at hugely impacted areas of the world for a harsh reminder of the truth as to what this virus can do – a good place to start is hearing stories from front line emergency doctors and nurses in New York City. 

There is a good reason why doctors and nurses who treat critical illnesses on the front lines believe whole-heartedly in public health measures like vaccines and physical distancing. It’s because we are immersed in the reality of what can happen in life and we never lose that perspective.

Committing ourselves to continue physical distancing is even more important than ever. We have seen success and that should spur us all on to continue. Our success should not lead us to think that it was unnecessary to institute preventive measures in the first place, or that we don’t need to follow them anymore.  The outcome we have seen is a result of the actions we have taken thus far – let’s not forget that. If a house were on fire, and the fire department was called to extinguish it, would we then argue that the fire department wasn’t needed after the fire was put out?  Or similarly, if someone with a serious blood infection were admitted to intensive care and put on intravenous antibiotics, would we look back and declare that the antibiotics weren’t needed because the patient recovered?

Physical distancing is working.  We should all be proud of our collective efforts that have saved thousands of lives and eased the burden on our health care system.  Success should breed more of the same, and not be used to deny the seriousness of the situation.  With time and a better understanding of this virus, we will be able to slowly and safely return to a more normal life.  One thing is for sure:  we will get through this together!

Is Coming Back to Normal, Good Enough?

It may be too early to think about getting back to “normal” once the threat, and the carnage, of COVID recedes. It could be that what was once normal just isn’t realistic anymore. 

In Europe, border-free travel between neighbouring states is no longer a given. We have seen how quickly self-preservation can overrule an ideological imperative. 

In North America, the unthinkable action of shutting down the “world’s longest undefended border” has actually happened—even though commerce continued and most “trapped” travellers eventually found their way home. But just the fact that it could be shut down came as a stunning shock of millions on either side of the so called 49th parallel who had come think that “crossing over” for a few days or half a year was a basic human “right.” 

It isn’t. It never has been. It’s a privilege. And it can be withdrawn if push comes to shove…quickly. Reality can be stark.  

How are these new “realities” going to colour our perspectives as we go about rebuilding our travel plans, our instinctive sense of freedom to move about and to enjoy the riches of globalization (while enduring its hazards).  

As we will see in a Conference Board of Canada report soon to be released, the Canadian consumer confidence index (the level of confidence consumers have about making major purchases of goods and services—such as travel) fell to its lowest level “ever” in March. In effect, respondents were extremely negative about their household finances, future job prospects and plans to make any big purchases. As the CBoC report concludes, given that Canada is in the midst of major job losses and is facing a Q2 economic contraction of 25 percent, this recession will be very bad. 

For the travel industry, air carriers, tour promoters, travel agents, cruise lines, and travel insurers this is not good news—although travel insurers might regain a little bounce given the public’s growing recognition that major travel purchases can be insured against sudden, unexpected trip or tour cancellations or interruptions. Canadians have been so focused on covering medical emergencies abroad that they have largely neglected to possibility of non-medical contingencies ruining their travel hopes and financial investments.  Maybe COVID has shaken Canadians out of that inertia. 

So far, the 21st century has visited SARS, MERS, the SWINE FLU and now COVID on us all. We didn’t seem to have learned too much from the first three of these plagues.  But maybe the last of these, affecting   virtually every country on earth, has awakened us to the need to be prepared for anything and everything. 

Maybe now we won’t think of getting on a plane for a week on Italy, Cuba, or Fiji; or a cruise to Cambodia; or a weekend in Las Vegas of New York as just another right of passage—requiring nothing more than a credit card and a jar of suntan oil. 

[Battling COVID-19 Episode 3] Face Masks in a COVID-19 World: To Wear or Not to Wear? By Dr. Michael Szabo

Should we wear a face mask when out in public right now? It’s a question many people have since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its new recommendation that people wear face masks when leaving their homes. Canada’s chief public health officer has echoed the recommendation.

There is confusion because the CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada had initially suggested that face masks not be worn in public. The flip-flop in recommendations has triggered many questions.

It’s important to understand that, in a complex and evolving situation as this, it can be quite difficult to set a firm policy. As the situation changes, the risks and benefits of recommendations are constantly re-evaluated. In a way, it’s reassuring that agencies aren’t being rigid and are revising their guidelines based on the best available information, with the goal of keeping us all safe.

However, the reason behind much of the change in face mask recommendations is the increase in community spread of the virus. We now believe that there is indeed some community transmission from people with no symptoms (asymptomatic), or minimal symptoms (pre-symptomatic), before they realize that they are sick. This occurs when these individuals are breathing, sneezing or coughing in close proximity to others (within 6 feet). At first, transmission of the virus in these circumstances was thought to be unlikely but we’re now reconsidering that possibility. The CDC wants to err on the side of keeping people safe, particularly in areas of the world that have seen high levels of community transmission and where physical distancing measures can’t always be optimally practiced.

While wearing a face mask does have some risks – it must be worn properly or it can increase the risk of infection, for example – experts believe that the benefits likely outweigh the risks at the present time.

We should consider wearing a face mask when venturing out into the community where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing measures. In other words, if you’re likely to get within 6 feet of others despite your best efforts, wear one. This includes visits to a grocery store or pharmacy where groupings of people are common. However, individual interactions such as going for a jog or a walk don’t necessarily require one.

In addition, you don’t need a medical grade face mask (surgical or N95, for example). In fact, you can make your own cloth mask at home. The CDC provides useful information on how to do just that: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

Wearing a face mask safely is of the utmost importance. The cardinal rule is to treat it as if it’s covered with the virus. Remember to wash your hands before putting the mask on, making sure it covers your mouth and nose. Never touch the mask itself while wearing it. Be very careful to not let the mask touch your face when removing it. Wash your hands immediately upon removing it. It should not be reworn until it has been fully cleaned in hot water in a washing machine.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, don’t fall victim to the false sense of security that a mask can provide. No mask can provide 100% protection. Continue to practice physical distancing while wearing it.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 2: From the Front Lines with Dr. Michael Szabo

With the increasing number of COVID patients presenting themselves to hospital emergency departments across Toronto, it’s a regular occurrence for me to come across several suspected cases while I’m working. Most are well enough to go home, but some are so sick that they need to be admitted. I find myself checking in on the test results of patients I have sent home, breathing a sigh of relief with each negative and feeling a knot in my stomach with each positive. The challenge with being an emergency doctor is that we see a lot of the bad outcomes. They are our reality. During a pandemic, it begins to feel to us like “everyone is dying” – but not everyone is. In fact, the majority of people recover from the virus. The increase in positive results will not only usher in a new reality but hopefully will reduce my own anxiety about a positive test result and its implications. A positive result is not a reason to panic and most of the patients I discharge won’t ever come back to the emergency department. I will likely stop checking their results after a while.

One of the things that is true about life is our ability to adapt. Once the new ‘normal’ takes hold, we adjust. Life just keeps moving. We’re living amid a pandemic and simply put, we can’t will it away. To accept this harsh reality, or modern-day Twilight Zone, is a process we’re all going through, in our own time and in our own way.

Some of us may need a bit more help and time to acclimate to this new ‘normal’. Getting help is not a sign of personal weakness but rather an expression of our own humanity. Reaching out shows self-awareness and strength of character. Sometimes we need help to talk through our concerns. Sharing our deepest fears with others is powerful, particularly with those trained to help navigate the complexities of human emotion. Using technology, it’s now easier than ever to

connect with a mental health provider, or family doctor, to discuss our emotions and secure advice to get the help we need.

This is a difficult time that poses a tremendous challenge for all of us. Let’s remember to do the little things to boost our mental health as much as possible. This means eating well, getting fresh air, exercising, connecting virtually with others and getting a good night’s sleep. Over time, we will adjust to our new circumstances. And if you need a little help along that journey, then please reach out for mental health support and at the same time, pat yourself on the back for having the strength to do so at such an arduous time.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 1: From the Front Lines with Dr. Michael Szabo

Recently, I’ve been working quite a bit in the emergency room of the hospital where I’ve served as a staff physician for the past 20 years in downtown Toronto. There are many positive things happening at the hospital: Everyone is working together to prepare for all the challenges that lie ahead. We’re all connecting with co-workers in ways that are meaningful and inspirational. The strength of the human spirit is alive and well. And we know that we will get through this difficult time and be better for it.

We’re starting to see a number of cases of very sick patients with COVID-19 at the hospital. Yes, most of them are older folks over 70, often with chronic health problems. But I’m going to be real with you. We’re seeing some young and otherwise healthy people becoming very sick – sometimes, critically. It’s important to realize that these cases are rare when compared to all the people likely infected – much less than 1%, but we are still figuring that out. The overwhelming likelihood for those of us who get this virus, and are under 60 with no chronic health problems, is that we will be able to fight it off and recover. But one thing that we’ve always known about infectious disease is that a very small number of otherwise healthy people can become quite sick. While it’s true for the flu, this is much worse. We don’t fully understand why and we’re unable to predict to whom it could happen. A nerve-wracking tidbit of information, I know.

This won’t be easy. It’s okay to say it aloud because it’s good to be honest. Being honest can diffuse the tension we may feel inside by getting our feelings out into the open. The most important thing is to remember what we CAN do to help get us through this time. We have the power to lessen the impact of this virus and reduce the chances of becoming infected. We’re not powerless here.

For example, we’re all doing an EXCELLENT job with physical distancing.  So, let’s keep that up.  Remember to stay home as much as possible. Avoid any close contact with anyone other than immediate family. By all means, go out for walks, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise  – but stay at least 6 feet away from others. That’s about the size of a pair of skis! 

We must remember to wash our hands and not touch our faces. If we’re sick with any kind of cough, runny nose or sore throat, self-isolate at home and avoid close contact with anyone.

These are all simple things but sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest. We’ve got this. If we all do the right thing, we can greatly lessen the impact of this virus. The power is in our hands.

Dr. Michael Szabo

Spring Break Part Two: The Caribbean & South America

Spring_Break_Destinations_for_2020

Feel like wandering a little farther afield than your typical Spring Break jaunt? Try venturing to one of these destinations closer to the equator for a tropical getaway.

The Caribbean

Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica are Caribbean hotspots this time of year. It’s worth planning any excursions and activities well in advance. When it comes to dining, made-to-order food stations guarantee fresher and better-quality options. Seafood is a wise, and likelier cheaper choice, given the proximity of these locales to the ocean. Staying at an all-inclusive resort? Check the activity calendar for fun things to do—just be sure to verify what’s included in your stay.

Brazil

The Carnival of Brazil is a feast for the senses. Considered to be one of the world’s biggest parties, the five-day festival features parades with elaborate floats and thousands of dancers and drummers in the streets. Samba with the locals at any of the free live concerts and blocos de rue (neighborhood block parties). These are all-day (and all-night) events so be sure to bring your phone charger but leave your valuables at home.

Colombia

Colombia may be synonymous with coffee, but it’s an ideal destination for nature lovers. Horseback riding tours are popular and available for every riding level. With trails winding through lush forests and pristine beaches, these tours offer a memorable way to experience the diverse scenery. From accommodation to local attractions, Colombia is an inexpensive destination. You’d be hard pressed to find tastier street food—think arepas, tamales, empanadas. For a truly authentic Colombian experience, visit the farmers’ markets for unique arts, crafts, fresh produce, and the best food trucks available.

Peru

Peru offers so much more than Machu Picchu. Its capital, Lima, known as the city of kings, boasts an exciting nightlife, colonial-style architecture, world-class food, and adrenaline-inducing activities such as surfing, paragliding, sandboarding, and ziplining. Numerous museums in the city, and throughout Peru, offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Popular attractions such as Plaza Mayor, Casa De La Literatura and Parque del Amor are also free. The Free Walking Tour Peru group, operated by licensed Indigenous guides, run highly-recommended tours in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Barranco and Miraflores—and yes, the tours really are free.

COVID-19: STAY SAFE WITH THE FACTS

COVID-19

from the MSH Americas Medical Team

WHAT IS COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

CORONAVIRUSES are a family of viruses causing illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Synrdome (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and COVID-19 (2019-nCoV).

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. SARS was first transmitted to humans from civet cats; MERS was transmitted to humans by dromedary camels.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Common symptoms are:

  • Fever over 38°C
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath / difficulty breathing

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. These droplets can be inhaled if you are in close contact with an infected person. Touching objects or surfaces with respiratory droplets on them and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can also spread the virus.

The time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms is between 5 and 14 days, so the appropriate quarantine period for an individual exposed to COVID-19 is 14 days.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Medical care is focused on managing symptoms, by getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and treating the fever.

PREVENTION IS KEY

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and/or sneeze or cough into a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing or sneezing
  • Stay home if you are sick. Do not use public transportation or taxis. Do not go to work, school, or other public places.
  • If you have symptoms, avoid travel, particularly flying, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If you are travelling to an area known to have cases of COVID-19, avoid:

  • High-risk areas such as farms, live animal markets, and areas where animals may be slaughtered
  • Contact with animals (live or dead), including pigs, chickens, ducks, and wild birds
  • Surfaces with animal droppings or secretions on them

If you have or may have COVID-19, please refer to this link for more guidelines on preventing the spread of infection.

Top US Spring Break Destinations for 2020

Whatever the reason for your getaway– tired of the cold, need some family time, or just plain burnt out– here are some tips to help you get the most out of your travels during this upcoming spring break. First up, some places to consider for both relaxation and excitement in the continental USA.

3 places to spend a week off in America:

MIAMI, FLORIDA

It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, so be sure to wear lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. The Metromover train is a convenient (and free!) way to get around downtown Miami. If you can’t do without your dose of yoga while on vacay, free classes are offered across the city. View local graffiti and street art at Wynwood Walls or take in one of the live music shows at Bayside Marketplace. A trip to Miami isn’t complete without a visit to Miami Beach, but steer clear of hotel restaurants along Ocean Drive and their 2-for-1 drink offers—they typically include conditions, hidden gratuities, and extra charges, with an astronomically expensive bill as a result.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA

For many families, going to Disney World is a rite of passage but a costly one. Buying bottled water on Disney grounds will seriously hurt your wallet (not to mention the planet!) so do as the locals do and tout your own reusable (non-glass) water bottles. You’ll be able to refill them at water fountains and quick service restaurants around the park. Consider insulated, stainless steel bottles to ensure water stays cold for as long as possible. Bringing snacks for the kids can also be a big money saver, unless you don’t mind paying $7 (US) for a Mickey Mouse pretzel. Be sure to pack the daily essentials—sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, umbrella—as these items are outrageously overpriced. Ditto for the Mickey Mouse ears and other Disney souvenirs—they’re considerably cheaper at stores outside the park. The My Disney Experience app can help maximize family fun by bundling every aspect of your trip, from booking your hotel to researching wait times at attractions to looking for the nearest bathroom and other amenities.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Check out the spectacular Fountains of Bellagio for a beautifully choreographed performance of music, water, and light. The free 15-minute show runs daily and draws huge crowds, so consider getting there early. Tour the hotels along the strip—with their various themes, they’re attractions in their own right, even if you’re not an actual guest. But there’s more to Vegas than just the strip. Sample some tasty brews (try the coffee beer!) at Banger Brewing, learn about some less-than-upstanding historical figures at the Mob Museum, marvel at the views and engineering of the Hoover Dam, or take a short day trip to one of the many nearby natural attractions like the Valley of Fire State Park, the Grand Canyon, or Red Rock Canyon.

Coronavirus Impacts Travel Insurance Coverage: Stay Protected

With commercial airline traffic to and from China virtually shut down, and with little prospect that control of the coronavirus is imminent, travellers need to do a quick study of what travel insurance can or cannot do in protecting them from unexpected costs of emergency medical care, trip cancellations, disruptions, re-routings or possibly even temporary isolation far from home.

To help with that study, we have asked Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist with MSH International to help us navigate through the finer points of travel insurance benefits and limitations as they are provided to Canadian travellers planning visits to countries impacted by the coronavirus epidemic.

One important point to emphasize is that these guidelines or limitations are largely dependent on government assessments of health or other risks in foreign countries and are not just arbitrary rulings set out by insurers.

The before or after rule

Generally, if you purchase insurance for travel to any nation for which the government of Canada has issued “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel” warnings, certain benefits normally provided may be limited or excluded.

In the case of China, where there is a Canadian government warning extant against non-essential travel to the country as a whole, and all travel to the specific province of Hubei (the immediate site of the coronavirus outbreak), any medical expenses you incur related to that disease would not be coverable if you bought your insurance after those warnings were raised. Once the warnings are lifted, coverage returns to normal.

But if you purchased travel insurance for a trip to China before the government issued its warnings, and you either cancelled your trip or decided to return home early due to concerns about the coronavirus, your trip cancellation and interruption benefits would remain intact.

What would those benefits be?

Again: for trip cancellation and interruption benefits to be applicable, you must have purchased your insurance before the government raised its travel warnings.

Any money you prepaid for your trip that is not recoverable from airlines or hotels or other tour services

may be covered by your travel insurance. But if your airline or tour operator offers refunds or vouchers for future travel, that will reduce your insurer’s obligations.  No double-dipping. And though we say your costs would be covered, we must add that all such costs are subject to certain daily specified in your policy. Know those when you sign your contract.

If you choose to interrupt your trip due to the travel warning raised by your government, your trip interruption benefit will pay the cost of your economy airfare home if your return ticket is not changeable or refundable by your airline.  And if you’re returned home by a government-arranged charter (as some have been during this recent coronavirus crisis) and the government charges you a fee,  your travel insurance may reimburse you up to the cost of an economy airfare.

Your trip interruption benefits may also cover any out- of- pocket costs of unexpected layovers that are beyond your control, such as for meals, hotels, taxis, telephone charges. But these expenses will be subject to daily limits and you need to check them out in your policy. Don’t expect free nights at the Ritz Carlton if your original tour had you booked in a Holiday Inn.

Remember that covered benefits for trip interruption are designed to keep you safe and comfortable and get you home as conveniently as possible. And again, that only works if your insurance was purchased before your government raised its warning to “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel.”

So know your policy. Know the reimbursement limits. And always stay tuned in to the government travel advisories that often change from day to day–https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/china

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Travel Insurance & Food Allergies: Make Sure You’re Protected During Your Travels

When my baby boy was first diagnosed with a number of severe food allergies, I was devastated. All I could think about was all the delicious food he—and we—would miss out on. Peanut butter, once a staple in our home, was now banned. Much-loved bakeries were now off limits. If my husband and I wanted Asian takeout, we’d do so guiltily, after the baby was in bed, and then disinfect our table, countertops and anything else our food may have come into contact with.

As time passed, I realized that his food allergies would make it challenging, if not impossible, to take part in other much-loved experiences, like travel. Not only would we need to contend with eye rolls and exasperated sighs on airplanes (not to mention seating areas covered in crumbs that could kill from previous passengers), we’d need to research where it is safe to eat out, and whether or not our overseas host could accommodate 6+ allergies.

And then there’s travel insurance. This one is a biggie. If only because people know so little about it. See, I’m part of a couple of different support groups for parents of children with food allergies. It’s great because I’m surrounded by seasoned allergy parents who encourage newcomers when we’re feeling down, provide us with practical tips for everyday life, and give us the inside scoop on safe eating spots in the city. And yet…

This same group of moms and dads who’ve been doing this for years aren’t necessarily in the know when it comes to this one really important thing. Because I once worked for a travel insurance company, I know things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem—especially when it comes to travelling with a pre-existing condition. (And yes, food allergies are considered just that.) I know from writing about topics like travelling while pregnant or travelling with kids that pregnancy, for example, is also considered a pre-existing condition. Not everyone has been programmed to think this way—or to ask a million questions when it comes to travel coverage. But I have.

So I’ve compiled a list of tips for people travelling with food allergies below. Give them a read before your next trip—it just might save you a tens of thousands of dollars.

  1. Never, ever assume. A lot of the parents I spoke with had travel insurance through their workplace benefits and simply assumed their child was covered—no questions asked. But when it comes to travel insurance, it can be dangerous to assume anything. Always triple check your policy and then speak to an actual person to make sure your food-allergic child is eligible for coverage.
  2. Take that first “yes” with a grain of salt. The first time I hopped on the phone with my insurer (also through work), the representative assured me that, yes, my little guy was covered. If I hadn’t worked in the industry, I would have let out a huge sigh of relief, left on vacation, and then gone into debt had my child experienced an anaphylactic reaction OR—get this—any unrelated injury or illness during our trip. Luckily, I knew better.
  3. Ask questions. I found it hard to believe that my son was covered, pre-existing condition and all. So I repeated the question. And got the same answer. I thought of a different way to word it and asked again. The answer remained “yes.” I tried again. Still “yes.” I eventually got off the phone feeling really confused and very uncertain about the whole thing.
  4. Then ask more questions. A few weeks passed, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it—something just didn’t seem right. I decided to call one more time. And guess what, this time I received a completely different answer. I was told that, in fact, I’d need to buy a separate policy for my son. (What?! I knew it! But what about all those parents out there who didn’t know any better?) After being transferred to an affiliate company, what I learned made a lot more sense to me: My son would be covered if his condition was “stable” for 90 days prior to the trip.
  5. Find out what they mean by “stable” or “stability period.” The term “stable” has a positive connotation, so many people assume (there’s that word again!) that a pre-existing condition is stable as long as it didn’t worsen during the period in question. This is absolutely, positively incorrect. While it goes without saying that an allergic reaction that results in a trip to the doctor or ER would deem your child’s condition unstable, you probably didn’t know this: A simple follow-up visit to the allergist also results in an “unstable” label even if you learned that your child had grown out of one of his allergies. So when you’re booking your trip, check your calendar to make sure you don’t have an allergist appointment within the 90 days* prior. If you do, reschedule the appointment or the trip—whichever is easier.
  6. Check how long the stability period is. *For me, it was 90 days. That may not be the case with your insurer. Read the fine print on your policy (under “Pre-Existing Conditions”) or speak with a representative on the phone.
  7. Carry your wallet card with you at all times. You will need this on you in case of a medical event while travelling. Insurance companies prefer that you call them before seeking out care, but in the case of an emergency, that’s not always possible. As soon as you have a free moment, though, do be sure to give them a call. You wouldn’t want your claim to be denied because your insurer didn’t have a say in the matter (read: negotiating fees so that they aren’t paying the highest prices out there). Here’s another card you might like to keep around in your wallet, and the good news is, it’s a bit more fun.

You might not believe it, but there’s a happy ending to my story. After all those questions and all that stress, guess how much my son’s travel insurance ended up costing me?

$25. That’s it.

I had prepared myself for the worst, but because my son was an otherwise healthy little boy, and because he was stable for the 90 days prior to the trip, our travel insurance was more than just affordable—it was a steal!

The moral of this story? Do your homework before your next trip. You could end up saving yourself big bucks.

Health Care Haggling is Bad for Your Health

If you’re tired of the haggling between health ministry bureaucrats and doctors over fee cuts and health costs, be patient and pay attention. This is more than a ritual dance about money and working conditions. And the haggling does affect you, directly.

If you’ve had a harder time getting in to see your doctor in a reasonable time, if you’ve been re-scheduled again and again for an elective (albeit painful) back or hip procedure, or the family physician you have been seeing for 20 years moves away, you’re getting close to the nexus of why these interminable negotiations between the blue suits and the white coats have become so heated.

All provinces are strapped by mounting healthcare costs which now consume 40 cents out of every tax dollar you pay.

With Canadians enduring ever-longer wait lines for medically-necessary care, with emergency rooms and acute care beds jammed at unsustainable levels, healthcare bureaucrats have traditionally tended to clamp down on fee reductions for physicians as one means of health care cost restraint.  Doctors are soft targets. Health ministry bureaucrats know that physicians do not want to “drop tools” and walk away from patients who depend on them for the health of their families.

At present, of all developed countries with universal comprehensive health care systems (that excludes the US), Canada is among the top five most expensive in terms of its share of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on health care.

Yet, of 36 countries whose economies are tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks in the bottom 4 or 5 in terms of acute (curative) hospital beds per thousand population, and practicing physicians per thousand population.

Same story for high tech: in 2015 Canada had 9.5 MRI units per one million population—that was 13th out of 36 (OECD), about the same as Chile and Turkey. By comparison, Australia had 15 per million, Germany 30.5, US 39, Japan 51.7.

Of Canada’s $228 billion estimated health care spending in 2016 (11 percent of the GDP, $6299 CAD per person), where is all that money going?

Doctors, and healthcare analysts are increasing looking to bureaucrat bloat as a major contributor to the costs of healthcare in Canada: partly to their constant efforts to set up layers and administrative structures to regulate healthcare professionals, and partly by spawning their own numbers.

In a highly informative, and provocative blog, Canadian family physician Dr. Shawn Whatley notes that between 1990 and 2013, Ontario had closed some 17,000 hospital beds, yet the province has not cut a similar number of bureaucrats.

He also notes that Ontario currently has 1.7 acute care hospital beds per 1000 people—half the average for other OECD countries.

Dr. Whatley also cites original research by Matthew Lister, Senior Director Strategic Planning with the   Ontario Medical Association which reveals that Canada’s 32,000 healthcare bureaucrats account for a ratio of 0.9 such bureaucrats for 1000 population.  By comparison, Sweden has 0.4 healthcare bureaucrats per 1000 population, Australia 0.255, Japan 0.23, and Germany (one of the most effective and efficient systems tracked by the OECD) has but 0.06 per 1000 population.

As Dr. Whatley summarizes, “Does it make sense to have so few beds and so many bureaucrats?”

I also suggest we could use a study to compare the average and median salaries  of healthcare bureaucrats vis a vis the real, actual “take home pay” of family physicians and even other specialists?

To be fair, the raw numbers of hospital beds per thousand, or physicians per thousand, are not necessarily good indices of health care quality or access. Fewer beds properly used, or fewer physicians better located and incentivized can have a far more salutary effect on the quality of care received by patients.

But given the growing wait lines, the logjams in hospital waiting rooms and acute care beds, and the constant haggling about fees and other restraints on healthcare professionals, attaining that quality in Canada remains elusive.

 

Are you expecting visitors from out of country? Make sure they know about the high costs of Canadian health care. Find out more here.

More Canadians Than Ever, Wait for Health Care

As provincial premiers wrangle with the Trudeau government over their diminishing share of transfer payments for health care, Canadian patients are being increasingly forced into ever longer waiting lines for medically necessary treatment—many of them leaving the country for care they can’t get at home in what they and their physicians consider a “clinically reasonable” time.

It’s a pattern that now appears to be an inherent reality of health care in Canada, one that has exacerbated tensions not only between provincial and federal politicians, but between the professionals responsible for treating patients and their increasing legions of bureaucrats and paymasters.

Each year, Canada’s leading independent public policy/healthcare think tank (it accepts no government money), the BC-based Fraser Institute releases an update on the wait times faced by patients for non –emergency (but medically necessary) treatment for conditions that are still painful, possibly debilitating, and sometimes deadly.

 

Wait your turn

In Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2016, released in November, the study reported that median medical wait times across Canada for medically necessary elective procedures had risen to 20 weeks—the longest ever recorded—double the 9.3 weeks Canadians waited in 1993, 23 years ago. “Median” is the mid-point between the longest and shortest wait times recorded in the survey. And it refers to the total wait time a patient is referred by his or her family physician to a specialist, to when the patient ultimately receives treatment.

On the basis of its national surveys with physicians in 12 medical specialties, the report team, headed by Bacchus Barua, senior economist in Health Policy Studies at  the Fraser Institute,  Canadians are now waiting for nearly one million medically-necessary procedures beyond which their physicians consider “clinically reasonable” times.

Says Barua: “Long wait times aren’t simply minor inconveniences, they can result in increased suffering for patients, lost productivity at work, a decreased quality of life, and in the worst cases, disability or death.”

 

Where are the wait times worst?

The longest wait times for referrals by a family physician to consultation with a specialist have risen to 9.4 weeks (155 percent longer than in 1993), and the longest waits are in New Brunswick (21.5 weeks), the shortest in Ontario (7.2 weeks). The longest wait times, from consultation with a specialist to receiving actual treatment, are 10.6 weeks (88 percent longer than in 1993).  The shortest specialist-to-treatment wait times are in Saskatchewan (7.9 weeks), the longest in Nova Scotia (17.7 weeks).

As for types of treatment needed—the longest median wait times nationally are for neurosurgery (46.9 weeks), the shortest, for medical oncology (cancer), 3.7 weeks.

 

What’s the solution?

The quickest answer usually given to the problem of wait lists is “more money.” But there are many powerful arguments extant that go well beyond money, and focus more on re-organization of systems and creation of a new set of incentives for better, more direct care. But that’s another story, and we’ll get to it in more depth in 2017.

 

Look beyond your borders

One immediate solution to painful and disruptive wait lists is being practiced by increasing numbers of
Canadians (at least 45,000 of them in 2015) who have ventured abroad for non-emergency medical care.

This number does not include the many thousands who receive unexpected emergency treatment while traveling out of the country, usually under private travel insurance as their provincial insurance covers less than 10 percent of foreign hospital and medical bills.

In a related report from the Fraser Institute released in October, 2016, an estimated 45,619 Canadians traveled abroad in 2015 to receive non-emergency (but medically-necessary) medical care—the greatest numbers for eye treatment, general surgery, internal medicine procedures such as colonoscopies, gastroscopies and angiographies.  This number, cautions report author Barua, is almost certainly an underestimate as it reflects only those patients who were referred out by their own physicians, or who reported their out-of- country treatment to their home physician.

It does not count the many Canadians who went directly to foreign hospitals, predominantly American, who advertise their services to international clientele, or who were referred by friends or relatives—without involvement of their own physicians.

We should note, however, that some of the Canadian patients referred out of the country by their physicians may have their expenses covered, or subsidized, by their provincial health ministries if they apply for such referrals.  Health ministries are now spending millions of dollars “exporting” such patients to mostly border-area hospitals in the US for treatments or procedures unavailable within reasonable time periods. Those costs, we will explore in forthcoming articles.

The greatest number of these medical expatriates were from Ontario (over 22,000), B.C. (over 10,000), and Alberta (over 4,600).

“Considering Canada’s long health-care wait times and their potential negative effects, it’s not surprising that so many Canadians are travelling abroad for medical treatment,” says Barua.

So while the provincial and federal politicians continue wrangling over what is the proper amount of money to put into health care, Canadians wait, wait, and wait some more. Or, they just cross the border to take measures into their own hands.

 

Want to stay up to date? Find more news on our blog.

Flying with Medical Marijuana? Here’s What to Expect

 

If you have a prescription for cannabis, you may be hoping to bring some along the next time you travel—but this can be much more complicated than travelling with your average prescription drug.

The good news is that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has recently released clarification on the procedures around flying with medical cannabis, as long as you’re travelling within Canada. The bad news? If you’re heading anywhere else in the world, you may have to leave your prescription at home—at least for now.

 

Travelling within Canada

It is legal to travel with medical marijuana within Canada, according to CATSA. However, there are a few important caveats to note:

  • You must bring medical documentation to prove that you have a prescription. And CATSA notes that, in airports where police are present, they will be called in to check this documentation.
  • As well, your bags will be searched to ensure you do not have more than the legal quantity of medical cannabis with you (30 days’ worth).
  • Because of this extra screening, you will likely be spending a longer time than usual at security. That means getting to the airport early is essential—depending on who you ask, it’s recommended that you budget an extra 30 minutes to an hour for this process.
  • It’s always a good idea to call your airline before the day of your flight to let them know about your prescription and find out exactly what their protocol is. You should also inform airport staff up front that you are carrying medical marijuana—this will help to expedite the process of verifying that everything is in order. If you fail to declare it, staff may assume you are trying to bring it along illegally, which will inevitably call for extra screening and delay.
  • While the CATSA site notes that it’s acceptable to bring medical marijuana in your checked luggage, experts highly recommend that you keep it only in your carry-on so that you are able to account for it and present your documentation with it at all times.

 

What about travelling to other destinations?

Here is where things get tricky: CATSA’s rules for travelling with medical marijuana do not apply to international travel. Wherever you go, you will still be subject to the rules of your destination.

What about snowbirds with medical marijuana prescriptions who are hoping to head down to the United States for the winter? Although medical marijuana is now legal in 25 states, it is still prohibited at the federal level. A recent court ruling does protect medical marijuana users in any of those 25 states from federal prosecution, so long as they have fully complied with state laws. However, that applies to those already in those states—not those attempting to fly into them. Unfortunately for travelling snowbirds, the U.S. federal government does not currently allow marijuana on airlines or in secure airport zones.

In fact, there has been recent discussion around a controversial U.S. border policy: denying entry to any Canadian who admits to having smoked marijuana in the past—even if they have a prescription for doing so. With the Trudeau government’s promise to legalize marijuana in Canada—along with the fact that marijuana is now legal in a handful of states, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska—policies like this are necessarily being reviewed. But, of course, this process will take time.

As the laws continue to shift and evolve, change is more than likely on the horizon. For now, however, those hoping to fly with medical marijuana will have to stick with a Canadian destination.

 

Sources

Cannabis Life Network. “Tips for flying with medical cannabis.” CLN. https://cannabislifenetwork.com/tips-for-flying-with-medical-cannabis/

CanniMed. “Travelling with medical cannabis.” CanniMed Blog. https://www.cannimed.ca/blogs/blog/117970885-travelling-with-medical-cannabis-voyager-avec-son-cannabis-medical

Crawford, Alison. “Flying with prescription pot? CATSA has finally clarified the rules.” CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/catsa-pot-medical-fly-guidelines-1.3802032

Hamilton, Keegan. “Feds can’t prosecute medical marijuana users who follow state law, court rules.” Vice News. https://news.vice.com/article/feds-cant-prosecute-medical-marijuana-users-who-follow-state-law

Hopkins, Andrea. “Canada to press U.S. on ‘ludicrous’ marijuana border policy.” Reuters. https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCAKCN11F2HB

 

Planning to travel out of province? Don’t forget: Canadians need travel insurance for trips within Canada.

Travel Fatigue and How to Avoid It

I’ve been proverbially homeless for 10 years, travelling through and living in over 50 countries.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different styles—and paces—of travel. In 2010, embracing a “backpacker” moniker, I breezed through a dizzying number of countries. In that entire year, the longest I spent in one place was three weeks; on average I “moved house” every five nights.

After this fevered travel pace, I spent the first six months of 2011 in a near-comatose state of recovery. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite define what was wrong, but I had an unsettled feeling.

I was fundamentally tired, like I hadn’t slept well in months. On reflection, this was true; too many late nights, early mornings, unfamiliar beds, and communal living quarters had taken a toll.

I was dizzyingly confused; the whirlwind of travel in the previous year left me feeling like the world was spinning around me, as if I’d had too much to drink.

And I was apathetic about everything around me. A beautiful vista, you say? Not to be missed? Meh. I’ve seen lots of beautiful vistas. Here are a few hundred pictures; have a look. Why go out of my way for one more beautiful vista?

These, I eventually realized, were the cumulative effects of Travel Fatigue.

Years ago, I watched a documentary called A Map for Saturday, which follows the adventures of a few backpackers on long-term trips around the world. At a certain point, each backpacker felt similar to my description above. They suffered from information overload, and their emotional response was to shut down.

Although many world travellers on long trips fall prey to travel fatigue at some point, it doesn’t have to be a crippling experience. Here are some pointers to avoid this travel ailment.

 

Don’t Try to Conquer the World

….or even a country. My last traditional vacation (before I sold everything to travel full-time) was a month-long trip to South Africa. I’d never travelled for that long, and figured a month was long enough for me to “crack the code” of the country, see everything worth seeing, and depart satisfied that I could tick it off my list. Instead, after travelling everywhere at a furious pace, I departed with more questions than answers. (I consequently realized that in order to travel the way I really wanted to, a lifestyle change was necessary.)

 

Know Your Limits

Some people have higher energy levels than others. Even if you’re the Energizer Bunny, your batteries will eventually run out.

 

Solo Travellers: Be Mindful

I’m all for solo travel—it’s empowering and liberating. It’s easy to meet people along the way, so you’re rarely alone unless you wish to be. But I also found that travel fatigue hits harder and faster when travelling solo. Without a travel partner by your side, providing a contextual baseline for your constantly changing environments, travel dizziness (I call it “motion sickness”) takes hold quicker.

 

Work with Your Time Frame

Six months for a round-the-world trip actually isn’t that long. Build in rest periods to stabilize your energy levels, so you don’t need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

 

Flex with It

It’s an evolving process. Since 2010, I’ve done other stints of fast-paced travel. For example, in 2011 I travelled by train from Lisbon to Saigon (25,000 km) in 30 days. The following year, I did a sponsored trip through eight countries in three weeks. In 2015, I spent two months traipsing through five countries.

In all cases, I ensured that after a fast-paced period, I had somewhere to chill out and recover.

 

Know Yourself

Given that my travels aren’t temporary but a lifestyle choice, I love slow travel. I usually stay somewhere for at least a month (often much longer) so I can discover the local pace and ways of life. With a location-independent writing career, slow travel also helps me strike a comfortable work-life balance.

Your travel pace and style will be totally unique, as it is for everybody. The trick is to recognize the signs of travel fatigue before they become a problem, and to know what to do about it.

 

Planning multiple trips this year? Consider a multi-trip annual plan for hassle-free coverage.

 

A Zen Guide to Heartbreak while Travelling

A heart-wrenching breakup is agonizing under any circumstances. But doing it while travelling adds a whole new set of complications.

I’ve had a few cracks at breaking up while travelling. The first was three years into my full-time travel lifestyle; my boyfriend and I had been together for a year when we sold everything to travel. I learned some key lessons about travelling with a partner during our three years on the road:

  • Travelling accelerates the natural progression of a relationship.
  • Travel’s inherent stressors create interpersonal tension.
  • It’s imperative to claim your space, since you’re together 24/7.
  • You might stay together longer than you should.

This last point was the most difficult for me: our relationship was over long before we broke up. But we were in Australia, my boyfriend had run out of money, and he was working to replenish it. I couldn’t just leave him on the other side of the world. So we stayed together, and I supported him until he was on better footing. We “took a break” while I travelled solo for five months (he remained working in Australia), thinking we would continue travelling together when I returned. A few weeks into my trip, he found somebody else. He now lives in Canada with his Australian fiancé.

My next major relationship was with a man I dubbed my “Swedish Squeeze,” who I met in New Zealand. Unsure of our respective futures, we kept things light, and we travelled both together and separately. As our relationship progressed, we committed to a three-month house-sitting gig in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, while I sat in Grenada awaiting his arrival, I learned that in the month prior while we were apart, he had hooked up with an old friend of his… and got her pregnant. It marked an abrupt and heartbreaking end to the relationship, which also coincided with my getting dengue fever.

Six months later I got together with a UK/Grenadian man when I returned to Grenada for more house-sitting. For almost two years, I used Grenada as a home base and lived with this man and his daughter. The relationship was tumultuous at best, and after a hellish year (including a near-fatal accident among other tragedies), we separated while house-sitting in Panama. He returned to Grenada on New Year’s Eve, and although we kept in touch in an attempt to reconcile, a fateful drunken text message on Valentine’s Day sealed the deal.

Almost two years later I was living in Peru and fell in love with a man visiting from the U.S. His life was in transition, and after a few visits, he sold everything and moved to Peru. Unfortunately it was too much too fast, and shortly after he moved in I realized it was a mistake. I was guilt-ridden after his international move, but wanted to learn from the mistakes of my first travelling relationship and nip it in the bud.

The tables turned when I had my heart broken in Peru a year later; he wasn’t my boyfriend, but rather my teacher/friend/landlord/boss. He was a shaman with whom I was apprenticing, and in the years we worked together, our lives became intertwined and we formed a lifelong partnership. When he suddenly changed his mind, my life was turned upside down and my heart broken.

These five stories over 10 years are an interesting cross-section of life in general. I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve broken hearts. It isn’t any easier or more difficult while travelling. In fact, an advantage of breaking up while travelling is that you can put a few countries of distance between you! And although the pool of compatible mates is smaller when travelling full-time, it’s far from impossible to find love on the road.

Travel is intense, in every way. Relationships on the road reflect that intensity. If I’ve learned anything in the last 10 years, it’s that communication is paramount. The relationship may work, or not. But if you communicate openly, you’ll reduce the chance of surprise and unnecessary heartbreak on the road.


For more travel adventures, check our blog.

Riding Alone across the Continent: Therapy on Horseback

On July 8, 2012, when I jumped into the saddle to ride horseback from Canada to Brazil, I had no idea the journey of solitude I was about to undertake. There were times during the 803 days I spent on the road when family and friends met me, but for the majority of the trip, it was just my horses and me. Some nights I met generous people who kindly hosted me in their homes, while other nights were spent camping in the wilderness. But every day, while I rode, I spent eight to ten hours alone. Without saying a word. Or hearing one.

img_5133

Some days my voice hardly came out in the afternoon. And on some stretches I went days without seeing or conversing with another human being.

img_4107

Being left alone with your thoughts for such long periods of time, away from your family and loved ones, is not easy. In fact I wonder what it will do to me in the long run. In total, I have spent two years and ten months living life as a saddle tramp. That’s 974 days. 23,376 hours. 1,402,560 minutes. When you are travelling at 4 kilometres per hour, 30 kilometres a day, a minute can seem like a lifetime.

Although there is a melancholy aspect to being alone for such long periods of time it also offers a unique opportunity to get to know oneself better. I have never been able to meditate or sit in yoga class because my mind would never stop racing. Being alone for days in the saddle has given me, for the first time in my life, the opportunity to have an internal conversation with myself. As much as it is hard at times to be in such intense solitude, it is a tremendous chance to be honest with myself and learn exactly what I am made of and why. It’s a cathartic experience. Therapy on horseback.

img_4405

 

In the age of Pokémon Go and Instagram, being able to disconnect from the modern world—to cut out the noise and focus on a simpler way of life—is a luxury. It is something I have always strived for. But my time alone has also reminded me how much I love being around people and making new friends.

If anything, Long Riding has showed me again and again that life is meant to be shared!

 

For more travel adventures, check our blog.

Travelling with Pets on a Plane

In our last post on this topic, we shared some tips for travelling long distances with your pets in the car. But what about when you’re making the trip by air?

Flying with your pets is, of course, a quicker solution than taking the car, but you also have less control over the situation from start to finish. If you’re trying to decide between flying or driving, try to weigh the overall stress it will place on your pet. Is yours the kind of pet who would easily sleep through a few hours in a cargo hold? Or would they rather stick close to you, but be stuck in a car for a longer period?

If you and your pet are going airborne, here are a few things to note.

  • You’ll need to get in touch with the airline well in advance, as your booking won’t be as flexible as usual. Airlines tend to block off specific times when pets are allowed to travel along on their flights.
  • You will likely have to remove your pet from their carrier at security. If your pet is prone to bolting in terror, you might want to have some kind of harness on them, just in case.
  • If your pet is small enough, you may be able to take them into the cabin with you. However, they’ll need to comfortably fit in a soft carrier that can be placed under the seat in front of you. And, for the sake of other passengers (who may have allergies—or a fear of animals), you shouldn’t take them out of the carrier while you’re flying.
  • If you do bring your pet on board, your other carry-on will be restricted to a satchel or purse. Additional small baggage will be disallowed.

Tip: No matter where you’re travelling or how, placing an absorbent pad at the bottom of your pet’s carrier is a wise thing to do! It will significantly minimize the catastrophe level of an untimely accident.

  • If your pet isn’t petite, then they’ll have to be checked as cargo. Not to worry, they will be treated more gently than your suitcase! And, of course, pets are placed in a pressurized and climate-controlled part of the cargo hold. Still, especially on a long plane ride, this can be a stressful experience. Some travellers choose to give their nervous pets a mild sedative—this is something to discuss with your vet and possibly test out in advance. Placing a favourite toy as well as a t-shirt you have worn a few times into your pet’s carrier may also alleviate stress.
  • Obviously, your pet will not come bouncing down the baggage carousel—you will likely be reunited with them at the “oversized baggage” area. Talk to airport staff at your destination to find out where you can pick up your pet.

Tip: Are you bringing your pet to a new country? You’ll need to ensure they have the proper vaccinations—and get documentation of this on your vet’s letterhead with their signature. Make sure you arrange for their shots well in advance, as a certain amount of time needs to elapse after the vaccine is given to ensure it’s effective. If you take your pet over the border too soon after vaccination, they may have to be quarantined until the wait time is up.

In special circumstances, some airlines make exceptions for larger pets to join the cabin. During the evacuations of Fort McMurray during early spring 2016, WestJet welcomed many animals aboard.

With careful planning and consideration of your fuzzy friend’s needs, you’ll have them safely at your destination in no time!

 

Check out our blog for more travel tips.

Travelling with Pets in a Car

Whether you’re a cat or a dog person, you can agree: our beloved pets are like family members. So, when a new adventure has you moving across the country, of course you’re going to want to take your little buddies along.

This is easier said than done, however. Whether by car or by plane, a long trip is a scary and stressful thing for pets to go through. Preparation is key to making sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible—which means your pet can get out of the car or plane sooner.

Here are some important things to know while planning a long drive with your furry friends.

  • If you don’t often drive with your pet, start out by taking them on short car trips for practice. If you have a new harness or cage you’re planning to use, do test runs with that as well so your pets are comfortable with it before the big day.
  • Do feed them the morning of the big trip, but try to take their food away at least an hour before you hit the road. This will help make sure they don’t have to go to the bathroom immediately upon departure—and it can ease the risk of upset tummies.

Tip: Is your pet travelling in a carrier? Placing a familiar-smelling towel or blanket in with them can be a big help to their nerves.

  • Pets aren’t made to be cooped up for hours on end! Plan out your route so that you can stop every couple of hours and let them stretch their legs, whether in the car or in a safe spot off the road. (And you’ll want to limit the overall driving per day—a 16-hour driving marathon may be bearable for a human, but it can be tough on your pet.) Letting pets roam free in the backseat can help them stretch out, but be cautious—sneaky cats might find their way up front and under the pedals, which could cause a disaster. You’ll want to block them from getting past the backseat area so they can’t mess with the controls or get up on the dashboard.
  • That said, even if you grant your pets freedom in the back of the car, some may not actually use it. Like people, different pets have different feelings about travelling. Some will be bouncing around, looking out the window, while others will react to the stress by simply hiding themselves away for as long as the car is on the road. (This is another reason not to spend too much time on the road per day—some pets will flat-out refuse to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom until they’re safely back on unmoving ground.)
  • Even if you let your pets roam in the backseat, make sure they always have some kind of restraint in place (like a leash or a harness). If an accident happens, you won’t necessarily have time to get them securely leashed before you have to leave the car.
    For small pets, put them back in their carriers before ever opening the car door—even if you’re just stopping for gas. Even if it seems like your pet is napping, you don’t know what the sound of an opening door will do—an opportunistic cat can go from “lounging” to “escaped” in seconds. The last thing you want is to lose your pet somewhere in the middle of your journey, where they won’t be able to find their way home.
  • It can be dehydrating in the car, so having some water accessible for your pets is a good idea. That said, some pets will not be interested in doing much other than hiding while the car is in motion, so you may need to encourage them to drink at rest stops.
  • Take it easy on the music—your pet’s ears are much more sensitive than yours. Keep that volume low!

Tip: While some music can be bothersome to animals, the sound of a person’s voice often has a calming effect. Try a podcast—not only are they good entertainment, but that gentle voice might just soothe your meowing or yapping beast.

  • What about stopping for the night? While some hotels have pet-free policies, many will actually allow pets for a rather low additional cleaning fee (often around $15–$30 for the night). However, you don’t want to be driving around looking for a place to stay with a hungry, stressed-out pet in the back—so it’s imperative that you take the time to locate the pet-friendly options on your route and book your rooms in advance.

Is your destination too far away for a car trip? Check out the second part of this series: Taking the Plane!

Outside of Your Comfort Zone and into a Camry 

I never thought I’d be the type of traveller that would get in a car with a stranger. Paranoia and mistrust of most things is a pretty prevalent character trait in my family. Yet for some unknown reason, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into a 1996 red Camry, watching certainty disappear into the rolling hills of Tuscany.

What does it mean to travel outside of your comfort zone? For some people it could mean not booking their hotels ahead of time, eating something that doesn’t look edible, or even just getting on a plane to begin with. How do we know where our line of comfort begins and where it ends—or whether we even need to have one?

My friend and I were starving. We had just arrived to this strange resort 20 kilometres outside of Florence and none of the on-site restaurants were open. We struck up a conversation with one of the waiters who had just finished his shift and within a few minutes he was offering to take us for a döner that was a short drive outside of the resort. I mean, it wasn’t the rustic Italian meal I had been dreaming of, but anything would do at that point. As we walked up to the car my friend and I shot one other that look. You know, the “we probably shouldn’t be doing this” look—yet we continued to walk towards the car. She insisted on sitting shotgun just in case she had to take the wheel to save us—our imaginations can get carried away with us at times. Once we were buckled in and squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder with our new friends, the driver informed us that there was a change of plans. He would be taking us to his mother’s inn where there was some leftover food from a dinner she just prepared. I heard the sound of the automatic locks and my friend swallowing. Great. This must be code for “they’re going to kill us.” Did we just make a huge mistake?

Those were the longest ten minutes of my life. I remember trying to take in the jaw- dropping vista, but thoughts of my parents getting the news that I had gone missing were blocking the view. Suddenly we pulled up to a rocky road and the car slowed to a stop. I held my breath. This was it. He was going to kill us here. Our driver turned the engine off and opened the door, and the automatic lights lit up the car. He turned around and, in a loud voice, warmly welcomed us to his home.

With trepidation we walked towards his house. As we turned the corner we caught the twinkle of casually strung lights dancing across a table prepared with Italian delicacies. Michel (our new friend) carried out olive oil and pecorino (made by his neighbour), while his friend Sebastian began to serve us pigeon from a cast-iron pot. For the next three hours we spoke in broken English about politics, religion, love and celebrities, all the while filling our bellies with the rustic Italian foods I had dreamed of. It was surreal and to this day is one of the best travel experiences I have ever had.

That’s the beauty in travel: that around a corner there’s an experience waiting to be found. One that could possibly change you forever.

I’m not suggesting that you need to get into a car with a stranger to truly experience travelling. Definitely not. Perhaps, just once in a while, challenge that nagging voice that may be telling you to only follow what’s certain.

 

Ready to travel? Need more inspiration? Follow our blog for more travel stories and tips.

For all other podcast episodes of ‘Lily Likes It Here’, check here!

What Is “Home” to a Lifestyle Traveller?

Lily and I had a great chat during our podcast recording. Despite our lifestyle differences, I think we found a lot of common ground with regards to the way we think, feel, and approach our lives.

One of the lessons I’ve learned through my 10 years of travelling and living around the world is that, for the most part, we’re all programmed similarly. It may not appear so at first glance, but I’ll use the idea of “home” as an example.

I am “The Professional Hobo”; by definition, I’m homeless. But ask any lifestyle traveller, and even though they may staunchly defend their homeless moniker, talk to them long enough and you may hear the word “home” creep into the conversation.

“Home” could be the place you grew up, or where your parents live. Many lifestyle travellers also love to say “home is where I lay my head for the night.”

There’s nothing wrong with these definitions of home. But I want to go deeper than that. I believe we can feel “at home” when a certain set of circumstances is met in our lives—circumstances that make us feel secure, stimulated, and happy.

Despite saying I’ve travelled full-time for the last 10 years, I’ve also had various “homes” (rather, home bases) throughout that time. I was in Australia for a year and a half, Grenada for two years, and Peru for two years. In each case, I had a place I could call “mine” where I had autonomy, I felt comfortable, I had friends and community, and I could see myself being there for a very long time—for life, even.

But in each case, over time, something happened that affected my ability to continue to see it as home.

In Australia, I survived the Victorian bushfires (their worst-ever natural disaster to date), and I broke up with my partner at the time. The entire landscape (literally and figuratively), and the network of friends that made the place home, changed.

In Grenada, I discovered a dark underbelly over time that I didn’t like. I moved house a couple of times, but things didn’t improve. The final nail in the coffin was (another) breakup.

Peru was the ultimate home. In Australia and Grenada I struggled to admit I wanted a home; it seemed to contradict my travel lifestyle. (It didn’t: I still visited upwards of seven countries a year with these home bases, but it was a mental block). Here, I overcame this mental block and accepted Peru as home. But again, when my circumstances changed, so too did the feeling that Peru was home.

I’m on the road again, living out of my bag. Sure, I feel at home in the world in general, and in each place I spend a few weeks or months, I call it home. I can travel and be home. Likewise, I can have a home and be a traveller. The two are neither synonymous nor contradictory.

For me, home is both a place and a feeling. So although I’m home wherever I go in the world, I’m also searching for the next place that resonates through to my core… as home.

Your guess is as good as mine as to where (and when) that will be.

 

Looking to travel while staying financially sound? Here are some tips on how to travel within your budget.

Alternatives to Travellers Cheques

At one time, travellers cheques were the preferred way to carry foreign currency. They were secure, low on fees, and in some cases were the only way to pay for things abroad. But they’ve been going steadily out of favour since the 1990s. They pose security risks and cause extra work for retailers, the commissions and fees aren’t competitive, and even banks abroad are hesitant to cash them. A reader told me about a European vacation during which she visited 12 banks, none of which were willing or able to cash her travellers cheques.

These days, there are other, more secure and cost-effective ways to access your money while travelling, such as the following:

 

Credit Cards

In most Western countries, you can pay for almost everything with credit cards. Many of my North American friends don’t even carry cash any more. Credit cards are convenient, they provide a record of spending, and if you collect frequent flyer miles, they’re a great way to passively collect miles to get you on your next flight. Buyer beware: pay off your balance in full each month to avoid costly interest charges and credit problems.

Security: Although there’s risk of your credit card information being hijacked, in my experience the credit card company has always known about it before I did, and I’ve never been responsible for paying fraudulent charges.

 

Debit Cards

Debit cards are useful for ATM withdrawals and debit (Interac) purchases. If your debit card has a Visa or MasterCard logo on it, you can also use it in place of a credit card (although you need sufficient funds in your account to cover the charge). Interac purchases aren’t as widely available abroad as they are in North America, and are practically non-existent in developing countries.

Security: If somebody gets your debit card and PIN, there’s no recourse if they clear out your bank account. So don’t keep your life savings in your bank account, and set a low daily/weekly withdrawal limit with your bank.

 

Cash

In many developing countries, cash is king. If you’ll need more than the ATM can reasonably give you (for example: in Peru I had to pay for an expensive retreat with cash), then you can pre-purchase foreign currency at your home bank before you go.

Security: Cash is the easiest to lose when travelling, and impossible to recover. So make sure you have a good strategy for keeping it safe. It’s a good idea to carry it securely out of view, and to store it in more than one place.

 

Prepaid Travel Cards

Charge up your prepaid travel card (such as a Visa TravelMoney or Mastercard Cash Passport) before you leave, and you can use it in place of a credit or debit card abroad. Their popularity, however, has decreased due to non-competitive fees and limited currency availability.

Security: The upside to prepaid travel cards is that they’re very secure. They’re not linked to your personal accounts, so the total liability is the amount on the card, which is protected by your PIN/signature.

 

A Note on Fees

Unfortunately in Canada, almost every payment method you choose (including travellers cheques) will charge fees—hidden or otherwise.

Credit and debit cards hit you with currency exchange fees by charging a higher percentage than the prevailing exchange rate.

Using your debit card for ATM withdrawals and Interac purchases can result in not only your bank’s currency exchange fee, but also withdrawal fees and ATM commissions.

Prepaid travel cards are the worst, charging any combination of monthly fees, currency exchange fees, and even cash-out fees if you don’t use all the money during your trip.

The lowest fee you’ll pay will be to buy foreign currency at your home bank before travelling, but carrying cash poses the largest security risk.

 

There’s No One Solution

To minimize fees and mitigate security risks, I suggest a combination of the strategies above. I carry two credit cards (separately in case one is stolen), one debit card (for ATM withdrawals), and some cash (stashed in different places). When travelling, a multifaceted approach to paying for things is best.

 

If you do end up carrying and using cash over card, we’ve got 16 tips for you for carrying cash while travelling.

 

Travelling with Pets on Public Transit

Renji, our 75-lb Doberman, is more than just a pet to us. He’s a family member, and not to just myself and my spouse. He gets treated like a grandchild by our parents. We even call my brother-in-law’s Golden Retriever his “cousin.” So, naturally, our little guy goes everywhere, or at least everywhere possibly allowable. He’s sat in my office at work sometimes, he joins us on our morning jogs, and when we’re feeling extra cozy in the evenings, he’ll cuddle up beside us and watch Netflix.

Taking your dog around everywhere you can takes experience and training—lots and lots of training. The key to travelling with your dog is consistency and patience. Renji doesn’t like small places. He’s the type of dog that needs to be out in open space or in an area with lots of positive mental stimulation. Most dogs are like this, and getting them in a car or on a subway takes some getting used to for the both you.

 

Public Transit

This could potentially be a little trickier and will require more training than travelling by car. Public transit is a whole different playing field. For one, you have to be mindful of other people and pets around you. Not everyone is comfortable around animals, especially larger dogs. Likewise, other pets on the train or subway can be distracting to yours, so you’ll really need to train them to keep focused. Again, take it slow. Go on quick, short trips, and always encourage and reward your dog for good behaviour. We always take a bunch of treats with us to keep Renji busy, especially at times when transit is busier. Take each trip as a learning and training opportunity for your dog to keep their mind engaged on you.

They key to an enjoyable trip experience with your dog is patience and training, regardless of where you go and how you get there. And, like all good things, it will take time before your dog becomes a road trip buddy or a public transit pro.

 

In the Car

If your dog hasn’t been in a car much since their puppy years, it may be a bit of a challenge for them to get used to being cooped up in the backseat, or the trunk of a hatchback or station wagon. The easiest thing to do is getting them crate trained and having the crate in the back for them to travel in. If that’s not a possibility, make the vehicle enjoyable for your dog. Lay down familiar items like their favourite toy or blanket, and reward them for getting into the car with you. Next, take them on short trips and always encourage them. In the beginning, we’d take Renji on quick trips to the pet store or to the park, and eventually, he learned that jumping in the car and driving off meant going somewhere fun! Safety tip: invest in seatbelt harnesses for your dog. It’s not required by law, but you always want to play it safe when it comes to your furry loved one.

dogs

 

Are you planning a road trip with the whole family? Check out these 5 tips. Or, read other articles about travelling with pets on our blog.

 

How to Make a Portable Travel Workout Kit

One of the biggest drawbacks of travel is its effect on your health. As a travel blogger and fitness enthusiast I’m very familiar with the struggle.

When you travel, all of the healthy habits and routines you’ve worked so hard to develop are thrown into disarray. The restaurant food you rely on is notoriously high in calories and fat—and even if you were disciplined enough to maintain a regular workout routine at home, that routine is obliterated by the schedule changes and uncertain access to exercise facilities that inevitably come with travel.

Despite the challenges, staying in shape on the road is not at as hard as it may first seem. In fact, it’s nearly as easy as staying fit at home if you know what you’re doing.

Your body is built to stay fit through unassisted movements like running, swimming, and climbing. A gym is nice to have, but it’s not necessary. All you really need to exercise is your body, a small space, a basic understanding of exercise, and bit of willpower. If you’re really ambitious, you can also bring one portable piece of equipment to broaden the variety of exercises you can do.

For most people, the biggest barrier to working out is mental. Overcoming the mental barriers to working out is difficult at the best of times. The complications that travel create add to this problem.

So, in this article I’m going to explain how you can overcome both the logistical and mental barriers created by travel that prevent you from working out, so that you will be equipped to stay in shape anytime, anywhere.

 

Invest in a Travel-Friendly Workout Outfit

Minimalism is key. In order to work out conveniently on the road you need to ensure that your workout gear doesn’t encroach on the space you need for everything else.

You need to pack one workout outfit, no more, no less. That’s one shirt (or sports bra), one pair of shorts, and one pair of shoes. Those clothes should be made of a synthetic fibre (they pack small and dry quickly after a wash) and be comfortable enough for any workout. Bonus points if you can implement your swimsuit into the outfit, which covers even more bases. It’s also good if these clothes are appropriate for other vigorous activities like hiking or biking.

I pack one pair of loose-fitting swimming trunks, a sleeveless polyester jersey, and a pair of lightweight nylon river shoes. Altogether, the outfit is less than $100.

 

 

The Laundry Hack

Repeatedly using the same workout clothes is going to get smelly fast and doing laundry on the road is a pain. This is not only a logistical problem, but also a mental one. I’ve many times put off exercise because I didn’t want to deal with the smelly clothes.

Then I figured out the laundry hack and never looked back.

After exercising, I take my workout clothes into the shower with me, give them a quick, brisk hand-scrubbing, rinse them thoroughly, and hang them to dry. This is why I choose workout clothes made with synthetic fibres, as they dry much more quickly than organic ones (wool excepted). This way my clothes get a decent cleaning each time they’re used and I get to put off the inevitable search for a laundromat until another day.

 

Be Adaptable

It’s hard enough to get up for a 6 am run when you’re at home. It’s even easier to justify hitting the snooze button when the moment you wake up you realize you’ve just arrived in Madrid and you don’t know where you can go running.

The most crucial part of any training program is a strong mental game. You have to be able to ignore all the excuses that day-to-day life provides for skipping your workout. Travel creates even more challenges than already exist at home. Adapting to the limitations of travel is key to maintaining a strong mental game.

Here’s how you do it.

 

Learn How to Exercise Anywhere
I rarely visit the gym anymore. For me, it’s more of a treat than a necessity.

Instead, try learning exercises that can be done anywhere, most commonly calisthenics, bodyweight exercises, yoga, and running. Learning to exercise anywhere—without (or with minimal) equipment—is key, because it eliminates most excuses for not working out.These kinds of exercises—combined with my TRX or resistance bands—comprise almost all of my workouts.

 

Know the Tools

Staying up-to-date on new technology will also help you overcome barriers to fitness.

For example, technology has made running in unfamiliar places very accessible. I have a watch with GPS that will tell me how far I’ve run, so I don’t have to calculate the length of my running routes. Also,  offers a crowdsourced list of running routes created by users around the world, making finding a good local running route easier than ever.

 

Stay Alert and Be Creative

Get in the habit of watching for workout opportunities. Parks, playgrounds, and schoolyards are great places to switch up your workout. Monkey bars are also chin up and pull-up bars. Benches and picnic tables are perfect for box jumps. We often forget that stairs are an analog version of the treadmill and that swimming pools too small for doing laps are still perfectly fine for water resistance exercises.
Keeping an eye out for local sports opportunities, such as hiking, biking, playing soccer, taking martial arts lessons, and the like, is also a good way to diversify your workouts.
Changing up your routine is generally considered to be good for your overall health and will break the monotony of your normal routine. Once you get used to looking for workout opportunities, you’ll start seeing them everywhere.

 

Buy (or Build) a Portable Gym

At home with my TRX, which is my usual workout regardless of whether I’m travelling.

If you want to add more variety to your exercises, there are a couple of travel-friendly items you can throw in your bag that will add dozens of new options to your workouts.

The first is the TRX system. Both of these can be mounted to a standard door and can be used almost anywhere. I usually only travel with one of the two, but I own both so that I can switch them up.

Here are two photos of my entire workout kit—clothes, shoes, TRX, and resistance bands—both packed and unpacked.

This is pretty much all I ever use to work out, even at home.All my exercise gear takes up about as much space as a shoebox.

 

Be Realistic

 

Find the Motivation

There’s a saying in the fitness community: “The hardest lift is lifting your butt off the couch.”

The moment that you think about going to work out is probably the most crucial moment of your workout. It’s the moment when you decide whether you are going to get up and go, or put it off for another day.

It’s important to stay disciplined and exercise when you can, but it’s also important not to overdo it and punish yourself for every missed workout. Nothing kills motivation faster than guilt.

Unexpected detours, delays, and random inconveniences are a part of travel. So are unexpected friendships and opportunities. Whether caused by a delayed flight or an unexpected dinner invitation, it’s important to be realistic and not punish yourself when travel genuinely does prevent you from working out.

In those situations, you need to give yourself a pass. Not doing so can result in guilt and anxiety, both of which are counterproductive.

And don’t forget to treat yourself to a random day off once in a while.

Everyone deserves the pleasure of staying in bed and binge-watching Game of Thrones from time to time.

 

Travelling soon? Make sure you travel smart. Find out how to plan ahead for your health.

Florida Updates Zika Virus Count

The Florida Department of Health reports an additional four new cases of locally-acquired Zika virus being investigated in Miami-Dade.. All of them were believed to have been infected in the one-square mile of Wynwood area, originally designated as the prime site of the recent outbreak.

The department emphasizes that it “still believes active transmissions are only taking place within the identified area that is less than one square mile in Miami-Dade County.” Currently, there are no active investigations or any indications of active transmission in Broward County, which is immediately north of Miami-Dade.

The FDH also reports the incidence of 14 new travel-related cases of Zika virus infection—four in Miami Dade, three in Orange County (Orlando area), two in Hernando County (St. Petersburg-Clearwater area), one in Broward County, one in Lee County (Fort Myers area), one in Monroe County (Keys area), and two involving pregnant women in un-named counties. These are cases in which the infected person contracted the virus while travelling outside of the U.S.

As the infection-sites remain restricted to the Wynwood area, the FDH and CDC advisories remain unchanged: Women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should postpone travel to the impacted area of Miami (Wynwood). And “if you are pregnant and must travel or if you live or work in the impacted area, protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing insect repellant, long clothing and limiting your time outdoors.”

No advisories against travel to other areas of Florida have been issued.

The CDC recommends that healthcare providers should consider testing all pregnant women with a history of travel to a Zika-affected area for the virus. It also recommends that all pregnant women who reside in or travel frequently to the area where active transmission is likely occurring be tested in the first and second trimester.

 

Need more information? Read about What You Should Do About the Zika Virus.

5 Easy Ways to Be a Sustainable Traveller

Travel is one of the most unsustainable industries in the world. Don’t believe me? Just recently, Thailand closed Koh Tachai Island to visitors due to overcrowding, which was having a devastating impact on local ecosystems. The damage was so severe that many, myself included, will likely never have the pleasure of visiting the island.

Tourism is also one of the best ways to boost a suffering economy. But economic stimulus isn’t exactly top of mind when travellers head out—adventure, memories, selfies, gifts, and nice weather usually take priority over our environmental considerations.

There are many little ways to help reduce the negative impacts of tourism, and they are easy to apply when you take the time to properly plan out your adventures. To help bring more “consciousness” to the way you travel, I’ve put together five easy ways to reduce the negative impact your travels have on our beautiful earth through accommodation, food and drink, shopping, transportation, and activities.

 

1. Accommodation
Many hotels, resorts, and hostels do their part to reduce their carbon footprint by “greening” their properties. A few greening methods include using environmentally friendly solutions for energy use, properly separating waste, keeping a compost, and growing produce. This is all a great start, but what about the economy? And how are you supporting the local economy by staying in chain hotels? Do these properties hire local staff, or do they bring in international expats?

Accommodation styles I’ve always been very fond of include homestays and guesthouses, which are usually within the home or on the property of a local family or community member. By simply staying in these types of accommodation, you are giving back to the community because you invest in a person or family living in the destination. Many will partner with local initiatives as well, thereby furthering community investment, all thanks to you.

 

2. Food and drink
I never understood why the Starbucks in New Delhi was always packed when the Chai wala down the street was serving up the most delicious tea and coffee I’d ever had—for less than a $1! It’s essential to think of the two “L” words when buying food, whether at home or abroad: local and (the) little guys—which is nearly impossible when staying at a mega resort.

Think independently owned restaurants serving up local cuisine with local ingredients. Think sticking to a vegetarian or even vegan diet to help reduce your impact on the environment around you. When you choose poultry or meat, are you able to source exactly where the livestock were raised, how they were treated, and what they were fed? I’ve seen menus that simply say “meat,” and no one’s ever told me what exactly that “meat” consists of.

Another huge component of buying food and drink is the packaging that comes along with it. Was it wrapped in plastic? How many napkins did they give you? Did they put it in a plastic bag or a Styrofoam container? Your coffee—is it in a disposable cup? Did you use a plastic stir stick to swirl in the cream and sugar, which also came out of paper packages? Reduce, reduce, and reduce! And it’s actually so simple to do. When travelling, you’re most likely carrying a bag with you anyways. Try travelling with a water bottle, water filter, travel mug, reusable container, and, if you really want the gold star for sustainability, cutlery.

 

3. Shopping
Many travellers have that one thing they love to collect in every destination, with popular items usually in the form of shot glasses, t-shirts, or mugs. But have you ever thought of where these items are made and manufactured? Although you may be buying something “authentic” in your destination, find out where it was made, who made it, and where the materials to make it were sourced. When you buy, think of the community and the faces of the people making these products. Is it local or does it have a circular gold “Made in China” sticker on the bottom? Remember, a picture says a thousand words, while a mug can break.

 

4. Transportation
Indeed, heat in destinations within South East Asia, South America, and Africa can be stifling, but there are cooler options (literally) than a private sedan. Think adventure and think rickshaws, bicycles, scooters, local buses, trains and trams. Now that’s a story waiting to be told. Although traveling by private car can be extremely convenient, think of your carbon footprint, especially when you’ve already had to fly to your destination.

 

5. Activities & adventure
There are tons of tour companies out there, and choosing one can sometimes be difficult. Larger companies such as Intrepid, Operation Groundswell, and G Adventures, which lead tours in destinations all around the world, are great to look into because they value authentic experiences, local tour guides, volunteer impact, and sustainable travel.

For volunteer travel, looking for opportunities to volunteer while already in the destination is usually the best way to measure how you are impacting the community. Many larger companies and brands offering service and volunteer trips can be great for getting that Facebook profile picture you’ve always wanted, but the impact you are making is hardly measureable. Think long term for volunteer and service trips or look into smaller initiatives like spending a few days on a wildlife reserve or in an ashram.

I won’t lie – sustainable travel is not easy. Reducing the negative harm you make on your surroundings and truly examining how you can contribute in a positive way while travelling takes time to research, and can be more expensive than taking the easy route. However, we are at a time of need for this type of action among all travellers. If we had all been proactive 20 years ago, maybe Koh Tachai would still be around for us to see.

Sometimes a small step in the right direction can lead to a revolution. Help be the change and sustain the tourism industry by doing your part.

 

We’ve got more travel tips! Check out the rest of them here.

For all other podcast episodes of ‘Lily Likes It Here’, check here!