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!

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

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.

Join Our World Wanderer Club! Experience the World in a Whole New Way.

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World Wanderer Club 

We are excited to introduce the new and exclusive “World Wanderer Club” to you travel lovers! If you’re looking for new places to go, travel secrets and tips, the right products to assist your trips, helpful travel blog posts on current events, and special travel perks, discounts, and contests – this is a travellers’ wonderland for you!

We hope to inspire you to travel and see the world just like we do and to discover places you never knew about.  You can gain a new perspective and educate yourself by travelling abroad as well as learning how to protect yourself when you’re away from home. You can always have fun, but you’ll have the most fun when you’re prepared!

Our World Wanderer Club is your resource for:

  • International travellers
  • Canadian travellers and Visitors to Canada
  • Special risks and adventure travellers
  • Group travellers
  • International student travellers
  • Snowbirds
  • Expatriates

Be entertained, stay informed, and prepare for travel with the World Wanderer Club.

Let us help you travel with confidence!

Four Things to Know about Walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain

The Camino de Santiago is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages of medieval times. Legend has it that the bones of St. James, Jesus’s first disciple, are buried at the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Today, pilgrims of all faiths come from around the world to walk The Way for religious, spiritual, health, or personal reasons.

If you’re contemplating taking on this challenging pilgrimage here are a few things to keep in mind before you go.

1. Earning a compostela

 Every pilgrim will carry a passport, or credencial—a document that identifies them as a pilgrim. If you plan to start your walk in the popular launching-off city of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port you will be given a passport when you register as a pilgrim at the pilgrim’s office. Otherwise, you can obtain a passport at almost any church or albergue (pilgrim’s hostel) in Spain.

Each night when you are done walking you will be required to have your passport stamped at the hotel or albergue where you sleep. When you reach Santiago you’ll show your passport and receive your compostela (certificate of completion).

To earn a compostela a pilgrim must walk the last 100 kilometres (62 miles) of the Camino de Santiago. You will prove this accomplishment by producing your stamped pilgrim’s passport. When the walk is over the compostela and the passport are yours to keep—they make wonderful souvenirs.

2. Daily walking distance and sleeping in albergues

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to walk long distances each day, don’t fret. While many pilgrims walk 24 to 32 kilometres (15 to 20 miles) per day, others choose to walk much shorter distances. The reality is, because of the frequency of albergues along the route, you can walk as long or short a distance as you choose.

Most albergues are mixed-sex, dorm-style rooms filled with bunk beds and are priced between 5 to 12 euros per bed. Albergues are located every 4 to 6 kilometres (3 to 4 miles) along the route. The exception to this is one or two sections of the walk where albergues are separated by up to 12 miles. Although sleeping in an albergue can prove to be frustrating (lots of snoring and farting by strangers), it is also an essential part of the pilgrim experience.

3. Access to water and money

Don’t buy bottled water as you walk! Tap water is drinkable in Spain so you can easily fill your reusable water bottle in any albergue or restaurant sink. There are also a number of potable water fountains (marked as potable) along the route. Because of the frequency of water sources you should not have to carry more than a litre or two of water at any given time.

Likewise, ATMs are widely available on the route. Most financial transactions are done in cash but don’t worry about carrying a large sum of money with you. You’ll find ATMs or banks in nearly every village you pass through.

4. In the event of injury

If you happen to get injured and cannot walk there are buses and taxis that will pick you up and take you to the next town or nearest hospital. Minor injuries like blisters or tendonitis are common on the Camino de Santiago but there are many pharmacies and shops along the route that sell the items necessary to treat these ailments.

In the event of a rolled ankle or strained back, there are services along the route that will ship your backpack to the albergue you plan to sleep in for the night. This takes a bit of coordination, as you’ll have to decide where to stop and sleep before you begin your walk for the day, but for the pilgrim with a nagging injury this service can be a lifesaver.

Though planning an epic pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago may feel daunting, remember that tens of thousands complete the walk to Santiago each year. Enjoy your walk through the beauty of northern Spain and have a Buen Camino.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 to Race or Racing to Travel

I am a traveller. I love everything about travelling. The airport. The airplane. I am constantly on the lookout for new places to explore and I am always excited to take in the people, cultures, foods, languages, customs, and natural beauty of the places I visit.

I am also an ultra-runner. Ultra-trail running is a footrace on trails that stretch even longer than a marathon.

About six years ago, I started running local 50-kilometre and 50-mile races. After my first attempt, I vowed I would never do another—but just three days later I was hooked.

After a couple of years, I needed bigger challenges, so I started to search for tougher and longer races all over the world.

After doing my first 100+-km European mountain ultra-trail race, it was clear to me that a very deep bond had formed between my love of travel and my love of running in the mountains.

These races satisfy all that I love about endurance running and travelling in one. They allow me to exert and push myself in tough yet beautiful landscapes while meeting new people from all over the world. I truly get a sense of the culture and people of the host country. An added benefit is their safety: as a solo female traveller, security is important to me, and these races allow me to experience remote areas with the confidence of knowing that the race organization is available if something goes wrong.

Not all my travel plans over the past four years have been initiated by a race, but they often end up involving one. For example, if there is a country I am intrigued by, I’ll look to see if there is an ultra race I’d like to try and then I plan my trip for that time of year. Similarly, if I am heading to a certain country to visit or hang with friends and family, my newfound love affair with ultra-running has me looking to see if there are any races that I can sign up for in the area before I commit myself wholeheartedly.

For better or for worse, more and more ultras are popping up around the world, making my race and travel lists longer and longer.

Travelling will always be part of my life and as long as my body stays fit enough to carry me over mountains and across finish lines, I will use ultras as my means of exploring and discovering the world.

 

Check out our blog for more inspiring travel stories.

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

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!

How to Travel Gluten-Free

Travelling can present its challenges, but toss in a food allergy or dietary restriction and it can be downright daunting.  However, my own gluten intolerance hasn’t prevented me from travelling—in fact, it has been a key component in fuelling my desire to travel. I wanted to defy the misconception that I would be limited as a gluten-intolerant traveller, and since my diagnosis three years ago I have travelled to more exotic and foreign places than I ever had before.

I didn’t know that the travel bug would bite me so hard, but it did, and I am always looking ahead to my next adventure (and next international cuisine to take on, gluten-free style). Thankfully I am now well-versed and always equipped with the essentials (and more) to successfully travel gluten-free.

Here are my tips for travelling gluten-free (or GF). Try them out, share with a friend, or modify to make your own!

  1. Do Your Research
    Before selecting a destination, I recommend doing some research about the local cuisine and traditional dishes to determine whether it is viable for you to travel there gluten-free. Keep in mind that some cultures are more GF-friendly than others! I also recommend looking up GF bloggers (or related editorial pieces) residing in the country or city you are travelling to, as this can help you get an idea of what to expect.
  2. Pack Food
    It might seem silly to go grocery shopping before leaving on a trip, but it is so important to come prepared. I always pack a stash of food (breakfast items in particular) in case I am ever in a pinch. This comes in handy when you are out and about all day and choices are limited. Instead of succumbing to hunger and potentially glutening yourself, a GF snack pack from home will save you from a nasty outcome. Extreme hunger never ends well for anyone.Related: Taking food into the U.S.? Learn the rules first to avoid any trouble at the border.
  3. Call Ahead
    Whether it’s an airline, a hotel, an AirBnB host, or a restaurant, calling ahead to inform anyone in the hospitality industry of your gluten intolerance will put you at ease ahead of time and enable them to properly accommodate you. You’ll be amazed at how welcoming people are if you give them a courtesy call!
  4. Get Cultured
    If you’re travelling to a country that speaks anything other than English as its first language, I suggest you learn enough of the native tongue to accurately explain your dietary restriction. Try it out—at the very least you are learning something new!
  5. Be Proactive
    You can never be too careful. The best thing to do is be proactive: pack probiotics for gut health, peppermint tea bags or ginger candies to soothe an upset stomach, and vitamins to boost the immune system. And don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. Cover your bases and be realistic!Related: When do you need travel insurance? 4 things to keep in mind. 
  6. Have Fun!
    I hope I haven’t dissuaded you from travelling, because these steps are rather easy to follow. A little extra planning goes a long way, and the less stress on your mind, the more fun you will have on your trip!

For more articles, check out the blog.

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

Safety Precautions for Canadian Travellers to Turkey

The recent coup attempt in Turkey, and the government’s massive retaliation, must be taken seriously by any Canadians planning to visit family or friends in that country.(According to the 2011 census, there were then almost 55,500 Canadian residents who claimed full or partial Turkish descent, and certainly a lot more today.)

In the wake of the botched uprising, the Government of Canada has warned its citizens to “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” to Turkey as a whole, or to “Avoid All Travel” to its border region with Syria—specifically within 10 km of said border.

These warnings are not just formalities. They can have serious consequences for you if you ignore them and then run into any problems or even misunderstandings while in that country.

Following is what the advisories mean:

 

Avoid non-essential travel

There are specific safety and security concerns that could put you at risk. You should reconsider your need to travel to the country, territory or region. If you are already in the country, territory or region, you should reconsider whether or not you really need to be there. If not, you should consider leaving while it is still safe to do so. It is up to you to decide what “non-essential travel” means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.

 

Avoid all travel

There is an extreme risk to your personal safety and security. You should not travel to this country, territory or region. If you are already in the country, territory or region, you should consider leaving if it is safe to do so.

 

Be aware that although the Canadian government can issue advisories and give you information to protect your security, its ability to help you if you get into trouble is limited.

If you choose to travel despite the warnings, make sure you at least register with the “Registration of Canadians Abroad” service at https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration. This will help maintain a connection with your family and friends in case of disruption or loss of contact. You can register online, so if you are presently in Turkey, register now.

If you run into an emergency while in Turkey, you can call the Embassy of Canada in Ankara or the Canadian Consulate in Istanbul and follow their instructions. You can also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa toll free at 00800-14-220-0149. But the toll-free number is not available for mobile phone users in Turkey.

If you have dual citizenship with Turkey, be aware that while you are in that country, Canadian authorities may be unable or limited in their ability to help you if Turkish authorities consider you a Turkish citizen. For example, if you are of suitable age, you may be required to do military service. And if you have other obligations current in Turkey, local authorities will have primacy in dealing with you.

Also, since the recent government crackdown and the re-assertion of Islamic practices, be particularly sensitive to the rules of behaviour.

As the Canadian government advisories emphasize:

Use of drugs is absolutely forbidden; heavy fines and jail terms can be expected.

Drinking and driving is a zero tolerance activity that is punished on the spot.

It is illegal to desecrate the Turkish flag or to insult the name or image of its historical founders. We can also suggest you be careful about making any derogatory remarks about the current authorities. Canadian-style freedom of speech is not fashionable in Turkey.

Be careful not to photograph military or public institutions, public demonstrations, or members of the police or security forces. Do not photograph people without their permission.

Though homosexual activity is not illegal, intolerance is high in some parts of the country. Avoid physical contact such as handholding in public, for either or both sexes.

Always dress conservatively, especially in non-urban areas and coastal resorts. Women should cover their heads and avoid showing bare arms and legs.

In case you need medical services, understand that cash payment will likely be required, unless you have internationally valid travel health insurance. And if you plan on being in Turkey for an extended period, such as a year, you will be required to register for Universal Health Coverage under Turkish social security.

If you are visiting for a shorter period, you will be expected to show proof of valid health insurance that’s substantial enough to cover any bills you may generate. Your provincial health insurance won’t do it.

Take all your travel insurance documents with you—a toll-free number or name of insurer won’t be accepted by border officials, hospital, or clinic personnel. And if cash is demanded, aside from the local currency (the lira—TRY), U.S. dollars, euros, and major credit cards are widely accepted. Leave the loonie at home.

As for your travel insurance, be aware that if you are in an area already designated by the Canadian government as an “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” or “Avoid All Travel” zone, your travel insurance benefits may be sharply limited or voided altogether. Make sure you ask your travel insurance professional to explain these limitations to you when you buy your coverage. And if travelling anywhere to Europe, Asia, or beyond, it is always safest to first review and then purchase your policy from an agent or company that specializes in international travel insurance. Don’t take shortcuts.

The bottom line is that government advisories are based on ground-level decisions aimed at protecting you when you travel. They are to be taken seriously. There is only so much your government can do once you fall under the authority of another country’s laws and practices.

The responsibility to cede that authority is yours.

 

For more on travel advisories, read our articles here.

Brexit Impacts on Canadian Travellers

Britain’s break-up with the European Union (EU) continues to make headlines around the globe, and will likely do so for the foreseeable future. The initial shock waves destabilized markets and foreign currencies, even causing some travellers to question their future vacation plans. The United Kingdom is the second-most-favoured international destination for Canadians, so many are wondering what the short- and long-term effects will be on trips to Britain and the rest of the EU.

Here are a few different ways Brexit might affect your next trip across the Atlantic…

 

Unsteady foreign currencies

After the referendum, the British pound took quite a tumble, reaching its lowest level in thirty years. Compared to the Canadian dollar, the pound lost 6.5% of its value, and the euro dropped over 3%. This sharp decline makes the United Kingdom much cheaper for Canadian travellers. As foreign currencies continue to react to the news, it is unclear when and where they will stabilize. For the time being, though, travelling to the UK is a great deal for Canadians compared to recent years. If you’re unsure whether the loonie will maintain its value against the pound and you are travelling to the UK soon, monitor the exchange rate and buy pounds in advance to guarantee a good rate.

 

The potential rise in airfare costs

Even though travel inside the United Kingdom is cheaper due to the wavering pound, the cost of airfare may increase considerably across Europe and Britain. British airline stocks tanked after Brexit, with some dropping more than 20%. The reason for the potential hike in prices: the European Union Open Skies Agreement will have to be reviewed. The agreement allows airlines to operate seamlessly across member states, but now airlines may have to apply to operate in Britain and the EU, costing serious time and money.

British airlines will also have to renegotiate access to European Union airports, and the EU will likely demand a high cost, which will almost certainly be transferred to passengers via higher airfares. Canadian travellers may not immediately see a rise in ticket prices, but there will likely be increases, especially for Europe’s well known budget airlines. Furthermore, the UK is a hub for trans-Atlantic flights, which also will directly affect North American travellers, depending on how the agreement pans out.

 

Longer waits at borders

Border control in British airports may become major headache for international travellers. All EU passengers currently stream through their own quick line at customs, and Canadian travellers are grouped with all other international travellers splitting the lines quite nicely. However, Brexit may force all EU passengers to now queue with the rest of the world at border control, creating a major pain and vastly increasing wait times for international passengers, including Canadian travellers. Until both sides reach a deal, uncertainty over changes will persist.

 

Increased vigilance and security

The threat of terrorism has grown across Europe since the Paris and Brussels attacks, and many governments advise a higher level of caution for travellers this summer. With Britain now leaving the European Union, political uncertainties add to the tense security situation in Europe. Canadian travellers are encouraged to heed travel advisories and stay vigilant across Europe this summer. Monitor local news and travel alerts, and practice good personal security for future European destination trips.

 

Travel insurance

There are a host of questions surrounding Brexit and how it will directly impact travellers. However, travel insurance can eliminate many concerns and fears that surround such uncertainty. Always have travel insurance prior to your trips—and make sure you understand the coverage. The protection will ease your worries and create a more relaxing and adventurous vacation across the pond.

 

For current global travel alerts, follow Government of Canada travel advice and advisories. To keep up to date with the European Union referendum, click here.

France Struck Yet Again

The month-long UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament held throughout France was labelled as a major event with a high threat level. Increased security presence was felt at the venues, and the public was kept safe for the most part, with the exception of some incidents with so-called hooligans.

Tragically, though, just days after the tournament ended, an attack was carried out during the heart of French National Day celebrations. Bastille Day, or La Fête nationale, is a holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Bastille Day marks the beginning of republican democracy in France, and carries with it great significance and symbolism to the French culture that has now been tragically tainted.

The Bastille Day attack is the worst attack since the November 2015 attacks in Paris. Around 30,000 people were gathered in Nice, France’s second-most-popular tourist destination, to celebrate and watch the fireworks over the Mediterranean Sea on the beach and the famous Promenade des Anglais, which was cordoned off as a pedestrian zone. Shortly after 22:30 local time, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, of Franco-Tunisian origin, breached security barriers in his large white truck and began zigzagging down the Promenade des Anglais for up to two kilometres (1.25 miles). The attacker had a pistol and a larger gun in addition to numerous fake grenades and weapons. He began firing at police as they were attempting to stop him, before he was ultimately shot dead.

One day after the event, 84 people are dead, and approximately 50 others remain in the hospital with life-or-death injuries, so the death toll will likely rise. Currently, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and officials are unsure if the perpetrator acted alone. However, Islamic State (IS or ISIS) and Al Qaeda have both released global calls for their supporters to use vehicles as deadly weapons. Bouhlel was known to police as a career criminal, to neighbours as a loner, and was estranged by his wife. French authorities’ new mobile app—designed to send immediate alerts in the event of an attack—has been criticized, since the alert was delayed for 3 hours.

France will now extend its national state of emergency, due to end on July 26, for an additional three months. For individuals thinking about travelling to France, we urge you to keep it on your list. Although there have been a number of attacks on French soil over the past year-and-a-half, the chances of witnessing an event like this are exceedingly rare. One of the best steps you can take is to educate yourself before you travel. There are many publicly available resources and government websites that contain up-to-date country information to help mitigate your exposure to various risks, including everything from car accidents to terror attacks. Understanding what do in the extremely unlikely event you are caught in an attack is crucial in order to save your life and others’.

Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport is currently open and operating according to schedule, although there was a brief closure earlier on July 15 day due to a suspicious package. If you wish to cancel upcoming travel to France, we recommend you contact your travel agency and/or travel insurance provider to determine what options are available to you.

 

For more travel advice and warnings, see our recent article entitled Summer Travel Warnings for Europe.

Rio Olympics and Zika: Stay or Go?

The Rio Olympics are almost upon us, and with mounting numbers of high-profile athletes announcing their withdrawal from the games for health prevention reasons, it’s time to decide—should you stay or should you go?

The answer to that remains a personal one, based on individual circumstances.

As of July 7, 2016, 143 cases of travel-related Zika virus, and one locally acquired case through sexual transmission, had been recorded in Canada. This figure includes at least seven pregnant women, but to date no cases of microcephaly (abnormally small head size in newborns) have occurred. However, public health officials are confident the actual numbers of pregnant women (the highest risk group) are higher, since reporting mechanisms don’t always capture information about pregnancy status.

In the continental U.S., over 1,100 cases of Zika virus infection have been recorded up to the beginning of July, with the first case of newborn microcephaly being reported in Harris County (Houston area), Texas. And just to complicate matters further, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported the first known case of female-to-male sexual transmission of Zika, a development that greatly increases the potential public health danger of infection.

Up to this point, it had been thought that Zika could only be sexually transmitted by men.

There have been no cases of Zika virus transmission via the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the continental U.S., although 14 cases of transmission through sexual contact among partners of individuals infected abroad have been reported.

And it appears to be the fear of transmission through sexual contact that accounts for most of the hesitancy about travel to Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic.

Public health warnings by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S., and Public Health Canada all advise pregnant women, or those who might become pregnant, not to travel to areas of high Zika risk for fear of microcephaly and other complications among newborns. The risks for other groups are much more muted, since 80 per cent of people infected by Zika will likely not even know they have been infected, and among most of the remaining 20 per cent, the symptoms of infection will be relatively mild, lasting only a few days.

The outlier, however, is the possibility of transmission through sexual contact.

For example, should an Olympic athlete be infected by the virus while in Brazil, she or he might possibly pass it on to their partner upon returning home. And that risk remains for up to six months, according to public health experts, so couples will have to either be abstinent or use protection.

And so the Olympics in Rio will be without some of the world’s best athletes (golfers in particular, it seems, and even Canada’s own tennis star Milos Raonic), and possibly without a lot of spectators as well.

Advice: If you’re heading down to Rio, cover up, use reliable repellants on exposed skin, preferably containing DEET or Icaridin (Picardin in the U.S.), and stay indoors as much as possible during dusk, when mosquitos are more active.

But if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming so any time soon, why not stay home? Better safe than sorry.

 

Looking for more travel news and tips? Stay with us and get informed here.

Canadians Need Not Fear Travel in Post-Brexit Europe

If you plan to visit Britain or continental Europe in the near future, there’s no reason to make any significant changes to your itinerary due to Brexit concerns.

Aside from the political noise coming out of Europe after Britain announced it had decided to leave the European Union, there should be no immediate impact on you—except that you’ll be getting more for bang of your buck thanks to a sharp drop in the value of the British pound. Some airlines have already reduced fares, hotels may follow, and other tourism-related entities can’t ignore the demand for competitively priced locations and activities. These are all good things for you.

However, although Britain has been a member of the EU since 1973, she was never fully invested in that community just 20 miles from her shore. She held on to her own sterling currency, and though her citizens travelled with a health insurance card that allowed them “free” health care services while on the Old Continent, Britain and Ireland never joined the “borderless” Schengen travel agreement that most Europeans now take for granted. (Schengen is the name of the town in Luxembourg where the agreement was originally signed by a small group of European countries in 1985. Since then, membership has grown to 26 countries.)

Let’s explain that further. Citizens of Schengen countries can move from country to country without encountering customs and border barriers, or even showing their passports. In addition, many non-Europeans, among them Canadian and American citizens, are not required to show their passports or endure customs pat-downs once they have entered the Schengen zone (although they are required to show their passport when first entering any of the Schengen countries).

Thus, if the first stop on your European tour is Britain, you will not only have to present your passport at Heathrow, Gatwick, or other British airport entries, but you’ll have to show it again, and go through the usual customs procedures, once you land in the “real” Europe.

Had Britain chosen to stay in the EU, over time she may well have been compelled to join Schengen as well as the Euro currency zone. But that is now history.

If Brexit ultimately leads other countries to break free of the EU, you can expect passport and other documentation requirements to be re-imposed. But that is not an immediate threat and will not impact you this year. (Several EU countries temporarily imposed border controls early this year in response to the migration waves from Syria, North Africa, and beyond.)

Nonetheless, you need to stay abreast of government advisories concerning travel to any part of Europe, particularly any changes in document requirements. And also keep an eye on currency fluctuations, as numerous financial experts say it will take many months for the GBP to recover from its Brexit losses. That could be to your benefit as the loonie continues to strengthen.

Also, keep your passport up to date and easily accessible when travelling from country to country, stay up to date on government travel advisories, and ensure you have proper proof of travel insurance, since some countries in Europe are requiring such proof as a condition of entry.

 

Stay with us and we’ll keep you updated on these developments.

Solo Journey Express

Family

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to go on multiple family vacations. My mother was in charge of logistics: food and entertainment for flights, booking hotels, and planning excursions and my father was in charge of financials and documents: money, currency, and passports, whereas my siblings and I were in charge of taking pictures and having fun worry-free! I didn’t need to fret about forgetting something important, or figure out where I had to be, or what time I had to be there because everything was always planned out for me. And the best part was the quality time I got to spend with my parents and siblings.

 

Beginning

As I got older, I was given the opportunity to start travelling on my own.  I spent summers on student teen tours, took 40 person bus trips through the west coast of Canada and the United States and eventually went on to backpack Europe for 3 weeks with 15 other students from around the world. Each trip was different, and never consisted of the same people.  It helped that I am the adventurous type, comfortable travelling alone, and enjoy making new friends.  The above mentioned trips were the starting point to my passion for solo travelling, and also when I began to take responsibility for myself.

During my final year of high school, I went on a semester abroad in a small town in Italy. I had fallen in love with Italy during my previous trip and promised myself I would return someday.

 

Positive outcomes

Up until then, I had only ever been away from home for a few weeks at a time. As I prepared,  I remembered mouthwatering pizza, pasta, gelato, cappuccinos, and the nice weather.  My biggest concern was traveling alone. The idea of going away by myself without any support from family or friends both scared and excited me. Upon my arrival, I realized there are many people ready to take the risk of adventure. It takes a certain type of person to be able to travel solo. Some folks are raised to be homebodies, comforted by the familiarity of friends and family. I admire people who are able to step out of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in a new culture. Travelling alone provided me with life skills I may not have obtained otherwise. It forced me to be independent, take responsibility for myself, become out-going, and unafraid to make new friends. It presented me with a new way of seeing the world, and changed my mindset.  If you plan on travelling alone in the near future, take advantage of every opportunity thrown at you. Experience everything possible, and never turn down a moment. It will give you the most positive outcome.

 

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Staying Safe at Rio 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympics are being held from August 5 to 21, and the Paralympic Games from September 7 to 18. The games are based out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, although some soccer events are taking place around the country, including in Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and the Amazon city of Manaus. There are 37 venues in total and 306 events, with the country expecting over 600,000 fans to travel from all over the globe to attend. If you are travelling to Brazil this summer for the Olympics, there are a variety of health, safety, and security tips to consider to ensure a successful trip.

 

Trip preparation

Seek travel health advice at least four to six weeks in advance. Brazil has a variety of tropical diseases in different areas in country, including malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever, and, most recently, Zika.

The Zika outbreak has been an international concern for visitors, athletes, and locals alike. The bottom line: anyone who isn’t pregnant or planning to become pregnant should still go to Rio, since transmission rates during August and September are extremely low. However, still be meticulous about avoiding mosquito bites at all times of day by using repellent with at least 50% DEET.

  • Prepare a travel health kit that includes essentials like insect repellent, prescriptions, basic first aid items, sun screen, antidiarrheal medication, and pain medication
  • Make sure you have all necessary visas, travel documents, and a passport for entry into Brazil
  • Leave copies with a relative or friend for safekeeping before departure
  • Take note of your bank’s phone numbers, and be sure to have online access to monitor your account during your trip in the event your card is stolen or skimmed

Security measures to expect

The crime rates in Brazil are notoriously high, which has caused great concern over the safety and security of the Olympics. The political and economic instability of the country has also compounded the issue, with high risks of large-scale disruptive protests. However, authorities are assuring travellers that security for the Olympics will be extremely tight at all venues. Visitors should expect airport-style security checks and two- or three-tier security cordons surrounding the infrastructure. Approximately 85,000 security personnel will safeguard venues, athletes, Olympic villages, and fans. Due to these measures, expect serious congestion and delays at venues. Carry identification and expect random stops and checks by security guards.

 

Safety tips

In addition to the security measures taken by Brazilian officials, you can take numerous personal security precautions that will also help you stay safe and healthy throughout their trip:

  • Keep a low profile to avoid being a target of crime, and never display wealth
  • Stay vigilant: pickpocketing and mugging are commonplace and are the main threat to foreigners, especially on beaches, busy sidewalks, and public transportation and at tourist sites and intersections
  • Never resist criminals if you are being mugged
  • React with force to avoid danger if you are being pushed in large crowds or public transportation
  • Express kidnapping is a threat to travellers, especially those with perceived wealth
  • Avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations, which have the potential to turn violent
  • Leave your passport in a safe at your hotel or accommodation (carry a photocopy)
  • Always keep doors locked and valuables secure
  • Avoid night travel, and do not take public transportation at night (call a taxi)
  • Never walk alone, and travel with a companion
  • Plan your travel route to avoid dangerous areas of the city, and monitor local media
  • Use official bank ATMs inside buildings, banks, or shopping centres for security reasons, and avoid carrying large sums of cash
  • Register with your embassy or diplomatic office upon arrival
  • Stay hydrated and use sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Exercise caution when eating or drinking (bottled water and thoroughly cooked food)

Have an emergency plan

In the event of an emergency, it is crucial to have a plan. When registering with your embassy, note their emergency phone numbers. The national emergency number in Brazil is 190, and if you don’t speak Portuguese then speak slowly in English. The Rio tourist police specialize in helping provide information and assistance to visitors in the city, and they can be easily contacted or approached. Their headquarters are in Leblon, and they can be reached at (+55)2332-2924. Additionally, make plans with your travel companions in the event of separation or an emergency. Have meeting points and organize ways to communicate because mobile service is expected to be limited near extremely crowded Olympic venues.

 

For more travel alerts, read here.

It’s Hurricane Season

The 2016 hurricane season (June 1 through November 1) is here, and professional weather forecasters foresee (a) an above-average season, (b) a below-average season, or (c) a near-normal season for states bordering the Atlantic and/or the Gulf of Mexico.

Sound wishy-washy? Indeed it does, but the major sources of weather information all agree on one thing: there are simply too many variables in the environment right now (including the expiration of El Niño, and the emergence of La Niña) to allow for a more reliable outlook.

 

El Niño vs. La Niña

El Niño is a pattern of unusually warm ocean currents in the tropical eastern Pacific that shifts upper level winds and reduces the likelihood of storm formation in the Atlantic. La Niña is the opposite, and is thought to produce below-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern Central Pacific.

Weather specialists are pretty uniform in their belief that the current El Niño is dead or dying and La Niña will be taking shape sometime this year, perhaps in late summer or fall. If that happens, upper level winds in the tropical Atlantic will be weaker, allowing storms to linger over warm water and grow into stronger storms.

 

What does this mean to you?

If you’re planning travel to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico states this summer, take into account the possibility of tropical storms or hurricanes affecting your vacation.

For those of you with a condo, mobile home site, or manufactured home in any of these coastal areas, ask neighbours to keep a watch and alert you if your home-site is damaged or directly in the path of a serious weather disturbance. Remember: it doesn’t always take a hurricane to do a lot of damage. A strong storm can uproot your life, too.

If you’re already on site, clean up your property, leave nothing moveable outdoors or on your patio, trim down trees or foliage, put up storm shutters, follow the directions of local, county, or state officials, and make sure your homeowner insurance is intact and immediately available to you.

If you’re planning a short stay summer or fall vacation to a coastal area, make sure you can get your cash deposit returned if a storm does hit your target area. Keep a close watch on local weather forecasts and stay flexible, since hurricanes very often turn on a dime and leave your destination unscathed. If that happens, and you don’t show up, you can be pretty sure your resort managers will hang on to your deposit. No damage—no payout. Consequently, you should always try to put down as small a deposit as you can get away with.

Also, cover yourself with travel insurance that includes trip interruption or cancellation benefits, and make sure you know the policy’s limitations and exclusions. Read them. Ask your selling agent to clarify anything that seems murky to you. And to add another layer of protection, ask for a “change of mind” policy that allows you to cancel for pretty well any reason (or even no reason at all). It may not cover every last dollar you have already paid, but it might save you a bundle if Mother Nature is not kind to you.

And don’t try to outguess a storm’s path—they have a mind of their own and can pop up quickly or drag on for a couple of weeks, meandering out in the ocean, gathering warm water fuel in anticipation of dumping it on you.

Finally, disregard the fools who tempt fate by partying in the path of a storm. There are always some who will insist on staying put and fighting it out while they fuel up on chicken wings and coolers. They will learn, eventually.

Several years ago I moved my family out of our Fort Lauderdale waterfront home in the direct path of a hurricane, only to be hit by the eye walls, 90 miles up the road in the Fort Pierce hotel to which we had escaped. Frightening? You bet. Ninety-five-mile-an-hour winds and rain beating on your roof and window panes makes strong people very humble, very quickly. When we returned home the next day, the only damage we saw at home was a loosened porch screen that took 10 minutes to fix.

A waste of time and money? No. I would do it again. So should you.

 

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Europe Travel Alert: World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland

The United States has issued a Europe Travel Alert lasting until August 31, 2016, warning travellers of the large number of tourists visiting Europe this summer and associated risks. Specifically, the surge in visitors presents a greater concern for potential terrorist attacks due to the number of large events. And although the alert covers Americans, Canadians are urged to heed the same advice and follow travel advisories if they are heading to Europe this summer.

One major event the travel alert mentions is the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, which is taking place in Krakow, Poland, from July 26 to July 31. The event is expected to draw upwards of 2.5 million visitors between the ages of 16 and 35 to the Polish city. The Polish Prime Minister’s Office has said there are no signs of increased terrorist activity in the country and reassured travellers that security will be stringent. The safety and security of participants will be provided by almost 25,000 army, security, and emergency personnel in Krakow.

 

What to expect if you are travelling to Poland

Bring your passport and necessary visas. If you are from a Schengen area country, you are likely aware that you don’t need your passport to travel between member states such as Poland. However, Poland is imposing border controls at all national borders and stricter security measures from July 4 until August 2. The time frame covers the Warsaw NATO Summit, scheduled for July 8–9, as well as World Youth Day. As a result of these additional measures, even citizens of Schengen area countries must present their passports at Polish borders. All visitors to the country are therefore required to carry their passport regardless of the Schengen agreement.

In addition to these temporary border controls, Poland’s facilities and infrastructure will be strained to handle the huge crowds expected at World Youth Day. It is wise to plan for longer commutes since public transportation, streets, and venues will be extremely crowded. Lines for food and water at local cafes will likely be never-ending, so prepare by packing water beforehand—Poland can be hot and humid in the summer.

Areas in and around Błonia Park in central Krakow and Campus Misericordiae (600-acre meadow called “Field of Mercy”) on the border of Krakow and Wieliczka are the two main locations for gatherings during World Youth Day. There are no health care facilities near Campus Misericordiae, but the Polish Army will be setting up a field hospital and medical tents along with appropriate medical transportation in the event of an emergency.

 

Maintain solid personal security practices

Previous World Youth Days have generally been peaceful and successful events. However, massive crowds and open air public events always require a few extra security precautions:

  • Remain vigilant when using public transportation and secure your belongings at all times
  • Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense
  • Always follow the instructions of Polish authorities, particularly in the event of an emergency
  • Stay in touch with friends and family and have a plan in place the event of separation or emergencies
  • Keep your embassy’s contact information handy as well as Polish emergency numbers (dial 112 anywhere in Europe for emergency assistance)
  • Learn a few Polish “survival” phrases—they will make you a better traveller and likely be useful in emergency situations

Don’t be intimidated

The advice and travel warnings are routine in nature because any large gathering would pose a potential threat. However, Polish authorities are reminding visitors that the travel alert did not arise from any specific intelligence on planned terrorist attacks in Poland. One bishop from the World Youth Day organizing committee reminded journalists that the young adult visitors during the gathering will demonstrate faith, joy, and happiness first and foremost and shouldn’t be intimidated by stricter security or travel alerts.

 

For more information on travel alerts, please click here.

Using ATMs Abroad: 12 Things You Need to Know

Using ATMs (cash machines) while you’re abroad is not as simple as it is at home. I know travellers with horror stories about being strapped and unable to get cash due to various ATM blunders. That’s why it’s best to be informed about overseas banking before you depart!

Here are 12 tips for using ATMs abroad and effectively managing your travel cash.

 

1. Get Online
First and foremost, register for online banking before travelling. This allows you to manage your accounts and bills easily, and if there’s a problem with your ATM card or one of your accounts, you can fix it from wherever you are.

 

2. Foreign ATMs Offer Limited Services
At home, you can use ATMs to change your PIN, see account information, transfer money between accounts, and more. Abroad, you generally can only view your balance and withdraw cash. For the rest, you’ll need to register for online banking.

 

3. Same Bank? So What?
It’s common among frequent travellers to bank with an internationally recognized institution, such as HSBC. With HSBC ATMs being located around the world, you can usually save money on withdrawal fees. Great! But don’t expect even bank-affiliated foreign ATMs to offer the same functionality as you’d get at home.

 

4. Know Your Chequing, Savings, and Other Accounts
Before travelling, make sure the accounts you need to access are linked to your ATM card properly. You can link accounts to “chequing,” “savings,” and “other”. For example, my main bank account is listed as “chequing,” and my line of credit is my “other” account.

Related article: Heading overseas for an extended period? Read our tips on how to save money while living abroad.

 

5. Set and Remember Withdrawal Limits
Setting a low ATM withdrawal limit (at your home branch, online, or over the phone) will prevent somebody from clearing out your account if your card is stolen. But don’t forget your limit—otherwise you’ll have some unsuccessful withdrawal attempts that could result in your account being frozen. (This happened to me a few times, and necessitated calls to my bank to rectify the situation before I could get any cash).

 

6. Keep Your Bank’s Phone Number Handy
In the situation above, I had to call my bank, because I couldn’t fix the problem online. Make sure to bring along your bank’s phone number (and register for telephone banking before you leave) so you can quickly tackle any issue that arises.

 

7. Eliminate Withdrawal Fees
Using a foreign ATM usually results in a $5 fee charged by your home bank. You can eliminate these fees in a few ways, including using internationally recognized banks, and/or structuring your home account to include free foreign ATM withdrawals. This usually entails a monthly account fee, which can be avoided by maintaining a certain balance.

 

8. Avoid Private ATMs
In addition to the withdrawal fees mentioned above, using private (non-bank-affiliated) ATMs can result in additional charges and commissions. Private ATMs can also be a security risk, so they’re to be avoided whenever possible.

Related article: Many travellers rely on their credit card for insurance coverage—but is that enough to keep you protected? Find out here.

 

9. Know Your ATM Networks
On the back of your bank card should be a series of logos, such as Plus, Interac, Maestro, or Cirrus. You can only use ATMs abroad that display one of the logos on your card.

 

10. Ensure Your PIN is Four Digits
If your bank card has a five-digit PIN, switch over to a four-digit PIN, since some ATMs (and debit machines) abroad don’t accept five-digit PINs.

 

11. Back It Up!
Keep your bank card number and bank phone number separate and accessible in case your card is lost or stolen. This has served me invaluably. I back up this and other sensitive information using my trusty “USB Stick Trick.”

 

12. Know Your Credit Card PIN
Most credit cards have electronic chips so you can make purchases by entering a PIN. This PIN also allows you to make ATM withdrawals with your credit card. Warning: credit card ATM withdrawals are a last resort, since (in addition to withdrawal fees) interest compounds daily on your entire credit card balance from the date of withdrawal, with no grace period (normal credit card purchases have a grace period of 30 days). When I was in Grenada, my bank card wouldn’t work so I could only get money with my credit card. I paid off my balance in full before making any withdrawals (and paid off the withdrawal/advance amount immediately) to save myself the exorbitant interest charges, but I couldn’t avoid the withdrawal fees.

 

Want to learn more about financially smart travels? Read more financial travel tips for economically savvy travellers.

UEFA Euro 2016: Europe Travel Alert

The United States has issued a Europe Travel Alert over the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe targeting tourist sites, major events, transportation, restaurants, and commercial centres. The alert focuses on the Euro 2016 soccer championship being held in France from June 10 to July 10 as a major event with a high threat level. France has issued a state of emergency until July 26, as the matches are expected to draw several million fans from across the continent and the globe. In the wake of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks that shook Europe, French security has taken major steps to mitigate any risk of further terrorist attacks during the third-largest sporting event in the world.

 

Stade de France

The Stade de France was one of the targets in the Paris terrorist attacks last November, where three suicide bombers attempted to reach the interior of the stadium during the Germany–France match. However, the robust security and well trained staff denied entry to the bombers, preventing what could have been a massacre. The Stade de France and the rest of the stadiums and fan zones across the country will now go above and beyond their already strong security precautions in attempt to eliminate any potential threats.

France is deploying nearly 100,000 security forces to safeguard the 51 games and 10 venues across the country. The security forces will protect the tournament, match venues, fan zones, and any other areas where fans may congregate. Furthermore, all the bases of the 24 competing countries and stadiums where matches will take place have been declared no-fly zones.

 

Extensive security measures

In addition to the vast number of boots on the ground, the physical security measures in place at the events are sweeping. Stadiums have security cordons at their perimeter and security screening checkpoints at the entrances. Even the fan zones will have security standards equivalent to the stadiums, since some zones will attract upwards of 90,000 people in one location. Security checks will be similar to those used in French airports and include bag scanners, metal detectors, and pat-downs, if necessary. The stadiums will have thousands of police and private security guards in operation. Moreover, in every match location a command centre will be set up to centralize the security operation by connecting emergency personnel and police. These locations will also have riot squads, police snipers, and armoured vehicles.

 

New tools

French authorities have also introduced new technology to bolster their already vast security efforts. For example, authorities are using new equipment designed to take control of and divert suspicious drones around venues rather than destroying them. Additionally, France has launched a new app called SAIP (système d’alerte et d’information des populations), which alerts users immediately if there is an attack or suspicion of an attack in eight different geographical locations; it also sends emergency instructions within fifteen minutes of an event to the user. A SAIP spokesperson responded to the public’s growing concern for safety, saying that France must not overestimate the threat of terrorism, but, above all, the country must be vigilant.

 

Security precautions to bear in mind

The French security operations are clearly vigorous and exhaustive, yet travel alerts and advisories are still on the minds of fans and travellers. If you are travelling to France during Euro 2016, it is important to keep in mind the following security precautions on top of the safety measures French authorities have implemented.

  • Stay aware of your surroundings and try to avoid overly crowded areas if possible
  • Be extremely vigilant when travelling on public transportation or in public places
  • Monitor local media and use any updates or news to plan your travel and activities accordingly
  • Leave extra time for additional security screening and any other disruptions during Euro 2016. In the event of an emergency, follow the instructions of local authorities and have a prepared emergency plan with friends or family, such as how to reach each other if separated or how to get in touch
  • Use common sense and be an informed traveller, so that in the event of an emergency you will be prepared and safe

Euro 2016 security update: June 14, 2016

After the first weekend of matches in France, security concerns continue to grow. The Russia–England game in Marseille caused major headaches for French authorities. Before the match, police used tear gas on both groups of fans to try and deter violence. However, during the game, Russian fans shot flares before the final whistle in the Stade Velodrome. They managed to smuggle in smoke bombs, flares, and fireworks, raising questions on the level of security at the perimeter check-points of the stadium. After the game, Russian fans stormed the English section inside of the stadium and began hurling objects and punching and kicking the opposing team supporters. English fans fled to exits in a panic, causing a dangerous stampede in the 67,000-person arena.

Overall, 31 people were injured on Saturday. Police ordered bars and restaurants to shut once the game ended, and alcohol was banned near venues and was not sold in stadiums in an attempt to curtail clashes. The violence in Marseille was described as the worst football violence in years, which is causing trouble for the over-stretched French police, who very clearly have other issues to worry about.

There are evidently gaps in security for the tournament, and England has offered to send more police for the country’s next game in Lens, France. European soccer body UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Russia’s soccer association after the violence. Additionally, England and Russia could be expelled from the games if fan violence continues. Beyond the England–Russia match, Nice experienced brief violence on Saturday when Northern Irish and local fans threw glass bottles at each other. Additionally, before the Turkey and Croatia game in Paris, 15 people were arrested in scuffles. French authorities have also prevented 3,000 fans from entering the country based on lists of hooligans provided by foreign countries. Authorities have focused heavily on eliminating terrorist threats, but they definitely need to improve their approach to hooligans and fan clashes in the coming weeks of high profile games.