How do you insure yourself?

Important question indeed. How? Now we are not insurance agents, so no worries about us being the ‘barbers’ who will recommend you run out there and start buying all the policies available. But this is truly a critical consideration when one makes frequent journeys.

Here in our little red dot as in most developed countries, the concept of buying insurance for your travel plan is not new. What piqued our interest in this topic was after reading this article some months back. While the story was one of how claims can go awry and the tips seeming valid, what went through our heads was this question: how do you insure yourself for your travel.

And we are not referring to insurance policies alone. Because that’s only for you to claim monetary compensation. And money isn’t everything. Ok, it is – and we take it back. Gulp. We’ve eaten our words, heard that?

Anyhow.

Contingencies. That’s what we are referring to. Are there backup plans that you may have in the event a flight delays and you miss a tour? Remember we almost had the same in the Caymans (here)? To be honest, we would have been deers in the headlights had the operator not pro-offered a later time slot. We did not have a mitigation plan as we were smooth operators expecting nothing to go wrong. But Mr Murphy struck us unsuspecting. So how?

What kind of ‘insurances’ do you take for yourself when you embark on a journey?

Your airline has gone what?

Bankrupt.

Surely worse than having a employment situation where airline workers go on strike. Or the occasional delays one encounter because of weather, operational problems (with the aircraft) or airport congestion. Because what would one do if you were in a foreign land having flown out, only to find out that the carrier you’ve paid to bring you home has gone belly up?

2017 saw a number of such bankruptcies that caused quite a lot of anguish to both employees (of the airlines) and customers (aka the passenger). Would you buy the airline’s assets (here) as it disposes of them in bankruptcy?

In the past two decades, there had been a proliferation of airlines both full service but mostly budget oriented across the world. The business model premise on efficient use of aircraft assets (ie turnaround) and minimal frills (except when you pay for it). Competition have been intense (still is) and for years consumers appear to have been beneficiaries, ‘proletarizing’ travel making it accessible to almost anyone. Sustainability appears to be something that is now creeping up against these business entities…

While failing airlines are not unusual, today’s post harks to what we as travelers need to be aware of. It pays to look carefully at which carrier you are booking with with a few considerations such as :

  • Insurance of the travel kind. Does it cover airline insolvency? How can you claim them and to what limits?
  • Track record of the carrier. Punctuality, reliability/safety etc… has it been in financial trouble before? Would you even do this?
  • Alternate travel arrangements, ie a mitigation plan. Yeah this might be a little over the top but if you travel cheap… might want to think about it.

Because while size may not seem to matter, it does when the unexpected occurs. Large airlines go bust too. Digressing: this applies in the event natural disasters occur too, leading you to be potentially stranded.

Have you experienced booking on an airline that went bankrupt?

Not losing your luggage, but damaging it

We keep hearing about how airport terminal baggage handling sucks, losing luggage. Perhaps they will invest in some technology to upgrade the way they sort and move items. Of course it also has to be considered that these systems handle hundred of thousands of bags, each to a different airline or arrival belt. And sometimes it is even more annoying to find your luggage, but not intact! Consolation perhaps that not all is lost…

We had our fair share of damaged luggage.

In Egypt our luggage was apparently opened. It was hastily closed and locked. But the lock became stuck. We had to haul our luggage to the concierge and ask for help. It came in the form of a large plier and duct tape. Lots of duct tape.

And when we came home from Holland one time, the wheels and side of the case was cracked! It was a Samsonite for crying out loud. Don’t they have advertisements showing how the luggage falls off a cliff, roll across stony landscape and still look new? As if the biblical namesake cannot withstand the way the luggage is handled…ugh

Can you imagine if it was a LV suitcase?

Ok, not ours though. Sometimes these videos (here, here and here just to name a few) showing how the baggage handlers move or “move things” in your bags make you less inclined to check in anything more than a little fragile. And by the way if you think they handle it any better if you plaster “fragile” on your luggage, think again. Perhaps as consolation, the hardshelled suitcases still hold your stuff intact. Compared those soft shelled ones with zips on the side, we fear for its content.

Today we are dis-inclined to use non hard shelled suitcases. Particularly not the ones with the zips. So easy to open and close, you’d never know if something was taken or inserted! And the material used looks like it can easily be ripped up with rough handling. Sure the TSA or any custom agent can easily open your luggage if they so wish. But you see, perhaps having a false sense of security is better than none!

What kind of luggage will you use?

How safe is your hotel safe?

How often have you wondered whether to carry your passports around underneath your clothes with some sort of money belt etc? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place store it for you safely? Afterall, this is the most important document you’ll have during your journey outside your home country.

There was this video that came out in 2011 about how safe it is to use the hotel safe for your important things or valuables, it has resurfaced again recently to warn about complacency.

We are sure that many hotels would have replaced their safes by now after a period of more than 5 years…and some manufacturers seemed to have modified their designs. But the fact remains, the safes need an overriding PIN to be reset in the event of a malfunction.

While the video is dated, the key learning points we can take from the video remains:

  • Check if the safe’s default PIN has been reset or remains “00000..” Try keying it yourself and see if that works. If it alarms, well you know it does not…
  • Feel for any pin holes that may indicate that a manual override without PIN can be performed. Yeah we know that sounds over the top.
  • Consider where the most obvious places could be the safest? Eg your luggage case that has been locked? Dumb idea.
  • Perhaps put some ‘decoy’ items in the safe? LOL the trick is to decide what and remember to remove it.
  • Really hide stuff under drawers, beneath trash bins that are empty? We think the bin thing is not workable. Housekeeping staff lift up the bin to empty it don’t they?

Up to now, we have actually been quite trusting of the safes in the hotels, often placing our passports and excess cash in it. Suddenly, this changed because our psychology has been affected by re-watching the video… It’s amazing how the human mind can quickly internalize bias from what you see or hear.

Now that we are in Phuket, should we trust the apartment safe?

Evacuating from a plane

Aircraft evacuation
Let’s hope its not this funny

Last thing you want to hear when you are flying. “Brace! Brace!”.

What do you do when the plane you are traveling on has to be evacuated? Do you bolt up and make for the exit or will you start pulling out your luggage from the overhead compartments.

Well, the folks on EK521 apparently did in a recent incident recounted by an article in the Huffington post. The video has gone so viral it’s not something that needs to be linked to anymore.

In the middle of a plane with smoke filled air, the passengers were scrambling to bring their luggage with them as they made their way to the emergency exits. It was such a miracle that no one was hurt in the melee.

We can understand.

Usually, Suan packs only the most ‘important’ and ‘precious’ of cargo from her journeys in the carry-on luggage. So it would not be a surprise to us that many on that flight had the same. How could you leave your most precious behind? After all that effort to meticulously squeeze them in, using up each available cubic inch?

So believe it or not, this can be the real behaviour of people and its apparently not unique for this incident alone. Scour the net for more stories here and here. Some day, we’re really gonna get a nasty one.

Whirlwind travel and safety

Just realized that two members of the alumni of the big G is/was traveling to Shanghai as well. One was just ahead of me while the other a week+ later. The trip in itself would not have been that bad. This week had been literally back-to-back in terms of flying, taking trains and shuttles. Finally had a place to stay for two  nights and able to find a little time to write this now.

The theme of this post is safety.

One thing I am reminded during this business trip is the importance of keeping oneself healthy at all times. And this means getting enough sleep, keeping hydrated and planning activities so that you do not need to  rush. Haste lead to waste  and in travel means lost time, experiences and possible personal property.

In my last post, I was referring to this whirlwind of a trip through the three countries of Japan, Korea and China. The difference in temperatures between the four locations was quite significant – 20°c! One moment I was basking in the relative warmth of Tokyo and Kyoto (~18°c) and the next I was shivering in -2°c winds of Seoul. It did not help that the wind chill in Shanghai (~4-5°c) made it feel like it was more like freezing as I pounded the streets with my colleagues…

How one stays physically well and still churn out top performance at work has to be planned. Falling ill while on a business trip would be highly undesirable to say the least! Mental note to myself: don’t plan for tight flying schedule. It ain’t fun!

I have always been told that we frequently fall sick from the food and water that we consume as we travel, and normally lay off fresh salads or tap water for drinking. It was fortuitous that I was in Japan and Korea, where the tap water is potable (safe for consumption), but these are exceptions.

Spread of disease.

There is such a furore about the spread of the Zika virus (and its seeming ability to spread via sexual contact), that we need to relook at the Mexico trip that we are researching into. When does mosquitoes breed more prolifically in Mexico? Are they prevalent all year round or perhaps there are windows of time when it gets too cold?

Suan’s susceptible to mosquitoes (apparent O blood types are), and already have problems back home in Singapore. Will foreign mosquitoes find her attractive too?

But I digressed (as usual).

As I sit here at the end of a week’s travel, I am reminded how fortunate I had been to have stayed fit. I did not get to run at any of the hotel gyms (well at least I brought the runners along) on this occasion. And some of the hotels on this trip had pretty good gyms (Conrad Tokyo is one). It had been a memorable trip, one filled with mistakes – luggage on the Shinkansen, taxi to the wrong/old office address, buying a dress on a Thursday night etc. I only hope my boss (who was with me for this trip) took it all in good spirit!