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Weekly Travel Review

Travel insurance...yay or nay?

Insurance. No one likes it. Who likes to put out money for the "what if", especially if the "what if" never happens. But we do it every day. Cars, houses, life.... we all have some form of insurance. However in my 15+ years of experience an a Travel Consultant, travel insurance has always been one of those things that has no grey areas. People either want it regardless of cost; or they shut it down before you've even finished asking if they have it or are in need of coverage.
Why is travel insurance necessary?
General rule of thumb when purchasing travel products: 100% non-refundable, non-transferrable and subject-to change penalties IF changes are allowed. Now of course there are exceptions to this, which your travel agent would make you aware of. However once confirmed with payment you're most likely 'locked in' to your travel purchase.
Canada 3000 Vacations goes bankrupt, September 11/2001 terrorist attacks, the recent Lufthansa Airlines strike, the volcano in Iceland that shut down air travel to/from Europe in 2010 - all reasons WHY insurance is necessary. Time and unforeseen occurrences befall us all. And that's just for the cancellation part of it. What about emergency medical? Your tour bus crashes, you fall and break your ankle, a slip off a sidewalk lands you on your face and you've broken your front tooth; you catch the dreaded Montezuma's revenge while traveling through a hot tropical country...
How much it is?
The simple answer is based on age, length of stay, and amount of funds needing coverage. You're standard policy will run you about 10-12% of the total cost of your trip ($4000 trip, insurance will be $400, etc..).  Of course again, there are many factors - especially age - as insurance premiums are based on a game of statistics. Instead of asking how much it is, first ask yourself how much are you willing to lose. If you spend $4000 on a vacation package with me, and the policy is $400; I'd rather see you spend $400  on a policy that you may not have to use than to have to cancel and be out $4000  because your purchase was non-refundable.
What does it cover?
There are a multitude of different policies with coverage from lost, stolen or damaged baggage & passport; to rental car insurance and the dreaded air flight accident insurance coverage. But here's a quick overview of the two most important:
Trip cancellation and interruption covers just those. 
Emergency situations that are unforeseen and out of your control have taken place and you need to cancel, or; you need to cut your trip short and come home earlier than intended.
Some examples for cancellation: your house burns down, car accident, one of your immediate family members or travelling companion gets sick or passes away. You get sick and can't travel, jury duty, natural disaster, you are driving to the airport for that winter get-away when black ice catches you and hit the ditch causing you to miss your flight.
Some examples of interruption: the airlines goes on strike and you have no way to get home; you need to rebook on another airline and are out of pocket for extra hotel nights, food, etc., someone in your immediate family gets sick or passes away and you need to return home immediately, terrorist attack, natural disaster, your house back at home burns down.
Emergency Medical coverage is just as important.
If you're in destination and something happens how are you gong to pay for it ? This is a tricky area because many people have extended coverage through their employment, or coverage on a credit card. However you MUST check before departure how much you're covered for, if you need to call in your trip first, and if you have pre-payment assistance or you need to foot the bill and get reimbursed later. If you fall and need an x-ray on your knee, depending on the country, that x-ray on its own can cost upwards of $1500! Not to mention the fees charged to check in at the hospital, use a chair in the waiting room and have an actual doctor talk to you.
You're in destination on the golf greens of Florida when the unimaginable suffer from a heart attack. After ambulance costs, hospital bill and the cost of flying your spouse to come down and stay with you until you're recovered enough to be released and return home, you're total bill could easily be at $100,000. If that's not considered pocket change to you, then I hope you've got coverage.
As well in the fine print, the majority of emergency medical policies also include emergency dental coverage.
You're on a jet-ski off the cost of beautiful Mexico enjoying a beautiful day in the sun. You turn into a wave the wrong way and are knocked off the jet ski. On the way off you hit your face on the side panel and knock your front tooth out. Can you afford that kind of fix? Better yet, do you want to be out of pocket for that expense? 
Don't forget, once you leave Canada, you CAN be refused treatment in any country at any medical facility for not having proof of funds to cover the possible expenses upon your admittance. Though that may seem shocking, it does happen and has resulted in many suffering from further complications and even sadly, their passing away.

And the conclusion?

Make sure you read the fine print. Know what you need coverage for and when you do purchase coverage, make sure it includes what you need it to. Factors like pre-existing conditions will always come into play. Medical Questionnaire's may be necessary. Call your extended work coverage providers and your credit card companies so you know what you DO have and what you DON'T. It is best to meet with a Travel Counselor that has an insurance license, or see a insurance brokerage office for questions and quotes. Shop around to make sure you're getting the best policy for you and your situation.

As an insurance licensed travel consultant, I have sadly heard many horror stories over the years that a few extra hundred dollars spent could have prevented. Before you say no, think about the risks involved. What could be prevented? What could the possible loss be - not just monetarily?  And remember this TRUE example. (Names and location have been changed to protect anonymity of the persons involved).

*Mr. and Mrs. Smith came to see me. They were in their late 60s, retired, finally free of that pesky mortgage and wanted to see New York City. Both were in relatively good health with no medical conditions; and after much contemplation and discussion they decided to decline insurance coverage. Upon arrival in their much anticipated destination, Mr. Smith wasn't feeling so well; 3 days later he suffered a massive heart attack in his hotel room. Upon ambulance arrival Mrs. Smith had to present her credit card to get Mr. Smith in the ambulance and on is way to emergency. Over a course of a few hours, two local area hospitals turned away Mr. Smith and refused treatment. Finally upon arriving at the 3rd and most helpful medical center, Mr. Smith was rushed into emergency for open heart surgery. However it was sadly too late and Mr. Smith passed away.  After returning home along with her husband's remains, Mrs. Smith was left with a bill of just under $200,000. At almost 70 years of age, she was in need of a job and a second mortgage on her home to cover the expense of such a tragic ordeal. The declined insurance policy for the both of them was only $700.*


The Belles of BC

One of my favourite places to visit is the Belles of BC. If you've never been then you`re missing out. Access is by a combination of land and sea or; you can fly in.
Bella Bella

The island village of Bella Bella is located 98 nautical miles north of Port Hardy and 78 nautical miles west of Bella Coola. The Heiltsuk First Nation live in the island village of Bella Bella and occupy 13,000 square miles of land and sea on B.C.´s coastal Inside Passage. Bella Bella is the name given to Heiltsuk Indian Reserve #1 and is the largest of the 23 reserves set aside in 1913 for the exclusive use of the Heiltsuk. The village located on Campbell Island is amalgamated from all Heiltsuk tribes who occupied numerous large winter and spring villages and associated camp sites spread throughout this traditional territory.

Its strategic location on the Inside Passage makes it the major transportation hub for the Central Coast of BC. Bella Bella has a regional airport, BC Ferries terminal, regional hospital, regional RCMP detachment, public dock, grocery store, post office, fuel station, fish plant, forestry company, freight company, cablevision and telecommunications infrastructure, Canadian Coast Guard Search and Rescue facility as well as a number of bed and breakfast establishments, restaurants and small shops. 

There are approximately 361 homes on reserve lands as well as a Band office, community hall, three schools - elementary, secondary, college - day care center and two churches. There's a population of just under 1500 people and only 5% are non-first nations, with 50% of the total population being under the age of 25.  With picture perfect mountain and ocean scenery it's a photographer's paradise. Hiking, fishing, kayaking, hunting, mountain biking, camping and quality outdoor time in one of the most beautiful rainforest areas on earth.... it's a outdoor lover's paradise right here in our own province.
Bella Coola

The Bella Coola Valley is tucked into the Coast Mountains about one-third of the way up our province of British Columbia. While it is remote, it is also surprisingly easy to access. Upon arrival there are many activities to choose from. Hike a mountain, enjoy a wide variety of river activities, go snorkeling with salmon, kayaking, birding, horseback riding, mountain biking, back roads exploring, 4x4'ing, camping, hunting, fishing, or go wildlife viewing!  The list truly is endless! Most of these activities are available year round and in the winter throw cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and Heli-Skiing in the mix and you've got the perfect spot to enjoy all of our four seasons!

As for accommodations Bella Coola offers a variety that range from Lodges and Inns to charming B&Bs, and campgrounds. You`ll also find well-appointed cottages with phenomenal mountain views. There is a total of 139 rooms to choose from plus 174 campsites; with 101 of those sites equipped to accommodate RVs. And with this beautiful area being surrounded by the Great Bear Rainforest you`re bound to see a few Grizzlies ! There are local companies offering tours for all age ranges and physical activity levels. For more info on tours see here:
To plan your Beautiful British Columbia Adventure to the Belles...... stop in to see your Professional Travel Consultant today!

Bus touring!

  • Your wish list is long but your budget is limited.
  • Your wish list and budget are unlimited but you have a short period of time.
  • You have all the time in the world, a long wish list, and no direction....
These 'issues' affect many travelers today. Trying to fit the most bucket list items in a limited space or budget. How can you pull it all off?
The Bus Tour!!
That's right - the standard bus tour of 100 people cattle prodded onto an aluminum tube without a working bathroom or proper ventilation - those days are long over. Bus tours now-a-days can offer you the best variety of sights and the best bang for your buck; in comfort, style and even luxury!
What are the overall advantages of bus tours?

Driving in another country can be nerve racking at best. However on a  bus tour, you do not have to worry about finding your own way or beating the local rush hour traffic. Rather, you can just sit back and relax and let the experienced bus driver take control for you. And the local tour guides can tell you more about the places of interest where you will be visiting, as well as providing insider tips to help you manage your free time when you are not on the bus. Local tour guides have a wealth of information that you can draw from and time spent on a bus is a good opportunity to tap into that knowledge.

Bus touring is also a great starting point for future, independent travel - you can spend some tour time gathering information for a second excursion. You will have the time to find out about public transport; local restaurants and cafés to visit and take a moment to compile a wish list of places to visit and things to see and do on your next trip or; if you're looking for a place to head back to after your bus tour is over. Bus tours are a good way to get your bearings in a new country and find out the 'ropes' so to speak; many travelers begin an independent excursion with a few days on a bus tour as pre-travel.

Bus tour passengers also usually don't have to wait in line to see the sights. Many of the tourist spots give bus passengers priority when it comes to entry at places such as museums and theatres. Larger groups bring larger sums therefore are considered priority.

Many travellers want to see as much of a country as possible and find it very cost-effective to take an organized bus tour. Such tours take a lot of the planning and organization out of your hands, leaving you with ample opportunity to relax and enjoy the experience and the surroundings of the country your visiting.

The advantage to pay one ticket price and not be charged with additional costs for fuel, insurance or cleaning is also appealing. With a bus tour, you know what you are going to get and, with most professional and credible bus tour operators, you can feel confident that you will have a great experience.
So how do you know which bus tour company to choose? There are a variety of bus touring options for each country and the options range from budget to luxury. This is where visiting a professional Travel Consultant comes into importance. Visit your local Travel Consultant to find out what suits your needs, time and budget the best, and start crossing off the countries on that 'Must See' wish list!


An Okanagan Valley Spring!

No plans to leave your home over spring break but still looking for a quick get-away, even for just a half day? Here are some great ideas for a half-day, full-day, or even weekend get-away here in our lovely Okanagan Valley and surrounding areas.

The Okanagan is comprised of the major centers of Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Osoyoos. Starting in spring and continuing through the summer months, visitors are offered countless walking trails, hiking spots, sandy beaches, great weather and a variety of other outdoor and water activities. Okanagan Lake provides the area with a spectacular backdrop to the countless golf courses and wineries located in the rolling hills of the valley. The Okanagan is considered a premiere wine valley, and a tour of the local wineries is a must for anyone local or visiting the region.

Gain unprecedented access to more than 217,000 hectares of pristine wilderness terrain and wildlife habitat at Mount Robson Provincial Park. The second oldest provincial park in British Columbia, Mount Robson is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site). This iconic park is home to an abundance of wildlife such as mule deer, whitetail deer, black bears, grizzly bears and mountain goats. Its varied wilderness setting offers plenty of quintessential BC outdoor adventure opportunities, including fishing, caving, camping, hiking and mountain biking.

Helmcken Falls plunges 137m into its canyon below. It's one of Canada's highest waterfalls, and the Wells Gray Provincial Park's most famous natural attraction. The best time to view the falls is at sunset. The best viewpoints are the vehicle-accessible viewing platform and the hiking trail that follows the Murtle River to the top of the falls. Wells Gray Provincial Park is a one-hour drive north from Clearwater via the Clearwater Valley Road.

Looking for something a little closer to home? Check out Hardy Falls in Peachland. A natural wonder for Salmon Run viewing!

British Columbia has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the best places in North America to go golfing. In 2007, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators named BC the Best Golf Destination in North America; in 2008, a British Columbia golf course was chosen by Golf Digest as the best new course in Canada. In 2010, SCOREGolf selected its top five golf new courses in the country... three are right here in BC!

The region is home to BC's Wine Industry also. The Okanagan Valley is where the BC Wine Industry started, so there are many wineries and orchards to visit. The quality of grapes grown here produce some of the best wines in Canada and are famous throughout the world. Spend a day, two or even three visiting and touring the finest wineries we have to offer. From large Estates overlooking the lake, to family farms offering the very best in quality. Every winery is unique offering its own blends of flavours and excellence to our panel of fine wines.

Have children to occupy this spring break? Try something different and explore the Kettle Valley Steam Railway! The Kettle Valley Steam Railway showcases a unique part of the Okanagan’s and British Columbia’s history. Built during 1910-1915, the KVR “Kootenay to Coast Connection” powered our pioneer fruit industry into world markets. Experience for yourselves the only preserved section of this historic railway: 10 miles of beauty from lush orchards and vineyards to a spectacular view of lake and land from the Trout Creek Bridge 238 ft above the canyon floor. The sight and sound of the restored 1912 Steam Locomotive will bring the era alive as you ride along on this 90 minute journey in a vintage passenger coach or open air car. An observation game for kids and lively musical entertainment make every run a memorable experience for the whole family. Liven things up by venturing on the journey during one of the staged performances of "The Great Train Robbery". Live outdoor theatre at its best, including all guests in a thrilling old-west adventure. Conveniently located in the heart of the valley in Summerland.

There's plenty more to see, do and experience whether on your own, with visitors or just hanging out with family and friends. Contact your local Travel Agency today for more ideas!

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About the Author

Laura has been a successful Certified Travel Counsellor since February 1999. She has worked in both Corporate and Vacation travel departments and has extensive experience as an avid traveller. She currently works as a Senior Consultant at one of the Okanagan's most popular agencies.

To reach her for inquiries you can email: [email protected]


"If you look like your passport photo - you probably need the vacation!"

Your Travel Agent

Laura-Beth Konschuh-Penney


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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