Travel Insurance – needed ? or useless ?

As travel as a pastime, entertainment and necessity has become one the biggest ticket items sold and bought on the Internet, particular by a large seniors’ population, who incidentally require more than anybody else PEACE OF MIND (Oh my God, maybe I suffer a stroke while enjoying myself in a foreign country !), Insurance companies are advertising and selling at all cost and pressurising travelers to buy travel insurance. Sell at all cost, make as an agent your (who knows) 40% commission, but under no circumstances provide the most needed coverage to some poor sod who happens to have travelled out of country. Is travel insurance then useless ? unwanted ? not needed ? not necessary ? I would say so. Today when everything is bought and sold online, how do insurances make money ? They make money on the people who never use it. [ quoted from http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2013/05/24/the-travel-insurance-scam-read-this-post-before-you-book-your-next-trip/ ].
Point in case: Travel to Europe. Spend several months. Before leaving, buy some travel insurance package, including cancellation insurance, emergency medical insurance, delayed or lost baggage. The insurance company will provide an emergency phone number for the traveller. As you know, in Europe almost no one uses any landline phone, everybody is on a mobile phone (or as we call it: cell phone). Meaning expensive air time and roaming charges. When calling from Europe to North America, where these insurance agents physically reside, nothing but problems with their CALL COLLECT or TOLL FREE phone number (that would only work in North America). Call Collect works in misterious ways. A traveler has a medical emergency and needs to phone the insurance within 72 hours of that incident. If that person ends up in a hospital, a payment out front must be made (give me your credit card!). If that poor traveler is unconscious, he or she will most probably lie in some corner in the hospital, never waking up. Meanwhile the period of 72 hours to call the Travel Insurance overseas, has passed, and the policy is invalid. My recent case: I just spend three months in the South of France, using my cell phone with a French SIM card, that when used costs me a fortune, even if I would ever reach some call collect number. It would be an anwering machine, and waiting times at least ten minutes, costing from Europe like €20 at least. No matter, what kind of contact number the insurance gives you, there are still air time and roaming charges. Call Collect always costs the caller. [ http://www.howtocallabroad.com/qa/toll-free.html ] While international “Toll Free” numbers may work for the insurance company who sells them (usually residing North America), but not for the international traveler who tries to use them. All those (emergency call) numbers offered by North American insurance companies are foremost controlled by the country where a traveler currently resides.
Before leaving I had bought at Pacific Blue Cross $878 travel insurance for three months to cover emergency medical, and cancellation. When I needed them, using their Medi Assist call collect number, no contact, no way to reach them, my service provider hung up. Meanwhile I could have used a small amount (like not more than €50 to pay for a Doctor or Pharmacy). For the Pacific Blue Cross I tested their phone numbers after my return, typical wait times were way over ten minutes. The travel insurance industry has figured out that according to statistics – comparing insurances sold and emergencies covered – it has become extremely profitable to sell travel medical emergency insurance.
As mentioned before, insurances make money on the people who never use it.

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Banking Problems while Traveling

Many times I travel from North America to Europe, there is a problem with any of my Bank cards, either my regular Debit Card or a major Credit Card. The problem being not, that they are stolen or compromised by some hackers, the problem is always with the Banks themselves and their method of contacting them when such emergencies arise. Over the past years this situation has worsened because of the changing and more complex security devices the Banks invent. There are two types of banking privileges that can be cancelled by a Bank while out of country: (a) Using the bank card to get cash out of a banking (ATM) machine, or for payments; (b) access to online banking. Both are important to have as a traveler while having to rely on a mobile phone. But the worst situation arises if there is no way to contact the Bank. Mostly for technical reasons, telephone services, expensive mobile phones (foreign SIM cards and providers), and the banking telephone system itself: Either offering an international toll-free number, or even worse offering clients a call collect number. On another occasion, years ago, when my bank card got cancelled, I called a “collect” number, got someone from my bank on the phone who told me: “we do not accept charges”.
I have two cards, my regular bank card (that works via ATM, international Interac and PLUS* displayed almost anywhere), but which I not use anymore because it got cancelled in Europe (security reason, because I had removed several times a few hundred €). And my Credit Card, most precious, because it can be used anywhere for paying anything even food and super markets, and cash advances via ATM. Two cards from two different banks, I have been client of for at least thirty years.
However, if using a credit card for all payments, then when the payment for the card is due, it needs to be paid using online banking. One cannot pay off a credit card with the same credit card. This time in Europe for three months both my bank cards got cancelled/or suspended: (1) Credit Card because I accessed my online banking with my iPad tablet, a device the bank did not recognize. At least I could connect easily with the Bank and resolve that issue. (2) My online banking with my regular bank, because of a new security system, my error in logon, and telephone connection problems (I have an old unblocked cell phone, using a foreign SIM card), on my cell phone cannot enter other than regular phone numbers, but not bank card numbers, therefore, when calling I got cut off by my foreign phone provider.
This time I have someone here in Europe try out with a smart phone the process to connect to my bank with their ‘international toll free number’, going thru the process. If it works, then it is that old regular cell phone of mine, that is not usable. From all this, it appears that the safest way to have any money on you (at least for food) is, to take sufficient cash with you. Like in the old days. Either way, I still always inform my Banks that I will be out of country, and where, and how long.
It should always be remembered, that any banking or debit or credit cards are property of a Bank, not property of a client. Therefore, can be cancelled/suspended anytime by the Banks’ security system. The client does not need to know the reason. The client only needs to store their money with those Banks.

Travel on a Budget

Home away from home. Though I hate to generalize, but I can safely say – after traveling alone most of my life – that no matter if you find a way to “travel on a budget”, this only works if you NOT travel alone. Almost all accommodations advertise “sleeps 3, 4, 5, or even 12” (whatever that means). The odd times, I can find “sleeps 2”. Very seldom seen “sleeps one person only”. Rule of thumb: As a single traveler you usually pay more. This applies to renting vacation accommodations. [Cruises, you always pay double.] However, even the odd time I found vacation rental for €500 a month. Lots of ‘foot work’ to dig that up. Mostly it is much more.
I am considering for example the Bahamas, because it is half way between the Pacific Coast where I live and Europe, where my family lives. Plus, it is pleasant climate and few restrictions for Canadians. In the following link [ http://www.bahamasonabudget.info/ ], someone implies that ”
One of the biggest costs away from home is food and drink – ” (quoted from that web site). From experience I found that accommodation is the most expensive item when traveling”. Food is not. Having a decent “roof over your head” is priceless and costly. Unless you travel in a group (most people do not) and share with half a dozen others. What kind of fun is that ?!
Eating out in restaurants on the other hand is very expensive. Because of the service cost of a restaurant that is passed on to a customer. Super markets, grocery stores, any kinds of markets, food is cheap. No matter which country one travels to. Mostly it is much less expensive than the city where my home is. The other reason I do not eat restaurant food is, that I am a very good cook and do not eat what others present me with. Drink likewise. Anywhere in the world, one bottle of good wine cannot be more expensive than 20 or 30 dollars, in fact in Europe more like under ten €. Restaurant ?, try get a glass for that. Conclusion. To save while traveling: try get accomodation with at least a small kitchen. Try, not to eat street food in certain countries. Make sure the food you buy is clean. Wash your own laundry. Do your own cleaning. Find the best deals where to buy groceries and a decent cup of coffie. [Example: Here in Cannes, Côte d’Azur, one bistro asks €5 for one cappuccino, next door it is €2.50]. To look at pricing, first thing I do is check out how much a cup of coffie and specialty coffie costs.

Insurences – how useful are they

In general, the insurance industry is mainly focused on making money, not spending it. Therefore, an insurance policy (fine print) is worded such, that in reality the insured is hardly ever covered. From my own experiences, I have never gained any advantage from buying any insurance at a high cost. The only insurance at a low cost and part of a travel package had been in 2012, when traveling to Tunisia and Marocco. Where in Marrakech I fractured my left foot. And needed a travel medical emergency insurance, because of the cost incurred. Other than that: Most of my travels had been from North America to Europe or maybe Mexico, or the odd cruises. Pacific and Caribbean. Most online travel insurances bought in North America are very expensive, I suspect because of the high incident of liability suits. For example I bought for a four months stay in Germany a travel insurance for around over $2,000. The cost itself is not even the problem. But, the absence of decent communication lines between the insured and the insurer. In Europe regular telephone lines do not exist anymore, only mobile phones. Some insurances still operate with a “collect call” system. Try to call North America collect on a European mobile phone costs a fortune, because of either high wait times or not getting connected at all. Consequently, I cancelled this insurance and bought one in Germany for almost the same time, for around €140.
The same applies to home insurance. In forty years and multiple floodings of my homes in Canada, I never got one cent out of any home insurance, I never even tried to submit a claim. I fixed it and I paid it. Question again: How useful are insurances really ? There are numerous websites and blogs and posts that discuss this topic: “should you buy, or not”.
It is for peace of mind. But even so, if really something serious happens, the insurance would find a way, not to pay [this even rhymes].

Living with Wildlife

Since the many years I had lived by myself with my horses in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, surrounded by wildlife (grizzly, black bear, wolf and cougar) on my own land, I do not get nervous hearing in the local news: “another cougar sighting”. Puma concolor, Mountain Lion, Puma, Panther. Known by many names with a far ranging habitat, from Northern BC down the Western United States, all through Mexico, down to Argentina and most of South America.
We are here on Vancouver Island. With a healthy population of these large predators. [ http://www.geog.uvic.ca/viwilds/iw-cougar.html ]. Reason being, that it is assumed that the mountain lion cannot swim, being that this is a big island. Not so, just watched a YouTube video showing a large cougar swimming to shore. But generally the waters surrounding Vancouver Island are pretty much impossible to swim in, even dangerous for any boats.
Recently there have been multiple cougar sightings in our city. The cougar is special in the sense that this big cat has survived for so many years quite nicely among the human population and urban surroundings, and unlike the other members of the big cat family is not threatened and even thrives. While the cougar is not particularly interested in attacking humans, unless pushed or cornered or sensing opportunity for a hunt, still the danger is there and present. In danger are any prey animals in flights, such as horses, deer of course, and also small pets. If a child would be attacked, that would be rare. These animals are very elusive and secretive, one of the reasons for them surviving here quite well. I myself am cycling a lot outside the city limits. How an encounter with a sch a fairly large cat would turn out were I on my bicycle, that I cannot say. Being on a bycicle one is also moving, thereby triggering the attack response of a cougar. One thing is certain, I love those animals as much as I love our Orca (Killer Whales) and all west shore wildlife, and I would consider it a priviledge to see one in the wild and be able to take a photo.

Amnesty International and reality of war

International humanitarian law is based on three key principles.
• Distinction. All sides must distinguish between military targets and civilians. Any deliberate attack on a civilian or civilian building – such as homes, medical facilities, schools or government buildings – is a war crime (providing the building has not been taken over for military use). If there is any doubt as to whether a target is civilian or military, then it must be presumed to be civilian.
• Proportionality. Civilian causalities and damage to civilian buildings must not be excessive in relation to the expected military gain.
• Precaution. All sides must take precautions to protect civilians.
Amnesty International was founded in London in 1961 that is long after World War II. During which millions of civilians were deliberately killed and entire countries destroyed. [‘Barbed wire around a small lighted candle’ being the symbol of Amnesty International.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amnesty_International_logo.svg ]
How does that look now ? In the light of the more recent wars, which it must be said are also conducted by the same nations (formerly called: The Allies – Britain, America and Canada), joined by other nations, which formerly had been occupied during WWII, nothing much has changed. What was the military gain expected by totally destroying our home land ? by killing unarmed women and small children ? Protect civilians, how ? When the Allied tanks rolled into my home town which had been fire bombed for 4 years and left destroyed, first order of business was to erect barbed wire fences around our part of town, and set up their camp across in our city park. Afraid, that we small children were carrying guns and shoot at them ? That was probably the reason that when we went over looking for food that the fat American cook chased us out by setting his killer dogs at our heels.
So, I am asking Amnesty International to not knock at my door and ask for donations.
Food for thought: [ http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria ], which armed forces are using Barrel Bombs ?? [ https://www.whitehelmets.org/ ]

CYCLING – safety and tips

It is a well known fact that cyclists sharing a road with motorized vehicles and have a run-in or collision never win. Precautions can be taken, of which one of the most important ones is COLOUR, according to the mantra “Be Seen/Be Safe”. Bright clothing, such as yellow, hot pink, white and bright, or similar; and more importantly a white front light and a flashing red rear light. When I cycle, out of twenty or more cyclists I meet on the trails maybe one only has bike lights, and they are on. Better invest in a $20 light than loose your life. The second precaution is: “do not only rely on a rear view mirror (if any), but look over your shoulder frequently”. Meaning, do not rely on vehicle drivers paying attention to you as a cyclist. Be prepared ! [Most probably, the only reason that not many more cyclists are run down by cars is, that a car owner likes to avoid getting scratches in his nice paint coat.]
With the current heat wave it is also important to stay cool. A simple thing I do is, have a small scarf/kerchief around my neck, which I soak in cold water frequently. This prevents heat rising to your head and ‘knock you out’. In addition, any T shirt or tank top, also soak in cold water. Around here, we are lucky to find water fountains along the bike trails.

Prescription Medications overrated

Too many trusting patients take too many unnecessary prescription medications. The less pills you pop, the longer you live – I say !
Since arriving on Vancouver Island from having lived in Alberta for 27 years, I have started to learn more and more about researching the side effects of any medications. Good example are the statins or cholesterol-reducing drugs. During the first few years in Victoria one doctor prescribed Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication. Which in fact not much later turned out to effect a patient’s liver in the worst possible way, causing liver failure and such. [ http://www.schmidtlaw.com/lipitor-and-liver-damage/ ], and was pretty much removed from the market. I never picked up that prescription, and following the years after avoided filling any prescription without my own extensive research into its side effects. Maybe one of the reasons I am not dead, yet. You live and learn.
I am using legit professional medical web sites and also studies made on patients and their reactions to certain drugs. Over time it has become clear to the public that there is definitely an ‘over-prescription of drugs’. [ http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/popping-pills-prescription-drug-abuse-in-america ].
Results of too many prescription medications are mostly seen in severe damages to liver and kidney functions. That would be comparable to a building’s plumbing system – obstructed pipes.
Nice to know that there are alternatives. Natural products, nutritional supplements and side-effect-free substances. To replace the harmful effects of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) prescribed as painkillers for inflammations, but known to induce gastrointestinal complications.

Sexual Harassment in the Armed Forces Canada

Just reading an article in L’actualité “Crimes Sexuels dans l’Armée Canadienne”, published May 15, 2014. Serious problem in the Army among the enlisted – not only in Canada – but this article provides detail statistics on the large number of cases of sexual harassment and even more serious criminal behaviour among the Forces, from low to high ranks, especially against female soldiers who suffer from those attacks more than men. It is stated that in the Canadian Forces every day five persons are sexually harassed to the point of {in certain circumstances} can be described as rape. This investigation results in a very detailed description of how the Military operates, the various echelons responsible and keeping tight-lipped, and how Superiors, the Military Police, Judge Advocate General and other legal entities respond to any reported incidences.
{From my previous post. [ https://renataveritasopinion.wordpress.com/2014/05/ ]}
A follow-up documentary with an interview of one of the highest ranking females in the Canadian Forces appeared recently again in the Quebec journal l’Actualité : UNE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ?. [L’actualité 15 juin 2015]
While the Canadian Forces in response to continuing reports of sexual harassment in the Army is creating a special branch for dealing with those matters, it is still questionable that any of that particular Army culture will change as a result. After six months of research and 700 interviews the ex-Judge of the Supreme Court whose mandate it was to examine these cases, concludes ‘that the leaders at all levels are still keep their mouths shut’. It appears that the mission is to protect the female Army personnel against attacks.
The difference now seems to be that Army personnel accused of sexual harassment acts against their fellow female soldiers are also accountable to the civil justice system, not only an internal court martial.
It seems more a question of who is exercising control over whom. For example, a female soldier is sexually harassed or even raped by one of her superiors. She keeps her mouth shut or she be kicked out or even worse the harassment continues worse than before. Has there ever been any case where an inferior ranked female harassed a superior ? or an inferior ranked male harassed his superior officer ?
I believe the entire power structure in the Army should be looked at, “who takes advantage of whom” ? Personally, even it was my superior and I would get harassed, I would fight back. Guess what, nobody would say anything because of lack of witnesses.
If you are a woman and a soldier, you have a weapon. That is enough to fight back. If you are a female soldier you behave just like your male soldier, including preferably not going out into bars with them.

Victoria CRD – deer and rats

Victoria, British Columbia, among many positive attributes, is also called the City of Gardens, nestled at the Southern End of Vancouver Island. Mediterranean climate. Who doesn’t like Victoria Capital Regional District with all municipalities attached to this section of southern Vancouver Island. Which is also very popular for a large number of retirees, because of the climate and because – also due to the climate – the vegetation and the gardens. From way uphill Mount Douglas looking down, one can almost not see houses, so much green and trees.
Urban wildlife also enjoy all that greenery. Well, even the rats like this city. There are those critters who are pleasant to look at, such as the deer – apparently not enough wild cats/cougars to come that close to urban areas – and there are those that are universally despised by people – like rats, to be more specific the ‘Norway Rat’, although originally from Northern China, but not really native to Victoria. [ http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=dcc7cc9b-be86-4c61-8f24-c32f3edd1bc4 ]. Hence, a reference to Victoria also includes the name ‘Canada’s Rat Capital’. Nasty stuff ! Rats in backyards. Wouldn’t it be nice if more owners would clean up their back gardens and cut down too high shrubbery ? And sort out and get rid of junk in and around their houses ?
Coming to the deer – many residents don’t mind them, many also like to look at deer, others have a problem with deer: “they eat into their precious gardens, they are a road hazard leading to accidents.”
All of which is understandable and true. Deer culls have been done this year in one of the adjacent areas to downtown Victoria Oak Bay. [ http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/deer-cull-oak-bay/ ]. Not much liked especially by the BC SPCA. Was it effective enough ? for whom ? and for what ? Apparently, not. How about a universal ‘rat cull’.