ELEVEN DAYS!

June 17, 2009

11 days remaining. That’s right. E-L-E-V-E-N! I know what you are thinking, and yes, I know, I can barely believe it either. My, how time flies.

I have two days left at my full time job at Allianz, one shift left at my casual job at Safeway and eleven days left in this country! Gahhh. I hate Safeway with a passion, but after eight and a half years there, it is going to be extremely sad to leave; so sad, I may even have to cry. Forced tears, of course. No, I lied. Not forced tears, real tears haha. Oh, the shame *covers eyes*.

The worst part about this whole situation, though; I haven’t even started packing yet! I have no clue where to begin. How do I fit 14 months of my life into two suitcases? 46 measly kilograms is my check-in allowance and I am sure I can squish another seven to ten kilograms into my carry-on. I managed eleven kilograms last year and that was pushing it. The gentleman behind the departure gate only allowed that one extra kilogram because I was crying (No, I wasn’t crying because my carry-on was over weight by one kilogram, I was crying because I had just said good bye to mum and dad).

I purchased my travel insurance last week! I was in a pickle as most travel insurance policies do not cover you for working abroad, so I had to confirm with the Disney team that, if I were to be injured while on the job, some sort of workers compensation would be offered. One of the lovely Disney staff confirmed that yes, it would be, which meant I could just take out a regular travel insurance policy with Allianz. Although I am gone for 14 months, travel insurance policies are only issued for a period of 12 months. Allianz were charging $947.00 for the 12 months policy along with $25 extra to remove the $100 excess. This was by far, the cheapest full comprehensive policy on offer. Most of the travel agents and the insurance policy that Disney recommended were all in excess of $1800.00! That is crazy, especially considering most of the travel agents insurance policies are underwritten by Allianz anway. Back on track, with my staff discount, I was able to purchase the 12 month policy for $660.00 AU! What a bargain. I was quite happy with my huge saving and just have to be sure to extend the policy next year as the expiry date nears. Lucky I did it when I did because Allianz put up their premiums the other day. The same 12 months I was issued now costs around $1,200.00. Thank God I was on the ball, hey? I’m such an organised travel nerd (minus the packing factor).

As I mentioned above, I finish up with Allianz on Friday. I have friends I made on Contiki through Europe last year flying in from Perth to come and visit so I am meeting with them for dinner after work on Friday. Saturday night I will more than likely do dinner with them again then it is off to my farewell drinks shindig. I am planning on Saturday to be one very messy, yet enjoyable night. I cannot wait; copious amounts of alcohol will be consumed, I’m sure! Sunday I plan to awake (hang over free) and work my last shift ever at Safeway <insert tears and sniffles here> and then finally, come Monday, I plan to start packing. Keyword, plan. My room is such a mess that I have to start cleaning it to actually find the clothes that I plan on taking with me. Oh, there’s that keyword again. I plan on doing a lot of things next week.

The entire week is dedicated to packing and finalising everything. I need to also fit in a doctors appointment; I want to make it to the movies to see Hang Over; I need to fit in a few shopping trips to purchase bits and pieces; I have a hair appointment booked for Thursday morning; the girls have planned to catch up with me one last time on the Thursday night for dinner; I am doing one final dinner with the Safeway work crew on the Friday night; Saturday is reserved for the family get-together; then finally, on the Sunday I fly out! Phew. Just looking at that schedule makes me exhausted; I cannot actually imagine working through it. Guess I have no choice though.

Anywho, just wanted to blog my thoughts. I guess the next time I blog the countdown will be in single digits! Exciting much?

I CANNOT WAIT FOR DISNEY!!!

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T-Minus 5 weeks & counting…

May 24, 2009

Tomorrow will mark exactly five weeks until departure; 35 days until I leave the secure nest that is my home, family, friends and job(s) and move to the U.S. for 14 months. The thing that bothers me about all of this though, is that I am not the least bit nervous. Am I meant to be nervous? Should I start to feel edgy and panicky or is it still a bit too early for those emotions to kick in?

I just finished watching ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ and although this movie has nothing to do with goodbyes, while watching it, it hit me. No, not the feeling of nervousness, but more so the realisation of how much I’m going to miss people while I’m gone. My mum, my dad, Cookie my cat, my girl friends etc… all of whom up until now, have been my security blanket and my support when ever I’ve been in need, only in five more weeks, they wont be there anymore. Well, sure, they’ll still be there, but that there will be on the other side of the world. This thought made me sad. I may or may not have cried. Shhhh. Pretend you didn’t read that part.

All emotions aside, I’m pretty much almost set to go. I told my Team Leader on Monday that I was leaving my job. I had been dreading this day for some time now.  I had replayed this scenario over and over in my head all weekend. It was the cause of many hours of lost sleep. I tell the Team Leader I’m leaving. Team Leader yells at me. Tells me what a let down I am to the team and that I couldn’t have picked a worse time to leave. Yada yada. It went nothing like that, in fact, it was so completely the opposite of what I had imagined, I couldn’t help but cry happy tears when she was so excited and supportive of my decision. It was amazing. Finally, the weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could start openly expressing my happiness to everyone about my move! Phew.

I have finally booked all my flights! I already had the main flight from Melbourne to Vancouver taken care of, but was still in need of a few more. Ended up booking a flight with Air Canada from Vancouver to Montreal, then with Air Canada again from Montreal to Dallas. From Dallas to Orlando one of the girls on the program and myself decided we’d fly out of Dallas together with American Airlines. At least I will be arriving at Disney with someone and wont be a loner. Yay. We get into Orlando at around 11am and the Aussie’s on the group flight don’t get in until 11pm so we get to head to our apartments early and go and do some shopping!

There is only one more major thing I require before heading off, and that is travel insurance! I’ll probably end up going with Allianz because one, I work there, and two, they are by far the cheapest for 14 months of full comprehensive cover with unlimited medical cover.

The next few weeks are going to be so hectic, but I look forward to them. I do not, however, look forward to bawling my eyes out at the airport upon departure. Ugh. I’m such a sucker for goodbyes. As soon as one person cries, then I start crying. Apparently crying is contagious. Boooooo.


My Top 10 International Travel Tips

January 12, 2009

1. No matter where you are traveling, be sure to take out suitable travel insurance. No one plans for things to go wrong while traveling, but unfortunately sometimes they do. Travel insurance is a great way to be prepared for such problems by providing you with security and protection whilst you are traveling domestically or internationally. Its major advantage is that it covers for hospital and medical treatments overseas. Without insurance, especially in the USA, medical bills can tally hundreds of thousands of dollars. Make sure you understand the wording of your insurance policy and what it covers.

2. Do not wait until the last minute to see if you require a visa to enter into the country you are traveling to. A visa is a means of permission in the form of a special stamp in your passport that allows non-citizens to enter, transit or remain in a particular country. You must investigate visa requirements of the country you intend to visit well in advance of travel or face being rejected entry into that county upon arrival. Your travel agent should be able to inform you if you require a visa. You can verify this by contacting the nearest consulate or embassy of the country you intend to visit. (Recent visa changes have been made for Australians entering into the USA after January 12, 2009).

3. Be sure to make multiple copies of your passport details, your travel insurance policy, credit/debit card numbers and details and any travelers’ cheques you are taking with you. This is something I am always sure to do. Leave a copy of everything at home with family and also carry a copy with you, in a separate place from the original copies. I usually carry two copies with me and leave one in my suitcase in a hidden compartment and another in my carry on luggage. If you have the unfortunate experience of being robbed while away, you will always have a spare copy of the details handy or you can make contact with your family back home that will also have your details on hand. Having copies of such information makes getting replacements or canceling accounts that little bit easier.

4. Ensure that your passport has, minimum, six months validity remaining on it. The standard requirement of countries around the world is for travelers to have at least six months validity remaining on their passport after departing the country being visit. If you are departing Australia and planning to remain in the USA until the end of March 2009, your passport must not expire any time before the beginning of October, 2009. If they allowed you to travel with a nearing expiration date and perhaps something happened to cause a delay to your return home, then your passport may possibly expire while you are still overseas. An excellent example of a recent delay was the Bangkok Airport protest late last year which left thousands of travelers stranded in Thailand.

5. Make a travel itinerary that says what city and country you will be in for every day of your travels. I have always done this for every trip I have taken. I begin with writing up the dates of my trip in one column followed by which city and country I will be in for each date. If I know who I will be with, I include this on there too. Leave a copy of this with family or friends back home and make sure you are in regular contact with them while traveling. If they have not heard from you in a while and become worried, at least they know where you have been from time frame A to time frame B and possibly who you are with.

6. Check to see if you require any vaccinations. Some countries, especially those of a third world nature, encourage you to receive a vaccination before traveling to them. This is not a legal requirement but it is highly recommended for your own safety. Before traveling to Thailand, I had a shot for Hepatitis and Typhoid one month in advance of my departure. My friends also had this particular shot and during our trip, we all remained healthy. You can often find out if you require vaccines for your desired destination via your travel agent or doctor.

7. Register your travel plans and contact details online with the Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. All Australians traveling overseas, whether for tourism or business or for short or long stays are encouraged to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before travel. The registration information provided by you will help the Australian Government find you in an emergency – whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family emergency. The information you provide here is strictly protected by the Privacy Act 1988

8. Familiarize yourself with the local laws in the country you are traveling to. When you are in a foreign country, you are expected to obey their laws. Just because it is legal back in your home country, does not necessarily make it legal in another. As ridiculous as it may seem, something as simple as spitting your gum out onto the pavement is illegal in Prague, Czech Republic and can incur a fine of up to 1300 €. That is a hell-of-a hefty fine for something so minimal which comes as second nature to so many people.

9. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas and use a TSA approved lock to lock up your luggage. Self explanatory, really. Although in few numbers, drug smugglers are known to lurk airports. That one second you take your eyes off your luggage could be a second too long. Those few seconds are all they need to plant drugs or anything suspicious inside your luggage. When I was departing Phuket Airport in Thailand, they were really enforcing this rule and offered luggage-wrapping services to ensure it was impossible to break into your luggage and plant something in it. A TSA approved lock provides security officers with universal ‘master’ keys so that if your luggage requires physical inspection, the locks may not have to be cut. These locks are available at airports and travel stores worldwide.

10. Utilize a checklist to ensure everything is in order and nothing is forgotten before you leave home. Mum got me started on this tip. She wrote out an enormous list before my first international trip to the USA. It included everything from clothing, cameras, chargers, travel adaptors and first aid accessories to reminders to pack my toothbrush the morning of my departure. It pays to build up this list gradually before you start packing in order to help you not forget anything essential to your travels. I now do this for every trip and have never forgotten anything. While on topic, if taking any electronic goods, make sure you purchase the correct travel adaptors to ensure you are still able to use your camera charges, hair straighteners, laptops etc while abroad.


Travel Insurance Analysis

January 10, 2009

My parents are going on an overseas cruise in just under a month so I have been looking at travel insurance options for them. If you are planning to travel, insurance is an important consideration. For most, overseas travel is a rewarding experience. No one plans for things to go wrong, but unfortunately sometimes they do. Travel insurance is a great way to be prepared for such problems by providing you with security and protection whilst you are traveling domestically or internationally. While investigating the best deal at the lowest price, I decided to compare a few options and bring them over here to share. My parents will only be gone for 12 days but I wanted to conduct this investigation on a larger scale; larger in travel duration and in terms of multiple regions being visited. I will be using the dates and regions I required travel insurance for during my three month overseas adventure in 2008.

Duration of trip:
July 21 – October 14

Regions being visit:
Europe & USA –> Worldwide

Cover type:
Single

The European tour I went on and a majority of my airfares were booked through STA Travel here in Australia, so it made sense to purchase my travel insurance through them too. The travel agent I was dealing with at STA Travel was a friend and advised me not to purchase my travel insurance through them as they were terribly over priced. She cautiously slipped me a website to check out and also suggested looking at other companies which is exactly what I did. While on the topic of STA Travel though, let’s check out their prices for my dates and region. QBE Australia are the underwriters for STA Travel’s travel insurance.

First up, the comprehensive option. This covers basically everything you could imagine from medical and loss of luggage to plane hijacking. The monetary amounts you are covered for are, in a worst case scenario, efficient and in most cases, unlimited.

STA TRAVEL INSURANCE.
STA Travel results:

Level of Excess for STA Travel comprehensive travel insurance: $250
Total Cost of STA Travel comprehensive travel insurance: $798

Ouch! Seems a bit steep. STA Travel, however, also offers a budget travel insurance option for those not so cashed up. Beware, though, this option, by no means, covers any where near as much as the comprehensive option.

Total cost of STA Travel budget travel insurance: $349

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Next we look at Allianz. Allianz travel insurance is underwritten by Worldcare. Like STA Travel, they offer both a comprehensive and a budget insurance option. Allianz’ comprehensive insurance covers similar to that of STA Travel’s, both in terms of benefits and the monetary value you are covered for.

ALLIANZ TRAVEL INSURANCE WEBSITE

Allianz Insurance results:

Level of Excess for Allianz comprehensive travel insurance: Not indicated
Total Cost of Allianz comprehensive travel insurance: $363

That is already a $435 saving when compared to STA Travel’s comprehensive insurance. Not bad considering their plan benefits are quite similar. Allianz’ comprehensive insurance is only $14 more than STA Travel’s budget insurance! Now, let’s take a look at Allianz’ budget insurance. It must be noted though, that Allianz’ budget insurance does not cover as much as STA Travel’s budget insurance. Its main emphasis is medical benefits and that is pretty much it.

Total cost of Allianz budget travel insurance: $146

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This next pricing comparison is with Travel Insurance Direct. After careful consideration, this is the company I ended up booking my travel insurance with. I came across them via an online forum discussing travel insurance options and prices. Travel Insurance Direct are underwritten by Allianz. With Travel Insurance Direct, however, instead of selecting a ‘Worldwide’ region to cover both Europe and the USA, you are asked to select the region in which you are spending the most time in. Since I was spending two months in Europe and one month in the USA, I selected Europe as my desired region. I was skeptical about this, though, as I worried what would happen if I was injured in the USA after selecting Europe. The region guide clearly states…

“When making the region selection, choose the region where the majority of your trip is going to be spent and this will also cover you for all other areas you travel to.

For example, if you are spending 3 days in Singapore, 2 weeks in the UK and 4 weeks in Europe, select ‘Europe’ as your destination and you will be covered in Singapore and the UK also.”

Even after reading this, I was sure to call the company several times to make sure this was correct, and, to my surprise, it was. I think this is what kept the price down and lower than the others I had researched. Travel Insurance Direct offers no budget insurance option, just the one comprehensive policy is offered.

TRAVEL INSURANCE DIRECT WEBSITE

Travel Insurance Direct results:

Level of Excess for TID comprehensive travel insurance: Not indicated
Total Cost of TID comprehensive travel insurance: $302

Although the total cost came to $302, upon doing some Googling, I came across some promotional codes which entitled me to receive a discount on top of this already low cost. At the time of blogging, both promotional codes are still valid. To make use of them, after you have input your travel details and received your quote, just below the quote section is a highlighted pink section that looks like this:

Travel Insurance Direct Promotional Code

When you tick the box, you are prompted to enter the promotional code. The two I have access to are:

ARTOG – Entitles you to a 5% discount off total insurance

OR

TIDXMASPC – Entitles you to a 10% discount off total insurance
(Meant to expire Dec 31, 2008, but it still seems to be working)

.
ARTOG drops my quote down to $286.90 and
TIDXMASPC drops my quote down to $271.80.

That is a further $92 saving when compared to Allianz’ comprehensive travel insurance and $527 when compared to STA Travel! That is bloody awesome considering their benefit summary is so similar. Being budget conscious at the time, it is clear to see why this option was best for me. I received comprehensive cover at a budget price! Fortunately for me, I did not need to make any claims, so, unfortunately for you, I cannot tell you how good Travel Insurance Direct is when dealing with clients who do lodge claims. Considering they are underwritten by Allianz though, I am assuming they will not prove a problem if it comes to that.

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One last option I want to touch on is World Nomads. World Nomads is, like Travel Insurance Direct, underwritten by Allianz Insurance. It offers a cheap form of comprehensive travel insurance, however, unlike many of the other comprehensive benefit plans, World Nomads does not offer unlimited medical and only insures up to the value of $5,000,000 for singles.

NOMADS TRAVEL INSURANCE WEBSITE

World Nomads results:

Level of Excess for World Nomads comprehensive travel insurance: $100
Total Cost of World Nomads comprehensive travel insurance: $257

Although World Nomads works out to be slightly cheaper than Travel Insurance Direct, the benefits offered and value covered is not as extreme as Travel Insurance Direct. However, if you think the benefits are more than enough to get you through your trip, then by all means, take the cheaper option. Just remember, you cannot control what happens to you while you are on vacation.

TRAVEL INSURANCE SUMMARY TABLE

TRAVEL INSURANCE SUMMARY TABLE