Travel advice: COVID changes, insurance, international currency

June 3, 2022

As summer approaches, many of our clients and team members are traveling. Some may be taking their first big trips since COVID put a halt to travel. Tom and I have three trips planned for this year: An Alaskan cruise that starts in Vancouver, a long weekend in Las Vegas for a business conference (and a bit of pleasure), and a trip we already took to Austin, Texas, to visit my sister.

For those of you ready to get back out there, I asked our travel agent, Bev Miles, what you should keep in mind when traveling these days, especially when it comes to money when traveling.

Also, if you’ve never hired a travel agent, it’s worth considering, especially with the extra complications, expenses, and volatility in the industry travel at this time. Travel agents might save you money and they can even get you discounts or upgrades after you’ve made reservations. They also can save you hours in research or negotiating because they know the latest regulations, leverage relationships with vendors, and consult with other agents to get you what you want.

With that said, let’s see what insights Bev, who has been planning travel for over 32 years, has to say:

Q: How has your travel advice changed since pre-COVID times?

A: One thing to be aware of is that travel isn’t quite back to normal yet. It is wonderful to see people getting back out there, but some services are still limited, and the price of travel is high. So, if you’re taking a cruise or going to a resort, make sure you know what will be included and available. Also, rental cars are hard to come by right now, so reserve them as soon as you can. You can always cancel the car if your trip changes.

I’ve always been an advocate of travel insurance, but it’s more important now than ever. If you have planned a trip and can’t afford the insurance, cut something from your trip and add the insurance.

There are just so many variables now that could derail travel and cost you money. You could get sick before or during your trip or need to care for a sick family member at the last minute. A change in regulations could cause a destination to close temporarily, or a company you’re using might cease operations. I usually recommend cashback cancel-for-any-reason insurance from a company that specializes in travel insurance, so you’re covered no matter what gets in the way of your trip.

For international travel, it’s important to know the current COVID-related rules for entering other countries and returning to the U.S. Also be aware that these rules can change with no transition period. So, let’s say you’re unvaccinated and leaving next week for a country that requires a COVID negative test entry. If they change the rules to require proof of vaccination, your whole trip could be shot. That’s another situation where travel insurance can be helpful. Also, don’t leave home without your COVID-19 vaccination card or an accepted app, like Docket, showing your vaccinations.

Q: Do you recommend travel medical insurance or rental car insurance?

A: A good travel insurance policy will include medical coverage. It often even includes emergency evacuation coverage. If you get seriously ill or injured and need to be flown back home with emergency medical personnel, that can be incredibly expensive without insurance.

Rental car coverage is a good idea, but you may already have it. See if your regular car insurance policy or your credit card has rental car coverage. For international travel, make sure the country is included. Some countries require coverage, so bring proof of yours when you pick up the car or you’ll have to purchase it from the rental company.

Q: Do you have any advice about airline miles?

A: Use them as soon as you can. Airlines are constantly changing what you can use your points for and when you can use them. I typically find that mixing points and cash doesn’t work out as a good deal, but as soon as you have enough points to cover an entire flight, use it.

On some airlines, the points price of a flight fluctuates just as the cash price does. I was flying to South America one time and the flights were 140,000 miles per person, and then one day I happened to catch them at 65,000 per person. So, keep your eye on flight costs whether you are using miles or cash.

Q: What are your best practices when it comes to spending money when traveling?

A: For international travel, I recommend getting some local currency from your own bank ahead of time and plan for how you will get more while you are there. You can also order currency online and have it delivered to your home or business before leaving for a trip.

Don’t be afraid to use your credit card while traveling, even internationally. A lot of people prefer this to carrying a lot of cash.

When using a credit card in another country, always choose to pay in the local currency, rather than have it convert to U.S. dollars upon payment. Your card issuer will have a lower conversion rate than the “dynamic currency conversion” that is used if you choose U.S. dollars on the credit card machine.

In Europe, you may encounter retailers that offer tax-free shopping for non-EU residents. You pay the tax at the store, ask for a tax receipt, and mail a refund form along with your tax receipts (or drop it off at the airport) at the end of your trip.

Whether you are carrying cash or credit cards, these precautions can keep you from getting in a bind:

  • Contact your credit card company prior to departure. Request they mark your record with the countries you will be visiting. Some companies say this is no longer necessary, but I still recommend it.​
  • Take pictures of the front and back of your credit cards before leaving home and have those pictures accessible to you.
  • Carry at least two credit cards in case one doesn’t work or isn’t accepted.
  • Carry credit cards separately. One in a purse or wallet, and the other with another traveler or somewhere else on your body if you are traveling alone. Never leave them in your suitcase. Split up cash similarly.

Q: Any parting thoughts that can save travelers time and money?

A: Passport costs can add up if you don’t know the rules, and losing one can be very expensive and time-consuming. A few tips:

  • A majority of countries require your passport to be valid at least 6 months after the date you return home, so plan ahead and renew in time to avoid paying expedited processing fees.
  • You can renew passports online. You will need to obtain a new photo that is taken and printed in compliance with government regulations. Then mail a copy of the completed online app and photo to US Passport Services.
  • Carry your original passport on your body while traveling. Leave a copy of it at home and hide at least one copy in your suitcase.

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