America’s Safest And Most Dangerous Cities For Drivers

Toyota Corolla accident highway
Gerry Broome, AP

The 10th annual ‘Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report‘ is out, with some surprises since last year.

Using insurance claims made through insurance giant Allstate, the report ranks America’s 200 largest cities based on which has the best and worst drivers. This year, Brownsville, Texas, jumped 21 spots to make it into the top five best cities for drivers. Older, more populous and congested cities like Baltimore and Washington, D.C., scored low in terms of safety.

Boston — famous for its especially awful traffic patterns that date back to 18th-century streets, schizophrenic roads and aggressive drivers — received a pass in this report, as Allstate doesn’t operate in Massachusetts. Lucky for Boston. See where your city ranks on AOL Autos.

Mandatory Car Rental Insurance: Watch Out For Bait-And-Switch Pricing

scamMandatory insurance. Those are two words that I hate to hear when I’m renting a car outside the U.S. On Thursday night, I spent an hour and a half in a Thrifty Rent a Car location near the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, trying to understand how an eight-day rental that I expected to pay $394 for was somehow going to cost me either $786 or $946. I’m an experienced traveler and I should have known better. Here’s how I got scammed and how you can avoid the same fate.

I spent a huge amount of time shopping around for a deal on a rental car for an eight-day trip to Costa Rica and the best price I found was through Thrifty, which quoted me a price of $394 for an automatic transmission SUV. By American standards, this was no bargain, but in Costa Rica during the high season it was the best deal I could find.

I received a confirmation email from Thrifty that listed my estimated “mandatory charges” (base rental price, one-way drop off surcharge, vehicle license fee) plus optional charges (booster seat for child), and then the “estimated grand total” price. Two days before we arrived in country, the local branch also confirmed the reservation and the price via email. Even in the fine print of both emails there is no mention of any additional charges or mandatory insurance costs.We arrived at the Thrifty location near the San Jose airport on Thursday night and, despite the fact that there was only one person in front of us in line, we waited 40 minutes to find out that our $394 rental car was actually going to cost $786 if we opted for the lowest possible level of insurance or $946 if we chose the more comprehensive coverage. We spent nearly another hour unsuccessfully trying to untangle the mess and it quickly became clear why we’d waited so long to get to the counter in the first place: everyone was arguing with them about the same issue as they were shocked to find double the rates they expected.

I thought it was a scam because the agent was jotting down all these prices on a scrap of paper as though he was making it up as he went along. I’ve been hit up for mandatory insurance in other countries before but those costs were more an annoyance than the budget buster this was. So I walked out and tried two other rental car places, both of which quoted similar rates.

Rather than pay nearly $100 per day to rent the car, we took a cab to our hotel and I studied the confirmation email from Thrifty. Even in the fine print and “terms and conditions” of the confirmation email there was no mention of the mandatory insurance. I called Thrifty to complain and all they could manage was their contention that my rate was only an “estimated grand total” and not an “actual grand total.”

I went back to Thrifty’s website and tried to make a new reservation, this time studying all the fine print in the terms and conditions section and still couldn’t find any mention of the huge mandatory insurance cost.

I also checked the section on car rentals in my guidebook (Frommer’s) and there is no explicit warning about the exorbitant mandatory insurance, only a boilerplate sentence about checking to see if your existing insurance in the U.S. will cover you in Costa Rica.

I’m sure that Thrifty isn’t the only company guilty of this sort of bait-and-switch pricing, and as an experienced traveler, who has rented cars in a variety of countries, I should have clarified that their “grand total” estimate really was going to be the grand total. But I took the term “grand total” at face value. Next time I’ll know better and you should too. In the meantime, which way to the San Jose bus station?

[Photo credit: jepoirrier on Flickr]

Out-Of-State Moving Checklist: Tips For Relocating And How To Survive The Drive

stressAs I mentioned in a recent post, I’m currently en route moving from Seattle to Boulder, Colorado. This isn’t my first out-of-state relocation, by any means, and at this point, I’ve got it down to a science, after the movers haul away what I can’t cram into my car.

Because summer is peak moving season, I thought I’d share some tips with y’all to make your pre-move checklist and journey less painful. Even if you don’t have time to make a relaxing road trip out of it, there are still ways to fit in a bit of sightseeing or leisure time.

Before you move:

Reputable moving companies always offer free estimates (the cost is based on weight, so hold that yard sale before you make an appointment).

If you’ve had a good experience with a long-distance mover before, see if they have an affiliate in your new hometown; it also pays to check reviews and get a few other estimates before hiring a company.

Make a list of all accounts and the like that require address updates, and get it taken care of. Likewise, cancel/transfer utilities if necessary.

Tune up your car or get a full service; be sure to tell them you’re moving out-of-state and to perform a thorough road safety check that includes tire pressure and wear assessment and windshield wiper replacement (if needed).

Check your car emergency kit (you do have one, right?), and make sure you’ve got replacement oil of the correct weight, and windshield cleaner, as well as flares and jumper cables. And replace your spare tire if it’s more than 6 to 10 years of age or has been stored in extremely hot conditions.

If you have pets, make sure they’re up-to-date on rabies and other required vaccinations, and check on requirements in your new state. If they’re not good travelers (especially crucial for cats), you may need a sedative prescription from your vet; it’s a good idea for your furry friends to have a physical before you depart. And be sure to keep cats in a carrier in transit; trying to extricate a tabby from beneath your feet while flying down the highway is not fun, believe you me.movingGive your houseplants to a good home, or make sure they can fit in your car. Moving companies won’t transport them.

Update medical insurance if you have a PPO; most carriers have affiliate providers in other states, but you need to apply and qualify to get a good rate.

There’s usually a window in which your movers will arrive at your new home. Be sure to load anything essential to your existence in your car: basic cooking equipment, utensils, medication, etc. Also, pack valuables like passports, extra checks, tax records and other essential and/or private documents, just in case some of your belongings go missing during the move.

I’ve asked all of my previous movers what’s considered a proper gratuity. All of them have told me that while they never expect it, it’s very much appreciated, but so is buying them breakfast or lunch. Movers work long, hard hours, often for paltry pay. If your move is nearly bankrupting you, you’d be surprised how far a round of coffees and breakfast burritos go. And always offer to get them water or soft drinks while they’re working. You’ll find their gratitude is matched only by the extra care they take with your belongings.

En route
roadside attraction
Even if you have a new job to start the second you arrive, plan time for breaks. It’s hard to start work when you’re dead. By the same token, road fatigue really takes a toll. Don’t sleep in truck stops, the side of the road, or parking lots. Even if money is tight, spring for a cheap motel, or at least a campground, and get a good night’s sleep. It pays to make reservations if you’re traveling in isolated regions.

The worst thing about moving, in my opinion, is the deadly boredom of certain routes. I will do literally anything to avoid Interstate 80 through Nevada. Anything. Research beforehand, and try to plan routes with great scenery, or some redemptive attributes – even if it’s just a great roadhouse burger – to look forward to. For mapping, I love Rand McNally; don’t rely solely on GPS, which may not take road repairs and other delays and detours into account.

Keep an emergency stash of No-Doz or energy drinks in your glove compartment, but avoid driving if at all possible when exhausted. Even a 10-minute catnap can work wonders.

Avoid driving at night, and ladies, study up on what to do if you have a breakdown en route. Do not get into a stranger’s car, under any circumstances. Wait in your car with windows up and door locked until police or a tow truck arrive, and ask to see proof of credentials. A little caution is worth appearing a bit paranoid. Keep your cellphone charged, have an emergency roadside plan (if you don’t have AAA, many car insurance companies offer it, free of charge), and have a back-up plan if you don’t have phone service. Always let someone know your route,road estimated ETA, and where you plan to stop along the way (even if that plan changes).

Pack a jug of water and snacks to minimize unnecessary stops and to tide you over in the event of a breakdown or other delay.

Upon arrival
You’re likely to have a different set of movers offload your belongings. So yes, you’ll need to tip again, and up the ante accordingly, depending upon how far they’ve driven. A follow-up with the company’s office with praise or constructive criticism is always appreciated. If damage is incurred, be sure to fill out the paperwork before the movers depart; it’s also your responsibility to be there to check off that all of your items are delivered from their master list.

[Photo credits: stress; Flickr user bark; truck, Flickr user Scrap Pile; melon, Flickr user Tempesttea; road, Flickr user TheFriendlyFiend]

Tips for Packing and Moving

How to Find Adventure Travel Insurance

adventure travelersAdventure travelers have needs. Insurance needs that are unlike those of other travelers that choose a different, maybe easier path. Now, a major insurance plan provider has what they think is just what this edgy group needs.

With their new Great Outdoors plan, Travel Guard North America has enhanced coverage and benefits, offering a streamlined solution to travel insurance.

“A lot of time, effort and money go into planning active and adventure vacations,” said Carol Mueller, Vice President of Travel Guard North America in a release. “Whether you’re planning a relaxed sporting vacation or participating in extreme adventure, many factors can cause a dream trip to go awry.”

On safari, surfing, spelunking or mountain climbing, the comprehensive Great Outdoors plan covers gear and equipment, along with coverage for emergency medical expenses and evacuation, trip cancellation, interruption and delay, and more.

“Travel Guard’s new Great Outdoors travel insurance plan provides a wide range of coverages and specific sports travel services to help put active travelers’ minds at ease,” adds Mueller.

Along with this plan comes 24/7 access to Travel Guard’s travel assistance and emergency services for flight re-bookings, physician referrals and prescription refills. Plus, the Great Outdoors plan includes additional sports-related concierge services like hunting and fishing guide referrals, coordination of equipment pick-up and delivery, driving directions, and any other requests active travelers may have.

Often though, what makes or breaks a travel insurance plan is not what they cover but how they pay. TravelGuard has a bit of a reputation for paying fast when the required documentation is submitted by fax or email. Some other companies are known for making those covered jump through enough hoops to count as an adventure of its own, trying to collect.

I can personally attest to TravelGuard’s process, experiencing it first hand when injured on a recent trip. It was just 3 weeks from the time I submitted the claim until I had a check in my hand, about half the standard time for many insurance companies.

 

Top Adventure Travel Destinations

Flickr photo by Se7en Summits

Insurance gets a second look as travel world evolves

InsuranceTravel insurance was once something that only the most careful of travelers bought – an option that was easy to pass up and rarely used. But talk of airline bankruptcy, problems on a normally safe cruise vacation, and political unrest around the world have travelers taking a second look. Even impossible-to-predict natural disasters affecting travel are pushing consumers to buy. The travel industry has seen its fair share of major changes and developments in recent years, and 2012 shows no signs of slowing down.

“The big, dramatic stories are what get people thinking about travel insurance,” as Carol Mueller, vice president at Travel Guard North America, a major third-party insurer, told Gadling.

The Costa Concordia grounding, the recent robbing of cruise passengers while on a normally safe shore excursion in safety-challenged Mexico, and the disabling fire on Costa Allegra, have left travelers with questions about cruise ship safety and regulations.

Both cruise lines and airlines have tightened cancellation policies, leaving travelers with stiffer penalties when changing itineraries. News of airline consolidations and bankruptcies continue to make headlines across the globe, as the number of seats available to passengers shrinks even more.Travel experts have predicted that the cost of airfare will continue to rise in 2012 due to factors including: oil prices, increased regulation, fees, and decreased competition.

In a recent story in the Seattle Times, Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, said, “We’re going to see higher airfares.” Additionally, George Hobica, founder of travel website AirfareWatchdog added, “Fares are probably going to inch up.”

Still, travel to far-away, bucket-list destinations has become increasingly common. Exotic, long haul destinations landed on lists of the “must see” destinations for 2012 compiled by some of the country’s top travel editors and experts.

Travel+Leisure’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012 list includes Sri Lanka, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Mozambique’s Northern Coast as hot places to visit. Earlier this year, Gadling recommended some highly specific adventures that included traveling to Rwanda for gorilla spotting, a hike and bike tour of Easter Island and a ski trip to the South Pole, among others.

In a world with more places to go and more things that can go wrong, it’s important for travelers to educate themselves on how to cover their investment and safeguard themselves when traveling.

According to Travelguard’s Mueller, “the majority of insured’s file claims are as a result of trip cancellation; interruption or delay; lost or delayed luggage; and medical emergencies. Others take advantage of ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ plans that provide reimbursement in the event that they must call off the trip entirely.”

What travelers don’t realize is that travel insurance plans often do more than just cover the costs of these types of inconveniences. They can serve as a resource for travelers in need, providing assistance services like facilitating cash transfers, making last-minute hotel arrangements, and tracking lost luggage. This type of assistance can be especially helpful in a foreign country, where insurance providers can help locate English-speaking doctors, assist with replacing lost or stolen travel documents, and relay messages to family and friends back home.

Still, buying travel insurance does not protect travelers against all perils. Cruise passengers who buy travel insurance because they are concerned about hurricanes or other weather-related events that might affect their itinerary are often surprised to find out that those are not normally covered reasons for cancellation.

Knowing what is covered and what is not should be a primary focus for travelers considering the valuable protection that a travel insurance policy can provide.

“A good policy can offer you peace of mind for your upcoming vacation,” says consumer expert Chris Elliott, adding “If something goes wrong – if your trip is interrupted or if you have to cancel – you can recover some or all of your costs.”



The Truth About Travel Insurance

Flickr photo by F H Mira