Insurance gets a second look as travel world evolves

Travel 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.”

Flickr photo by F H Mira

Shootouts kill five rhino poachers in South Africa

Five rhino poachers were killed in two shootouts with South African police this week, the BBC reports. Three were killed in Kruger National Park, one of the most popular game reserves for safaris in South Africa. Two others were killed near the border with Mozambique. Poachers often cross borders in an attempt to evade the law.

Two rhino horns were found among the poachers’ belongings.

Poaching is a serious problem in Africa, with South African rhinos, especially white rhinos, a favored target. Last year 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa. Police have been clamping down on poachers but their activities continue and the heavily armed criminals often get into gunfights with police and park wardens. African nations are having mixed results fighting poachers. Some countries have managed to reduce illegal hunting, but other nations are still struggling with the problem.

[This beautiful shot of two white rhinos is courtesy JasonBechtel via Gadling’s flickr pool. It was taken in Ohio, of all places! At least these beautiful animals are safe there.]

The case of the traveling gnome finally solved!

Murphy, a 8 lb gnome, returned to the doorsteps of an old Gloucester couple with a bag of photos and immigration stamps hailing from Mozambique, New Zealand, Singapore, Laos, Australia, and some dozen other countries. In an attached note, he wrote:

Hello! First of all I feel I should explain my prolonged absence. A gnome’s life is full of time for reflection, and whilst surveying your garden one summer morning, I began to get itchy feet.

I came to the conclusion that the world is a big place and there is more to life than watching the daily commuter traffic, and allowing passing cats to urinate on you. So I decided to free myself from the doldrums of the Shire and seek adventure. My travels have taken me across three continents, 12 countries and more time zones than I can possibly remember.

There have been high points, low points, and positively terrifying points. But I have survived – small thanks to the companion with whom I have shared all these moments.

Now the caper has been solved. Read more about the 22-year-old law grad who took Murphy on a worldwide tour.

Africa Bargains

Although today isn’t my day for our Photo of the Day feature, I caught sight of this sign picture and had to pass it on. If you ever felt intimidated in the market place or too shy to bargain in Africa; this sign clears the fog. They bargain in Africa. Taken in South Africa by Demonterious, there are many other sign photos, people shots and miscellaneous Africa shots. In his blog he describes his adventures being on tour with the band, AFAR for the first time in strange lands. It’s by no means a travel blog, but it is worth a read for the small hidden nuggets of travel information on South Africa. The band looks to be headed towards Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe as well which means if you’re really interested in touring with them you should probably go ahead and bookmark the blog now. Also, check out the blog of my close pal, Richard Johnson, who plays keyboard for the band and has some additional photos floating around as well.

VR Mag

I’ve done enough posts here on panoramic photography that folks know I’m passionate about the stuff. Whenever I find a great new site dedicated to the form, I always try to post about it. Now, this is not a new site to me, I’ve been aware of it for a while, but I realized recently that I’ve never drawn your attention to it. Now is the time.

VR Magazine
is a wonderful online resource dedicated to everything panoramic. The panoramic photographs here come from all over the world and are shot by a very wide array of terrifically talented folks. You can spend a great deal of time just poking around and finding superb work, but let me draw you attention to a few highlights.

First of all, for a great use of pano photography as documentary work, check out this full screen picture on AIDS in Mozambique. And this one of a demonstration on Cairo over the Lebanese conflict gives a very interesting, untraditional perspective you don’t get in normal pictures.

Then for tourist-related photography, take a look at this series on Chenonceau in France, as well as the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan (which I have visited). All great stuff amid tons of other pictures that are well worth some exploration click time.