No matter how much we plan, things don’t always turn out as we hope they will—especially on vacations, when expectations tend to soar exponentially. Even the weather, which is growing more fickle than ever, can throw a monkey wrench in the best-laid vacation plans.
There was the time my husband and I traveled to Boca Raton, Florida for a winter beach getaway with our then young son. We had squirreled away vacation days from work, paid top dollar for a room at a posh resort overlooking the ocean, and packed a suitcase full of bathing suits and suntan lotion. Unfortunately, we wound up walking barefoot to dinner—with pants rolled up to our knees—on more than one night, to avoid the puddles on the pavement from a week’s worth of non-stop rain. The sun never emerged during our entire stay.
On a cruise several years ago, our ship was forced to cancel port stops on its itinerary due to rough weather we encountered in the Ionian Sea, between Italy and Greece. With ten-to-twenty-foot waves crashing against the ship’s hull, two members of the crew rushed to our cabin to place duct tape around the frame of the door that opened to our balcony. Even so, the carpet took quite a soaking from the seeping water and we had a sleepless night worrying.
However, our most disappointing trip was the one we never got to take. For several months, my husband had been preparing to deliver a talk at the annual conference of a professional group. The December meeting was being held in sunny Puerto Rico. We arrived at JFK just before light snow started falling in the city that morning. Soon after boarding, our plane was de-iced several times but never took off. Instead, we sat on the tarmac for seven hours without a morsel of food (in the days before the FAA made that illegal) waiting for the worsening storm to subside. Only when one passenger experienced chest pains was our pilot given permission to return to the gate. After deboarding, we were informed that all flights had been cancelled until the next day. Road conditions had deteriorated so badly we couldn’t arrange ground transportation home. We had to find a metered taxi to get to the home of a relative in Queens before we could return home the next day from our non-trip.
Being of a certain age, my husband and I have learned that many things in life (including the weather) are beyond our control. Like most inveterate travelers, we would never give up traveling, to stay home uber-safe and secure. Moreover, that would probably be as much of a fantasy as the dream of a perfect vacation. Instead, we worry less and prepare only for the risks we can anticipate. We carry umbrellas and rain ponchos, which seem to always guarantee clear skies.
For the past five years or so, my husband and I have paid our MedjetAssist membership fees, pleased that we have never had to use the service. We are fortunate to have excellent health insurance coverage from prior employers, but even policies as generous and comprehensive as ours don’t cover air medical transportation. Our Medjet membership has added an extra layer of security and peace of mind to our lives and our travels so we don’t waste time thinking about the bad things that might happen anywhere, anytime. Fortunately, things like those are rare and infrequent.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning travel writer, and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). You can follow her blog for travelers over 50 at More Time To Travel or on Twitter.
By: Roy Berger, MedjetAssist President/CEO
You let me down, old friend. I was counting on you for a different and pleasant experience. Much different than the one you ultimately gave me.
If I wanted to fly, I know the routine all too well: lines, confusion, TSA, jostling, then a little more jostling, baggage lying everywhere – but the airlines always deliver, and sooner or later they get you where you want to be.
If you want to move away from the humdrum airport experience you are welcome to step up, pay considerably more and enjoy luxury and personalized service in the front of the cabin. On long hauls this almost becomes a necessity, not a luxury.
Not you, old friend. You gave me the opportunity to pay triple the amount of coach airfare and triple the amount of your posted fares for the promise of a special experience. You broke your promise. You sold me a 7′ x 7′ stark cell on a rail.
For my birthday the first week of May, my wife, Andi, and I went to New York for a little Medjet business and a lot of monkey business. We socialized, saw a couple of shows, some family and even spent a few hours with the Yankees in the Bronx. We decided to do something I hoped would be new, refreshing and maybe a little romantic: take the Amtrak back to Birmingham.
Eleven hundred miles in only 22 hours, 35 minutes.
Six months ago I booked it. I had no interest in a coach seat or the upgrade to the Viewliner Roomette. For me it was the whole smokestack – the Viewliner Bedroom – the top of the train heap at triple the pricey fare. I told Andi the plan. She rolled her eyes and said, “Whatever you want to do, it’s your birthday.” My Dad, always master of the obvious, said, “You need your head examined,” and my kids said, “What’s an Amtrak?”
I’m no train novice. I use the Acela between New York and Washington probably three times a year and really like it. It’s comfortable for that duration: it’s wireless, the class of passenger is business ilk and if you want to break away from cell phones and idle chat you can use the “quiet car.”
The long haul Amtrak experience and I have crossed paths only twice. A fading memory of a 1963 journey from New York to Atlanta with the family in coach seats; more recently on September 11, 2001 being evacuated from Washington D.C. as the city closed right after the second Tower was hit and I found myself at the Amtrak station in Alexandria, VA. While virtually all transportation was halted that day the trains still ran and I talked myself onto a spot on Amtrak’s southbound Crescent. Seventeen hours later I arrived in Birmingham with the world a much worse place than it was the day before. I remember very little about the ride except it felt great to be moving.
Six months ago, right before I made these reservations, I saw the Amtrak room layout on the web and watched Viewliner Bedroom videos and it didn’t seem that bad. Heck, you’re only 61 once so why not give it a try?
Six weeks before the trip, the idea still seemed okay. Six days out and and having a few second thoughts, I Iooked at Southwest’s air schedule, saw they had a flight from Baltimore to Birmingham at 7:50 p.m. and the train- the same Crescent- was due Baltimore at 5:20 p.m. I figured after three hours if this is a total disaster we could always bail and fly. I had some expiring Southwest credit so I used it to book the safeguard flight never thinking for a minute we’d use it.
Six hours prior to leaving I was a bit nervous about what might be ahead. The night before we had dinner in New York with an old friend, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist who now is an investigative reporter for a New York daily who hasn’t flown since 1988. She can’t overcome her fear and despite her husband’s countless reassurances she takes the train and won’t go near an airport.
Ordinarily an optimistic sort of gal, she told us we would hate the experience. She said The Crescent was “run down and crummy” and the only two Amtrak lines she would recommend are The Zephyr or the Auto Train from Virginia to central Florida. Not necessarily what I wanted to hear.
Morning comes, it’s my birthday and other than boarding the train in the afternoon, the other unfinished piece of business I had in New York was to take my first ever “handsome cab” buggy ride in Central Park. Though born about 100 blocks north of the Park it was something I’ve never done. Twenty minutes and $60 later we were pulled by an eight-year-old named Bobby – got that one out of my system.
We arrived at Penn Station about an hour before the posted 2:15 p.m. departure and were instructed to go to the Acela Lounge. Very nice, airport-clubbish, although a bit dark. Some snacks and soft drinks and about 40-minutes later everyone on The Crescent, which runs from New York down the east coast, over to Atlanta, then Birmingham and finally ends in New Orleans is paged to the front of the club to be escorted to the train. These were the upgrade bedroom and mini-bedroom guests. There were six of us.
We are lead to the sleeping car and a gentleman standing at the door in one of those cool train conductor outfits looks at my ticket and says, “Around the corner to the right.” Andi can barely lift her suitcase, stuffed after four days in Soho and assorted other retail spots, yet nobody offers to give her a hand. Instead, it’s, “Follow me.” Our conductor points to our “deluxe” berth, one of only two Viewliner Bedrooms on the train. All the rest are Roomette’s at three quarters the size. Both room styles have a commode and a sink. We have a shower, they don’t. Well, we sort of have a shower: the faucet on the wall drains to where your feet would be if you were sitting on the toilet. Very appealing. We have bunk beds and a chair attached to the wall. The Roomettes have two couch beds. Our cost is double The Roomette and triple that of standard coach seating.
Cramped is an understatement. We lost about 20% of the 7′ x 7′ space to what the Euro’s call the “water closet.” So much for the shower in the bathroom upgrade. This would test even the most solid 21-year marriage. We are stumbling over our two (overhead bin size) suitcases and a few other packages. I had to make a decision on what to bring into the cabin with me, Andi or the Sunday NY Times, since there wasn’t room for both.
Our personal attendant peeks through our Velcro-ed curtain doorway to introduce himself and let us know, “If you need anything I will be down the hall, just come and get me.” He then proceeds to put on a headset and recline in one of the empty rooms. That attitude would last less than 15 minutes in the Medjet organization.
One of the bedroom upgrade perks is “preferred” dining times. The dining hostess came by and offered us the ‘preferred’ times of 4:00, 4:30 or 6:45 p.m. That’s it. Pick one. In what turned out to be the highlight of our customer service experience she also offered us the use of her personal extension cord, since the only electrical outlet was five feet away from the sitting area and too far away for any practical use.
I sat on the couch which doubles as the lower bunk bed. The upper is folded above me. Andi sat in the chair opposite me which is attached to the wall and has graffiti and scuff marks all over it. I told her she would be sleeping in the upper bunk. She said, “Why?” I said, “Because you lost the coin flip and I took the lower.” She said, “Next time I would appreciate being present for the coin toss.” Picky gal all of a sudden. Being a sweet husband I did show her where the ladder to climb was stowed. We could feel this falling apart.
Our cell had two very large picture windows but incredibly the train is not equipped with wireless Internet. If the cell phone signal is good, you have coverage. If not, you have windows. No TV or movie selection or entertainment system either. A TV monitor couldn’t fit in the room. Nothing. Nada. “Depressing” is the word Andi used.
After an hour we decided to take a walk. The other bedroom in the car was empty as were most of the Roomettes. Obviously word spread about this service. The dining car was set for dinner and quasi-attractive while the Club bar car had tables with electrical hook-ups and zero atmosphere. I wanted a Diet Pepsi. The attendant wanted $3 in return. I couldn’t believe it. Even the cheapest airline fare gets you a comp soda. I paid the highest price of anyone on the train and had to buy a soft drink? Come to find out afterward that my comp is limited to bottled water and a newspaper. Gee thanks. Amtrak, you’re not in the fiscal shape you’re in by accident!
We retreated to our plush quarters and I knew decision time was forthcoming. Andi was content for a few minutes with a $2 Kit Kat but that would wear off. We were almost 90 minutes into the journey with only 21 hours to go. Suitcases still packed and jamming us but we decided to stay as, “We’ll never do this again and why not leg it out?”
Another hour passes and Baltimore is 40 minutes in the horizon. Andi has an iPad signal so I ask her to check the status of the Southwest flight to Birmingham just for kicks. Her bright face brightens even more. Flight is on time. By now I have knocked off both NY tabloids and USA Today and Wall Street Journal with the reading list shrinking. “What do you want to do?” I asked. I knew the answer. “It’s your birthday; I’ll do whatever you want to do.” My response was if we got off in Baltimore we would be doing what everyone predicted we would so let’s stay. The bad news was at that point we had about 20 hours to go and we were no more comfortable with our suitcases cramming us than when we started. I asked a staffer where the workout room was. He said, “You are welcome to step out and run alongside the train whenever you want to.” No thanks.
A cross-country train ride really has the makings of a delightful experience but government subsidized Amtrak is not the answer. This is a business that needs to be privatized, much like the U.S. Postal Service, but it will never happen. The U.S. response to trendy and lush train travel in Europe and Asia is our second-class rail carrier that will never have any additional appeal to an upscale traveling clientele than it has today, which is nil.
It wouldn’t take much to dress up the pig and make it an appetizing piece of bacon. Amtrak’s subsidized budget can be lobbied for business development. Based upon the usage of the Bedroom and Roomette cabins during our brief stay, there is limited public appeal in what is presently offered. Virtually all of the upgraded cabins were unoccupied. (Except of course for our attendant, still slumped in one of them, eyes closed and headset in full play). Go in and renovate, tear it apart, clean it up and design it as a first class cabin on an international or domestic long haul aircraft. Put in the new lie-flat seating that converts into a bed. Give us an entertainment system of closed circuit movies and maybe satellite TV to pass the time. The airlines and cruise ships do and they’re not stapled to the ground as is Amtrak. Be innovative. Treat those of us who want to spend the extra and big bucks with viable alternatives. Put your personnel through hospitality training. Make it a luxurious and romantic experience. Make me want to ride the rails!
Amtrak can do it and do it rather simply. Keep coach the way it is – you have a following of those who accept it, might even like it, and who travel with you. However, if you want to capture the upper demographic, it’s there to be had: give them the experience they want and are willing to pay for. Make it tough to make the plane/train decision.
It’s 5:00 p.m. and we are 20 minutes from Baltimore. It’s time to get serious. If Baltimore rolls by we are stuck the rest of the way. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get home?” I ask Andi. She responds with a huge smile.
We easily made the Southwest 7:50 p.m. departure and landed in Birmingham about the same time the train was in Lynchburgh, VA. We never saw our cabin attendant again either.
Happy birthday to me.~
Posted on May 14, 2013
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I am heading to South America and one of my stops will be Rio de Janeiro. I am very excited about the trip. I have wanted to go to Brazil ever since my parents went there when I was nine years old. However, unlike my parents’ trip many (many) years ago, I must have a Brazilian visa. I was not sure how easy or difficult this process would be. I knew there were services out there that will do it for you but I wanted to try to get it myself.
Step one: figure out just exactly where to start looking. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most of the searches come up with hits for companies that will do it for you but charge a fee. If you are looking to do it yourself you have some deeper digging to do. But I finally found the initial portal that I would use: https://scedv.serpro.gov.br/frscedv/manterVisto.do?lang=eng#inicio.
From here I was able to find my consulate which is in Atlanta, GA. After finding the link to the Atlanta Consulate on the Brazilian site (http://www.portalconsular.mre.gov.br/), I somehow noticed there is a new web address for the Atalanta Consulate. This is not obvious on the site because when I was looking on the site, it was written in Portuguese. Already I see that this is not going to be as easy as it initially seemed in my head.
On the Atlanta site I see I can have the pages translated into English. Yay. And there is an easy-to-follow format of process, fees and information needed. Yay. So, I fill everything out, get my money order, package everything up, and send off my information.
Okay, this is looking much better now. I knew I could do this myself.
Three days later I got a message from the post office to come pick up my package. It’s already come back! Wow, that was fast. Hmm, yeah, it was fast because they just sent everything back to me with a cover sheet that said I had not provided proof of financial funds required of a tourist. Whaaaa?
Nowhere on the Atlanta Consulate site did it say I needed to provide a copy of my bank statement. But apparently I did need to include that. So I went back over my check-list, filled out all of the information again and this time included a bank statement to prove that I had the financial means to be a tourist (just barely, but hey…). I send it all off and pray that it comes back to me as a visa this time.
Whew, second time was a charm. This is good news. So, since it is not the easiest process to get it all together, I thought I would give you all a little cheat sheet of “what and how.” Please note that Atlanta may not be your consulate and that the requirements could change (see earlier note about the Atlanta website not having all the requirements).
There is a little stress in the process but it is all better the moment you get the return envelope with your visa in it. Then, all you have left is catching your flight and enjoying your Brazilian adventure.
Good luck and safe travels.
By: John Gobbels
You’ve planned and packed and you’re all ready for your trip, but you may have overlooked one of the key ingredients for a great vacation: taking the necessary steps to make sure you and your family have a safe and healthy trip.
COMMON TRAVEL AILMENTS
Motion sickness is an unpleasant problem for many travelers; however, there are some over-the-counter and prescription medications available to help with this. If you wish to combat motion sickness on your own, try the following:
When traveling by car, try to sit in the front seat and, if you can, avoid reading as it only heightens the feeling of motion sickness.
When traveling by boat, sit as close to the middle of the vessel as possible and look straight ahead at the horizon (a fixed point that will not move). Today’s high-tech cruise ships are built for comfort, with stabilizers for smooth sailing, and most passengers experience little-to-no motion sickness.
When flying, try to sit near the wing of the plane, or the side where you are accustomed to driving. Ear-plugs may also help.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a vacation and get dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you even more, and limit alcohol.
People who suffer from allergies should take the same precautions on vacation as they do at home. Bring any medications used on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to bring an antihistamine in case of accidental exposure to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction. It may also be helpful to pack your own pillowcase for use in hotels.
The inflammation of the joints that occurs with arthritis may be especially troubling during long trips that restrict movement. Taking frequent breaks to walk around and relieve stiff joints and muscles can make car, plane, and cruise trips more enjoyable. Remember to pack aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or any prescription medications you normally use for arthritis.
There’s nothing more miserable than getting sick while on vacation. For most destinations, the major health risk to travelers is diarrhea, which may be easily avoided. In general, common sense prevails. When in doubt, steer clear of uncooked meat, raw fruits and vegetables and unpasteurized milk products. Drink only bottled water (although the tip of the bottle may be contaminated, so wipe it clean before drinking from it) or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes.
FIRST AID KIT
It’s a good idea to keep a first-aid kit handy for any emergencies that may arise during your trip. It should include:
|A first-aid manual||Throat lozenges|
|Bandages, gauze and tape||Anti-diarrheal medication|
|Scissors||Motion sickness medication|
|Tweezers||Water purification tablets|
|Antibiotic ointment||Insect repellent|
|Cold and flu tablets||Health and vaccination records|
PERSONAL SAFETY TIPS
Work with your travel agent to get as much information as possible about the destination, especially if you will be traveling alone.
Stay in hotels on well-traveled streets in safer areas of any city. The more expensive hotels usually have better security. Stay on lower-level floors in case of fire or other need to evacuate quickly. Avoid the first floor, as it may not be safe from burglars.
Your travel agent can arrange for transfers from the airport or port if necessary. Taxis or private car hires are recommended as you are more insulated. Most airports, ports and train stations have areas clearly marked for taxis and car service pick-up. Do not enter any vehicle that does not have a proper license or does not pick you up from the designated area.
If you will be renting a car, get maps in advance and clearly write out the directions from the airport to your hotel. If you need to stop for directions, go to well-lit public areas. Keep the phone numbers of your destinations with you.
Keep a Low Profile
Do not discuss your travel plans or itinerary publicly. Vary your schedule if possible and vary travel routes when you can.
Maintain a low profile and dress down if possible. Leave the expensive jewelry and watches at home and do not display large amounts of cash. Look like a person of modest means and do not leave your itinerary or other sensitive business information in your hotel room.
Out and About
Keep your valuables including passports, etc., in a money belt concealed or use the hotel safe to store valuables. Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times, but separate from where you are carrying your passport. In high-risk countries it is a good idea to check in with the American Embassy and provide them with a copy of your passport in case you need to have it replaced. Pickpockets and thieves operate widely in many cities around the world, but especially near tourist attractions.
When using your credit card, keep an eye on it until it is returned to you. Always verify that it is your credit card before storing it again.
TRAVEL ASSISTANCE & INSURANCE
Finally, the best thing to keep healthy and happy while on vacation is to purchase a travel assistance membership like MedjetAssist and compliment that with a good travel insurance policy to protect your financial investment. Remember, while some travel insurance policies have limited medical benefits none of them will bring you back to your hospital of choice in your home country like a MedjetAssist membership will. Take trips, not chances. Pack your Medjet Card!
Dear MedjetAssist Members,
Please enjoy a complimentary issue of Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report focusing on two classic summer destinations: Maine and the French Alps.
When the snowfields have been replaced by flower-strewn meadows, the Haute-Savoie region of France is one of my favorite destinations, with enchanting small hotels and an increasing number of restaurants serving delicious and distinctive cuisine. The second piece recounts a recent summer journey along the rugged and scenic coast of Maine.
Download the complete Summer Escapes Hideaway Report issue to read more.