Sunday, August 26, 2012

Make sure you're ensured!

Have you ever had that moment when you arrive at the airport and you are waiting for your luggage. The crowd around you starts to get smaller and finally there are three bags just going around and yours is nowhere to see? I have. Twice.

How about getting sick or injured during your trip? Done that too.

When something unexpected happens during your trip, it is very important to know that your insurance will cover you. It may feel like a lot, when you are paying the insurance fees before the trip, or like me, every month, when nothing even happens. Then again when something DOES happen, which it sooner or later will when you travel a lot, it feels very good to know that you are covered. Hospital fees and payments can be very costly in countries where they for instance don't have public health care.

Also when something happens, there usually are a lot of things to take care of, and if your insurance is okay, then you at least have one things less to worry about. Worst case scenario: You are traveling alone in a foreign country where you don't speak the language. You wake up in the ambulance and nobody speaks any English, or any other language that you know for that matter. You are in complete shock, because you don't know what is going on and what has happened. You arrive at the ER and they start examining you. You are brought into a tube and now you really feel like you are going to start crying any minute. Finally a doctor comes who speaks English. He explains to you that it seems you've had an epileptic seizure. The doctor explains, that you will be transferred to the neurological ward. Shock. It feels really surreal. Like the whole thing is happening to someone else. The nurse comes to you with a bill for the ER. So far you haven't even thought about payments. You make a call to the emergency contact at your insurance company. They say that it won't be a problem, just pay and you'll get the money back once you are back home. At this point you feel really relieved that at least your insurance matters are in order.

A cool old picture at a hospital in Budapest.

At some places you don't even have to pay anything, you only give your insurance card, and the insurance company will take care of payments directly with the hospital. Naturally it depends on the hospital and on your insurance.

There are a variety of things that can happen. If your trip includes extreme activities like rafting, climbing and bungy, it is important to consult your insurance to find out what they cover. At many companies there are supplement policies for extreme activities. At some companies you can even pay an extra fee just for specific dates within your trip, if you know the dates for the activities before you go on the trip. It is really important to find out what your policy covers, so that in that unfortunate case when something happens, you know that your insurance will take care of the payments. Also it is important to know about your rights, so that you know what to do in that situation.

Sometimes the luggage just isn't as fast as you are...

Then there is the case with the lost luggage. Depending on the airline, they cover part of your loss. Sometimes you only get a survival kit (t-shirt, toothbrush, shampoo, etc.) and sometimes you also get some money. However, when your luggage is lost, your insurance can be your best friend. Also in this matter I am very satiesfied with my insurance company, which is the Finnish company Pohjola, by the way. When I flew to New Zealand a few years ago (Helsinki-Zürich-Singapore-Christchurch), my luggage was left in Zürich. We were staying two days in Christchurch and then continuing to the south end of the island, to Steward Island. Naturally I wished that my luggage would arrive while in Christchurch, since they had been able to locate it. It didn't. I got it four days later, when we got to Invercargill in the south of the south island. Of course I was very happy to get it back, because I had a lot of valuable hiking gear in the bag, not to mention our tent! My insurance allows me to buy essentials for 60 euros per day, every day when my luggage hasn't still arrived. I went crazy on hiking gear in a city on the way to Invercargill, when we found a shop, where everything was like 60 per cent off! Well, that wasn't my point but...

If I hadn't gotten my bag back, I would've had to make a list about everything in the bag and the value of the things. The insurance would have covered at least part of it, if not everything. So, you see now why it is essential to have a good insurance?

It's not just about losing things, but often also losing memories.

Then again a good insurance isn't enough, you also have to know what it includes, so that you can get a supplement insurance when it is needed.

Of course there are many other scenarios: late or cancelled flights, robberies, breaking things, loosing things, you name it. Even more reason to have your insurance matters taken care of. It sure is worth a day or two to find out about the best policy for you and your needs. So before your next trip, take a look through your insurance policy, maybe contact the insurance company and make sure you have the best deal for you. Then you can enjoy your trip with one less thing to worry about.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Language hunger and interaction barriers

"A language barrier exists." This is what you read on CouchSurfing if you are browsing a profile, where the person in question has no languages in common with what you have given out on your profile, or they have stated that their language knowledge of some specific language is only at beginner level. Many times people tend to underestimate their language knowledge and even though somebody doesn't speak another language that well, it is very much possible to interact with each other. For instance last summer, when I was traveling in the Balkans. I did a rafting tour in Herzegovina and both the family that were also on the same tour with us AND the guides (well, at least they pretended) didn't really speak English. Nevertheless we managed fairly well, and had a great time! Body language and signs are very similar, at least withing Europe.

Hitko Rafing in Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Sometimes it can be scary or even dangerous not to know the language of the country you go to. I was in Hungary a few weeks ago and in Budapest I had an accident. Some amazing person had called me an ambulance and on the way to the hospital I woke up - in the ambulance. The ambulance crew didn't speak English at all, which was very scary, because I had now idea what had happened and where I was. Luckily the ER doctor spoke English and the CouchSurfer, who I was supposed to stay with, came to the hospital and did the interpreting. What a lifesaver!

I was brought up bilingually. I was born and raised in Sweden, which naturally gave me the Swedish language, and my mother is from Finland, so we spoke Finnish at home. So basically I got two languages practically for free. I think growing up with two languages has given me the ability to aquire other language more easily. There are many studies about bilingualism and many of them show that being bilingual helps your brain in many ways, for example in multitasking. Well, at the moment in addition to my native knowledge of Finnish and Swedish, I also speak fluent German and English. But understanding a language isn't just about knowing what the words mean. It is just as much about knowing about and understanding the culture. That can not be aquired unless you actually live in a country for an amount of time. Native knowledge of a language cannot be aquired in class.

My hunger for languages is endless. Everytime I travel to a country, where I don't speak the language, I get the need to learn that language. I want to know more about a culture, and there is no better way to do that than learning the language, and vice versa. I am also very fast at getting the hang of the structure and basics of a language. Last summer and this summer I've spent altogether about two weeks in Italy, and already in that short time I was able to aquire a knowledge that made it possible for me to interact on a basic level with native Italians. Well, at least if they speak fairly slow... A few months or a year in Italy, and I'd be speaking the language pretty well. But this happens in every country I go to. I try to learn some basic things, and once I get back home, I have this endless hunger to learn more.

Last summer I was CouchSurfing in Hungary and I stayed with this lovely couple in a small city called Eger. In their home they had notes all over the furniture, where you could read the name of the piece of furniture in question in many different languages. I thought this was a genious idea! For what better way is there to learn new words than seeing them on regular basis. In this way you learn them almost automatically. At the moment I am trying to learn some more Italian, and I've done the thing with notes in my home as well. Thanks for the idea to P and J!

Charming Eger in Hungary.
Knowing the language of the country you're visiting, makes you so much richer. Everyone is always saying that in Paris the people are so rude, unfriendly and don't want to speak English at all. This is not how I experienced it, even though I barely speak any French and had to speak English. But maybe the French noticed how hard I tried to speak French and not English, that they actually liked me. I thought Paris was a very friendly and nice place!

During my travels and studies I have learned a bit of many languages. Russian, French, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Serbian and Croatian, Greek, Arabic, Japanese... The list will surely keep growing, but I hope that some of these beginner level languages will develop into a deeper level of knowledge, because that will help understanding the culture as well, and what's more important? At least if you find yourself in an ambulance with no means of understanding what is being said to you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Travel light, fly cheap

I am so sick of people who complain about RyanAir and other cheap airlines. They keep saying that the seats are too small, the airports are too far away, the snacks on the plane are too expensive, the on-flight commercials are too much, they are too strict about their rules about luggage and everything costs extra. I'm sure there are hundreds of other subjects people complain about. Apparently they expect first class treatment. I don't understand this. Low-cost airlines are nothing different than any other cheap service available. You always have a choice. I mean just as you choose whether to go to a more expensive grocery store or Lidl. Or like how you can choose to book a 5-star-hotel or just bunk at a hostel. Surely people compain about hostels too, but it's important to remember to keep things in the right proportion. You wouldn't expect having a piccolo carrying your bags at a hostel, would you?

In my opinion RyanAir and the other low-cost airlines (at least the ones I've tried) are fantastic. Most of my experiences are with RyanAir. It's the perfect choice for a budget traveller or a business (wo)man. I think it's great that you can get a cheaper ticket if you don't need all those extra things. I have a travel insurance of my own, I have no problem traveling with only hand luggage and I don't care where I sit. Although I love it when I get the big seat by the emergency exit... All of those services are there for people who need them, and why not? RyanAir is cheap, easy and reliable. At least I have never had any problems. And I have been flying with RyanAir A LOT! I love that I don't have to be at the airport three hours before boarding and it's great not having to wait for the luggage after the flight. I have no problem going on a three-week vacation with only a hand luggage bag with ten kilos. In fact I just did.

People are always talking about how RyanAir tries to make money from everything and try to make everything efficient. There's no harm in efficiency, right? This picture is borrowed from The Guardian.

I bought five flights, went away for 2,5 weeks and paid 160 euros total with taxes and everything. Yes, that's right. I flew from Tampere to Trapani, from Trapani to Milan, from Milan to Budapest, from Budapest to Stockholm and finally from Stockholm to Helsinki. And I didn't have any problems whatsoever. What's my secret? Well, in addition, that I'm a quite experienced traveller, I take some time for research. For this last trip I was checking flights for about three weeks, calculating what would be the best and cheapest route and naturally getting in touch with friends asking if it would allright for me to crash their couch. Finally I booked the flights three weeks before the trip.

If you spend some time getting to know the rules of the airline, you won't have any problems. Sticking to the rules is naturally essential. RyanAir is quite strict with luggage weight, that is when they check, which they don't always do. What I experienced during my last trip was an increasing measuring of the size of the hand luggage. It did get my heart rate up a bit, even though I was flying with the same bag as so many times before and I knew it would fit in the measuring box. It was kind of a kick in a way, because after all I did know that I wouldn't have any problems. Getting to know the list of prohibited objects is also essential, but they are approximately the same with all airlines. It is good to making sure you know what counts as fluids though, because it can be quite surprising. Not everyone knows that a lipstick counts as liquids. Luckily the liquid restrictions are supposed to be revoked in 2013...

Basically what I urge you to do when traveling with low-cost airlines is to take some time to get to know the basics about their rules and restrictions. This way you will have a successful trip and you will enjoy it more! And if you feel like you don't get you moneys worth, you can always choose another airline.

But for the record: I love RyanAir!