The range of questions this week attacks weighty issues, baby talk and the merits of so-called fee insurance.
As always the answers are not perfectly clear.
Question: We are travelling to Panama for the first time this coming winter and have been reading about 30-day free medical insurance for tourists. Can you tell me what you know about this, and also comment on whether it is better and cheaper to buy medical insurance once you get there?
Answer: While the program Panama provides is a nice promotional idea, it is very basic. And its coverage would not go far in helping you if you were to encounter real health problems.
Should you be in an accident or contract a disease, the coverage for hospitalization and medical expenses has a cap of $7,000. This would hardly be sufficient for an incident that required a long stay. To access the insurance visitors must ask for the designated user card at the tourist information centre before going through customs.
I don't know how many facilities there are in Panama, but in this program there are only five participating hospitals.
In Third World countries like Panama--where a wide variety of tropical diseases can affect your vacation, I recommend you be adequately covered through a large internationally recognized insurance company such as AIG's Travel Guard.
Whoever your supplier of choice is, I strongly suggest you have all of your insurance in place before you depart. I don't think it is wise to count on being able to get the coverage you want when language and quality availability may be suspect.
Many people want to use their credit card coverage or company plans. While many of these are excellent, it is important that all of the limitations be researched carefully.
Question: My husband and I are expecting our first child in September and I'm already thinking about if we will be able to get away next winter. I know other families who have travelled with babies and it seems like a realistic goal. Do you have any suggestions for a sunny destination with a five- or six-month-old? We are not the type to stay in a big all-inclusive-type place, and we have filled several passports in our lives so far so aren't afraid to try new things.
Answer: It seems to me you need the freedoms to work with your new baby in the same way you would at home. The all inclusive resorts have an advantage in that all of your meals are prepared and ready, giving you and your husband a chance to relax and enjoy the other challenges that may be posed with a baby.
However, I think you should first look at choosing your destination and then see about renting a condo or home for the duration of your stay. I know many people have successfully rented on the website Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com). There are always lots of options for any size of accommodation at a wide range of prices.
You should read the reviews of others who have stayed there and make sure you are comfortable with the owner. This is important because the site is nothing more than a window to the individual property owner's description and sales pitch.
Question: I was also wondering if you had a position on very large passengers.
For example, I have difficulty understanding how an airline could allow a passenger weighing, say, 100 kilos with a bag of 20 kilos get on the plane with no extra charges, then charge extra for a person weighing 60 kilos and a 30 kilo bag. That is happening now and it seems unfair.
Maybe those obese passengers who are flying at no extra charge should start paying for the higher poundage as we do for heavier bags.
Answer: There has been a longstanding debate about large passengers, less about weight alone but more about the fact that many, because of their size, are forced to occupy two seats.
This is a dilemma since obesity is now clearly defined as a disease that needs treatment. There has been much debate on this, that it may be an addiction like gambling, where it is more of a mental addiction than physical. But clearly, it is a serious health issue.
Trying to change pricing based on weight is interesting since the structure of most women's bodies often automatically makes them lighter than men. So should most women get a lesser fare? Or should slim people as well as well for that matter?
Part of the issue surrounding checked bags, from the airline's point of view, is that it affects revenues since freight is a big source of profit for most airlines. With less luggage weight in the hold, the more freight dollars they can generate. With all the ancillary fees for the charges on bags they can now make up the revenues they might have gained on freight billings.
Good questions with no easy answers. If airlines thought they could get away with charging for a new ancillary charge relating to a person's weight they would likely take it.
Forward your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.