Category Archives: Illness or Accidents

SAVINGS on Travel Insurance for Overseas Trips

Whether you are an expat, a round-the-world traveller, or simply someone who is headed off on their annual holiday, a comprehensive travel insurance policy is a VERY necessary item when you leave home. And anyone who fails to purchase such an essential thing may be taking their lives and their financial future in their hands. Rather a lot of people think that they are the ‘lucky ones’ and that no accident or theft or illness will befall them because they are alert and aware and prepared. But, as I can share from personal experience, life’s a little messier than that!

Before you even make a travel insurance purchase, there are ways to save on your overall costs. They usually mean you have to be patient enough to look at quite a few online options, compare the coverage, decide what you don’t need to trim things down a bit, and then consider paying a higher excess or deductible.

Why pay for action sports coverage if that isn’t your thing? And if you aren’t carrying a lot of tech gear with you the way we do, you can probably use a more budget-oriented company that’s a bit ‘no frills’ except on the essentials like medical coverage and missing luggage.

In the past, we have repeatedly used World Nomads as our travel insurance provider. I have nothing but the highest praise for this company and would recommend them to anyone. They were quite reasonably priced, were very pleasant to deal with, and we were quite satisfied with the service we received when we unexpectedly had to make a claim against travel insurance for the first time ever in 2012. They paid a week-long hospital bill for me when I was incredibly ill in France last summer and I would have been stuck with that hefty bill if we had not had an active policy at the time. An episode like that is one of the reasons that I continue to remind fellow travellers to ALWAYS have insurance because the unexpected really does happen more often than you can imagine.

That hospital visit left me in a tricky position though. I now have what’s known as a ‘pre-existing condition’ since it is an issue that could potentially reappear in the future. World Nomads was quite clear on their website when I checked a few days ago and it stated that yes, I could purchase travel insurance that would cover all of the other things like lost luggage or cancelled flights and so forth. But they would NOT COVER any medical issue that had been paid out in the past. On my!

That set me on an almost 3-day search of site after site to try and find good quality travel insurance that I could purchase by simply being honest, stating that I had been hospitalised for a previous issue, and paying a slightly higher premium. Easy, right? But when the companies that I was researching were moving from my budget-target of £500 for the two of us for a 6 week trip and zooming right up to over £1,200 for that short a period, I was a bit stunned. We paid that much for a full year of comprehensive travel insurance a mere 2-1/2 years ago!

I looked at quite a few companies in the UK and discovered that, one after another, they rejected our applications because Mark was British (so he was eligible to buy a policy), but I was Australian and therefore was not. Telling fibs and pretending to be a UK citizen or resident wouldn’t have been a good idea since it would have negated the insurance coverage completely.

When you are preparing to purchase your own travel insurance, you will need to make sure that you answer truthfully what country you are a legal resident of. Since we’ve given up on living in the UK and I didn’t bother doing the paperwork to become a legal resident, I am still a citizen of Australia so I did a web search on insurance for pre-existing medical conditions from the Australian Google site. Simply search from your own country so that if there is ever a problem, they can air-ambulance you back to your home country.

Some of the bigger companies that I included in my search were BUPA, Travel Insure Direct, Medi-Bank,, and 1-Cover as well as the policies offered by banks in Australia. They were all over £1,000 for 6 weeks and CoverMore was the most expensive at £1,249.

Finally (whew!) on Day 3, I found what I was looking for — insurance that covered everything, had a medical certificate stating that I had declared my condition, and we were both covered for all the rest of the baggage, delays, and such. AND, triumph of triumphs, it came in at under £500 for the two of us.

The company we are using this time is InsureAndGo and they have branches in several countries. Securing that insurance for our upcoming trip was the final puzzle piece for the adventure ahead.

Come back soon for more pictures from Newcastle Upon Tyne!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Unseen Forces At Work To Keep Me Safe From Harm

It didn’t take long after yesterday’s “Debacle In Toulouse” at the Hôpital Rangueil for me to realise that unseen forces had been at work to keep me safe from harm. I’ve named the hospital today because they really should be ashamed of treating anyone in that manner and they do need to clean up their act!

But as we exited the building and began to walk to the car, I told Mark that none of it had been right and I felt like we were leaving for a very good reason — not simply because it had been a farce from beginning to end and I was angry.

Mark was just a smidge grumpy about losing a full day of paid work when we’ve had so many unexpected settling-in expenses this month, but he too recognised that it was all far too not-quite-right. And having had those dreams ahead of time that I’m about to relate to you and which Mark was already aware of meant he laughed with good nature as we ate lunch and smirked, “Why, you’re positively psychic!” and I laughed back, “Yes, I actually am! And it serves me well.”

Any time I have ever had to have surgery or a complicated medical procedure in the past, I have taken the time the night before to do a longish session of meditation and guided imagery to smooth the way. I sat on the bed on Sunday night, did all of that, felt a glowing and twinkly light wrap around me, sensed the presence of several spiritual beings or now-departed people around me including my mother, and then off to sleep I went. But I awakened again and again throughout the night and each time it was from a vivid dream that was a different version of why the next day was not going to go well.

In the first dream, I saw us explaining to someone in charge that we had left far enough in advance, but we’d gotten behind an accident on the motorway and the delay was not our fault. The drive to Toulouse takes just over one hour, but we left here yesterday morning 2 hours and 5 minutes ahead of time. And yes, we did get into gridlock commuting-to-work traffic AND see an accident that was slowing things down even further.

In the second dream, we went to the wrong office after arriving and were then directed to another incorrect office. That is exactly what happened! We arrived early with my appointment sheet, went to the building, wing, floor, and office that were listed and the woman who told me “you don’t conform to our schedule” then let us know we were in the right building and wing, but on the wrong floor of the same department. So she walked us down to the correct place where the further unravelling of our day began.

In the third dream, we drove into a vast medical complex of buildings and were caught up in some round-and-round you go set of roads that led us everywhere except to the door of the correct building. That did happen! And Mark ended up dropping me off in front of a large central building, going down the hill to park the car, and then when he returned we walked through endless connecting passageways until we were in the correct building and wing.

In the fourth and final dream, a group of departed relatives were standing in a long white hallway leading to a set of double doors and they were all shaking their heads silently as if to indicate no-no-no. But in the dream I walked past them, waved at all those familiar faces, and went through the doors only to be confronted by someone with the body of a woman, the head of a dog, and a barking voice. Trust me, I met that woman too. She was the one who shrugged, told me the wrong time to come back, and told me to take another pill.

Let’s be truthful, I’d certainly received lots of psychic warning in advance. But I did the right thing, went to the appointment as scheduled, and watched as it all unfolded in spectacularly unprofessional fashion.

But what if that unfolding farce kept me from harm? What if all of those loving faces in my visions, meditations, and dreams were there because I summoned them and they made certain that no one did their job badly, harmed me, or gave me incorrect treatment or results afterward? That is the strong and very peaceful conclusion that I have come to. And everything will probably go well when I am rescheduled.

And if it doesn’t? I’ll be right back here reporting to you, faithful readers, on my impressions of the true state of medical affairs in France!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Debacle In Toulouse aka The French Fluff Up Schedules

What I really wanted to say is that the much-respected French medical system can truly f*ck up schedules and impact people’s lives badly, but wait — I’m getting ahead of myself.

The day began well. In spite of a fairly sleepless night, I was up on time before dawn for the two hour trip to Toulouse to a strange hospital for a scary out-patient medical treatment. We got stuck in rush hour traffic, 6 lanes of gridlock, but still managed to arrive on the dot for my appointment check in at 9:15 AM. It all went downhill from there.

Mark had to drive me to the appointment because I had been told to take 2 oral morphine-blend capsules just as I left he house in the morning. I was prepared for the procedure and feeling no pain of any kind.

Morphine-blend capsules


But I stood in the hallway of the treatment wing feeling wobbly and stunned at the same time as the woman in charge of the department told me, “you don’t conform to our schedule.” What???

I pulled out my PRINTED appointment sheet and referral from my doctor here in St. Girons and, I swear to God, she shrugged. Then she told me to come back at 11:00 and by the way, take another morphine pill before I came back. Off to the cafe we went to kill an hour and a half and eat a yogurt to try and settle my stomach.

Arriving back in the treatment area 5 minutes early, we sat and waited and as the time began to slide by. Then I stood up and told Mark that something was not right — I could sense it. I went into the office and asked quite pointedly, “Quelle heure est mon rendez-vous?” (What time is my appointment?) Off she went down the hall and came back with the information that I was dreading, they MIGHT be able to fit me in after lunch — perhaps after 1 PM.

I’m usually quite a polite and respectful person, but I completely lost my temper and told her that it was the most f’d up thing I had ever heard of to both phone a patient AND send them a printed appointment by mail, have them drive a long distance for medical treatment, have the husband lose an entire day of work, somehow manage to NOT keep the appointment, and also to have the patient take unnecessary medication for pain. And I left as she stood there looking stunned that I had spoken up for myself.

As we drove home that afternoon after lunch, I had Mark swing by our local hospital and I related the entire sorry story to the local medical staff. The head nurse listened to my saga and I watched as her jaw became set with anger. She faxed my printed appointment to the administrative office in Toulouse and then called the hospital and absolutely shrieked at them on the phone! “Pourquoi?” (Why?) She was still angry when she hung up and she confirmed that I did just the right thing to walk out because they had plainly lost my appointment and they had no intention of working me into their schedule that day. Such incompetence! Aaarrrggghhh!!!

If my posts are a little thin on the ground in the coming weeks, it’s because I’m dealing with a few challenges right now. For those of you who were already in the loop, thanks for the many notes and good wishes. They are greatly appreciated.

And readers, I will keep you posted on the follow-up to this ‘Debacle In Toulouse’ story and any other relevant tidbits.

Bye for now!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Fire In The Night In France

Les Pompiers arrived before midnight — 3 large firetrucks and 2 smaller vans — with approximately 18-24 firemen and 2 gendarmes. Such a frightening event on the night of Solstice and it could have had an even more devastating results. Thank heavens for their prompt response.

Firemen on the job in Moyon, France

We are in Normandy right now staying in one of the two stone gites (cottages) that the owner Polly has created out of old stone barns on the property. Polly and her two young daughters are across the Channel in England and we have been looking after her 2 dogs, 3 cats, and the cluster of buildings.

Shortly after 11:30 PM last night, we went upstairs to bed and Mark was already deeply asleep as I slid under the duvet. But something was wrong. I had gone to bed feeling quite uneasy after thinking I heard someone crunching around on the gravel outside. I realise now that what I had heard was the crackling as the fire took hold. And I can just about pinpoint when the fire really gained momentum because a few minutes after 11 PM, the wifi went off here in our gite. The power stayed on in the gites and the barn next door because we are on a separate power box, but the wifi was being broadcast from the big house.

I was just about to put my earplugs in and go to sleep when something made me hesitate. I held my breath and listened intently and within a minute I heard several loud booms. I shook Mark again and again quite briskly to rouse him from that deep slumber and told him that I thought someone was breaking into the gite next door. He listened as we both heard another loud boom and his feet hit the floor, he quickly slipped into his clothes, and I told him to be very, very careful. I put my robe and slippers on and was part of the way down the stairs when he came storming back through the door screaming, “The big house is on fire!”

I raced out after him into the pitch black night and as soon as I came around the corner of the large stone house, I could see an eerie orange glow lighting up the night. I stood there in the dark sobbing angrily because my British-based mobile phone wouldn’t go through to the fire department as Mark ran across the field to the farmer’s house on the next property, pounded on the door, and somehow communicated to the couple that the house was on fire and they needed to call the fire department. The wife understood what he was saying because, blessedly, she spoke a tiny bit of English.

As Mark was cutting back across the fields between the properties, he stumbled into an electrical fence and got a strong jolt. So he is dreadfully sore and aching today. And I abruptly stopped crying, ran back into the gite and upstairs, threw on some clothes, and began packing our rather large quantity of cameras, electronics and clothing in case the fire jumped the roof and our gite became engulfed in flames. Then we both went outside and stood with the neighbours, waiting for what seemed like a very long time before the first response crew arrived, and then watching the blue lights coming down the road, the courtyard fill with large red trucks, and men begin unfolding water hoses and spraying the house with soap saturated water.

Firemen tearing out the burning roof rafters


Firemen cutting out roof rafters with chainsaw whilst dousing roof with water

The wonderful farmer and his wife from next door bundled up in warm jackets and brought over coffee, plastic cups, and cubes of sugar to serve the firemen. We went into the gite, figured out how to use the drip coffeemaker since we normally use a stove-top Italian coffee maker for our own daily use, and we took a second pot of coffee and a bottle of milk outside for top-ups for les pompiers.

Neighbours with coffee for the firemen

It was almost 3 in the morning before the wonderfully efficient firemen finished their last walk through of the house, rolled up their hoses, and went home to their own warm beds. We are so grateful for their prompt response and their thoroughness in staying until every last place, both upstairs and downstairs and inside and outside, had been checked and rechecked. Mark asked if they were all volunteers and the farmer’s wife said yes — they were. How astonishing to see such a large turnout on that winter night from men who gave freely of their time and effort because they felt compelled to give back to their own community.

Exhausted firemen rolling up the hoses just before 3 AM

Here are shots of the damage that I took a couple of hours ago. We have heard from the firemen that the fire was within inches — INCHES — of entering the main house. It’s a huge place with lots of very flammable timber beams and it would have raced through there at lightening speed.

Burned out storeroom and collapsed roofline


The gutted storeroom & garage directly attached to the house

We are feeling quite shaky today, rather fragile to be truthful, but oh so grateful that we were here. The house would have burned to the ground if no one had called it in — and the farmer’s wife told me that they were watching television and had the volume on so high that they never even heard the sound of the crackling timber and the exploding bottles of champagne and chutney.

The fire chief told me that even a few more minutes would have meant that they couldn’t save the house since the storeroom and the garage were hard up against the main body of the house. And thank god/goddess/universe/whatever that the HUGE gas tank on the other side of the garage didn’t explode from the heat and flames! Mark said that when one of the firemen saw it, he looked quite startled and told Mark to move away quickly.

Just minutes before the firemen arrived last night, I briefly stepped inside the entry hall since I knew that the dogs were outside and Mark had safely locked them in the other gite. But as I peered into the smoke filled hallway to see if any of the cats were there, I looked to the left and the pet door was glowing with a bright orange light behind it from the roaring flames on the other side. It made me go weak at the knees momentarily and I hastily went back outside. The pet door melted and is completely missing and we are completely agog that the flames didn’t get sucked into the house.

Pet door where flames could have been sucked into the house -- but weren't!

These shots below show you just how large and lovely the main house is. And in the second photo you can see the yet-to-be-rendered side wall of our gite with that vulnerable timber in the upper section. All of that would have been awash in flames quite quickly if the main house had caught fire, so I was quite correct to begin packing in case we needed to make a speedy exit.

Polly's house -- still intact


Front view of Polly's house with vulnerable gite end visible

We laugh rather often about my ‘beagle senses’ of smell and hearing and I know that it is sometimes annoying when I hear things or smell things that no one else notices until I point them out. This was an instance where I was thrilled to have both heightened physical senses and a strong psychic sense that had been telling me for days that something was not quite right.

The house is intact even if it smells eerily of smoke and all 3 cats and 2 dogs are alive and well.

Blessings abound — and we are grateful!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Getting Sick While Travelling

Whether it’s a long trip or a weekend getaway, no one wants it to happen and no one really ever thinks that it could be ever be them that is inconvenienced that way. But getting sick whilst travelling is something that simply must be taken into account when you are planning your trip, booking your tickets, and doing those last pre-trip errands.

A long trip of several weeks or several months will require even more planning ahead, and that means one thing above all else — a good travel insurance policy to cover all of the contingencies including illness, hospitalization, routine but unexpected trips to the doctor or dentist, and (a worst case scenario if there ever was one!), medical evacuation back to your home country.

French medication for severe bronchitis

We are currently in France and one of those unanticipated situations arose just as we arrived in Normandy. I was sick with what I thought was a routine cold picked up from the child of friends in another part of France, but things went from bad to worse in a mere few days and suddenly I had such a severe bronchial infection that I was on the verge of pneumonia.

I am very fortunate that we have friends here in Normandy who could send me to their own GP in the next village, but I would not have hesitated to go to a local hospital if we had been on the road between stops. I felt completely fine about doing that since I knew that my outpatient care or even a full hospitalization would have been covered by the excellent travel insurance policy that we purchased from Travel Insurance Direct in Australia prior to our departure at the end of 2010. We knew that we would be travelling for at least a year, so we purchased a very inclusive policy that covered everything from lost luggage to damage to a rental car to unexpected delays to the all-important medical care.

As ill as I was, it was an office visit that I shall never forget as we tried to bridge the language barrier. I speak schoolgirl French and the doctor spoke no English! But I had written down all of my symptoms, swished them into Google Translate, and then printed that out for him. He understood completely and guess what — bronchitis means bronchitis even in France. I also had to giggle when he complimented me on my splendidly low blood pressure.

My sincere advice to all of you who are still in the planning and prep stages before departure is to do an internet search for travel policies that you can purchase online. They cost a lot less and seem to include rather a lot more than insurance policies offered by travel agents or your local insurance agent. This is their specialty and the coverage is excellent in most cases as long as you read all of the fine print and choose what suits your individual trip or lifestyle.

One of my sisters, Cynthia Hatton, lives in California and she has been either a nurse or nursing administrator for all of her adult life. She offered the following additional information to share with you — and I thank her for that.
“You might also add that it is important to consult a travel medicine clinician and check the locations that you are traveling. They will check the CDC and the International Institute of Travel Medicine tells you what is going on in the area …… TB, Influenza, hepatitis etc.”

Also — make sure you have adequate coverage for all of the areas that are important to you and consider adding ‘riders’ for additional protection on items such as expensive laptops and digital SLR cameras with lenses. I did exactly that prior to leaving Australia and have travelled for six months with an amazing peace of mind.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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