Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So Lucky...$35 for All Oral Travel Meds

As a healthcare worker, I am definitely fortunate to have one of the best healthcare plans. The benefits will truly be missed when I have to give it up for my trip, but not before I take full advantage of it! The Travel Immunization Clinic we consulted with, wrote out all the recommended scripts for malaria, altitude sickness, and traveler's diarrhea. However, for insurance to cover the meds, they have to be prescribed by an approved provider, so I made an appointment with my primary care doc and she sent all those in to the pharmacy.

All my worries about the total cost was unfounded when it came out to $35! That includes the co-pay for almost 100 pills of the generic form of the malaria drug, Malarone, which usually costs ~$500 for even the generic version (just recently became generic in October, lucky us.). The other scripts included Cipro, Diamox, azythromycin (those pesky bugs in Thailand are resistant to Cipro), and a topical prescription strength ointment for bug bites (I get major welts from the most innocent of bug bites).

We are nearly done with our immunizations. We just have our Japanese Encephalitis vaccines left and Mike has to complete his Hepatitis A & B series. You can find a very detailed write-up in a previous blog entry regarding all the ins-and-outs of travel vaccinations: 9 Steps to Knowing the Required and Recommended Travel Immunizations and Pills.

Update to "We Got a Smart (Chip-and-PIN) Visa Card"

Is it a coincidence that CNBC Fast Money today was talking about these smart cards, or is it because we were just more in tune with it that we heard what they had to say? Who knows. Regardless, according to Fast Money, Visa and MasterCard are striving to make the chip-and-PIN credit cards a standard in the US by 2015, with "early-bird" merchant incentives of adopted by 2013. Interesting.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

We Got a Smart (Chip-and-PIN) Visa Card

Have you ever heard of a "Smart Card" or a chip-and-PIN card?  We, living in the United States, hadn't either, until we ran into some information during our research in preparation for our upcoming RTW trip.

A smart card is a credit card that has an embedded computer chip which requires a PIN for most transactions.  Hence, the more common name of chip-and-PIN cards.  This system is called EMV after the 3 pioneering companies, Europay-Mastercard-Visa.  A thorough explanation of smart cards in general, and its multiple uses can be found here.

Apparently, much of the world is converting their credit card transaction terminals to accept a chip-and-PIN card, in lieu of the traditional magnetic strip type cards that we are used to using in the States.  It started in Europe, and many Asian and South American, and North American (Canada) countries are doing the same.

The primary purpose of the chip-and-PIN card is the added security layer of requiring a PIN to authorize payment, similar to a debit card process.  The PIN requirement prevents merchants from accepting a fraudulent signature-based authorization, and it also ensures card never leaves the cardholder's presence.  For example, because of the PIN requirement, a waiter in a restaurant would have to bring the point-of-transaction to the customer at the table instead of taking the credit card to the back somewhere.  From what I have read, the chip-and-PIN cards are also more difficult to replicate for fraud than a magnetic strip card.

The added level of security is nice, but the real reason we got a smart card is because we have heard that many places abroad are starting to not take credit cards with magnetic strips.  Not that they don't want to, but their transaction terminal isn't compatible with a magnetic strip.  For small purchases, it's probably not a big deal because we should have some cash on hand, but what a pain if we couldn't make credit card purchases because our cards don't have the chip-and-PIN.  Creditcards.com has several anectodal evidence of travelers finding difficulty paying for things without these smart cards.  In fact, it seems many merchants don't even know that there is a non-PIN option.

Of course MasterYourCard.com reminds us that there are some things to be cautious of.  Because of the added level of security, banks consider these cards fool proof.  If somehow, our card and PIN are both stolen and transactions are made, it would be very difficult to get the bank to reverse the fraudulent charges.  Of course there is always the fear of amnesia - what happens if I forget my PIN?  Better not punch in the wrong PIN consecutively, or else the card will not work.  It also reminds us that the PIN protection doesn't exist with online purchases, of course.

It may not be our go-to credit card, but we certainly want the ability to pay with a card that is compatible with the EMV system.  Only a few companies offer a smart card in the States.  We went with the JP Morgan Chase Select Visa.  Because it is a U.S. issued card, it has both the magnetic strip and microchip, so we are doubting its security features so long as the magnetic strip is used for the transaction.

You may be wondering why the U.S. hasn't jumped on this EMV bandwagon.  In this global economy,  people who visit the U.S. will have the same reverse issue of not having a magnetic strip to complete a credit card transaction. The articles point to the resistance by banks and merchants to change all of their point-of-sale terminals to those that accept chip-and-PIN cards.  There is also less incentive when the banks do not see the cost of fraud as being uncontrolled.  There will most likely be a tipping-point in the near future when the rest of the world firmly goes to this type of card, and the U.S. scrambles to catch-up.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Meeting Our Friends Around the World

It seems our friends have caught the travel bug also, and a few of them will be meeting us abroad! A group of our girlfriends will be joining us in Tokyo for about 12 days on our first leg of our trip. I've played host to many friends who have made the trek to Japan with me over the past 20 years, and it never gets old. I am always excited and giddy with anticipation of what they are going to experience. Can't wait to see the 3 blondes and a brunette running around the city! So, more information on that adventure in May.Come to find out, after discussing our itinerary with people, a co-worker of mine will be trekking Machu Picchu 2 days after we are! Even though our paths wont't cross in Machu Picchu, wouldn't it be awesome if our trips crossed somewhere around the towns below Machu Picchu? Gotta work on that.We're also meeting up with a group of friends in Spain and Morocco. They are taking a summer vacation to these parts and renting a condo through their timeshare in a nice resort over looking the Spanish Riviera in August. We, after having trekked around in South America for 2 months may be ready for some luxury by crashing their pad for a few days. We'll definitely be ready to see some familiar faces and speak English to someone else than each other by then. Another friend expressed interest in meeting us in Instanbul, Turkey. That would be a nice surprise as well. Anyone else out there who would like to meet us on the other side of the world? We would love to see you. We'll be in Ecuador and Peru in June/July, Argentina in August, navigating our way from Spain and Morocco to Eastern Europe and Turkey for the months of August and September, then finishing off in southeast Asia (Thailand and Vietnam) in October and November.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Map with Route

The route may be difficult to see on the map, but it's been plotted, nevertheless. Putting it on the map makes us realize how big this world really is, and all the places we can't even make it to, this time. For example, we're basically skipping Africa continent (except for a trek into Morocco), India, China, Russia, and Australia. Oh well...that will be our NEXT sabbatical. :)

100-Day Countdown!

100 days until our lives are downsized into a small backpack, with only our passports, a few days worth of clothes, and our electronic gadgetry to stay in touch with the world from wherever we will be. A few more details to sort out, but we are mentally ready. Physically? Well, perhaps something we should focus on over the next 100 days. :) For starters, we'll be doing a lot of walking around with luggage on our backs, not to mention the trek to Machu Picchu. However, by virtue of traveling, we should slowly 'get in shape,' since we won't have a car - we have to rely on walking a lot. We won't have a refrigerator where we have unlimited food to graze on at all hours; and we won't have a comfy couch to sit on with weeks worth of TV programs to catch-up on. We anticipate being a lot more active as part of our new routine. We won't have much, but it sure sounds a lot healthier than our current state of affairs. Can't wait.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Housesitter + Dogsitter

If we didn't love our dog so much, this trip wouldn't be so difficult on our emotions and finding her a wonderful dog sitter while we are gone!  If we didn't have the dog, it's very likely that we would make a clean break and sell our house or put it up for rent.

We went back and forth with options for maintaining our household and dog in our absence, and we kept going back to finding somebody who loves dogs, who would be willing to live in our house and watch our dog in return for free rent.  Hmmmm.  That's a "tough" decision for anyone, really.  Free rent plus being a temporary dog owner without the permanent responsibilities?  Sign me up.

Another good reason to break the ice about our trip to everyone we know, is to ask for leads on potential house/dog sitters.  In a short amount of time, we actually had several viable leads from reliable sources.  We were very hopeful that we didn't have to go through a house/pet sitter service and begin interviewing strangers who would suddenly become entrenched in our very personal lives.

Ultimately, however; our first hopeful choice was a friend of ours who already watches our dog when we are out-of-town and is familiar with our house.  Our wish was to not pressure our friend into doing something she didn't really want to do.  So, we waited patiently and established other leads, just in case.  It's great news for all of us that she has committed to staying at our house for the entire time.  We couldn't be happier with the decision and a huge weight has been lifted of our worrying shoulders.

Now, we can move onto other worries...such as making a decision on health insurance and so forth.

Everyone Has Been Informed...We Think

It took a few weeks, but we think everyone we have any connection with on a regular basis has been informed of our upcoming plans.   Letting people know at my work was difficult because of the tremendous sense of responsibility I feel for the work I do, and the perceived difficulty in the near future of transitioning the workload to someone else.  I also work with amazing and fun people, who I will miss dearly.  They have been extremely supportive of everything that has gone on over the past few years, and our upcoming round-the-world plans!  I also felt guilty notifying my fellow officers in the professional associations that I serve on, due to the inevitable and unfair inconvenience I will cause them.

All-in-all, everyone has been nothing but supportive and agree that this is a wonderful opportunity.   That makes us feel a lot better.  We haven't had to answer the curious questions.  Everyone seems to understand why, and longingly wishing that it were them instead.

4-5 month advance notice at work is more than adequate, but a few of the main reasons we wanted to let people know was because we wanted to talk freely about our plans.  It wouldn't be fun, keeping it from our co-workers who we see everyday.  Another reason is to secure a leave-of-absence, if that is an option on the table.  It's better to start the conversation with your employer sooner than later, to give them time to work out the logistics with Human Resources and such.

So, we think the cat is completely out of the bag now.  If not, it was unintentional.  Now you know!