February 05, 2004

Lessons on traveling North America

When we began planning this trip we had no idea how distinct the borders in North America truly were. We foolishly assumed that since our destinations were all on the same continent that it would be easy to visit these places. Not even NAFTA can help you find a one-size-fits-all plan for cell phones coverage, Internet coverage or insurance. Even our satellite radio dies at the borders.

First obstacle cell phone: I have spent MANY hours surfing and calling for cellular phone coverage and rate plan information; here is what I have learned.

·Nobody offers a reasonably priced plan that considers North America you home area. In other words, no matter how extensive the coverage map looks, you will be charged roaming, and most likely international roaming, for all calls made outside of your home country.

·Solution: get a plan with a company that allows you to change your plan options for free, (it helps if your husband is partial to the comany's spokeswoman). We are getting a plan that gives us 600 minutes for $39.99/ month. This will work well for us while we are in the U.S. This company will allow us to drop down to the base plan when we don’t need all 600 minutes. So when we are in Mexico or Canada, we call and drop the plan to the $19.99/ month 150 minutes level, and use the phone only in emergencies, but we keep our all important voice mail account.

oWhen in Mexico and Canada, we rely on country specific calling cards to check our voice mail every few days, and then email replies or use the cards to telephone friends and family. Our phone will work in many parts of Canada (good for emergencies), but carries about an .85/ minute fee.
oWe are also getting an unlimited data option for our U.S. travels, this is an additional $4.99/ month. (The phone we are getting is a web phone and we can surf limtied web sites from it). Add in picture mail, and our estimated monthly bill will be 49.97 (T-Mobile)
Cost of phone $200.00

For Internet connection we have purchased an aircard (cost around $250.00, but you can find deals from time to time), and T-Mobile's unlimited wireless access plan. This will allow us to surf the net from our laptop anywhere T-Mobile offers service- basically if our cell phone works, the aircard works. In smaller areas and across the borders we will rely on net cafes and libraries. Fee: 29.99/ month. When we are out of the U.S. we can suspend our Internet service and pay only $10/ month.

*Verizon offers a similar service and their connection speed is faster, but the monthly fee is $79.99.

Second obstacle Health Insurance: ahh yes the joys of individual health insurance. Well since this isn’t the most interesting of topics I’ll cut right to the chase:

·We are getting a catastrophic plan that has a high deductible, $5100.00, however it covers all costs at 100% after the deductible, and most importantly for us, it is not an HMO or PPO, so we can see any doctor anywhere. Most other plans that are in this price range are PPO plans and you run into big problems when you are out-of-network, coinsurance goes from 80/20 to 60/40. So unless we could drag our injured bodies back into the U.S. we’d be looking at tons out-of-pocket. Price $1720 for both of us. (Fortis)

oAnother benefit of this plan for us… It is offered through State Farm our auto insurer, and gets us a multiple policy discount on our auto insurance.

·Additionally we are getting a travel insurance plan. This plan costs around $300 it covers the first $10,000 of medical expenses while on “vacation”, read as our entire year. This will reimburse us for the deductible on our health insurance plan. (Travel Guard)

·Health Insurance Total. $2020.00 for the year.

Third Obstacle Auto Insurance: yawn, I know. The reason this is problematic for us is because our RV is both an auto and an RV. Our policy therefore must cover both. And of course Mexico has it’s own ideas on auto insurance so you have to buy a separate policy for down there.

·If you are going to be in Mexico for more than a few weeks then often the most economical method is to buy a policy for the entire year. In most cases a 3-month policy costs more than a year’s. Some U.S. policies will cover you in Canada, but you’ll need to ask, and obtain a Canadian Ins. Card from you insurance company.

·We can drop our policy down to a very basic collision plan during the months we are in Mexico. This will cut our premiums down to a very reasonable amount for the period of time we are not using it, while allowing us to have uninterrupted coverage. This is very important, since many companies penalize you if you go any period of time without a U.S. policy.

·Costs: Annual full-coverage U.S. plan approximately $1200.00
·Annual full-coverage Mexico plan approximately $350.00

·Auto Insurance Total. $1550.00 for the year.

·Note: auto insurance does not cover the contents of our camper, we must carry renter’s or home owner’s insurance in order to protect our personal belongings.

So sorry to have subjected you all to this, but really if you ever plan a trip similar to ours, you will find this information helpful, i swear.