People have the travel bug again, but this summer, getting to where you’re going – whether by air or road – can be anything but simple.
Some travellers are turning to the myriad accessories, gadgets and products available that can help make the journey smoother, safer and less frustrating.
”I am travelling differently now, as are many other travellers,” says Grimsby, Ont., resident Wendy Paradis. A sales, marketing and tourism expert for over two decades, even she’s felt a need to be better prepared for business and leisure trips.
For the past six years, Ms. Paradis has been president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), representing some 24,000 agents. Since the pandemic’s start early in 2020, she has ventured to parts of the U.S., Canada and even the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao.
Ms. Paradis says that more than ever, you need to pack smarter, and that includes having the right trip cancellation, interruption and medical insurance. An overload of passengers and staff shortages at airports have contributed to long waits, dropped and delayed trips, lost luggage and other headache-inducing woes. For Ms. Paradis, her must-haves now include an Apple AirTag, which is a Bluetooth-enabled tracking device that works with her iPhone and allows her to locate her luggage quickly. A package of four sells for about $100. Another item is her smart knapsack that cost her about $130, and allows her to easily access her passport, vaccination and other travel papers, keeps her wallet safe, and “have all my tech tools readily available while maximizing my luggage,” she says.
”I spent five days in Curaçao recently and I packed carefully,” she says. “I had everything I needed to allow me to use carry-on only, and never had a problem.”
Because she travels frequently, and speaks to travellers and agents regularly, “I get all these ideas to have the best experience and expedite travel and avoid the airport problems as best as possible.”
Some of Ms. Paradis’s other tips include getting a Nexus pass to expedite border clearances, among other perks. She also recommends downloading any special app associated with your airline to upload any COVID-19 tests, identification and customs clearance documents, and filling out the ArriveCan app for entry back to Canada before you leave another country. In addition, she suggests arranging airport parking in advance via the company’s app.
For Calgary resident Matthew Bailey, 37, many of his travel must-haves relate to driving adventures, although he’s also prepared for flying. He and his wife, Karla Bailey, 35, are behind Must Do Canada, a travel guide business they launched in 2017 with a 150-day cross-country road trip to mark Canada’s 150th birthday. The couple often work with government tourism boards and private companies.
Mr. Bailey’s favourite accessories vary in cost: from a luxury sleep mask that blacks out light and puts no pressure on the eyes (for about $35), to three listening devices – wireless earbuds, plug-in earbuds, and regular headphones, each less than $100. He has all three because wireless Bluetooth ones, if they work on the plane, may only be used during the flight and not during takeoff and landings, so this makes sure he has listening continuity for the airline’s entertainment system or his work computer. His final gadget is his $2,000 drone camera that captures aerial views without putting him in danger.
As air travel became complicated and more people turned to driving, Mr. Bailey found some of those tried-and-true gadgets for road trips were back in vogue.
”We’re even doing a video about things to use in the car,” he said from Saint John, N.B., on one of his recent trips. “One thing I’ve had for a while is a portable tire inflator kit. It’s easy and fast to put air in your tires.
”While there are high-tech Global Positioning System (GPS) devices for vehicles that can cost hundreds of dollars, Mr. Bailey uses a GPS tracker on his cellphone, so “something that’s really useful is one of those gadgets to hold your phone up [while in the car] – we use Google Maps a lot, so having it hang in front of you is convenient.”
If you’re a camper, he also recommends having a head lamp. “It’s like having a flashlight but you strap it on your head, which is nice if you’re using your hands.”
With the unpredictability of travel and emerging variants of COVID-19, more people are making insurance a priority, says Elliott Silverstein, Toronto-based director of government relations for CAA Insurance.
“During the pandemic, we had people very hungry to travel” and they didn’t or couldn’t, “and now we’re seeing people travelling, but it’s a very different world,” says Mr. Silverstein. “Trip cancellation and medical and other insurance coverage is becoming more popular compared to pre-pandemic times.”
Early in the pandemic, travel insurance covering COVID-19 illness wasn’t generally available because of high pandemic alert levels in different countries, prompting governments to recommend travel only for essential reasons. In recent months, with few limits on non-essential travel, various insurers have been offering COVID-19-related coverage.
To determine the insurance that’s right for you, both Ms. Paradis and Mr. Silverstein recommend consulting with a travel agent or adviser, even if you already have coverage such as through your employer, other policies or credit cards.
“Do your homework ahead of time – don’t do it at the last minute,” says Mr. Silverstein.
“When in doubt, do your own research and talk to a professional to guide you in the right direction. The biggest risk is travelling without knowledge or education,” he explains.
“It’s important to know what coverage you have if any, and more importantly, what are the limitations of the coverage – what’s in and what’s not in your plan. You could slip and fall and get covered, but you may not be covered for COVID. Even if you have insurance, you may need to add on, for yourself or your family.”
It also pays to be forward thinking.
“You never know when another country may raise or lower their [COVID alert] levels,” says Mr. Silverstein. “It’s about understanding where things are when you leave, and where they may be when you return. Another country’s rules may strengthen or loosen before you get on a plane.”