Thursday, July 24, 2008

Travel Insurance: Avoid These Mistakes!

I just spent $200 too much on insurance because I made a few simple mistakes. And I'll bet you have made them too. But we also saved almost the same amount by being smart about a few things, so I'm not feeling too bad......well OK, I'm still feeling angry about being duped by the insurance advisers.

We went on a trip to Arizona ( loved it). But it was our first time there and we had to rely on some advice from various service reps.

Here are the things we did right, to get the best deals in insurance:
  • We bought a great travel health insurance package through our bank. We made sure it was designed for our nationality ( Canadian) and would give us the best services as well as an emergency flight home, if needed. And we compared policies with other service clubs and credit cards. It turned out our bank had the best deal and guaranteed services.
  • We booked through Expedia and declined the trip cancellation and baggage loss insurance. After all, the vacation package was such a good deal we would not be sacrificing too much if disaster hit and we couldn't go. Also, we came to shop, so the bags would be pretty empty going down!
NOW here is how we got conned into paying too much insurance! THE CAR

Car rental insurance is a tricky thing. Yes yes, we all know that this is how the companies make their profit ( or so the urban folklore says). And yes we were all ready to decline everything thrown at us. But we made one single costly mistake. We didn't do our research specifically for car rental insurance in Arizona. This left us vulnerable to the service advisor.

We managed to decline everything at the front counter, but the company was not going to give up that easy. As we were being led to our car, another advisor worked on us, telling us horror stories of maniac Arizona drivers. Who knew?

Then she started on about some obscure laws in Arizona and how that the insurance on our credit card was invalid. And since we had not phoned our credit card company to ask specifically about renting cars in Arizona, we were hooked.....and signing form after costly form.

We spent a day cautiously driving around, keeping a wary eye out for these maniac Arizonians. All the time, having that sour feeling you get when you know you've been conned. Sure enough, when we got home we found out that we had double paid on the car rental insurance and, to be honest, the worst drivers we saw in Arizona were fellow tourists.....probably also looking for maniacs on the road!

Bottom line then.
  • Do your research before you even begin to book anything.
  • Call all your financial service companies and find out what they offer.
  • Check you credit card companies ( we had free insurance on one card, but not another)
  • Ask the insurance reps SPECIFIC questions. Ask about the specific area you intend to stay in.
  • Ask your travel insurance advisor about your travel health insurance using the most nightmarish scenario you can think of. The fine print on the contracts was obviously written by some lawyer gnome who has never left his cave. I have never been able to figure it out.
  • If you start feeling pressured to take action while doing your research, it could be because that person is on commission. Fair enough, they have to make a living. Just tell them that you are in the research phase and ask how to get back to them specifically, or how they can get credit for the sale if you choose their product.
Do not make my mistakes. I learned the hard way. Next trip will involve a few more phone calls, but it will save me a few hundred dollars.

.........well, OK, it will probably allow more money to go into the Arizona retail economy. Forget maniac drivers....there are some maniac shoppers looking south!

Good Luck in your travels,

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How to Make Wine at Home

Homemade wine can be an easy fun hobby if you follow these simple rules.
  • Work in a clean sanitized setting
  • Give yourself enough time
  • Only take on wine making projects you are experienced enough for
  • Start with a simple kit and read the instructions several times over before starting
  • Follow the instructions exactly for the first few times
  • And don't skip the stirring parts!
Making wine at home is actually quite easy. But for years I was intimidated by the thought of it. And to tell you the truth, for years I couldn't stand the smell or taste of wine...... mostly because of a few of my father's experiments gone wrong. Yes, wine can explode! And yes it can look like a huge vat of rotten gunk! But only if you are trying to make wine without reading and following good instructions.

The instructions included in wine kits are a good basic start, but they can be confusing at times. I just made some wine from Italy and the instructions seemed to have been written by someone with a poor grasp of English. I had to guess my way through a few steps.

Luckily I just received a Godsend of a book which helped me. Click Here for information about this great wine making book! I wish my dad had this book in his early wine making years. It would have saved the whole family from misery.

In the early years, my dad didn't have anyone to educate him. His European friends only told him to mix fruit, water and yeast and wait. My bedroom always seemed to be next to his workshop, so I got to see and smell and hear all the stages of my dad's self education process. Talk about aversion therapy!

The good news is that Dad is now making wine which rivals most commercial products. His only problem now is that he has to hide it, to allow it to age. The rest of the family is aware of Dad's wine making talents and bottles seem to disappear.

But, Dad's new wine making skills didn't come easy. He had to hang around the local wine supply shop and pick up tips, and experiment, experiment, experiment. For a while he acted like some mad scientist!

When I would come home for a visit, I would find the basement filled with all sorts of gizmos, and tubes, and jars filled with who knows what. Dad would disappear for hours muttering something about checking gravity and mixing mud! So even though I had now learned to appreciate wine, I was still intimidated about making home made wine. It was easier to just pilfer my dad's supply.

FINALLY, last year I took the plunge and decided to try to make homemade wine. The local store had a sale on a kit of all the basic wine making supplies. It cost less than a bottle a mediocre wine ( smart marketing ). I read through the instructions and got a grape juice concentrate recommended by a guy who was hanging around in the aisle trying to avoid his wife.

To be honest, the first batch turned out OK. Just OK. And I paid for it with lots of time and anxiety. Little did I realize I was repeating my Dad's early mistakes. Dad didn't have adequate training. And neither did I. The only thing that saved me was that I was making wine from a kit, rather than gathering up some windfall fruit!

Since that first batch of wine, I've researched and experimented and can now make something I really like. But I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety, not to mention some nose holding wine drinking, by having Scott Young's handy new book. Scott runs All Wine Making website, which offers a free wine making course as well as other great resources ( check out his blog ).

I just got Scott's new book, "Delicious Wine Making Made Easy", and instantly wished all my wine making friends would buy it. It covers wine making from the very beginning stages, to fail safe advanced recipes. This means that you have one manual for a lifetime of wine making at home.

And here is the best part. "Delicious Wine Making Made Easy" is an easy read. Scott takes all the anxiety out of home wine making. He has a clear and fun style of writing. You are not going to get lost in a bunch of wine techno babble. All the answers you need are easy to find and illustrated with detailed pictures. No more frantic squinting at vague instruction sheets, or hunting through a bunch of poorly written websites.

I've printed out my copy of Scott's ebook and have it handy for when I need it. But if you don't have a laser printer you can order a useful spiral bound copy ( hint: Don't bother printing it out with an inkjet printer. The first drip of water or wine will smear everything up. ) You can get more info at Scott's website All Wine Making (just click on that link).

I should also point out a great added benefit to owning this book. I now have access to Scott and am able to suggest topics for his newsletter. This means that "Delicious Wine Making Made Easy" is like a key to all sorts of advanced knowledge which will be coming in the newsletters.

My dad needed a tutor when he started. He didn't have one, and we had to live with quite a few "science experiments". I'm lucky that I've found one in Scott.

Here is a video of Scott showing the basics on wine making at home and also how to make a fruit wine from a kit:

Well, good luck with your new hobby!