From The Real World: This Is Why You Need Travel Insurance

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By M.J. Weigand

We adopted my son from the Philippines in 2008. He was just eight years old when we brought him home. He has adjusted well to living in the U.S.; still, he’s been waiting for the opportunity to visit his homeland. He remembers fragments, but his memories of his younger childhood were incomplete. He wanted to fill in the blanks.

My son is approaching his 16th birthday. It’s the year of driver’s ed, a first job, high-school sports, and a harder academic year for someone for whom English is a second language. We decided this had to be the year, or it might be too hard to set aside two weeks.

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The author’s son at the orphanage when he spent most of his early years.

We saved up, and read about all the things to see online. The Philippines consist of more than 1,000 inhabited islands spread over thousands of square miles, and there are so many things to see: Beautiful beaches, coral reefs, caves, volcanoes, natural wonders, museums, and his most important goal — to visit the orphanage where he lived when we met him.

As we planned the trip, I realized this would be both an exciting vacation and a deep emotional experience. I wondered how he would deal with seeing people he remembered, smelling and tasting things he hadn’t experienced for half a lifetime. We would see poverty that he might have been oblivious to as a small child, in stark contrast with our Midwestern suburban lifestyle.

Easter Mass at San Agostin Cathedral, attended by a combination of tourists, homeless people, and wealthy locals. One parishioner had an armed motorcade.
Easter Mass at San Agostin Cathedral, attended by a combination of tourists, homeless people, and wealthy locals. One parishioner had an armed motorcade.

I worried a little too as I thought back to my first trip to the Philippines. I am a lifetime migraine sufferer, and haven’t been able to work full-time in years. The headache I got in Manila in 2007 was by far the worst I’ve ever had, and doctors never figured out what happened. That was on a guided trip in a big business hotel with an on-site doctor, and it was pretty scary.

For this trip my son and I were planning to travel out of Manila to the countryside, and fly to other islands, and we were finding our own lodging. There would be no other adult with us to watch my son if I was incapacitated. If we got stuck in Hong Kong, Manila or Tokyo due to flight delays, it could be very stressful.

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The author and his son on an ATV tour of the Chocolate Hills — thousands of perfectly symmetrical hills, too large to be constructed by humans and unexplained by geologists.

I decided to purchase Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, to give me some peace of mind.

The visit to the orphanage was great; one of his favorite caregivers traveled several hours by bus just to see him for a couple of hours. We stayed in the old walled-city area and attended Easter Mass at a church built in the 1520s. We toured an art museum, went to a Filipino version of an NBA playoff game, and tried just about every version of every Filipino dish I’ve never been able to prepare correctly.

We went paddleboarding in the dark, up a remote river. Our destination was a certain rare type of tree that grows along the river. We stared up at that tree, filled with thousands of fireflies flickering in unison, with billions of stars in the sky as the backdrop. As we paddled back towards the lodge, he said, “Dad, this really is the best vacation anyone has ever had.”

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The view from their dock, waiting for the darkness and the paddleboarding tour to the firefly trees.

While we were staying at a mom-and-pop beach resort on the Island of Panglao, the headache struck. I handed my son some money, and he got food for himself at the neighboring restaurant, and spent the day lounging on the beach, watching the waves, and snacking, while I suffered in our beach hut. It was an awful 14 hours of suffering, despite taking every medication I have that usually helps.

The following morning, my condition had improved somewhat, but I was still in pretty rough shape. We had just one day to recover before the 24-hour journey back to Chicago, at which point I would have to drive us three hours to our home. I couldn’t imagine being stuck on a plane for all that time. I located a doctor who would see me.

The doctor was well-qualified, knew a great deal about migraine treatment, and was very thorough. There was no paperwork. When I asked for a receipt, the receptionist didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t just a language barrier, it was something they don’t normally provide. I had to pay cash. There was no copy machine, so I couldn’t even get a copy of the doctor’s handwritten notes.

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The author and his son were able to enjoy many of the Filipino dishes they had never been able to properly prepare at home.

I was sent to a tiny pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. Within a few hours of taking the new medication, I felt much better and was able to make the journey home with no problems (other than a few days of jetlag).

As it turns out, my personal health insurance and prescription coverage don’t cover care in other countries. I had no official documentation, just the handwritten prescription and a cash-register receipt from the pharmacy. I couldn’t even complete the claim form properly, as the providers in the Philippines don’t use the number coding system used in the U.S.

However, none of this was a problem for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. I just took pictures of my receipt, filled out the claim form online in a couple of minutes, and sent them the rejection notices from my own insurance. In a vey short time, my claim was paid and my bills were taken care of.

Simple requirements, friendly service — I wish BHTP could provide health coverage for me year-round! Thanks for caring for my needs, giving me some peace of mind, and playing a little part in “the best vacation anyone ever had.”

M.J. Weigand’s latest book, Roadtrip Honeymoon and the Meth Bikers From Hell, is available here.

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