When you take a vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is unexpected expenses and the hassle associated with travel insurance. Yet when you're travelling outside of Canada, a trip to the emergency room, or even a visit to a doctor’s office can be very expensive.
Whether you’re planning a month-long trek in Nepal or simply crossing the border to go outlet shopping in Buffalo or Bellingham, having coverage under a travel insurance policy is an essential part of every trip.
Here are a few tips to consider the next time you purchase travel medical insurance.
1. Even if you already have travel insurance under an employee benefits plan, it is a good idea to check your coverage -- out-of-country medical coverage might not be available, or may not cover your spouse or dependents.
2. Some policies require you to purchase additional insurance for adventure travel, which can include hiking, bungee jumping, skiing or even safer activities such as caving or boat tours.
Make sure to check the fine print. Review your existing policy to see if you can top up your coverage and make sure you’re fully protected.
3. Have you ever noticed that when you book a vacation online, you are almost always offered the opportunity to buy travel insurance? It might be convenient, but it is almost never a good deal.
Take the time to do your research -- check out and compare rates from your financial institution, travel insurance companies and brokers as well as the online travel agency you are booking with.
4. Consider buying a multi-trip insurance policy, which means you will be covered for all of your trips for one annual rate. This can be a huge money saver, even if you take just a few trips each year.
5. If you are travelling as a family, you might be able to buy a single policy that covers all members of your family at a much cheaper rate.
6. The cost of your insurance policy is usually based on your age, the type of coverage you choose, the duration and cost of your trip and, in some cases, your health.
Disclose any pre-existing medical conditions you might have, and make sure to get everything in writing.
7. Some insurance companies require you to pay out of pocket for any medical expenses incurred during your trip, which they will reimburse upon receiving your receipts. Be sure you understand how your policy works so there are no surprises.
No one books a vacation assuming the worst, but it is something that we all have to take into serious consideration. When you’re travelling, even a minor accident can quickly turn into a major expense.
Buying travel insurance and understanding what you are covered for will provide you with peace of mind as well as a stress-free vacation. Do you buy medical insurance when you travel?
Krystal Yee is a marketing professional living in Vancouver. She writes about personal finance at Give Me Back My Five Bucks, and the Toronto Star’s Moneyville.ca. You can reach her on Twitter (@krystalatwork), or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Things you're doing throughout the day could impact how you're sleeping at night. Here are four bad habits to kick for a better bedtime.
Nighttime exercise While daily physical activity is great, you'll sleep much better if you finish your workout at least three hours before your bedtime to allow the stimulating effects of exercise to dissipate. Late-night meals Nix late-night meals, which may interfere with your ability to sleep soundly, and give your body a rest from digestion. Try to finish supper at least three hours before you turn in for the night, and keep any bedtime snacks on the light side.
Alcohol consumption "Alcohol first induces sleep because it's a sedating compound," says Dr. Charles Samuels of Calgary's Centre for Sleep and Human Performance, "but then it disrupts sleep because the alcohol leaves the system very quickly." He adds that the depressant also suppresses REM, or dream, sleep, which the body needs to repair itself. If you have a drink with dinner, however, it will likely clear your system by bedtime, so it shouldn't affect your sleep cycle.
Screen time Staring at your computer, tablet or smartphone until lights-out can curtail your ability to doze off (interestingly, watching TV is fine, as long as it's not done in bed). The light from these devices suppresses the release of sleep-inducing melatonin from our brains, and the stimulation from games, emails and social media keeps our brains active. For best sleep, turn off devices three hours before bedtime and keep all screens out of the bedroom.
Get help and information at your fingertips with these smartphone apps.
On January 25, the charitable campaign Bell Let's Talk Day will resume an ongoing and urgent conversation about mental health in Canada. Tracking the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Bell Canada will donate five cents for every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and, this year, they'll also be counting a Snapchat geofilter. Donations since it's inception total nearly $80 million, and the campaign is on track to raise $100 million by 2020.
The good news, thanks in part to the campaign, is that the stigma surrounding mental illness is steadily reducing, with 81 percent of people more aware of mental health issues compared to just five years ago. But for every stride made in funding research and ridding stereotypes, the stigma still exists and access to care stagnates.
The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health reports, "While mental illness accounts for about 10 percent of the burden of disease in Ontario, it receives just seven percent of healthcare dollars." This underfunding leaves Canadians suffering from mental illnesses—and their families—to bear the financial burden. This is especially troubling when Canadians in the lowest income group are three to four times more likely to report poor to fair mental health than those in the highest income group. What's more, even if you have the means to incur expenses such as therapy and counselling, you can expect a long wait, especially if you're seeking help for a child. In Ontario, for example, it's not uncommon to wait six months to one year for therapy.
Here's where the latest technology—available on your smartphone or tablet—can help. Whether you want to speak with a doctor, therapist or just explore your options, these apps put the power of obtaining mental health help and information in the palm of your hand. Here are five of our favourites.
Maven Clinic: Meet your digital health clinic. This app—specifically designed for women—allows you to speak privately with mental health specialists, as well as other healthcare professionals (such as nurse practitioners, physical therapists, nutritionists, OB/GYNs or paediatricians). You can video chat with a medical professional (appointments start at $18 and go up to $70 for a 40-minute mental health appointment) and even get a prescription. There are also free forums where you can chat with other users and ask questions.
MindShift: Young people ages 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group. Created by Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia, MindShift is designed to help teens and young adults cope with anxiety. Some of the app's features include breathing exercises, a symptom checker to help rate your current anxiety, and steps to get you through difficult episodes or situations.
TranQool: Whether you're nervous about talking to a therapist for the first time or need more time with one, this app connects you with registered therapists and mental health professionals for a secure one-on-one session. You can match to experts (who focus on teaching cognitive behavioural therapy) based on preference, and can feel safe knowing the video chat is secure and never recorded. TranQool is currently only available in Ontario but the app is planning to launch in other provinces across Canada.
Akira: Founders Dustin Walper and Dr. Taha Bandukwala had a vision to rethink the way healthcare works here and around the world. Akira heralds itself as the "doctor in your pocket" and connects you with doctors and nurse practitioners via your smartphone. The app allows you to speak to a professional who can refer you to specialists, prescribe or renew prescriptions and suggest community resources that might be helpful for you.
TalkSpace: This app allows you to privately talk to a licensed therapist nearly any time of day from your smartphone or tablet. TalkSpace also offers couples therapy and a new Social Media Dependency Therapy, a 12-week program to better understand and manage social media's impact on mental health. With more than 1,000 therapists available, you can receive quick, anonymous, accurate help and information from a trusted professional.
While these apps are good alternatives to seeking help or information about mental illness, they may not be equipped to deal with crisis situations. If you are in a crisis situation, call 911 or go to your local hospital.
Our best cooking tips for making dough and so much more!
When prepping grains (think quinoa, bulgur or rice), enhance their flavour with tea rather than the usual broth or water. Cook with your favourite brew: I prefer a full-bodied tea, such as smoky lapsang souchong, fragrant Earl Grey or aromatic chai, but you can also choose a milder green tea or herbal blend. Before adding the liquid to grains, steep black teas for three to five minutes, green for two to three minutes, and herbal for five to seven minutes—tisanes don't become bitter, so they can take a longer brewing time.
Here's a foolproof way to remove a lingering garlic scent from your hands: Rub your fingers against a stainless-steel object, like your kitchen sink or a spoon, then rinse under cool water. Garlic is packed with sulphur molecules (that's what gives it a lovely taste and a not-so-lovely smell), which scientists say can form a chemical bond with stainless steel.
Out of vanilla? Head to your liquor cabinet—Kahlúa makes the perfect replacement.
Save your parmesan rinds! Store them in the freezer (they'll keep for months), then drop them into simmering soups or sauces for an amazing flavour boost.
The next time you're making dough, instead of using a pastry blender or the two-knife method to cut in cold butter, try grating it over the flour mixture, then tossing to coat. The butter will be more evenly distributed in the flour mixture, resulting in a light, flaky crust.
Tools of the trade
Three must-have items for a well-stocked kitchen.
1. Y-peeler: The wide grip makes peeling easy, plus the blade creates perfect Parmesan shavings and vegetable ribbons.
2. Large canning jar: This kitchen MacGyver doubles as a cocktail shaker and storage for dry goods. It's also a great place to keep fresh herbs—stand your mint or basil leaves in about two inches of water and change the water daily.
3. Kitchen scissors: This gadget is a huge time-saver when it comes to chopping herbs, segmenting a whole chicken or trimming veggies.
How one woman found love with someone who had lost it.
After my husband and I separated, I didn't think I would ever fall in love again. I had two little children and couldn't imagine being in another relationship. I felt unlucky in love, as if perhaps I didn't deserve to be happy. Besides, I hadn't dated in 15 years and, now, didn't know where to begin. But six months after I separated, a mom I'd just met called to ask if I'd be interested in going on a blind date with her friend James*, a single dad who had recently lost his wife to cancer.
By then, every single person I'd met had baggage, including me, so it never occurred to me that dating a widower would be different from dating anyone else. I didn't even really consider the possibility that a first date might lead to a second. But from the get-go, I could tell James was different. The conversation flowed easily, he was funny and interesting…we ended up going on that second date, then a third. When he asked me to date him exclusively a few weeks later, I was ecstatic— but a few months into our relationship, something weird started happening. There were a series of days when, inexplicably, he wasn't himself. He was quiet and sad and didn't want to talk.
I knew what it felt like when a man wasn't interested in me anymore—that's how my marriage had ended. So when he would clam up and be distant, I had a familiar sickening feeling. We met for a drink at a quiet neighbourhood bar, where I cut to the chase. "I'm sorry, James, but I don't know what to do when you won't talk to me. I can't do it," I told him, too sad to drink my wine. I hoped ending things would spare him the trouble of dumping me and spare myself the pain of having yet another person leave me. I was beside myself: I couldn't believe things were ending when everything had been going so well.
Only now, James was ready to talk. "I've mentioned that my wife died two years ago, and I'm sorry for not being able to communicate with you better. Certain days of the year are hard for me, and I've just got through some very difficult back-to-back anniversaries," he explained, his eyes fixed on his lap. "Some days, I don't want to talk, but I'm feeling better again and I don't want you to take it personally. I'm just trying to cope as best I can; it has nothing to do with you. I really like you and I like where this relationship is going."
He looked up into my eyes and stretched his arms across the table. His warm hands enveloped my own. It hadn't occurred to me that he was going through a rough patch; because of my own history, I assumed it was something I had done. I didn't yet know enough about his life or about grief to understand his personality or the dates that would be difficult for him. When he communicated his feelings, I felt as though I understood him, like we were connecting on a deeper level. I realized then that this man was different kinder, deeper, stronger and more compassionate—than anyone else I was likely to meet. As a newly single mother struggling to get back on my feet, I had my own set of issues and insecurities; dating a widower on top of it all wouldn't be easy, but I had fallen in love. I had to try.
My situation isn't as unique as you might think. In 2016, about 1.83 million widowed people were living in Canada, and many of them are finding their way back onto the dating market. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 19 percent of those who are currently divorced, separated or widowed report using online dating. In fact, Match.com saw an 8.3 percent increase in the proportion of widowed users in Canada from 2015 to 2016.
Rebecca Cooper Traynor, a Toronto matchmaker who founded Match Me Canada, has seen a similar trend. "I'd say that about 10 percent of my clients are widowers," she says; most of them are 55 and older, but some are only in their 30s and 40s. And at the same time as this group has become more interested in dating, she has also seen a shift in perceptions about them. "I've noticed that my other clients are more open to dating a widower now than when I started my business eight years ago," she says. "Some people are tired of dating divorcés and hearing about their anger and resentment on a date. They want to meet someone in a different space, someone who knows how to love."
A delicate balance As in any relationship, James and I have challenges—but some of the things we face are specific to his widowed status. For example, in the five years since we went on our blind date, I've learned to give James space on significant dates, such as on his late wife's birthday, their wedding anniversary and the day she died. Since our near-breakup early on, I've marked those days on my calendar so I can call to say I'm thinking of him and see if I can help. Being in tune with your partner's needs is often the best thing you can do, says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor with the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax. "Ask your partner what you can do to make those tough days better. Your awareness itself can be a lovely gesture. Maybe you don't need to be involved and you can give your partner the space he or she needs to continue that grief work," he says. "That can be a gift in and of itself."
I've also learned that, contrary to the proverbial "five stages of grief," how we mourn doesn't fit into easy steps. In fact, the psychiatrist who first identified those stages, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, never intended them to apply to the living—her research was on people who were facing their own deaths. In other words, watching for signs of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is no way to tell whether a mourner is ready to move forward.
Rather, many grief specialists champion the "companioning" philosophy espoused by author, counsellor and educator Alan Wolfelt. They believe that the process is individual and that bereaved people tend to know when they are ready to move forward. According to this model of grief, mourners have six needs that must be met in order to reconcile their loss: acknowledging the reality of the death; embracing the pain of the loss; remembering the person who died; developing a new self-identity; searching for meaning; and receiving ongoing support from others. But this isn't a checklist and there's no time frame for completion, or a particular order in which they must happen.
"The companioning model of bereavement distinguishes between grieving—the internal experiencing of pain—and mourning, which is the outward expression of that pain," says Maureen Theberge, a psychologist at Viewpoint Counselling Psychology in Calgary. "Grief isn't something you 'get over' any more than you 'get over' love, but those who can mourn well will have a better outcome for moving forward. Having a way to remember the dead, to honour and acknowledge them, especially when the mourner has children, can be healing. It's meaningful and may offer comfort."
Finding your way For the first few years, James commemorated special days only with his close family, but recently, I've been invited to participate by attending an annual memorial service and being with his family to remember his wife's birthday. I'm happy to support him in this way, much as he has supported me through my divorce—but the truth is, it can be hard for me emotionally. Sometimes, I'm sad for days afterward. I want to weep thinking about what an unfair loss James, his family and his wife suffered. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for his wife to be diagnosed with a terminal illness as a young adult, to hear she was going to die. But I've come to understand that grieving is a healthy sign. Even if the process hurts, it brings James' family and friends together. I've seen how remembering and celebrating his wife provides them with strength to continue on. We have been companioning without realizing it.
As much as I grieve with James and his family on sad days, I've also had a hard time coping with his loss on great days. It's embarrassing to admit, but sometimes, I've felt guilty for dating James. I've seen his late wife's beautiful photos, can sense how wonderful she was and feel how much she was loved—how much she still is loved. I've dissolved in tears, overwhelmed that James and I are on a romantic vacation together when he should have been with the love of his life, his wife. How was I ever going to fill her shoes? How would I measure up? What if I couldn't?
As difficult as these feelings are, experts say they're normal. Unlike dating a divorcé, Theberge says dating a widower can feel threatening because the person's partner didn't choose to leave; rather, "death tore them apart." Logically, however, jealousy doesn't help. "It's irrational," says Theberge. "You are not in competition with the deceased. Your relationship is new and unique."
Just because those feelings are irrational doesn't make them any less real, and it's important to deal with them, says Ellis. He suggests looking within at why you're feeling insecure. "We are each responsible for our self-esteem and self-love. Take stock, find out what's hurting and share it with your partner, but not in an accusing way," he says.
Overcoming feelings of insecurity isn't easy. As Ellis says, "You have to learn to integrate the presence of the deceased in a new relationship the way you don't in divorce. With divorce, you're out; with death, you've got to come to terms with the fact the other person is still loved and recognized." But while the challenges are different, "it doesn't mean you can't have a successful relationship."
Talk therapy In order to do that, though, you have to communicate. I knew I had to tell James how I was feeling, but it was difficult to have that conversation, to admit my insecurities. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt awash with shame. But James was patient and loving and told me his wife wanted him to be happy. Talking to him made me realize I couldn't change his past, but I could have a future with him—and I was helping him move forward, which is what his wife wanted.
Over time, I've grown to believe that we don't have only one soul mate for life. It's possible to love more than one person. When you have a second child, after all, you don't stop loving the first; you make more room in your heart. And now I see that grieving is good, that talking about fears and sadness can be healing. I know not to compare, not to think of myself as an inadequate replacement for the woman he really wanted.
James and I know too well that life can be fleeting. We understand that time is precious. We are taking things slowly—not rushing to combine families or get married—but when I look into his eyes, when I hold his hand on good days and bad, I know we are moving forward together.
Success factors Five tips from the experts for building a healthy relationship with a widower.
1. Communicate, even if it hurts, says Suzanne Farmer, a psychologist (candidate register) at Cornerstone Psychological Services in Halifax. "There will be times when your partner will think about his deceased spouse and miss her; there will be times when you might feel threatened or hurt. You have to be able to communicate these feelings."
2 Be open-hearted and understanding. "Sometimes your partner might experience bursts of grief, and you have to let him be sad and feel his pain. It's normal. It's not a judgment about you," says Calgary-based psychologist Maureen Theberge.
3. See your partner as a whole person. His experience of loving someone and having that person die is just part of his story.
4. Be ready for sudden mood swings. "Sex and emotional intimacy can sometimes trigger upwellings of grief and emotion," says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor in Halifax. The best way to prepare yourself for the possibility is to have discussions about intimacy in advance.
5. Be open to a new life. "Your partner will never 'get over' the loss— he will be forever changed—but it doesn't mean life can't be beautiful again," says Theberge.