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The Cashless Road, Less Travelled

16 March, 2008

The best things in the world are free, said Kareena Kapoor's character, Geet, in Jab We Met. However, in an immediate afterthought, she realized how even buying a bottle of water can be impossible without some ready cash.
Apart from being a delightful film, this film is interesting for the way its main characters make the 1,270 km long journey from Mumbai to Bathinda with Aditya's (Shahid Kapur) credit card as their only resource. Banking on her track record of never having missed a single train in her life, Geet confidently alights at remote Bad Nagar, only to be stranded without her baggage and in her nightclothes. Given the mindless stupor that Aditya is in, it is a miracle he does not discard his wallet along with his tie and cufflinks. His credit card saves the day.
Carrying a lot of cash on a journey that will span many days is not a good idea, especially for couples who are burdened with mental baggage. Credit cards have an advatage here, although one must remember that each transaction leaves a trail, especially at petrol filling stations.
Had Geet not been overconfident of having an error-free trip, she might have opted for travel insurance. The platinum cover offered by ICICI Lombard may have been her "right option" if she was travelling abroad. Its overseas trip cancellation compensates for the total loss of checked baggage. Were she to lose her belongings at any of the halts or destinations on the specified itinerary; she would be compensated up to $500. If a temporary delay in checked-in baggage were to occur at any halt, the company would pay for emergency purchases like clothing, medication and toiletries. And if she happened to lose her passport, or face the eventuality of a hijack, or be robbed, the policy would help too. Even a simple delay in travel or the mere interruption of the trip would entitle her to benefits.
ICICI's domestic group caver helps in cases when the common carrier loses the entire checked-in baggage or there is a delay in delivery. Similarly, the interruption or cancellation of a journey, or a mere delay, would earn one compensation too. In the rare event that one missed a flight due to reasons beyond her control-being driven by the compulsion to help a fellow passenger in distress does not qualify-one would not go home empty-handed either.
Given Aditya's willingness to offer the lady a ready reckoner of options (recall the time he lists the ways in which she can get rid of her childhood suitor), he may have suggested the health and travel insurance scheme put out by Bajaj Allianz General Insurance. "Our overseas policy covers medical expenses, personal accidents, loss of baggage, delay of checked baggage as well as loss of passport," says Shreeraj Deshpande, head, health and travel insurance, Bajaj Allianz.
Before she dismisses him with a "Next!" Geet might like to know that students are covered for reimbursement of tuition fee, and hospitalization for themselves and their parents as well as their sponsors. If she ever felt the need to discover more about the policy, the company's 24-hour helpline would come in handy. Although going by her conversational ability, the calling card that Aditya named in her honour would help too.
When the duo wish to make another domestic trip, they could explore the Swadesh Yatra scheme by Bajaj Allianz. "This policy is more comprehensive and covers all risks during domestic travel," says Deshpande. It provides for personal accident cover in case of accidental injuries resulting in death or permanent total disability, medical evacuation as well as personal liability.
It is always possible that Geet and Aditya could be forced to check in at Hotel Decent, braving another encounter with hotel clerk Teddy Maurya, also the film's art director. If this resulted from a delayed trip, loss of air or rail ticket, or missed departure thanks to an argument with vendor Asif Basra over the price of mineral water, this policy would allow for that too.
Interestingly, Bajaj Allianz has a special plan called Shubh Yatra which covers a rail journey. "The plan offers personal accident, hospitalization and burglary cover, with premiums ranging from Rs. 30 to Rs 250 for four days," Deshpande says. Tailormade for that trip via Punjab Mail.
Yet another option Geet could consider comes from Royal Sundaram Alliance Insurance. Managing Director, Ajay Bimbhet, says his firm does not offer domestic travel insurance but its Travel Shield for international trips entitles policyholders to cashless medical treatment in case of medical emergency. The loss of checked-in luggage as well as passport or visa would allow them to avail of the prescribed compensation. Could be ideal for someone who hands out precious travel documents along with Babaji's frame and her collection of soft toys to passengers while boarding the moving train.
Finally, despite powering the importance of cashless travel and proper insurance, Jab We Met manages to hone in on the truth that life's simple pleasures do come for free. His privileged corporate upbringing never once exposed Aditya to the joys of a common ice gola.
Plan long-distance trips well in time.
Save for them so you do not have to draw on your immediate resources.
Check train and flight schedules beforehand and make travel reservations. Arranging for pre-paid local transportation at your chosen destination can prevent you being fleeced by unscrupulous drivers.
Do not alight at any stop midway through your journey to make purchases or stretch your legs, even if you believe the halt is of comfortable duration. If you are a woman travelling alone, hiring a taxi or auto rickshaw to take you through an unfamiliar route, more so at an odd hour, is a risky idea.
Identify the route you will take and the place you will put up at. Make hotel reservations after verifying its credentials. Staying with a casual acquaintance may save money but it could compromise your security.
Share your travel itinerary with family, especially if you are travelling alone, and give them telephone numbers of the hotels or friends with whom you will be staying. This will ensure they can check on your well-being  if they do not hear from you for a time. Keep them posted over the telephone or by email.
While you must avoid carrying a lot of cash on your person, use your credit card with caution. Do not let it out of your sight even as a petrol station attendant or hotel clerk swipes it. Monitor each transaction in order to avoid falling victim to credit card fraud.
Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Rogue elements and thieves commonly drug unwary travellers and rob them.
Do not allow children to travel alone. If you must put them on a plane journey by themselves, entrust them to a responsible airline staffer and make sure someone is waiting to receive them at the airport