Travel insurance was at the forefront of my mind last week as I spent an entire morning trying to unravel my trip plans. I was supposed to fly off to the West coast of the USA and Mexico for a month when my mum fell and broke her leg. That injury in itself wasn’t life threatening but the post-operation complications she developed, including a clot on her lung, pneumonia, heart concerns and ‘an impressive’ amount of fluid on her lungs, was enough to make me strike off any thoughts of crossing the Atlantic.
Fortunately, my mum is now on the mend and I’ll soon be taking an amended version of my initial trip. However, it’s not the first time I’ve needed my travel insurance. Cancelled flights, lost luggage, ill health (mine and other peoples’), a serious injury and more dropped and damaged gadgets than I can count, I’ve certainly had occasion to use my travel insurance over the years and every time I’ve been beyond grateful that I took out a policy.
It’s easy, especially if you’re on a budget or have never had a bad travel day, to cut out the expense of travel insurance. However, it’s not until things go wrong that you realise the value of being insured.
Many of the stories below are based on personal experience or stories I’ve heard from other travellers I’ve met around the globe. I’m not trying my hand at scaremongering. I do genuinely believe that travel insurance is one of the most important things you can buy before you travel.
Here’s 10 times you’ll realise the importance of travel insurance.
1. When you get sick or injured while you’re away
If I have one health weakness, it’s my throat. With too many late night parties, early mornings, an excess of alcohol, air conditioning, flights and bad food choices (street food tastes so good but it’s rarely stuffed with nutrients), I’ve had to take a trip to the doctor more than once in my years of full-time travel.
And then there was that time I decided it would be a good idea to bend my knee in entirely the wrong direction, snapping my anterior cruciate ligament and splitting my cartilage. And, of course, there’s that time I got dengue fever while I was in Mexico and have to rejig all of my Caribbean travel plans (expensive)
Of course, these instances of sickness only occur when I’m on US soil and therefore subject to the world’s most expensive health care system.
A shot of steroids, two doctor’s appointments and antibiotics for my throat clocked up over $500 in medical fees. But that was nothing compared to the consultations, x-rays, MRI, CT scan, vein scans, taxis and business class upgrade I required to get me home when I bust my knee.
Nobody wants to get sick when they’re away and many small ailments can be dealt with by a pharmacist with limited cost but if you find yourself requiring medical help or, worse, hospital treatment, those bills are going to rack up very quickly. Look at being flown home by medivac and those costs fly into the stratosphere.
Also, don’t underestimate the strange illnesses you might meet on your travels. I spoke to one girl in Asia earlier this year who’d spent weeks in hospital after getting bubonic plague – yes, black death – from a flea bite. Sadly, she didn’t have any travel insurance and her family were forced to foot an ongoing bill.
2. When you’re undertaking risky activities
Luckily, I’ve personally never needed medical attention from any of the fun (risky) activities I’ve undertaken. That’s not without trying, of course. Like, that time my horse tried to decapitate me with a tree branch on a posada in Brazil, or that time I ended up hiking down a volcano in the dark with no shoes on, or that time a whale shark nearly swam into me.
Good travel insurance will cover you for a host of risky activities while you’re away – from wing suit jumps to circus performing (should either take your fancy) – but most often it’s not the parachute or bungee jump gone wrong that people need medical help for; it’s the mundane but ubiquitous road rash worn by most travellers in South East Asia who rent a scooter for the first time and promptly fall off it.
3. When you need to cancel or amend your trip before you go
Whether you fall ill or a family member does or some other calamity comes calling and you no longer want to take your intended trip, cancelling pre-paid travel plans is often expensive. There is no way I could have boarded a flight to Las Vegas while my mum was suffering serious health concerns and it was wonderfully comforting to know that, thanks to my travel insurance, financials considerations didn’t need to enter into my decision to stay home or take my trip.
4. When you need to come home early
Sure, most travel insurance won’t help you out if you suddenly decide that Italy isn’t for you (though I’ve not met a single person who thought Italy wasn’t for them). However, if you, a family member or friend gets sick while you’re away it’s nice to know you can claim back most of your wasted trip costs as well as the cost of amending your ticket home.
5. When your travel plans fall apart
I tend to have complicated travel itineraries – usually rushing through several countries across several weeks – and my travel plans often feel like a carefully constructed house of cards. All it takes is one precious card to topple – one aspect of my trip to go wrong, like a cancelled flight – and my whole trip can (and has in the past) come tumbling down. With the right travel insurance you won’t have to suffer the burden of amended trip plans.
6. When you lose your luggage
One of my favourite boasts was that in six years of neatly full-time travel, I hadn’t once parted company with my luggage. That boast came to a halting end in December 2015 when I returned from a 10-day trip sailing around the British Virgin Islands to find that the yacht company had misplaced my luggage. Like, permanently misplaced it.
I’m not going to lie – it was a long battle to get the insurance company to pay out and at first I was contemplating not bothering…until I totted up the cost of my lost possessions. I had kept my ‘expensive’ items (think: laptop, electronics and passport) with me on the boat, and I don’t travel with expensive clothes, so I didn’t expect my bill for replacing everything to come to so much. Except, it did. I was down around $2000 worth of kit by the time I’d added it all up. From the technical clothing I routinely pack to my running shoes, the cost of my luggage itself, my glasses, make-up and shoes, it stacked up to a lot. Although I found it hard work, the insurance company eventually reimbursed about 90% of my loss.
The fact that my luggage turned up 6 months later in the USA is a whole other story.
7. When you break your gadgets
Three broken cameras, a dropped laptop and a stolen iPhone, travelling with gadgets can be expensive, especially when you drop your beloved DSLR overboard (I saw that happen once – fortunately it wasn’t mine). I have lost count of the number of travellers who have lost, broken or had their tech stolen. And, as tech consumers, we all know that these items are rarely cheap to replace (said by a girl who is a Mac and Apple fanatic). Just make sure when you’re booking insurance that your gadgets are actually covered. Most policies don’t include gadgets under their standard baggage cover but for a small fee, you can usually add your more expensive items to your policy.
8. When your passport or wallet goes walk about
It’s beyond me why people take their passport out drinking but so many people do and a large proportion of those travellers come home without it….because a drunk and their passport are soon parted, or so the saying (almost) goes. And then there’s the ‘my wallet was in my back pocket when I got on the Metro in Barcelona’ scenario.
Dealing with the loss of a passport and/or wallet loss is that unfortunate combination of expensive and inconvenient but travel insurance will usually help you out when your passport or wallet goes on a trip of its own, covering your costs and providing emergency funds if you need them.
9. When you injure somebody
Oh, we’re inherently selfish beasts, aren’t we. How can insurance help me? However, sometimes our travels can have a negative impact on other people’s lives; like that time you accidentally plow your jet-ski into another traveller, putting them in hospital. Unless you have a stack of emergency cash in your back pocket, you’ll be very glad you have travel insurance.
10. When you need someone on hand in an emergency
It’s common knowledge that, beyond the movies, everyday humans don’t function at full mental capacity when they’re in crisis mode and if you’re facing any scenario where you’re having to call on your travel insurance company, you’ll be glad to have a friendly person on hand to help. When I injured my knee, the insurance company arranged for a taxi to meet me and help me at the airport when I landed – something I hadn’t thought about – and when my mum got sick recently, the insurance company promoted me on a few expenses I’d forgotten I’d incurred, helping me actually increase my claim (I know, right?). A calm, objective person in a crisis cannot be overestimated.
Of course, the hope is that we don’t suffer any kind of travel insurance triggering event while we’re off enjoying ourselves (or planning a trip) but when things go wrong, I can promise you, you’ll be glad you didn’t scrimp on cost.
If you’re looking to take out a travel insurance policy, you might be interested in my related post:
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