I’ll be real with you, I have not always travelled with travel insurance. And that was super dumb. Why? Because I get injured all the time. Some of my injuries are impressive and noteworthy, others are idiotic and make me question my own cognitive function. Either way, I get hurt often and I have needed medical help on numerous occasions. So if there is ever the question of:
“Why Do I Need Travel Insurance?”
… Well I’m a pretty good case study!
There was the time that I was hiking in the mountains in southern Kyrgyzstan and as I gazed at the view I stepped in a hole. Ankle = Sprained.
Instant pain, and yes I cried.
Thankfully that day, I had travel insurance. My crutches, x-ray, doctors consultation, casting, and painkillers were all covered under my insurance. My insurance even paid for my flight from Osh to Bishkek for treatment.
Unfortunately it could not ease the mind numbing boredom I suffered over the next 3 weeks, Kyrgyzstan is less than accessible for people who do not walk well.
I also sprained my ankle in Jamaica and the story went largely the same.
Out for a run, fell in a pothole, cried, forcibly hitchhiked into a strangers car, got a ride back to town, received treatment at the local hospital and didn’t have a ton of bills at the end of it.
That time I had to shell out the cash at the time, but my insurance paid for my x-rays, consultations and follow-ups, casting and Aircast braces, crutches, and medicines. A month later I got a nice cheque from the insurance company, a sort of post Jamaica savings plan of you will.
Moving away from my apparently weak ankles, I needed a tetanus shot after getting attacked by dogs on a private property where I was staying. But the dog owner paid for that. She felt really bad. My insurance would have paid if she hadn’t felt bad at all.
My friend Kristen wound up in the hospital for a week in Australia for a still undiagnosed reason. We were both on our parents insurance back then (we were so young!), but the bill was over $15,000. Phew! That would have ended the trip very abruptly!
But the moral of these stories? Shit happens! And I rarely have the money to pay for it out of pocket if at all. Of course an ankle sprain is one of the lesser health issues possible when travelling, but injuries like these are far more common than the crazy stuff.
I’m sane, so do I really need travel insurance? Obviously.
Most of us travelers don’t get injured doing crazy antics like base jumping or wrestling with wildebeests. We get injured doing the same things we would be doing at home: running, hiking, standing in yards. Car accidents are a leading source of injury, while infections are often caused by simple contusions or insect bites.
I meta guy in Thailand who had an infected mosquito bite on his foot that had spread so far up his leg, the doctor he finally saw said another two days and the guy would have lost his leg and possibly his man bits.
All because this guy didn’t want to go to a doctor to whom he didn’t have money to pay.
Of course there are also the infamous gastro-intestinal quandaries that most travelers will find themselves in eventually, and constantly.
Regardless of how careful you are, new foods and varying levels of hygiene are things you cannot control while travelling. And trying the food is often the best part, you don’t want to leave those adventures at home!
While most of the time these issues are handled with a private bathroom, time, and a few rehydration salt packets, some people do end up needing intravenous antibiotics or fluids. A friend of mine spent three days in a Malaysian hospital after having a couple of fruit smoothies. And they say fruit is good for you…
According to a survey by UStiA only 30% of travellers purchase travel insurance largely due a lack of knowledge about why they need it. So by even reading this post you are already well ahead of the curve!
But why you really should buy travel insurance is that these costs can add up VERY fast. We have all heard the horror stories of someone going on a week long holiday, slipping on a wet poolside, breaking their foot, and heading home with a $10,000 medical bill. To me, that bill is far more painful than the foot!
And some places won’t even treat you if you don’t have insurance or the cash up front. Do you really want to end up sick on the street because you didn’t carry $4000USD worth of pesos?
The truth is, if you’re travelling for an extended period of time, it’s really only a matter of time before you get sick or you get yourself injured! Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but travel is just life in a different country. Anything can happen, and the best favour you can do for yourself is to be covered medically and financially. And maybe stay away from the very dodgiest of that grey street meat.
How Do I know What Travel Insurance I Need?
Great question! Unfortunately, this is largely dependent on your needs as both a traveler and a general human being. Some travel insurance policies must be bought from your home country, others can be purchased and renewed while on the road. Some policies include your gear in case of theft while others may cover flight cancellation or trip interruption.
I have never covered any of my gear, only my physical body. But I have never traveled with extremely expensive camera gear or the ill-gotten gain from my latest jewel heist. I know many people who spend more money to insure their electronics than their bodies, hey, it’s your call.
Choosing travel insurance is much like choosing what kind of travel is right for you. Are you an intrepid trekker who may need a helicopter evacuation? Then best make sure your insurance covers extreme sports. Do you have a pre-existing condition? Confirm with the insurer that they are aware of the condition and will not screw you around if you make a claim.
How Much Money Should I Spend on Travel Insurance?
The cost for travel insurance depends on what type of policy and how extended of coverage you need for your trip. Deeper, more specific types of coverage will run you some more cash, but then your vulnerability is probably somewhat higher. If you have a pre-existing condition or risk factors, your policy will probably be more expensive as well. Just make sure to read the details and find the best policy for you.
Your destination will also play into how expensive your travel insurance is. I had a broad based insurance for my time in the Caribbean that covered most countries in the region. But if I wanted to go to Haiti, I was going to need additional coverage at a higher cost.
Most healthy people will find that travel insurance will not cost you anywhere near as much as you think it may. For a three week trip to Cuba, my insurance cost me about $80. I never made a claim, but the piece of mind travel insurance gives is worth the cash.
Bottom line: If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford travel.
Where Should I Buy Travel Insurance?
I can’t tell you what company to buy from; that depends on you and your needs. But a good place to start is with companies that you already have products from, like banks, credit cards, or your health insurance provider. Your airline may also offer you travel insurance as an additional purchase when you buy your tickets.
I used my banks travel insurance for my 3 week trip to Peru. My parents purchase extended travel insurance through my Mom’s retirement benefits provider for the entire year. Mom crosses the American border a lot.
For my trip to Iceland and Ireland in the fall (and for which I do not currently have a return ticket), I have purchased insurance from World Nomads.
Why World Nomads? Because they are responsive while you are on the road and you can be paid reimbursements directly into your bank account as opposed to a cheque mailed to a home you may not be anywhere near. You can also buy insurance policies from World Nomads when you are already travelling, so if you forgot to purchase before you left home, if you are travelling long term and your policy expires, or if you realize you don’t have enough prior coverage, no sweat! They also have specific travel insurance for snow sports as well as customized travel policies for scuba divers.
To find out more about World Nomads, check out my Travel Insurance Page or this Quote Box: