No one like to think about travel insurance. Why would you? You’ve spent months planning this amazing trip and something going wrong is the last thing you want to think about happening.
But as someone who has experienced many things go wrong abroad over the years, I can tell you it happens more than we’d like to believe.
And while you can’t control everything when you’re traveling, there is one thing you can do to protect yourself when things do go wrong. And that’s buying travel insurance.
If there’s something I always invest on when I travel, that’s a good travel insurance policy.
But don’t just take my word on it. I wanted to show you the importance and benefits of buying travel insurance so I’ve asked some fellow travelers and backpackers to share their personal insights on experiences using (or not using) travel insurance.
In this post, you’ll see some real-life examples of how useful travel insurance can be, and where you can find good travel insurance.
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Travel Insurance for Medical Issues
When you’ve traveling to new countries, it’s extremely common to become sick from food poisoning/intolerance to foreign foods. Most of the time, this can pass on its own, but sometimes you get a new bacteria that your body just can’t fight. It happened to me while visiting Pakistan!
This was also the case of Steve from The Trip Goes On, who wished he had bought travel insurance after getting sick in Thailand and ending up in the hospital.
I didn’t always worry about travel insurance when going away, but after I got sick in Thailand in 2017 and spent a fortune on hospital tests, as well as missed flights, I vowed that it would be a mistake I wouldn’t repeat again!
I was in Thailand to meet a friend from back home (I live and work in China, and him in England) and towards the end of our stay on Ko Samui I started to come down with a fever. As we made our way back to Bangkok on the overnight train I felt worse and worse. I had spent a couple of days trekking and camping in the jungle on the Thai/Myanmar border a week before and worried that I had picked up some sort of tropical disease.
I was due to fly to Vietnam when we arrived in Bangkok but was so ill that I booked into a hostel and then headed to the nearest hospital. It was then that the realization dawned on me that I had to pay not only for any treatment but also for the diagnoses and tests. Coming from England where we have the NHS, this was a bit of a shock.
After tests for malaria and dengue fever (both negative) and subsequent antibiotics, the hospital bill came to almost $400. I really kicked myself for scrimping on the insurance!
And this was in a country like Thailand, where medical treatment is relatively cheap. In other countries, things can get expensive quickly. Just ask Betsy of PassingThru who had a life-threatening heart problem abroad.
In February 2018, I was sitting at the swim-up bar at a resort near Colombia’s Tayrona National Park, by the Venezuela border. When it came time to exit the pool, suddenly I couldn’t breathe.
A cardiologist at a public clinic in nearby Santa Marta thought I had a pulmonary embolism, but even more alarmingly, discovered my aorta had dissected (split apart) sometime earlier and there were two threatening aneurysms.
I was a ticking time bomb in a remote location with substandard care. In the ICU all around me, people were dying of things like tuberculosis and worse.
Fortunately, we had purchased comprehensive travelers medical insurance through Allianz Insurance. My husband was able to communicate our situation with them via their iPhone app, and they arranged for direct payments to both of the clinics at which I received treatment.
After a harrowing three-hour escape by ambulance from the first clinic, I underwent lung surgery at a second. This was an outstanding tertiary care facility in Barranquilla. The professionals there stabilized me sufficiently so that I could return to the US with a medical escort and be further treated for my aorta condition. All told, the covered expenses totaled more than $20,000 USD.
It’s safe to say without travel insurance, I wouldn’t be alive today.
If you’re traveling in the United States, you’ll definitely want to have travel insurance, as medical bills are notoriously high. This was the case for Lindsay of Step Into Jordan, whose trip to Disneyland quickly turned sour.
Disneyland is supposed to be the happiest place on earth. But it did not turn out to be the happiest place when my 5-year-old came down with a nasty fever and strep throat.
The poor guy was beyond miserable so we decided a visit to urgent care was needed. Thankfully the Anaheim Global Medical was close by. They must get a lot of out-of-towners being the closest to Disneyland.
I was thoroughly impressed with how my son was taken care of and within an hour of being there, we were finished and on our way across the street to pick up a prescription to combat the strep throat.
The cost to see the doctor and a strep throat swap was USD1100. I never saw the bill as they billed my insurance company directly. It was through a company policy with Manulife.
However, 11 months later we are still dealing with the paperwork and although it should be covered without issue, I am afraid that the time delay might get them thinking they can get away without paying it.
Generally in Western countries, medical bills can add up quickly. Just ask Eloise of My Favourite Escapes, who ended up having to fly home to Australia to avoid expensive medical bills in France.
I had been an expat for a few years and knew I didn’t have any health cover in my own country anymore, but still didn’t think travel insurance was necessary. We’d fly to Paris and visit a few other European cities, staying with friends and family. We are young and healthy and had no adventurous activities planned.
But as I was quietly sitting at the dinner table while on holiday in France, my right index finger got locked into a bent position. I thought nothing too bad could have happened.
Three health practitioners later, my faith was gone. There was nothing they could do to help me without further investigations like x-rays, ultrasounds, maybe scans… and the opinion of a surgeon.
My best option financially was to wait and go back to my other home in Australia to get it fixed. I felt silly not to have travel insurance.
Long-haul flights always feel like they’ll never end. Well, this one was even worse. I’m not sure what was the hardest: the pain or the anxiety from not knowing what was happening to my right hand. Had I been travelling alone, I wouldn’t have been able to manage the trip on my own.
It took x-rays, ultrasounds, a surgery, 14 stitches, and a few follow-up appointments to get better. Without insurance, it would cost more than $2,500k. I felt lucky I had the option to wait…
Another good use of travel insurance is to protect yourself in case of a vehicle accident abroad. This is especially common throughout Asia, where travelers and locals use motorbikes to get around. While fun, they can easily turn into a nightmare. Just ask Mitch from Project Untethered, who had a motorcycle accident in Thailand.
During my very first week backpacking, I rented a big Enduro motorcycle to explore Koh Tao, Thailand. I heard how common crashes were, but I figured it was mostly people who had never ridden a motorcycle before. I had a crotch rocket back in the US (which, ironically, I also crashed), so I thought I’d be ok. Plus, I wanted an adventure.
I decided to take the bike out to explore the more remote areas of the island, which required riding on some gnarly dirt paths (the ones Google specifically warned not to go on). The path turned ugly real quick, and I found myself way outside my comfort zone. I didn’t know whether it would be more dangerous to turn around, or to keep going. I kept going.
That’s when I took a spill.
Luckily, the path was so bad that I was riding very slow and only suffered a few scrapes. I had to go to a local doctor for some stitches in my arm, and then return every day for a week to have my wound cleaned.
Reimbursement for my treatment was fairly straightforward. I just took pictures of my receipts, filled out an online claim form on the World Nomads website, and waited for it to be processed.
It only saved me about $100 (the medical treatment was super cheap there), but it could’ve easily been much worse!
And if you’re an adventurous traveler like myself, the risk of accidents becomes even higher while traveling. This was the case for Chris of More Life In Your Days, whose travel insurance saved the day after a snowboarding accident in France.
Having travel insurance saved the day when I crashed whilst snowboarding in France. After a few moments composing myself, it became obvious that this was more than a bit of a bump.
We flagged down some help and got the ski patrol to come to my rescue. They wrapped me up in blankets as the cold and shock began to set in and then and took me down to the village on a sled. At the bottom must be one of the world’s shortest ambulance journeys as they drove me about 100 meters to the medical center.
Inside the doctors did their thing and set my wrist in a cast (so much pain!). It was a private hospital so everything needed to be paid for and the costs of treatment and rescue add up pretty quickly. Even that 1-minute ambulance journey was a couple of hundred Euros.
Fortunately, we had annual travel insurance with Flexi Cover that covered us for winter sports. We contacted the insurers and they were able to sort everything out very quickly. They called through to the medical center and confirmed that they would cover the costs upfront.
Overall we saved about 600 euros by having bought travel insurance in advance and it also meant I could get the treatment needed without having to worry about how to cover the costs.
Travel Insurance for Unexpected Events
Aside from medical conditions, travel insurance can also cover expenses related to events that disrupt your travel plans.
No one could have predicted the volcanic eruption in Iceland that caused massive travel disruptions across Europe, but Hannah from Solar Powered Blonde was grateful to have travel insurance when it happened.
I think everyone remembers when the volcano in Iceland erupted and there was a week of travel disruptions. Luckily but also unluckily for me I was in Egypt for two weeks.
The day before we were supposed to fly home the volcano erupted. I was only young at the time, and definitely could not afford to spend another week at the Hilton hotel. I had saved up for ages to go on a trip to Egypt with my best friend and her family.
If it hadn’t been for good insurance that covered us for natural disasters, then we would have spent at least 100 Dollars each a night on accommodation, not even including the price of food and drinks.
The best thing about the whole experience was that as there were 9 of us, we got upgraded to a villa on the beach, to allow the rooms to be free for other guests stranded in nearby hotels. I was very lucky to have good insurance, as some people sat at the airport for days waiting for the next flight!
Travel Insurance for Personal Belongings
Did you know travel insurance can also cover damage and loss of personal belongings while traveling?
I’ve personally used World Nomad’s to claim for a stolen item before. On the first day of the year-round trip around the world, I managed to have my shiny new GoPro 6 stolen from my bag.
After I realized what had happened, I contacted World Nomads and they advised me of the documentation I needed to provide to start my claim. I was able to send everything through photos via e-mail, which was great because I did not have access to a printer or fax.
Within a couple of weeks, my claim had been processed, and World Nomads reimbursed me the full price that I paid for my GoPro 6 because I had bought it just before going abroad. Just a day into my trip, and the cost of my travel insurance had already paid for itself.
While traveling in Iceland recently, I made the mistake of only having medical travel insurance. I figured it was the safest country in the world – what could possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out even in the safest country in the world you can get burgled. I lost all my electronics and didn’t have insurance that would have easily reimbursed me in that situation had I bought it before. Boy, did I regret that. I’ll never travel again without both a comprehensive medical and personal belongings insurance plan.
In the case of Holly from Four Around the World, her insurance even covered a phone that was left behind at the airport.
We travelled to Punta Cana a couple of years ago as a family, which is pretty much halfway around the world from us in Australia.
We had been using our phones at Punta Cana airport, before boarding and the chaos of getting kids and hand luggage ready to board meant I must have dropped my phone or left it on the seat. I didn’t realise until our stopover in Panama.
We attempted to make calls, send emails to the airport and other methods to get the phone back unsuccessfully. It was long gone!
Once home I claimed the lost phone, which was still under contract, and was relieved to find it covered under our insurance policy. I received $500 which paid off around 95% of the outstanding balance on my phone contract, leaving me with minimal out of pocket costs.
The key was to show evidence that we had attempted to recover the phone, so I had forwarded our travel insurance company copies of the emails sent to the airport. This was enough to support the claim thankfully!
We never travel internationally without insurance cover and this reinforced why!
Travel insurance can also cover lost luggage, which is a common problem when traveling via air. Just ask Nabiha of Verses by a Voyager whose bags did not make it with her to Cappadocia, which thoroughly disrupted her travels.
During my recent trip to trip to Turkey, my bags were left at the Istanbul airport due to the negligence of the airline, and didn’t reach Cappadocia.
Even after many calls and emails to the airline, they didn’t give me any satisfactory response. I was in Cappadocia without any clothes or other necessary items. I had to travel from Cappadocia to the Kayseri airport which (more than an hour drive) to inquire about my bags, multiple times. This completely disturbed my budget as well as the trip itinerary.
In this scenario, my travel insurance was very useful. I had bought travel insurance from MetLife insurance before my trip which covered lost and damaged baggage.
I emailed them with the baggage missing slip and within 5 days I was paid the amount of insurance specified for lost baggage. This was a great help, as it made up for the additional expense I had to incur to buy new stuff as well as traveling between Cappadocia and Kayseri airport.
Travel Insurance for Delays
Travel Insurance also typically covers expenses occurred from flight delays and cancellations, giving you peace of mind that if your flight gets delayed and the airline doesn’t give a crap (as is often the case), you’ll be reimbursed for unexpected lodging and food expenses.
But did you know travel insurance may also cover you transportation delays outside of the airport? This was the case for Danielle of Live In 10 Countries, whose insurance reimbursed her for a train delay which caused a missed connection.
Back in the day I saw insurance as pretty optional for a European country, because I thought they basically don’t pay out on anything that’s common and likely to go wrong.
I was wrong, and a travel policy really rescued me on a recent trip. I’d had a quick jaunt in Hastings (England) and boarded a coach to London for a long weekend in Brussels, with a hotel and Eurostar trip booked.
It was a crack of dawn departure, so I just slept my way along the motorway blissfully. I didn’t even notice that the journey was taking way too long, or that we spent an extra two hours on the road. Sweet dreams indeed.
It was only when we reached our destination, so way too late to change or cancel anything that I realized we’d completely missed our international train, thanks to a huge traffic jam.
I thought a missed connection wouldn’t be covered but thanked my lucky stars when World Nomads refunded the cost of the alternative train I had to book, less my excess. It made a huge difference.
Where to get travel insurance
There are a range of travel insurance providers out there and it can be overwhelming knowing where to start. A company that I have used a lot in the past, and love, is World Nomads.
Why do I love them so much? Because their policies are designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. This includes coverage for many of the examples talked about in this post, like snowboarding.
And the best part, they make it so easy to purchase and use! You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. As someone who spends most of their time on the road, I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to not have to worry about printing and mailing paperwork when it comes to insurance.
They are also super flexible when it comes to plans changing, which we all know happens often while backpacking. You can easily buy more coverage online while still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you’re already traveling.
World Nomads is backed by a suite of strong, secure, specialist travel insurers who provide you with 24-hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support and claims management when you need it most.
For everything World Nomad’s provides, I find them to be very affordable. Wondering what it will cost for your upcoming trip? Get a quote today! It takes two seconds and costs you nothing.
A new insurance provider that is becoming increasingly popular with digital nomads is SafetyWing. It was started by nomads, for nomads.
SafetyWing uses a subscription-based payment system, where you pay for insurance on a monthly basis, as opposed to all at once at the beginning. Their rates are also noticeably cheaper than World Nomads. At only $37 USD per 4 weeks, it provides a worldwide travel medical coverage (this rate is for ages 18-39, other ages available. Travel to US adds $31 per 4 weeks).
SafetyWings is extremely flexible. From your chosen start date, your insurance automatically extends every 28 days until you pick an end-date. It works like a subscription, you can choose your start date and cancel any time. There is no cap on the duration of the trip and no need to know how long you’ll be traveling in advance.
As an added bonus, for every 90 days you have insurance with SafetyWing, you can use your medical coverage for 30 days in your home country if something happens while there.
SafetyWing is noticeably cheaper than World Nomad’s, but its coverage varies in a number of ways. SafetyWing is meant to be used primarily for medical expenses, and it’s benefits related to travel are limited. Notably, it doesn’t cover expensive electronics such as phones, laptops, cameras, ect. It also excludes certain extreme activities and does not cover missed flights.
SafetyWing Vs. World Nomads
Although more expensive, I think World Nomads coverage is a better option if it is the only insurance you are buying for your trip. SafetyWing might be better if you are traveling long-term and strictly buying it for medical coverage. For example, if you already have coverage for loss/theft of your personal belongings (for example, a home insurance policy), or insurance for travel delays through your credit card, then SafetyWing can be a great supplementary insurance provider.
I’ve bought both insurance providers before and they are comparatively easy to purchase. I got both while on the road, taking just a few minutes to set-up through the website.
I have claimed with World Nomads in the past which was an easy experience. Thankfully I haven’t had to claim with SafetyWing, but as it’s set up for digital nomads I believe the claim process would be easy to do from abroad/online.
When it comes down to choosing your travel insurance provider, you need to determine your needs. How long is your trip? Are you participating in high-risk activities? Do you need medical coverage only, or do you also need coverage for personal belongings? Knowing exactly what your insurance needs are will help you determine the best provider. While SafetyWing is cheaper, it might not cover all your needs should something go wrong.
I used to be someone who didn’t think travel insurance was important, but after years of traveling and experiencing many of these ‘it will never happen to me’ moments happen, I now never travel without a good insurance policy.
I hope this post could show you the benefits of buying travel insurance. Tell me, do you normally buy insurance when you travel? Do you have any horror stories to share? Let me know in the comments below!