The detailed paperwork of traveling is something I’d guess most of us don’t enjoy — especially when we’re talking something like the great mystery of travel insurance. But that’s one of those awful parts about being grown up enough to travel around the world. You have to be grown up enough to get travel insurance if you need it, too.
Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.
Rather than just putting it in the “too-hard basket”, it’s something that’s worth spending a bit of time getting familiar with before you either spend too much on a policy or don’t get one at all, and end up with astronomical expenses if – god forbid – you have an accident or some other major holiday hiccup.
Personally, I hate organizing travel insurance, and what’s more, although I nearly always have it, I’ve never needed to make a claim. But that won’t stop me getting travel insurance again on my next overseas trip, because I know plenty of people who would’ve been really stuck without it. To help you out when you’re getting ready for your trip, here are five things I didn’t know about travel insurance when I first shouldered my pack to head out into the world.
#1: You Don’t Always Need It
This is a tough one, but it’s where we’ve got to start. Travel insurance covers many aspects of traveling: canceled or missed flights, lost or stolen baggage, accidents and medical emergencies and, even though we don’t like to think about it, death and transporting your body home. So you have to gamble on the likelihood of needing travel insurance for your trip abroad. You can juggle the risk by taking into consideration things like your age, health and activities on the trip and the chances of solving a problem easily in the country you’re visiting.
In this respect I’m a “rather safe than sorry” traveler, and although the travel insurance I take out is usually minimal, it’s still enough to cover the more expensive disasters. Unfortunately I have known of a couple of travelers who passed away while on the road and without insurance, repatriating a body is incredibly expensive — not to mention traumatic.
On the other hand, I don’t often worry about coverage for my belongings, because they’re usually not worth much — a backpack full of well-worn and dirty clothes has a pretty low market value. And if I only travel with my cheap camera, and take good care of it, the risk is low and over the years, I would have paid more in insurance than it was worth.
#2: You Might Have Travel Insurance Already
It seems strange to think you might be unaware of having insurance, but it comes in all shapes and sizes. Either through your credit card company or through other insurance you already have, you might be covered for particular parts of your trip.
For example, if you purchase plane ticket on your credit card, the company might insure you for cancellation or even for comprehensive travel insurance — just ask them. Similarly, a homeowners insurance policy might cover you too — medical policies for one, or even home contents policies might cover your belongings when you’re traveling. Don’t pay twice — check before you buy any specific travel insurance. It rarely takes more than a phone call.
#3: Always Read the Fine Print
If you’re doing a longer trip, getting the right travel insurance is definitely a matter of digging into the fine print of the deals that various companies offer. This task is a necessary evil.
For example, I wanted to get basic coverage that continued for several years. Some companies simply don’t do that, period. Others will insure you for up to one year, and then if you happen to return to your home country, you could start the insurance again. Others really suited my backpacking lifestyle, but it’s not always easy to find them.
You also need to be clear about what a policy is actually covering. Many won’t cover flight cancellation or missed flights if you take out the policy a week after you book your flights. Stolen or lost luggage policies might only cover items up to a certain value, and may have limits for equipment like laptops or cameras, unless you specify the belongings beforehand. Or you might find a policy that’s named “comprehensive” but doesn’t include the kinds of coverage that you’re after.
#4: You Don’t Have to Buy the Insurance From the Travel Agent
In fact, I recommend against it. If you book flights from a travel agent (personally, I always do mine directly online — although even on some online booking engines they sneakily try to include insurance as an extra), their travel insurance deal is rarely the best one for you. They just want to sell it to you so they get commission.
In my opinion, you’re much better off shopping online to get the best deal. It also gives you the time and space to properly compare different policies and ensure nobody’s ripping you off.
#5: You Might Be Entitled to All Kinds of Bonuses
I used to have automatic flight insurance from a credit card. Along with that came a travelers’ assistance program which I was lucky enough to never need, but could have come in very handy. There was a toll-free number back to my home country that I could call any time for all kinds of help — names of local doctors where I was, translators or interpreters if I needed to talk to the police or someone at the hospital, you name it. I carried that little card around next to my passport for years.
Check if your travel insurance policies offer any helplines or other services and make sure you use them if necessary.
Now, Go Travel! Break a Leg!
Kidding. I just mean “Good luck” for your travels and hope that you never need to use travel insurance. I’m still of the opinion that for most of us, most of the time, we probably need some form of it. Just enough for a bit of peace of mind and to avoid getting into huge debt if anything awful happens while we’re traveling. It’s better that an accident turns into a great tale to tell later on than a financial burden.