Overlooking Grand Canyon, Arizona
Overlooking the Grand Canyon © Moyan Brenn

5 Things You Should Know About Travel Insurance

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.

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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.

On the Move, Barcelona Airport

#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.

© silis

#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.

  1. Yup.
    As somebody who has spent the last 5 days and counting in the hospital (my boyfriend has Dengue Fever), I’m pleased that we have travel insurance.
    However – be prepared to do a lot of hand-holding with the insurance company, and get everything in writing.
    I’m still fighting another company on a claim for a smashed toe from months ago. The hospital hasn’t been paid and is sending nasty letters to us, meanwhile – the insurance company has everything they need and should have paid it ages ago.
    Great article, Amanda!

  2. Nora, I was thinking of you guys when I wrote this, as young, healthy people who have definitely needed travel insurance. A living example! I hope all the claims work out (or more importantly that your boyfriend gets healthy enough soon for you to continue on your way!).

  3. Good article, Amanda. Thanks! I actually just purchased traveler’s insurance for my (roughly) year long RTW trip I’m starting in June. It’s mostly just for medical emergencies. After an afternoon of research and about all the fine print reading I could stand, I chose World Nomads.

    I’m not sure if you’re able to endorse for or against any specific companies, but I know I (and probably others) would find it VERY useful to hear some specific recommendations. It’s pretty difficult to find useful, objective information online from people that have actually had to make claims. (Or people that know people who had to make a claim.) I didn’t read anything overly negative about World Nomads and read numerous positive things, so I went with it, but it feels a bit like a crap shoot.

    If you don’t mind saying, what company do you actually use?

    What about you, Nora? Would you mind letting us know which company is working for you and which is working against you?

    Anyone else with some experience in the matter care to chime in?

    Thanks again!
    – Nathan

    1. That’s exactly the most important information. Nothing is gained by having a travel insurance which “covers” everything if they don’t pay once something happens, or if you have to chase them around for so long that it would have been easier to just pay yourself.

      That’s one reason why I have not had any travel insurance although I have been living a vagabond live for 5 years. Before that, I used to work as a lawyer and thus only heard of cases where people had problems with insurance companies.

  4. I have bought a travel insurance in dubai, and paid yearly premium 230 AED

    My question is that now when i am going to book an airline ticket, do i need to inform about my travel in advance to anybody
    — like, do i have to tell the airline about my travel insurance policy
    — or do i have to inform the insurance company about my travel??

  5. I’m not sure you should be encouraging people to go and break their travelling legs! Agree with you to some extent though – especially the point about sometimes not needing it.

    I also think you should include the fact that’s it’s not even compulsory. A lot of young independent travellers (read: naive little fools) think it’s something they ABSOLUTELY have to do.

    Alas, cherubs, it isn’t.

    Now go break a leg!

  6. Good piece. I don’t know about in other countries but in the UK, we have a problem where younger travellers (aged 18-24) are not taking out travel insurance and since many of their holidays in this age bracket are alcohol fuelled it is an issue. About ten years ago, a friend went on holiday to Turkey and had a heart attack, thankfully, he survived but, he came home with a very nasty medical bill of over £60,000, and he didn’t take out insurance.

  7. I travel frequently overseas but I’ve never bought travel insurance. I flirt with the idea if we’re going somewhere I’m less confident about, but always talk myself out of it. These are some good points to check out when I start thinking about it again. Maybe I’ll convince myself that I’m not invincible, afterall.

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