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Everything I know about travel insurance from 10 years of travel

It was the middle of the night, the hostel totally quiet. And there I was, sprawled on the tiled floor of my (mercifully) private bathroom, heaving into the toilet bowl.

I hadn’t been able to keep anything down for four hours. I knew I was fast becoming dehydrated, but every time I took the slightest sip of water, I’d rush to the bathroom again to bring it back up.

As I lay on my bed between episodes, I could feel my body temperature gradually rise until I was stifling hot. I’d then sprawl on the bathroom tiles to cool down, but within a minute, I was shivering.

In a moment of respite, I packed an emergency bag for the hospital. I thought about how I could crawl down the 200 steps to the nearest street. How I would hail a taxi in the middle of the night. I practised my Spanish for, “Get me to the hospital”. I wondered what emergency rooms were like in Mexico.

sick in Mexico

But one thing I didn’t have to worry about was the cost because I had comprehensive travel insurance for moments just like these.

I’ve been exceptionally lucky. In 10 years of travel to every continent (save Antarctica – one day…), I’ve never had to make a claim.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve become complacent. I make sure I have travel insurance for every trip I take.

Is travel insurance worth it?

If you’re just heading from Australia to New Zealand to visit the fam for the weekend, you might consider skipping it – that’s up to you to decide. Is travel insurance worth it? I think so, even if it’s just for the peace of mind it gives.

Say your flight is cancelled and you have to find extra accommodation for the night. Your travel insurance might cover the hotel cost, so you can kick back and actually ENJOY the extra day’s holiday.

What does travel insurance cover?

In some ways, this is a trick question because it’s totally up to you. Every travel insurance company seems to offer different packages ranging from totally basic to more in-depth coverage.

The most basic packages tend to provide little more than some degree of health cover, emergency medical transport, and cancellation costs.

The more expensive packages cover a host of things, including:

  • Unlimited overseas medical expenses
  • Emergency dental treatment
  • Theft or damage to baggage and personal belongings
  • Baggage loss or delay
  • Rental vehicle insurance excess
  • Accidental death and permanent total disablement
  • Personal liability…

Ain’t this a fun topic for conversation?

But wait up, you don’t actually get a free pass if these things happen. Most insurance policies include an excess that you have to pay before they compensate you the rest. This excess is normally between $100 and $200 and you can adjust it for an additional cost or savings.

How much travel insurance do I need?

Now this is a hard one, because it’s entirely up to you. As a budget traveller, I generally only go for the basic travel insurance.

Things I ALWAYS make sure my insurance covers:

  • Unlimited medical insurance
  • Theft or loss of personal baggage
  • Flight delays and cancellations

But in certain circumstances, I do trade up to go the schmancy option. Like when I flew to Bali during the whole volcano incident (a stupid decision: since the volcano had already started rumbling, my insurance wouldn’t have covered it).

Or Cuba. Cuba is a special case – you must have proof of comprehensive medical insurance before you step foot in their country. If you don’t, they’ll force you to buy their own version.

How do travel insurance claims work?

Most of the time, your travel insurance company will have a membership portal where you can just sign in to make a claim. That makes things a LOT easier.

To make a claim, it’s all about proof. Proof that you ended up in hospital because you were ejecting your stomach contents from all orifices. Proof that you owned that fancy iPhone X. Proof that some guy just swiped it from your back pocket on the Mexican City metro.

Proof of possession

I’ve scanned the receipts of all my most prized possessions onto my laptop, ready to provide proof if needed (hmm, let’s hope my laptop isn’t nabbed or broken). The originals are stored in a file back home.

Proof of incident

Travel insurance companies are ALLLLLL about the proof. Did this really happen or are you just conning them?

If you notice something missing, report the theft to the police within 24 hours. If your airline loses your gear, fill in their paperwork and keep a copy. If you get violently sick, keep medical certificates and receipts.

Don’t rely on the insurance company though. Do what you can to get refunds from the company involved first.

In the UK, I had to catch a train from Durham to Edinburgh, from where I needed to board a bus to the airport. The train was delayed by an hour. Lucky me, I’m always super early. But I had to pay a surcharge at the airport for a late check-in.

I emailed the train company and they miraculously refunded me the cost of the train ticket … which they sent as a cheque in the mail to Australia, and which I had to pay a hefty fee to actually bank. Still, I count it as a win.

Can travel insurance be cancelled or extended

Of course, it entirely depends on the company. I’ve generally found that the more budget you go, the less flexibility you’ll have.

This year, I realised my trip would end several months earlier than expected. Before I began the trip, I was able to dial back the months and receive a nice refund on it. You can normally only do this BEFORE the trip commences.

You can usually extend travel insurance easily, especially if it’s a reputable company. Often, you need only log into your online account, add the necessary weeks/months extra, and pay up.

Do travel insurance companies actually pay out?

This is the big question, right? To be honest, sometimes it feels like travel insurance companies will do all they can to avoid a payout – which is why it is SO IMPORTANT to check the terms and conditions before you buy the policy.

But that’s also why I think it’s worth going for a quality travel insurance company that has a strong reputation for customer service.

I always check the reviews of the company before I buy a policy. There are a few that I like, including Fast Cover and World Nomads.

Why buy travel insurance from World Nomads?

You can get a quote here.

How government advisories impact travel insurance

When I was travelling around Europe in 2016, the last leg of my journey incorporated a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey on the way home. I was so excited about that final stop.

But then the coup d’etat attempt happened. The Australian Government upgraded the travel advisory to “Reconsider Your Need to Travel”. And just like that, my travel insurance in that country became obsolete.

In Australia, many travel insurance companies will not cover a country if the Australian government advisory is listed as “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” or “Do Not Travel”. Be it on your head, the insurance companies say.

I could have gone to Turkey regardless. I wasn’t too worried about the violence itself – it was occurring in pockets of the country that I judged could be easily avoided.

But I wasn’t covered for ANYTHING. I could get hit by a bus. Not covered. My backpack with all my possessions could be stolen. Not covered. My flight out of the country could be delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight in Dubai. Not covered.

I made the call and erred on the side of caution, changing my flights to skip Turkey altogether. So once again, check the T&Cs of your policy and make sure you know the status of the country/countries you’re visiting.

Below are some of the travel advisories to check:

When I might not get travel insurance

I almost always err on the side of caution, but there have been times when I haven’t bothered with travel insurance. Disclaimer here: this is entirely my own decision and should in no way advise your choices.

Take the time I went to the UK for a week for a funeral. I was staying with family and had few possessions with me. The UK is generally safe, but the main clincher was that they have a reciprocal health care arrangement with Australia. When I realised this, I decided to forego the cost of travel insurance.

aroamertherapist in brighton

Aussies have reciprocal health care agreements with 11 countries, so any necessary medical care you might need is covered. These countries are:

  1. Belgium
  2. France
  3. Italy
  4. Malta
  5. The Netherlands
  6. New Zealand
  7. Norway
  8. The Republic of Ireland
  9. Slovenia
  10. Sweden
  11. The UK

Of course, this isn’t a reason to skip the travel insurance. You’re only covered for necessary medical expenses. And of course, you won’t be covered for flight cancellations or delays, lost luggage, theft, and so much more. Again, do your own research and make your own mind up about it.

Travel insurance through your credit card

I’ve met many people who only travel with the travel insurance they get automatically through their credit card.

I can’t speak for this field because I don’t earn a credit card. But from the research I’ve done, it seems like credit card travel insurance can be quite basic. Don’t take my word for it though. Here’s a much better article where you can learn about this.

Travel insurance & Crohn’s or other pre-existing illnesses

Good old Crohn’s Disease, always complicating things a little. But this is an important caveat to note: if you have any pre-existing illness before you travel, you probably will NOT be covered for it overseas.

A very few insurance companies might offer coverage if you pay extra, but TBH I’m yet to find one.

With Crohn’s, your best bet is to pack all the regular and emergency medications you’ll need for the duration of your trip and hope for the best! If you’re that sick, it might not be best to travel anyway right?

Take care with scooters in Asia – you might not be covered

This is another big one to keep in mind. If you have a motorbike licence from your country and one that is recognised by the country you’re driving in, your travel insurance may cover you to ride scooters around Asia.

If you’re unlicensed, you could still be covered … but only for scooters with a smaller engine. And most scooters for hire will be over this limit.

So if you’re driving a scooter in Asia, chances are you’re not covered:

  • If you hurt yourself on your scooter
  • If you hurt someone else on your scooter
  • If you damage the scooter you’ve hired
  • If you damage anyone else’s property.

You might also NOT be covered if you ride on the back of a scooter driven by an unlicensed driver. So just because you thought you found a loophole by getting your equally unqualified friend to drive the scooter, you may still not be covered if you’re injured in an accident.

So should you get a scooter at all? Probably not. But I still do. I drive slow and as safely as I can, and I do so with full acknowledgement of the risks I’m taking. You’ll have to do the research yourself and judge whether it’s worthwhile.

Have you ever needed travel insurance? Or worse, been caught out without it? Please let us know your cautionary tale and words of wisdom in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. I’m very picky about the links I choose to promote, because I don’t want you to have a worst time travelling based on my recommendation. I only use affiliate links for products I have personally used and only do it as a necessity to keep this blog and my dream going!

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