Paying for Travel Insurance

What's your take on getting travel insurance before you do an extended trip? I'm thinking about it mostly for health reasons, just in case something drastic happened.

Craig's Response:

I think it depends entirely on your expected lifestyle and duration of travel. If you're the type to climb tall mountains or ride a mountain bike down Yungas Road (aka "death road") in Bolivia, then perhaps. I believe medical insurance is only worth the expense if you need to be medivacked to a hospital, perhaps in your home country. If traveling in developing countries, getting a broken arm or leg treated is cheap enough not to warrant the expense of the insurance. If you get stabbed, you're getting local treatment whether you like it or not.

I had a friend get a piece of his ear torn off in a scuffle with some Brazilians in Carnival this year. He was happy to have insurance because of the cost of the plastic surgery outfit he visited in Salvador, though not particularly happy with the quality.

I think most travelers find insurance for their belongings more frequently used. Broken cameras, stolen backpacks, missing laptops and iPODs, and smashed designer sunglasses—these are the items more prone to financial ache, not the cost of a hospital bill.

Think about where you're going, what you'll be taking, and how long you'll be traveling for, and plan accordingly.

//craig in peru
Dec 26, 2007

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December 26th, 2007

I find it interesting to hear a long-term traveller's view of insurance. Being on the other side of the desk (having been a travel agent for 8 years), I would have actually gone the other way around in terms of which I would recommend first.

In the experience I've had dealing with clients (which were made up of both long-term backpacker/adventure-style travellers as well as the all-inclusive Mexico types) was that the baggage insurance was what they felt they could have done without. Other than the passport-replacement coverage (which can pay for itself many times over if your passport gets stolen), the baggage insurance, depending on your coverage, can be more difficult to claim on than you would think. Often, original receipts have to be shown for items which you are claiming on (I don't know about you, but I don't have receipts for most valuable things I travel with), and 'valuables' (ie jewellery, cameras, laptops, etc) tend to be lumped together with a max combined claim amount, sometimes as low as $500, depending on your policy. While I'm not discounting it, baggage insurance was generally not what my clients came back raving about.

Medical, on the other hand, I am completely sold on, and would never, ever travel without. Whether it's the girl (who claimed she was 'healthy' and therefore she didn't need to purchase travel medical coverage) who had her appendix burst while trekking in the hill tribes of Thailand, or the gap-year backpacker who got into a scooter accident in Spain, I have never had a client come back unhappy that they bought insurance. More often than not, I would hear from the clients who did NOT buy it and were regretful.

The above-mentioned visitor to Thailand ended up requiring two different airlifts and emergency return to Canada. She came back $250,000 in debt because she didn't feel that she needed to shell out the $57 for insurance. The girl who was hit on the scooter DID have insurance, which paid for not only her two-week stay in a Spanish hospital, but also for the tickets for her parents to fly to Spain to pick her up and accompany her back to Canada (flying back in business class, as her casts made it impossible for her to fit in an economy class seat), as she was unable to travel home unaccompanied.

I could go on and on with both horror stories and cases where medical insurance made sure that people could stay travelling instead of coming home because that borken wrist drained their travel fund…but I think you get the point.

The blessing and the malediction of travelling is that you rarely know what's going to happen next. No one going to the all-inclusive resort in Aruba for two weeks expects to step on a sea urchin and require surgery to remove the spines. And just because you're spending 3 weeks in the middle of London doesn't mean that you can't get just as hurt as backpacking through South East Asia.

Keep in mind, too, that if you are not a US citizen, the US is the most expensive country in the world to seek emergency medical treatment. As well, many hospitals retain the right to refuse treatment if you are not covered by an insurance policy of some kind.

In my opinion (opinions being worth exactly what you pay for them), prepare yourself to the hilt. You're dropping a fair chunk of cash on your transportation, are you really going to cheap out when it comes to your own health?

No one wants to come back from a trip and have to borrow money to pay their medical bills. Bail, maybe, but not medical bills.

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