How To Choose A Travel Insurance

My friend had packed his bags, and he was all set for his flight the next morning. It would be his first time traveling to South-East Asia, and I had dropped by to see him off. We sat for a while, talking excitedly about all the adventures that awaited him.

Are you sure you got everything?” I said. “Yes, all packed“, he said and slapped his clearly overstuffed backpack. “Got your passport?” “Yep“, he replied. “Plane tickets?” “Sure thing!” “Travel insurance?” “No, too expensive“, he said. “Why?! Do you think I need travel insurance?

It was a good question. When I first started out traveling, there was this saying that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Since then, I have seen way too many people get into trouble because of a lack of insurance, not to realize how true that is.

What Is Travel Insurance?

Travel Insurance is financial security against accidents that may happen on your trip. It will provide you with medical coverage if you get sick or injured on your journey, reimburse you if your new mobile gets stolen, your flight gets canceled, or if a family member dies and you need to go home. It’s protection against those emergencies that can come out of nowhere and cost you dearly if you are unprepared.

Since most health programs will not cover you overseas and credit cards often provide minimum protection, buying a good travel insurance is a no-brainer.

Why Buy Travel Insurance?

I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you why I never travel without travel insurance.

For me, it’s peace of mind knowing that if I get sick, I do not run the risk of potentially running up huge medical bills and that there will be someone there to pick up the tab if I get unlucky and need to go to the hospital.

It means I can do the activities I love, like skiing, surfing, diving, and kitesurfing, without worrying about the financial consequences of an accident.

Skiing in the midnight sun in Tromso, Norway
Us skiing in the midnight sun in Tromso, Norway

It means that there is someone I can call if I am in the middle of Cambodia with malaria symptoms, who will tell me which hospital I should go to or, even more importantly, which ones I should avoid.

And if my bags get lost or stolen, I know I haven’t lost everything. I have someone to call that can help me with some emergency money if all my credit cards and money are stolen.

But what If I’m Only Going To Cheap Countries?

Sorry, but inexpensive countries don’t mean affordable medical care. Thailand, for instance, is among the world’s most expensive countries to get hospitalized in. And if you do get sick in some remote part of South East Asia, chances are you may need to be airlifted to Bangkok or Singapore for proper treatment. That stuff is crazy-expensive.

And it gets worse, in some countries like, for instance, Japan, hospitals can refuse to treat you if you can’t show them valid travel insurance!

Have You Guys Used Your Travel Insurance?

Yes! Thankfully not for anything major, but our travel insurance has paid for itself many times over. Like when our brand new Nikon DSLR camera got stolen on New Year’s eve in Bangkok! Oh, what a fun New Year’s eve that was at the Bangkok police station.

Or when Maria got salmonella poisoning after having had a dodgy chicken meal at a night market in Thailand and had to be given intravenous fluids.

Is Travel Insurance Expensive?

The price can vary depending on your age, medical history, where you are going, how long you will be traveling, and what you plan to do during your trip.

Activities like hiking in Nepal, considered a high-risk activity with potentially enormous costs for medical evacuation, will, for instance, often add a bit to the price of insurance.

But on average, we are talking a few dollars per day for regular travel insurance. Less than you spend on a smoothie, a coffee at Starbucks, or a beer!

What We Look For In A Travel Insurance?

Not all travel insurance is created equal. Make sure you read the fine print of your policy. I can only tell you what we look for when deciding on travel insurance, and you will have to decide for yourselves. We look for travel insurance that:

  • Has sufficient coverage to pay for any medical expenses. Typically at least 100.000 USD, preferably more.
  • Covers both injury and sudden illness
  • Covers emergency evacuation and care, so if I get injured on a trek in the jungle, it will cover the expenses to get me to the hospital.
  • Will pay for transportation back home to my own country if necessary
  • Includes the activities that I enjoy. If you think you might do a scuba diving course, then make sure your insurance covers you for that. Sometimes you need to purchase extra coverage for more extreme activities like kitesurfing or horseback riding.
  • Covers the countries I want to visit. Make sure your insurance covers you in high-cost countries like Japan and the US if you are traveling there.
  • Can be extended while traveling if our travel plans change
  • Covers my most important valuables should they get lost or stolen
  • Has a twenty-four-hour emergency contact number I can call to get help
  • Covers cancellations if myself or a family member get sick and we can’t travel after all
  • Covers any political unrest or emergency situations that may result in the trip getting cut short
  • Claims can be filed online
Snorkling with manta rays in Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Maria snorkeling with manta rays in Komodo National Park, Indonesia

What A Travel Insurance Is Not

Travel insurance is not a license to behave like an idiot. In fact, if you get injured because you were incredibly reckless, then you might find that your travel insurance may refuse to cover you. For instance, you can’t drive a motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol and expect to be covered. Also, any third-party damage you cause is often not covered.

Some insurance will refuse to cover adventurous activities, and their definition of adventurous can vary greatly. Read the policy carefully, so you are sure you know what it will and won’t cover.

Which Travel Insurance Should I Get?

There are tons of companies offering travel insurance. We have traveled for a long time and have researched a lot of travel insurance providers over the years. I can’t tell you what travel insurance is right for you, but I can tell you what we ended up with.

Our favorite is World Nomads. We have used them several times over the last ten years and have been very happy with them. Their customer service is, in our experience, top-notch, the insurance can be bought and extended online while traveling, and it covers quite a few of our favorite adventurous activities.

World Nomads is also the travel insurance recommended by Lonely Planet and National Geographics.

By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to my friend, he bought travel insurance before he left, and thankfully he never had to use it. But he said he slept much better, knowing he was covered if anything should happen.