Wondering why you need travel insurance? I know, sometimes the whole insurance thing feels like a wrought, a waste of money, or gambling in a casino – you know the house has the advantage. However, from the very beginning of our travels (long before the pandemic), we understood that travel insurance was worth it. Now? More than ever. Let me give you a few examples from just the last 18-months where we were so glad we had invested in travel insurance.
For years we took out travel insurance and never claimed against it. In some ways we were lucky. In others it was because we planned well and mitigated risk. Even when something did happen we didn’t claim against our insurance because the gap/deductible we would have had to pay, was more than any of the loses that we incurred. It almost made us stop purchasing it altogether and just rely on the limited travel insurance that comes with our credit card. Almost…
Then the pandemic happened. We’ve made several claims in the last 18-months. They are perfect examples why travel insurance is an important thing to budget for and purchase when booking your next trip. Our travel dramas also demonstrate how the travel industry is not back up to full speed yet, which creates extra risk for things going awry.
Why buy travel insurance?
1. The false positive
In November 2021, Australia opened its international borders to citizens for the first time since they were closed 2020. As expats living abroad, we bolted for a chance to see our family and friends. We were fully vaccinated and had our booster shot. Travel requirements were still tight and we needed to get tested for C-19 within 48-hours of departure.
This was a tall order, as it seemed EVERYONE needed to get tested in those same couple of days before Christmas. Plus, getting a test with a guarantee of obtaining the result in time for our flight was almost impossible. But somehow we did it!
My result came back first: negative. A few hours later, just 12-hours prior to leaving home, hubby got his result: positive! How could that be? We’d been so careful to socially distance for the month leading up to the trip. But there was no use fighting it–the whole, expensive shebang had to be called off at the very last second including our non-refundable, Airbnb booking in Sydney.
Oh, the disappointment! We then had to isolate for 10-days (over Christmas) and didn’t even have food in the fridge because we’d cleaned out the house in anticipation of the trip. Christmas Day 2021 was spent lodging travel insurance claims–which got our money back, at least. That is the whole point I’m trying to make. Without travel insurance we would have lost thousands of dollars.
2. The damaged rental car
We’ve rented quite a few cars over the years—mostly for road trips to remote parts of the US, taking backroads, and on one infamous occasion, having to be hauled out of the mud in middle-of-nowhere, Utah. We’re meticulous about checking over the vehicle when we pick it up and take as much care as possible while we’re using it. We’ve never had any accidents or damage.
Last year, we took a week-long drive around the north of France—hardly an off-roading adventure. Although, have you ever driven in Paris?! We didn’t hit anything or run over anything, but when we returned the vehicle it had a small scratchy-denty thing. Not big, but by rental car company standards it qualified for more than acceptable wear-and-tear. $800 was the quote to repair it! You know what happened next folks…we claimed it on our travel insurance.
3. The food-borne illness
November 2022, we took a trip to Mexico. This was our fourth trip to Mexico. We’ve travelled much of the developed world. I have two-thirds of a health science degree (i.e. studied a lot of food safety). All this is to say, we are generally pretty knowledgeable, experienced and cautious when it comes to eating and drinking in foreign countries.
Well, three times is a charm and four is Montezuma’s Revenge. I will spare you the details, but it was ugly! I lost a kilo in a week. After an emergency doctor visit and being prescribed a laundry list of medications – we limped through the remainder of the trip, trying to make the best of what we could in between spells of nausea and worse. We cancelled most meals and our pre-paid Mexican cooking class and survived mostly on horchata-flavoured electrolyte drinks – they’re actually pretty good.
So, who paid our medical expenses and extra night’s accommodation in a hotel in Mexico? Say it with me folks: travel insurance. Who reimbursed our unused pre-paid travel expenses? Our travel insurance. Sure, it was a pain in the butt to claim and it took almost 2-months to get the money, but we got it.
4. Winter. Storm. Elliott.
Remember in example one, we had to cancel our first trip back to Australia since the pandemic started? Well, it was another year before we could try again. Barely recovered from our Mexican gastro saga, we prepared for a second attempt to return home to Australia. Two-days before we were due to leave, Winter Storm Elliott hit North America.
This video compilation perfectly demonstrates what it was like trying to get to Seattle airport (or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest) on our departure day. Thousands of flights had been cancelled or delayed in the previous few days. Somehow ours seemed to be on schedule—all the way until we got checked in and through security. Then it was cancelled. Really United Airlines?! You couldn’t have pre-empted that? Our best option was a standby flight the next morning. So, we slipped and slid our way home again.
4am the following morning, our stand-by flight was cancelled. We requested a refund and re-booked on Air Canada for that afternoon. To cut a long story short, it took us another 48-hours to get to Australia. There were several more delays; a broken plane; we were left stranded in Vancouver at 3am on Christmas Day with no accommodation and no food; Air Canada stopped answering their phones; and we had to take a detour via New Zealand. It was sheer chaos and we were among many, many fellow travellers affected. Oh, did I mention they lost our bag for 5-days too!?
Though we couldn’t get our family Christmas back, we could claim the unexpected night in a gougingly-expensive Vancouver airport hotel and other costs related to this trip interruption and baggage delay, on our travel insurance.
Are you convinced yet? Do you see why travel insurance is worth it? We are well-versed travellers. In none of these circumstances were we doing anything risky or out of the ordinary. We weren’t swimming with sharks in Belize, toasting marshmallows on a lava flow in Guatemala, or hiking on an Alaskan glacier—all stuff we actually do!
Buying travel insurance – things to look for
I am in no way an insurance expert, but this isn’t my first rodeo either – obviously! Here are tips on how to approach purchasing travel insurance, and what to look for in a policy:
Make friends with the fine print
Get several quotes and compare. Insurance companies make comparisons as difficult as possible. They publish their inclusions in different formats and using different language, and it can be downright frustrating. The fine print isn’t fun but can pay dividends.
Get that detailed copy of the policy (not just vague summary some insurance companies try to feed you) and scour it for what you need to know. The reason we were able to claim on the above circumstances, is because we took the time to research and understand our travel insurance policy, what it covers and what it doesn’t.
Who is the underwriter?
Insurance companies and brokers are a dime a dozen and not all of them reputable. Make sure you know who the insurer is. Research their reviews and who their underwriter is. I stick with bigger names/brands, because bigger, more visible companies are more likely to be scrutinized by authorities and consumers.
Pay per trip or annual policy?
Decide whether you are going to pay per trip or get an annual policy. As frequent flyers, we find an annual policy is much more cost effective than buying for each individual trip. Note, there are far fewer companies that offer annual policies, so your options will be reduced.
What kind of traveller are you?
Choose coverage that suits your type of travel. We like to do adventurous things that aren’t always covered by a standard travel insurance policy. If you do any type of active or adventure sports, even those that seem commonplace such as skiing and surfing, make sure you have coverage. This often involves an added supplement or upgraded coverage.
Where are you travelling?
Depending on where you are going, travel insurance is mandatory for some destinations. The Schengen countries, Cuba, Aruba, Morocco and Lebanon are just some of the countries that require travel insurance for you to enter. Check the entry requirements for the specific country you are visiting. Make sure you have the required coverage and obtain proof before you apply for an entry visa or leave home.
Furthermore, ensure the countries you are travelling to are covered by your policy. Some countries won’t be covered by certain insurers for a variety of reasons.
When to buy travel insurance?
Purchase insurance before you pay for your trip or at the time of your first deposit. This will vary by insurance company and policy, but generally you need to take out insurance before or at the time when you paid the first deposit for it to be covered.
Keep it close
Keep a paper copy of your coverage certificate and contact details of your insurer on you at all times while you are travelling. As a back up, I put the emergency, international free-call phone number in my phone’s address book too.
Making a travel insurance claim
Given my plethora of recent experience, here is some advice for making a successful travel insurance claim:
- Understand your policy. Like I said already, the fine print is your friend.
- Begin documenting the second things start to go a bit wonky on your trip. Don’t wait for things to get out of control. It’s surprising how innocuous-seeming things can compound, or how fast you forget small details of what happened when the ordeal is over. Documentation is your friend.
- Keep a timeline with brief entries about what happened. I use the basic notes app on my phone. Try to make them as objective and factual as possible. For example: 0200 Airline announces flight delay of 30-mins. 0230 Airline announces further delay of 1-hr. 0330 Airline announces cancellation of flight.
- Keep all the related paperwork from boarding passes to itineraries. Get official letters/certificates wherever possible, whether it’s from an airline or a doctor. Keep all copies of your itinerary as it changes.
- Collect receipts for everything you pay for. It can also be helpful to have a bank statement that proves payment for additional items or services. In other words, pay for added expenses with a card, rather than cash if possible.
- Take photos of things like damage to your suitcase or the information board in the airport showing your flight delay.
- When things go wrong, they can happen in an instant or over a period of time. In an emergency, get your insurer on the phone immediately. Find out where you can get help that is covered by your policy. If it’s more one of those protracted delays or a less urgent issue, contact your insurer when you can and find out the requirements to make a claim e.g. what documentation you need, so you can collect it along the way.
- No insurer wants to give you “their” money. It’s going to take time to get your claim processed and they will resist you at every step. If you have the right proof or paper trail of your experience and the incident falls within your coverage, they will pay out…eventually! Stay persistent.
I sincerely hope you never need to make a travel insurance claim, but buy it anyway! Especially in the current post-pandemic climate, as the travel industry is recovering and still a little wobbly.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,