Is travel insurance really worth it? That’s the question that often gets tossed around the travel community. As the General Manager of WorldNomads.com, I want to delve into some of the common myths and opinions about travel insurance that are out there (yes, we’ve heard them all) and weigh in with what I hope to be useful information on what the benefits of travel insurance truly are.
“The benefits of travel insurance greatly diminish proportionate to how long you travel. Barring catastrophe”
Barring catastrophe. Catastrophe is usually defined by the insurance industry as a large event like a natural disaster, but try telling the person in hospital with a spinal injury that they aren’t suffering a catastrophe. The singular most important reason to take out travel insurance is to cover you in the event of something medically happening to you or your family. That is at the heart of the reason why travel insurance exists. Everything else in my opinion is a ‘nice to have’. One of the number one causes of medical repatriation cases for our World Nomads is road traffic accidents. In most cases, not because of the fault of the traveler. No amount of precaution can be taken to prevent a 5 tonne cement truck ploughing into you in Bolivia (that case was in excess of $180,000 dollars in medical costs).
Then there’s disease…there are no vaccines against Dengue Fever, which is sharply on the rise. There are five strains, and getting one makes it more likely you’ll get the potentially deadly Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever from the other strains. The $20,000 required to cover the cost of moving one of our World Nomads from Laos to Bangkok to receive specialist treatment, surely, was worth the cost of the policy.
Most travel insurers only make a few cents from every dollar they receive in premium, so although when compared to all cases, the +$50,000 cases might be small, the total amount of claims payed out is massive. The ‘benefits’ of travel insurance are the same whether you’re on day 1 of your journey or day 1,038. The likelihood of something occurring does increase over time.
“Medical care is cheap in most of the world. It takes a lot of medical care abroad to add up to even a $100 insurance excess fee”
It all depends on what country you are travelling in and what level of medical care you require. The cost of treatment for the common cold can be minimal if you’re picking up antibiotics in a clinic in Quito, but that exact same treatment in Tokyo, Singapore, San Francisco is not. By the time they’ve requested you get a chest x-ray, blood tests, etc you’re staring down the barrel of hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Of course, you could refuse when you think you’ve got a case of the Bali belly, but are you qualified to tell the difference between the symptoms of diarrhoea and Hepatitis A?
“The medical side of travel insurance generally only covers genuine emergencies where life and limb are at stake.”
I can’t agree with this one. Let’s look at some of the benefits offered around travel insurance in regards to medical coverage. All policies are different, but many include the following:
Outpatient treatment by a doctor/specialist
Prescribed treatment by a physiotherapist/chiropractor
Provisional pain-stilling dental treatment
Remember, any good travel insurance policy will come with the support of a medical assistance company. If you feel any concern about your health or personal safety, you can call them and they’ll assist you in finding the nearest medical facility. It doesn’t matter if it’s a swollen toe that you stubbed the night before, the nagging cough that’s been hanging around for weeks or that pain you felt when you stepped on something in the surf, which turned out to be a poisonous fish, triggering post traumatic compartment syndrome and requiring $10,000 in medical treatment (it happens!).
“Travel is about self sufficiency, about relying on yourself to get out of bad circumstances, about taking care of yourself.”
I think it’s about being informed of the risks you might face when you’re on the road. Do your research, understand what is most likely to happen to you in the places you travel. I have the constitution of a wet paper bag, so when I travel to Cambodia, I’ll pack a gastro kit. I agree that you’re responsible for your own safety in most cases, but when something does go wrong, you may well need more than support than you’re qualified to be able to give yourself. Not sure about you, but I’m not going to remove my own tooth with nothing but an ice skate, a volleyball and some string I’ve made from bamboo!
“Each traveler needs to assess their need of travel insurance for themselves”
I completely agree, every traveler is different, every journey is different. Make an informed decision on what level of cover you require based on where you’re travelling, what activities you’re undertaking and how much you care about your possession or the chances that your plans may need to change and you could be left out of pocket.
“Do not listen to the guidebook and major website recommendations for travel insurance, as they make money by convincing you that you need it to travel.”
You don’t “need travel insurance to travel”, unless it’s deemed compulsory by the travel company who does not want to be responsible for the cost of your treatment should something happen to you on their trip, or as a visa requirement for entry into a country. Just about every government website promotes the need to take out travel insurance and they’re not making any profit from this.
“Do not let the “odd man out” stories of the traveler who did not purchase travel insurance and needed it scare you.”
You’re totally free to roam the world without travel insurance in most cases, you might not be scared by the stories of people being stuck in a country with a broken back whose government wont repatriate them and their family is left to raise the $80,000 to get them airlifted home. It is ultimately your decision on whether you wish to run the risk of being caught in a potentially, horrendously, expensive situation. For a lot of people, just knowing that if their gear is stolen they’ll get something back, or if their flights are cancelled, they wont be out of pocket by $800. Just make sure that you do take the time to read the policy wording. Travelers will spend months researching their trip, but not give an hour to go through the policy wording and contact the insurer if there’s something they don’t understand. Most insurers give a 14 day cooling off period should you wish to cancel. Use it! Call them up or email them and get them to explain if you’re unsure about a particular benefit or exclusion, best to ask beforehand as opposed to finding out when the claim is denied.
I’ve heard “ The best insurance company is the one you never need”.
That’s a rubbish statement! The best travel insurance company is a travel companion, there to provide not only cover, but support you whenever you need it on the road. Be it information on the destination you’re travelling to, connecting you to other travellers so you can understand the local environment better. Services that help you get the most from your travel experience and tools to keep you travelling safely as well as staff that understand what you need because like you, they are travellers too.
Chris Noble, GM WorldNomads.com
WorldNomads.com is a global travel insurance business specifically focussed on independent and adventurous travelers. They also provide travel safety advice amongst a range of other services. In the interest of full disclosure, Greenloons and WorldNomads recently entered into an affiliate sales relationship. You are welcome to read more about whether your family needs travel insurance.