Nothing ever goes wrong when we travel, so no one ever needs travel insurance. Everyone is always completely healthy, happy, in possession of their luggage, and safe throughout their entire adventure. Flights are never late. Connections never get missed. No one ever gets sick or hurt. Luggage never gets lost. Work doesn’t get in the way. Terrorism doesn’t happen. Pandemics never shut down countries. Tragedies never hit home. Everything goes smoothly all the time.
That is the dream. As a travel professional, I truly wish these statements were all true. If they were, it would make my work and personal life a LOT easier! Travel with no risk… What a beautiful world that would be! I dream of this kind of existence…but then I fall back into reality which isn’t often so pretty.
Which is why we carry insurance. Insurance for our homes, our cars, our lives, even our technology…but for some reason when people think about their trips, insurance is seen as an “unnecessary expense” and no one even wants to talk about it – and who can blame them? After all, insurance is BORING.
When it comes to insurance in general, I always think of the character from “Groundhog Day” – Ned Ryerson. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, check out this little scene on YouTube – you don’t have to watch the whole movie to appreciate this little gem of the personification of an insurance salesman stereotype:
Travel insurance is the often overlooked part of trip planning of that a lot of people think they either don’t need, already are covered for, or don’t understand…and small wonder. The amount of misinformation out there as to what it is, how it works, and answering that “why bother?” question really hasn’t helped. I used to think it was a waste of money…until the first time I needed it.
I tell people all the time that I’m the “poster child for travel insurance” – I’m kidding, but also not. I’ve had to use travel insurance on three separate occasions for completely different reasons each time…and it has literally saved me thousands. And that’s to say nothing of the clients I’ve worked with who opted out of insurance only to end up wishing they had gotten it because of things that came up either before or after departure and a personal or medical crisis suddenly also became a financial crisis. (It kills me when that happens because I know how easily the financial crisis part could have been avoided!)
The first time I personally had to use it was the first time I picked some up. I was doing a trip to Peru (hiking the Inca Trail, seeing the Amazon, etc.) Insurance was a requirement of the tour company I was going with. I had to provide proof of coverage prior to departure. I ended up in the hospital needing emergency surgery about 2 weeks prior to departure. I was only 29 at the time, so it’s not even like I was older and could have possibly foreseen something like that happening! My medical insurance of course covered whatever I needed medically, but travel insurance reimbursed me for the ENTIRE TRIP COST. So while I was dealing with the health crisis, I at least knew that I wasn’t also out the cost of my trip and I could just reschedule it for another time (which I did).
The second time, I was on a trip…in the middle of it, actually…when I got sick while traveling and was unable to continue along my preplanned itinerary. Travel insurance covered the cost to move me back to a major city, took care of all medical costs, unexpected lodging costs, and food, and then also reimbursed me on a prorated basis for the itinerary I was interrupted from completing. As a result, I was able to just stay somewhere until I felt better, and then planned an impromptu itinerary to not have to cut my entire vacation short. Turned into one of my best trips ever, and it didn’t cost me a penny extra.
The last time, I was almost to the end of a trip when my friend that I was traveling with (who I insisted should also pick up travel insurance before we left) became injured while we were traveling. Even though the issue wasn’t with me, because I was considered her “traveling companion” by travel insurance purposes, I was covered as well. Her injury caused us to cancel our existing return flights, stay in-country an extra week, and she required a few different medical checks and scans before she would be cleared to fly home. Insurance covered the unexpected lodging, meals, my friend’s medical costs (above what her US medical insurance took care of), and also our flights home…in Business class because her injury meant that she couldn’t sit in an Economy seat for a 10+ hour flight back to SFO. Yeah. Worth it.
And so, as you might imagine, I never travel without it. The amount I’ve paid in premiums over the years – with as much as I travel (especially with this job!) – hasn’t come close to what it’s saved me during these times when I’ve needed to rely on it. Go big insurance, or stay home! Like I said: poster child.
Oh…and these are just my own personal stories – I haven’t even told you about the multitude of stories from experiences I’ve had clients go through! It’s taught me that it’s not about the things you can even think will happen, it’s about the things you never even consider happening. Trust me, the unexpected is just that: UNEXPECTED.
I already have medical insurance, so aren’t I covered?
One of the big things is that people think if they already have medical coverage through their US insurance or employer, that they’re good but, as you can see from my own real-world examples, the issues I ran into weren’t related to the costs of actual medical care overseas (or at home) as much as it was about costs outside of the medical issues (e.g. unexpected hotel stays, food, taxis, airfare, otherwise non-refundable trip costs, etc.). Medical needs were the least of the costs I would have encountered if not for insurance. We have more details around the gaps in medical coverage overseas in our FAQs:
My credit card provides travel protection – isn’t that all I need?
Yeah, that’s another one that gets people! I have cards that carry “travel insurance” as one of the included benefits as well. I still pick up a separate policy. Why? Because what the credit cards offer is pretty much the lowest benefit options possible. This isn’t surprising because, let’s face it, they’re a credit card company – t they’re not going to pay for premiums that are going to give the best coverage. That’s not their fault – it’s just good business for them.
It’s nice to have for domestic trips (you know, in case your luggage gets stolen or your flight is delayed) but it’s not going to be much help when you’re in another country where automatically the costs of any sort of disruption or interruption of your plans will be greater than you might expect. For example, my credit card insurance wouldn’t have ever covered all the costs associated with my friend’s injury and I would have had to leave her alone and seriously injured in foreign country because I wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay…if it weren’t for both of our travel insurance policies.
In addition, there are a number of things that is usually hidden in the fine print (that dang fine print!) that would be good to keep in mind or read through.
- You may be required to purchase the ENTIRE trip on the same card to qualify
- Many policies only the primary cardholder (not all travelers)
- Pre-existing condition look back periods are usually a lot longer (up to 6 months)
- “Covered conditions” can be greatly limited and often doesn’t include things like supplier financial default
Okay, so what does it cover and what does it cost?
Basically you pay a premium, and you’re covered! Premium costs are based primarily on the length of the trip, cost (per person) of the trip, and the age of the insured. If you’re 20, it’s going to be a lot lower than if you’re 80, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. As to what it covers, well, that partly depends on what level of policy you get. Each one has slightly different limits and/or payouts. We usually quote a midrange policy that covers more than “basic” plans, but is usually enough for the things you might need. For families, I often recommend slightly higher coverage because of the number of people and that children can sometimes end up costing more.
Coverage also varies by policy, but generally speaking, it covers all kinds of the unexpected – terrorism, lost luggage, trip delay, missed connections, illness, injury, death of an immediate family member… You can even get coverage for having to work when you were supposed to be away.
The coverage we always recommend as a baseline covers all of the above as well as things that, unfortunately have become far more common in our post-COVID travel world such as:
- Flight Assistance:
If you miss a flight or it’s delayed or canceled – they can assist you with finding a new flight or alternate transportation.
- Accommodation Assistance:
If your trip has been interrupted or delayed, they can assist you in changing your reservations or finding alternate accommodations.
- Lost Travel Documents Assistance:
If your passport is lost or stolen, they can assist in getting your documents replaced and can help change your travel arrangements if required.
- Emergency Language Translation:
They can assist with translation services.
- Finding a Doctor or Medical Facility:
If you need care from a doctor or medical facility, they can assist you in finding one locally.
It’s my hope and prayer for every client trip that nothing goes wrong and everyone remains healthy, happy, in possession of their luggage, and safe throughout their entire adventure. But insurance isn’t for what we hope happens, its job is to be there when the unexpected does so that no crisis has to become a financial burden as well.
Bottom line (and you had to know this was coming) get insurance! 🙂 I know it’s an upfront cost that seems unnecessary, but trust me – it’s only unnecessary until you need it and then it suddenly becomes the best thing you ever bought. Your trip is an investment – not just of money, but also time, emotion, and often relationships. Of course you can take on the financial risk of something going wrong, but I guess my question would be, why would you want to?