Do you need travel Insurance - It depends on the adventure

Do you need Travel Insurance? Maybe yes…maybe no…

…it all depends on the adventures you have in store…

Do you need travel Insurance - It depends on the adventure

Contents:

  1. Do you need travel insurance
  2. When will you absolutely need travel insurance?
  3. A couple of horror that prove sometimes travel insurance is worth having
  4. What about routine accidents while traveling? 
  5. The Elephant in the Room: Insurance companies make money from fear 
  6. When you may not need travel insurance 
  7. How much does travel insurance cost? 
  8. What does travel insurance cover
  9. Travel insurance recommendations 

Do you need Travel Insurance?  Maybe yes…maybe no…

Do you need travel insurance? New travelers usually opt for it out of fear.  Some seasoned travelers avoid it out of bitterness because they’ve never had to cash in on it and feel it’s a scam. Nearly every blogger recommends it…partly because they’re an affiliate partner and get a commission from the sale.  With the constant argument of “is travel insurance necessary?” and “which travel insurance is the best?”, it’s hard to decide what to do.  Should you get travel insurance?  Is it worth sacrificing the money that would otherwise go to that SCUBA diving certification or an extra flight to the Philippines?

The honest answer to whether or not you need travel insurance is — sometimes you will, when you’re adventuring more than normal, but usually you won’t need travel insurance, when you’re managing your risks and traveling in a relaxed way.

I must add the caveat that this is general advice that depends on an assessment of your own health, how prone you are to accidents, whether or not you have medical insurance at home, and how large your pile of spare cash is in case of a big accident.  Take the advice that follows as one opinion, one perspective, and weigh it into the judgment of whether or not you need travel insurance.


As a seasoned traveler that’s been to 50+ countries over a few years and had a lot of close calls, I do purchase travel insurance at very strategic times,which I advise.  Now, full disclosure, I am an affiliate partner of World Nomads and make a very small bit of change if you purchase travel insurance through one of the links on this page –but – as a writer and lover of travel, I would rather have your trust,your respect, and see you experience one extra adventure (with the saved cash) than convince you to give up your hard earned cash for me to earn a small commission and for you to purchase something that isn’t right for you. 

If you are in any way suspicious of this opinion then read the thoughts here and then go directly to the link on your travel insurance site of choice (not clicking through an affiliate link here) to purchase your plan, after doing much more research of course.  My goal is for you to travel better and with less stress.  That’s it.

So, here’s a no BS answer to a very good question…

Do you need travel insurance?

The answer is…probably not.  If you adventure hard, then you should absolutely get it for short periods of time to cover very specific risks.  When doing higher risk activities where, if something goes wrong, you’ll either need higher quality and more expensive care in off the grid places to keep your limbs or you’ll need care extremely quickly.  But in most cases of routine, slow paced travel, travel insurance is more of a luxury than a necessity.

When is travel insurance absolutely necessary?

I’ve purchased travel insurance on a few occasions for very specific periods of time.  Here are the few that come to mind

  • During the trek to Everest Base Camp: To cover a potential helicopter evacuation due to altitude sickness
  • During the 1 month long motorbike ride through Laos and Vietnam: For quick transport to a different country with higher quality medical care if a limb was broken or an infection set in
  • During my 10 days of travel in the Middle East,particularly for travel in Lebanon and the West Bank: In case evacuation was necessary due to violence or political unrest
  • Surfing hard in Bali: I wanted to be able to push my limits as I improved, and with the risks of wipeouts and getting mashed into reefs I wanted one less thing to worry about

Each situation that I purchased travel insurance for had a clear risk that I was trying to mitigate.  So, when do I recommend getting travel insurance?

When do you need travel insurance?

  1. When you’re new to traveling, or traveling to a new region 
  2. When you’re taking on a new high risk activity in an unfamiliar place 
  3. When the potential for violence or political unrest is high, and you may need evacuation 
  4. When the physical risk is high for the activity or region, and you may need rescue 
  5. When you’ll be fairly remote, taking on physically risky activities, and if something goes wrong it will take a lot of effort to patch you up 

As you’re reading and considering travel insurance options specifically for high risk activities please ensure that that activity you’re doing (e.g., trekking above 7,000 meters, hang gliding, etc.) is covered by the plan you’repurchasing.  For instance, World Nomads has two types of plans: Standard and Explorer. The Standard plan covers a set list of activities while the Explorer plan covers those activities and several more risky activities.  Which ever plan you go with, ensure your activities and regions are covered…and that its written in the fine print of your policy that you can refer back to later.

1. When you’re new to traveling, or traveling to a new region

Things are most likely to go wrong when you’re outside of your comfort zone and in a new world.  When you’re first riding a bike, you’re likely to crash.  When you’re first learning to climb, you’re likely to fall.  And when you’re first traveling, you are definitely going to get sick or get lured into some interesting adventures.

For instance, if you are a North American or European traveling to Southeast Asia you absolutely must eat the street food – it’s a rite of passage.  But understand that at some point you are absolutely going to get hit with Montezuma’s revenge, alternating between fine and slightly sick, yet leaking out of both ends.  If this is your first time traveling out of a pristine, developed nation, you may get sicker than you think.  Yeah, you can drink Gatorade and tough it out, but having doctor to advise you on what’s going on until you learn how to deal with the “travel bug” can be a lifesaver (literally and figuratively).

The risk for new travelers doesn’t just end at food.  Everything from Pterodactyl sized mosquitos carrying dengue to being coaxed into driving a motorcycle (for the first time) in Hanoi, Vietnam traffic (bad idea) are bound to happen.  Having travel insurance will give a slight bit of peace of mind while you adjust to and enjoy your new adventure.

If you’re considering getting insurance for this reason, but weary of dropping a hefty amount of cash, considering getting travel insurance for a short period (~1 month) and reassessing whether its right for you after that.  You can always renew policies and start new policies on the road

2. When you’re taking on a new high risk activity in an unfamiliar place 

When my buddy Mark and I decided to motorbike through Vietnam and Laos, one of my first recommendations to Mark was buying travel insurance.  You see, Mark had never ridden a motorbike before.  Considering what Vietnamese traffic was like and that we were riding through rural Laos and Vietnam, there was  a high probability that Mark was going to crash (he did…several times).  There was a high enough probability that if he did, he would either break a bone or need stitches and recovery would take a while.  So in this case, getting travel insurance was a good idea for Mark, and me.

3. When the potential for violence or political unrest is high – and you may need evacuation

Back before 2011 when North Africa, from Morocco to Egypt, were all much more tranquil destinations, there were plenty of tourists milling about  the region.  As the “Arab Spring” and a call for revolution swept the Middle East and North Africa, overnight, protests, and civil unrest, started happening all over the Middle East and North Africa.

You may remember that just before things started to completely catch fire in North Africa, tourists were being evacuated.  Though the governments of those tourists were happy to evacuate them to safety, the governments definitely sent a large bill to each evacuee later.  This is another case in which you should get travel insurance.

When violence or civil & political unrest is likely, get travel insurance to cover the cost of last minute evacuation, and any medical bills you may pick up in the process.

The US State Department Travel Page for Lebanon states the following:

“U.S. government-facilitated evacuations, such as the evacuation that took place from Lebanon in 2006, occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist, and they are not guaranteed even when commercial travel options are limited or non-existent. Evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the U.S. government for travel costs…”

US State Department Lebanon Travel Page  

4.     When the physical risk is high, and you may need rescue

As an example of high risk activities that may require rescue, travelers hiking the Everest Base Camp trek, the Annapurna Circuit, any other high altitude trekking in the Himalyas or Bolivia should heavily consider picking up travel insurance, to cover the cost of an evacuation or rescue.  At these elevations, altitude sickness can hit in ways that many travelers don’t understand or expect, as the brain start to swell (cerebral edema) or the lungs fill with fluid (pulmonary edema).  In any case, the only cure for altitude sickness is getting to lower elevation extremely quickly.  This almost always involves an emergency helicopter flight down, that can cost upwards of $5,000 USD…unless its covered by your travel insurance.  If you are making a high altitude trek, check to ensure that your insurance covers you at the altitude you’ll be hiking to as well as covers potential evacuations.

Another case of high risk activities is SCUBA diving.  Done properly, there are no issues, but done under the watch of a lazy dive master, issues such as the bends can lead to costly treatment that needs to happen quickly and might be hours away.  If you’re taking on a new, high risk activity and you’re trusting your host to handle all safety precautions, consider getting insurance when you’re getting familiar with the activity, just in case something goes wrong.  As you become familiar with things, you’ll know when insurance is and isn’t necessary.

5. When the activities are risky, and if something goes wrong it will take a lot to patch you up

Back to the example of Mark and I motorcycling through Laos.  In northern Laos, we were literally days away riding from the nearest fluent English speakers, and even further away from a hospital.  If one of us broke a leg or got some insane infection, our only options would either be 1) convincing a local to drive us days to get directly to the capitol, where we could fly out for treatment or be treated 2) the uninjured partner riding straight to the capital, finding a car (and hopefully a driver), driving back to the injured partner to pick them up, and returning to the capital for treatment or to fly out if the injury had gotten too bad.  There weren’t any options for an ambulance or easy options for a helicopter flight out – we would have to make it work ourselves.  The money, that would be reimbursed via a good travel insurance policy, would make that already difficult process much easier.

These scenarios may seem farfetched, and they admittedly are.  Those are the kinds of scenarios that insurance is meant for.  Luckily, its easy to guess when I’ll be at risk of altitude sickness or be days away from a hospital…and only buy insurance for those situations.

Now,you may be thinking, “but those situations never happen!” Not true. They absolutely do.  Here are a few stories I personally know of when travel insurance has been clutch during adventures…


Horror stories of travel that prove sometimes travel insurance is worth having

1. The guy who sliced his foot in Laos and had it amputated

A friend met a guy at a wedding who was awesome: charming, energetic, and a great dancer, but he was missing a leg…just had a cool titanium kicker in its place.

Years before, he was backpacking through Laos and doing some cliff jumping.  Unfortunately, none of the jumpers before him scouted out the depth.  He jumped and hit the bottom, which was covered with jagged rocks that sliced into his foot.  He came up bleeding, but dismissed it.  This was in Luang Prabang, in central Laos and far from the developed capital city of Vientiane. Over the following days his foot clearly became infected and painful, getting worse quickly.  By the time he made it to a place that could give proper medical care (Vientiane), he had to fly out to have it amputated.

The lesson in this case: Having travel insurance, if he was engaging in risky activities like this often, would have made the choice to go to a doctor early easy and nearly free, and would have made flying to get better healthcare elsewhere a less costly ordeal.  If you’re going to take a lot of risks, consider getting travel insurance

2. The time our buddy”Lazarus” took a bat to the face in Thailand

“Lazarus” (nickname gained because of this story) is a friend from the adventures in Thailand.  When we were all out at the bar one night, Lazarus  decided to head home, but before he got home we received a message that Lazarus got hit in the mouth by a bat!  Not a baseball bat, but a real live bat – the nasty, furry kind that fly.  It somehow flew right into his mouth and busted his lip.  Fast forward 24 hours and Lazarus was running a fever, intensely sick and had to go to the doctor.  He remained under observation for rabies for another 24 hours as he received meds and an IV drip.

Now, Lazarus lucked out because he didn’t have travel insurance…because he didn’t need it. Being Danish, he was covered by the legendary healthcare systems that Scandinavia is known for.  FYI, Lazarus was fully back to life a few days later…hence the name, Lazarus


What about routine accidents?

“But will I need travel insurance for routine accidents?” you may ask.  Before answering this, I’ll ask 3 questions:

  • How accident prone are you?
  • Will you carry medical insurance abroad?
  • Will the potential mishaps cost more to fix than the cost of your travel insurance policy?

If you are accident prone and make frequent visits to your doctor because of accidents, you’ll probably need travel insurance.

If you carry medical insurance that covers you abroad, then there isn’t much else that you’ll need from travel insurance for, except evacuation or rescue.

As for the cost of routine mishaps, for small, routine accidents in developing countries, the cost of care may be cheaper than back at home.  Doctor and Emergency Room visits are generally cheap and easy, and visits to a pharmacist usually don’t require a doctor’s prescription and cost less than $10 USD for most medications.

Forinstance I ran into a fella yesterday that’s here on Bali for 7 weeks.  He was walking on the beach and accidentallykicked a large metal shard that sliced deep into one of his toes.  After everything, he had to have his toenailsurgically removed.  He didn’t havetravel insurance and opted not to use his medical insurance from the US becausethe cost of the surgery and follow ups was only $300-$400 US – cheaper than hisco-pay deductible would have been in the US. This is still more expensive than 3 months of traveler’s insurance (~$217 for 3 months) but not by too much

Again, I am not saying that you should not get travel insurance, but if you are considering coverage for “routine mishaps” ask yourself how often mishaps happen to you and how much those mishaps would actually cost before assuming travel insurance is worth it.


The Elephant in the Room: Travel insurance companies make money on your fear 

A lot of things can happen while you’re traveling.  You might get sick.  You might break something.  You might even die.  Or you might get invited to an intergalactic Bar Mitzvah by a sequin wearing unicorn named Jethro.  Any one of these could happen, but the odds are low (unfortunately…in the case of Jethro the unicorn). Travel insurance companies make their money off of your fear that this low likelihood event might happen.

How do you balance out the marketing based on this fear with your actual need to be covered in emergencies?

Take an objective, rational look at the travel situation and events planned and ask yourself what the real likelihood that something seriously bad could happen. If something does go wrong, how much will it cost?  In the case of getting sick (such as with the “traveler stomach bug”), can you see a local pharmacist or doctor for cheaper?  If you do break a leg, would it be cheaper (and safe) to be patched up by locals?  Will all of that treatment be cheaper (and safer) than the benefits travel insurance would afford you?

In some cases, travel insurance does make the most sense, because the risk is high or the potential cost is so high that a couple hundred dollars now is better than $20,000 or a lost limb later. If you do buy travel insurance, ensure you’re buying it based on the needs of your travel situation, your travel style, and your plans (or lack of plans)…not out of fear.

When you may not need travel insurance

Now, we know quite a few of the situations when travel insurance is useful.  In what situations would it be better to just save our money?

Electronics: Don’t by Travel Insurance to cover your laptop or cell phone

In every travel policy I’ve seen, the coverage of the policy, for computers and cell phones, doesn’t make it worth purchasing purely to cover electronics.

If your electronics are broken or stolen, just opt for local copies or the local variant for cheap.  If you lose your Samsung S9 in Southeast Asia, you can either buy a fake that works extremely well for ~$105 or Vivo’s version of the S9 for about $225.  Both options are cheaper than most travel inurance policies.  If you lose your laptop or tablet, you can buy a fake version or the local variant for about ~$50 in Southeast Asia.  Also…do you really need all of those electronics anyway?  Free yourself!

Most travel insurance policies cover a max of $750 with a $250 deductible, meaning, for than $200 to $500 you’ll pay, they’ll give you $500 back.  Not worth it in my opinion.

If you maintain a renter’s policy back at home, or your parents, friends, or family do that you’re covered by, that policy will likely offer better coverage for your laptop and cell phone than travel insurance would, at no additional costs.  If you’re considering a travel insurance policy to cover your tech, call your renter’s insurance policy provider first.

For routine, low key tourism

If your travels mainly involve hop on hop off buses and walking tours, ask yourself…what exactly are you trying to insure?  Issues such as baggage loss are generally covered by most good credit cards, and routine sicknesses can be taken care of quickly and easily at a local doctor or pharmacist’s office.

To insure your luggage loss or damage on flights

In transit, any travel purchased via a credit card generally extends loss and damage insurance to your bags.  Additionally, if the airline loses your bags, you’re entitled to compensation.  Check the regulations (FAA if it is a US flagged carrier) to understand your rights and the compensation levels.

Also, the credit card used to purchase the flight (if Visa or Mastercard) will generally extend protection to your luggage.  Check the Credit Card terms and conditions to be sure.

(to the extent that it is covered, it will likely be covered by a good credit card, like Sapphire)

So as a recap…

Before buying travel insurance…

  • Read through your renter’s policy and contact your renter’s policy provider to see if your laptop and cell phone are already covered
  • Read through your credit card policy insurance for travel, baggage, electronics, and covered during flight
  • Read your airline’s policy for lost baggage to understand how much you are authorized to be reimbursed if the airline temporarily loses or misplaces your bags (I got my new Patagonia parka and some awesome Levi’s because of an airline losing my bag for three days).

How to avoid needing to use travel insurance

  • Learn a little first aid, learn your body, and learn how to take care of it.  If you scratch yourself on coral, or scrape yourself up crashing a scooter, clean yourself up and patch up your cuts – don’t let infections and light illnesses turn into serious issues.  Take a wilderness first aid course before you travel to understand how to take care of yourself, what’s serious, and what’s not (offered at REI stores throughout the US).
  • Only take calculated risks.   Don’t do a 15 meter cliff dive if you haven’t scouted the bottom, and don’t ride a scooter for the first time in Hanoi traffic, but, I highly recommend doing both at some point.
  • Learn how to use the local medical clinics and pharmacies.  They’re cheap, convenient, and if used earlycan solve most issues.

How to get the most of your travel insurance

If you’ll be adventuring on your travels and have decided that travel insurance is right for you, how can you get the most of it?

  • Read through and know your policy, know specifically what’s covered, know the coverage limits, and know how to get your problem covered while its being treated
  • Ensure your high risk activities (high altitude trekking, SCUBA diving, bungee jumping, etc.) are covered
  • Make sure you have connectivity when traveling, Skype to call phone numbers, and the phone number to your insurance provider on hand.
  • If you are about to do something that the policy will reimburse you for then contact the insurance policy provider first to get clearance if reasonably possible.

How much does Travel Insurance Cost?

If you’re wondering how muc hdoes travel insurance cost, you can get an exact quote at World Nomads,for your situation and travel plans but here are a few sample quotes I pulledfor myself

For a 34 year old male from the US traveling through Southeast Asia:

For a policy that covers higher risk activities (the Explorer Plan), here’s a view of prices

What are the coverage like for travel insurance?

 Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expense $100,000 $100,000
 Emergency Evacuation & Repatriation $300,000 $500,000
 Non-Medical Emergency Evacuation $25,000 $25,000
 Trip Cancellation $2,500 $10,000
 Trip Interruption $2,500 $10,000
 Trip Delay $500 $1,500
 Baggage & Personal Effects $1,000 $3,000
 Baggage Delay (outward journey only) $750 $750
 Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) where permissible Not included $35,000
 Accidental Death & Dismemberment $5,000 $10,000
 One Call 24-Hour Assistance Services Unlimited Unlimited
 Adventure Sports & Activities Standard Plan Sports & Activities as listed for U.S residents Standard & Explorer Plan Sports & Activities as listed for U.S residents

Fora full list of adventure sports covered by World Nomads read the article “Travel Insurance: Activities, sports, and adventures covered by World Nomads

Which Travel Insurance do I Recommend?

There are plenty of options out there for traveler’s insurance, and you’ll notice that most travelers from a single region (e.g., Australia, Europe, the US) will tend to opt for a single provider.

I, and many other Americans, use and recommend World Nomads travel insurance. I’ve used their policies twice, for my motorcycle tour of Asia and hiking to Everest Base Camp.  Though I didn’t need to use the policy on my trek or my ride, the company was very responsive and helpful in my preparation, confirming coverage amounts, and confirming what I would need to do in an emergency to ensure my I would be reimbursed for expenses incurred.

Additionally, I chatted with two people that did need to use the World Nomads policy and spoke highly of the experience – both issues occurred on the Everest Base Camp Trek.

The first was a friend that had a Staph infection that started during her trek.  All of the medications and doctor visits during the trek, in Kathmandu on return, and checkups a month later we recovered and easily reimbursed by World Nomads.

The second was a trekker on the Everest Base Camp who overstretched a bit.  Altitude sickness was manifesting as he was suffering from confusion and nausea.  His guide deemed it necessary to call in a helicopter to take him down to Lukla airfield, at a lower elevation.  Like with most altitude sickness cases, he was fine after reaching lower altitude, and World Nomads picked up the tab for his flight.

Given my experience, and these stories, I do recommend World Nomads, but, I encourage you to do your own research, research reviews (via Google and Reddit) and choose the policy that offers the coverage you need and that you feel comfortable with.

Take this advice with a grain of salt, a plan your own travel insurance coverage strategically

It’s worth noting that I travel adventurously and differently than most people.  Despite all of my close calls, I’ve never had to cash in on my travel insurance policy – I have nearly broken things, I have sliced up my hands several times and repaired them with superglue several times, and even ate some slightly rare chicken yesterday (accidentally) – I say this to say I do things differently, according to my own comfort levels so take this advice with a grain of salt.  Travel in a way that suits your comfort level and will allow you to travel in a way safe enough for you to enjoy and survive.

Before purchasing your travel insurance, shop around.  A few reputable companies to get your search started, in addition to World Nomads,  are Allianz Global Assistance, Travelex, and Travel Guard.   

So, do you need travel insurance? Hopefully, yes, at some point on your travels I hope you are exploring adventurously enough that you will need travel insurance.  In the weeks and months in between, save your hard earn cash for some sushi at the Tsukiji FishMarket. 

Good luck on the trail.

A Note on Affiliate Marketing Links in this Post

This article has a few affiliate links (to World Nomads). If you click any of these links and do purchase one of their insurance products I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  If you found this article useful, feel free to say thank you by clicking a link within it, but do not purchase travel insurance unless its right for you and is with a company you feel comfortable with.

Do you have more questions?  Drop a comment below and let’s make it a conversation, sharing our reviews and recommendations of travel insurance options. Or, just say hi.


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