Author: Adam Seper

A Travel Insurance Interview: Do You Really Need It?

The details are set: you’re taking some time off work to travel.  This is your chance to get away and explore another part of the country or world.  The plane tickets are printed.  The hotels are booked.  You’ve even paid in advance for a few tours and adventure activities.  Or maybe you’re planning an extended RTW (round the world) trip.  You plan on traveling for several months, or maybe even a year.  The gear is purchased and the flight set.  You’re all ready to go.

But there is one more aspect of your trip you should consider.  It’s not the most exciting part of planning a trip, but sometimes travel insurance is a necessity.  I recently had a conversation with a fellow traveler about the need (or lack thereof) for travel insurance.  A great deal of information was passed along during our interview, so I decided to record it and rehash it here.

My interview subject was a bit of a punk, so I apologize in advance for my subject’s surly and arrogant demeanor.  He did, however, ask some good questions, and I supplied him with the answers necessary to find out all he needed and wanted to know about health insurance.

I’m a badass. I don’t need travel insurance.

I don’t doubt that you rock.  You are most likely very tough and never get hurt or sick.  But let’s pretend for a minute that you’re not the toughest guy alive (even though we all know you are).  It is true that simply showing up to a hospital or doctor’s office for treatment in a lot of countries not named the United States is both easy and cheap.

But what about if you’re traveling with expensive electronic equipment and it gets lost or stolen?  Or what about if you break your leg, or worse, while you’re in a developing country with little health care and need to be airlifted home?  What if some unforeseen tragedy happens before you leave, and all your flights and hotels are booked and paid for but you need to cancel your trip?  All scenarios, however unlikely, are certainly possible, and spending a few hundred bucks up front for travel insurance will be worth it.

To answer your question, no you don’t need travel insurance, but if you do need it, you’ll be glad you have it.  Make sense?

Fine.  Maybe I may need it.  But I hate researching this stuff. It’s hard and it makes my brain hurt.  What types of policies are there?

I guess your badass-ery doesn’t extend to the old brain, huh?  That’s OK.  Let me break it down for you.  There are all types of policies from all different companies.  You have to wade through them all and decide what’s best for you.  It’s just like health/car/life insurance.  There are varying degrees of coverage depending on how much you want to spend and how many risks you are willing to take.  The costs are different for all.  Some policies cover everything, from emergency evacuation to lost or stolen luggage to trip cancellations.  All policies have monetary limits of some kind.  This is where you really want to read the fine print.

“There are varying degrees of coverage depending on how much you want to spend and how many risks you are willing to take.”

Since you are such a tough guy, maybe you don’t care about basic health coverage and only want a policy that will get you home safe and sound in case of an emergency.  If that’s the case, you can do that, too.  While wading through everything can be frustrating and difficult, the positives are that you really can find a policy that is the perfect fit for you.  It just takes a bit of time, patience, and research.

That sounds reasonable.  I’ve heard both of these terms before: travel insurance and trip protection.  They’re both the same, right?

That’s a surprisingly good question.  And no, they are not the same.  Some policies may include some type of trip protection, but they can also be purchased separately.

Travel insurance is typically going to cover the medical side.  If you get sick or injured, or even worse, travel insurance is what you want.  Many of the travel insurance policies include some type of trip cancellation or trip interruption should you need it.  Let’s say you were in Nepal a few years back during that major earthquake, and you were scheduled to fly out the following day.  Your flight was obviously canceled, but if you had a policy that included trip interruption, your flight would be covered (up to a certain amount, of course).  If you had no insurance or your policy did not include this, then you would be at the mercy of the airlines, which is a position that I frankly would not want to be in.

Now since you aren’t concerned with getting injured or sick because of your invincibility, maybe you want to bypass the travel insurance and only purchase trip protection.  

Trip protection will help you out with things like getting sick or injured (I know, I know, this doesn’t happen to you, but humor me for a second) before you go on a vacation.  If you have already purchased your flights, hotels, and other activities, trip protection can cover these expenses should you need to cancel.  Now for the tricky part.  Some trip protection policies have a travel insurance policy with them, but they are usually not as extensive as getting travel insurance.  But it all depends on the company, policy, and how much you’re willing to spend.

Now I’m getting a little nervous.  I am cheap responsible with my money.  Let’s say I really hurt myself, like getting a gnarly paper cut.  Will my package fly me home in case of emergency?

Woah, woah, woah.  Hold on a second here.  I know paper cuts can be brutal, but don’t you think you may be overreacting a bit?  First off, I don’t think a paper cut, no matter how severe, is categorized as an emergency that would require emergency evacuation.  However, if you did injure yourself a little more seriously, many policies have an emergency evacuation clause in them.  They all differ and most have a limit.  That limit can be $100,000, $1 million, the policy limit, or in some cases, the coverage is unlimited.  It all depends on what you’re willing to spend up front.

Now how much would it cost to evacuate someone to their home country in case of an emergency?  That’s honestly impossible to estimate because there are too many unknown factors involved.  On a side note, it is possible to only purchase emergency evacuation insurance.  If you’re not worried about minor medical expenses or injuries, but you do want to make sure you won’t go bankrupt in case of a major emergency, you can buy a policy that only includes emergency evacuation.

I’m the most extreme guy in the world.  I make those Jack Ass guys look like amateurs.  Can I still act like an idiot and be covered?

I don’t doubt that you would fit right in with the Jack Ass crew.  But if you plan on acting like a moron, you may want to be at least a little bit careful.  Most policies have clauses in them that don’t cover you should you get injured participating in some type of extreme sport or activity.  This is where it gets really hairy though.

Extreme sports are categorized as different things to different companies.  A lot of companies consider things like skiing and even bike riding extreme sports.  We did the World’s Most Dangerous Road bike ride in Bolivia.  Because of the policy we chose, we would not have been covered had either of us gotten injured.

There’s also another catch.  Most companies give you the option of purchasing an extreme sports rider, meaning if you pay a certain amount,  you will be covered for some extreme sports (not all in most cases though, so again, make sure you read the fine print and figure out what’s covered and what’s not).

Um….so….one time this 7 year old kid in India stole my backpack from me.  It had my expensive camera in it.  Is that covered?

Not to be rude, but I’m really starting to question your toughness now.  I know some kids can be rather sneaky, but come on, 7 years old?  In order to be covered, you need to have a policy that covers lost or stolen items.  Many companies have policies that include this, but again, they’re all going to have limits, and most have a pretty detailed method of reimbursement.  The limits are really all over the place on this one, from $50/item and a $250 max to hundreds of dollars an item and thousands of dollars for the max.

You said that it’s difficult to get reimbursed.  What exactly does that mean?

To be fair, I didn’t say it was difficult (though it can be), but yes, there is a certain method for getting reimbursed for an item that was lost or stolen.  If something was stolen, then you’re probably going to want to file a police report.  This will be crucial as you’re going to need some type of documentation for reimbursement.  You can’t just call up the insurance company and say, “Yeah, so, my $2,000 laptop was stolen today.  Can you send me a check?  Thanks.”   It doesn’t quite work that way.

“You can’t just call up the insurance company and say, “Yeah, so, my $2,000 laptop was stolen today.  Can you send me a check?  Thanks.”   It doesn’t quite work that way.”

It works much in the same way as car insurance.  You have to file a claim, send in documentation, they review it, and then you start negotiating.  Obviously insurance companies are in the business of making money, so they’re going to try to lowball you, just like when in a car accident.  Keep this in mind when you file a claim for your stolen $3 Chiang Beer tank top from Khao San Road.  It’s probably not worth the effort for something that has little worth.

I googled travel insurance, and there were 50,800,000 results.  Will you just tell me where to get it?

It is true that there are many different companies who sell travel insurance, and sifting through it all can take forever.  There are a lot of great resources right here on BootsnAll’s site, as there is an extensive travel insurance section.  You can check out side by side comparisons from several companies to compare, see what each offers, and even get quotes.  There are many other consolidator sites, much like Kayak and Expedia for hotels, flights, and travel information, where you can search and compare different policies from several different companies.

All right, so I drowned while swimming in the kiddie pool at my hotel in Phuket.  I am now asking this question from the afterlife.  Does my family have to pay to get my remains back?

Wow, this is the first time I’ve been contacted by someone from the afterlife.  I feel honored.  You’ll be glad to know that if you purchased the right policy, your family will be able to get your remains home with hopefully little issue.  Like most everything else travel insurance related, there will probably be a cap on how much the insurance company is willing to pay to send your remains back for a funeral.  Some policies include this in the emergency evacuation part of the policy, so hopefully you read the fine print. Unfortunately, there are no afterlife insurance policies to make sure your trip to the other side is a good one.

Even though my fellow travel companion met his untimely demise during his trip, hopefully his questions provided some more insight into this confusing and frustrating part of travel.  No one likes paying for insurance, but in the event of an accident, sickness, or some unforeseen circumstance, you’re always glad that you did have it.

Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it.  So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold.  In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.

Photos by Galyna Andrushko, carlos castilla, Tul R.