Travel insurance. It’s one of those terms that keeps popping up when it comes to travel but sometimes leaves people confused and wondering if they even need it in the first place.
The easy answer?
Do I know this from experience?
Which is why I’m writing this quick and easy guide to travel insurance to give you the quick and dirty and highlight why travel insurance is so important.
Why Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Travel insurance is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Insurance for your travels. It makes sense really. After all, you insure your house, your car, maybe even some valuables (my grandma did), so why wouldn’t you insure yourself and your trip?
As much as we hope that our travels and adventures will go smoothly, the truth is that anything can happen at any time. You could hurt yourself or get into an accident, you could experience travel delays and issues, or in severe cases, you may end up needing to be evacuated (fun story, this happened to me!). Travel insurance will cover all of these problems which will save you time, stress, and most importantly: a huge chunk of money.
Now, chances are that none of these things will happen during your trip. But, the fact is, you just never know. So, would you rather spend a couple bucks a day just in case? Or risk losing thousands if that ‘what if’ actually does occur? I’ve been travelling for over a decade now and while, in general, I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve still had to use my travel insurance multiple times.
My Personal Experience with Travel Insurance
I have personally had to use my travel insurance four times now; once for medical reasons, twice for luggage issues, and even for evacuation due to world closures because of COVID-19.
A Lung Infection in Europe
The first time I needed my travel insurance was because I developed a lung infection in Bosnia. The hostel I stayed in had mould on the wall and since I was young and dumb, stubborn and cheap, I figured that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Well, I was wrong.
I developed this horrible cough that led to difficulties breathing. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest and it got to the point where walking was tiring. After Bosnia, I headed to Ireland for my friend’s wedding and he forced me to go see a doctor. Good thing too because it turns out I had a lung infection. Of course, I needed a doctor’s appointment and visit to the hospital to get a chest X-Ray to confirm that. Oh, and then I was put on 9 antibiotics a day.
I should also mention that this happened within the first month of a four-month trip. Needless to say, I was very grateful that I had my travel insurance because those costs would have made a significant dent in my travel funds, potentially making me cut my trip short.
Smashed luggage in Egypt
The second time I needed my travel insurance was in Egypt. I had just arrived at my hotel in Cairo, went to open my suitcase and discovered that it was actually broken. Somehow, on the flight, the locks and zippers had been totally cut off. While my stuff was all fine inside, I couldn’t use the suitcase anymore.
Due to the fact that I had already left the airport, the airline (Turkish Airlines) refused to help. Thankfully my travel insurance stepped in and I was able to buy a new suitcase and claim the cost. Sure, it wasn’t the most expensive purchase in the world but when you’ve saved up for a trip do you really want to have to fork out an unexpected $200 for new luggage? I sure didn’t.
Missed Flights and Lost Luggage
In November of 2021 I was headed to Tel Aviv direct form Toronto. Unfortunately, my Ottawa-Toronto flight broke down and was delayed three hours which meant I missed the flight to Tel Aviv. I ended up being rerouted with Turkish Airlines and while I made it safely my luggage got lost. It was missing for two days before it was returned to me. After a month of paperwork and emails Turkish airlines only offered me a measly $150 compensation despite me having to buy $600 worth of essentials to get my by (Tel Aviv was named to most expensive city in 2021 for a reason). Of course, I didn’t want to cover the remaining $450 out of pocket so, as an American Express Platinum cardholder, I got in touch with American Express, explained the situation, and they started a claim for me right away. They cover up to $1000 for luggage delays over 6 hours.
Evacuation from Israel
In March of 2020, when the world shut down due to COVID-19, I was in Israel. I can’t describe the panic of what it felt like trying to find a way home to Canada as borders closed and flights stopped while in a country that was telling me I needed to leave ASAP. Easily the most stressful experience of my life (you can read the whole story here). In the end, I paid an absolute fortune to get from Israel back to Canada; $1200. It hurt, a lot. However, I felt instant relief when I received an e-mail from SafetyWing (without asking) telling me that if I was trying to get home, I might be eligible for evacuation insurance. Turns out I was and a couple of months later the entire cost of that flight home was covered.
What Types of Things Does Travel Insurance Cover?
Travel insurance varies, but there are three main areas of coverage that you will want to make sure you have travel insurance for:
Medical cost is one of the most important reasons to get travel insurance. Especially if, like me, you aren’t used to paying for healthcare. Doctors’ appointments, hospital visits, ambulances, prescriptions and more can all add up really quickly so you want to make sure you have coverage for sudden illness or injury sustained while travelling. Keep in mind, travel insurance is for unexpected illness or injury, not for routine check-ups.
*Medical costs should also include accidental death or dismemberment. Yes, it’s morbid but it is very important.
On top of unexpected medical emergencies, it’s also possible for your travel plans to take a bad turn. Things like lost or damaged luggage, trip delay, or trip interruptions can happen to anyone and can also be expensive. Don’t let these additional costs come out of your pocket- travel insurance will cover them.
Definitely not a common scenario but you may find yourself in need of emergency evacuation due to natural disaster or perhaps you need medical evacuation (or get caught in a global shut down like I did). You’ll want to make sure that your travel insurance provider offers this coverage and can get you somewhere safe- just in case.
What to Look For When Buying Travel Insurance
One of the most important things to realize is that there are lots of different types of travel insurance offered by dozens of companies who all cover different things. This is why it is SO important to do your research ahead of time and read the fine print. Here are some of the key things to look for when buying travel insurance:
- Destinations covered: not every country is covered by every travel insurance provider, so before you buy, make sure that your destination IS actually covered
- 24/7 assistance: It seems silly, but yes this is important to look for. After all, bad things don’t happen only at certain times of the day. You need to make sure you can get the assistance you need immediately no matter where you are in the world.
- The ability to buy while abroad: For some reason, some insurance providers will only let you buy travel insurance while you are in your home country. While this may be easy for some people, it’s not ideal. What if you want to extend your trip? What if your flight is cancelled or you get stuck? Make sure that the company you go with has the option to buy and extend while you are travelling.
- Sports/Adventure activities: If you plan on trekking, hiking, camel riding, renting a scooter, or scuba diving then you’ll want to make sure you are covered for whatever activities you end up doing. Again, make sure to read the fine print and know the rules and limits surrounding these activities.
Remember, as important as travel insurance is, it isn’t a fail-safe. You need to be responsible too. Travel insurance policies will not cover you if you are drunk or high. You also need to keep in mind that there are limits on your coverage. At the end of the day. travel insurance is a protective measure, not an excuse to behave poorly.
Ready To Buy Travel Insurance?
There is no shortage of travel insurance providers, however, if you are looking for a recommendation then I suggest SafetyWing. Here’s why:
- Safety Wing offers travel medical insurance which means they offer both medical coverage (hospital, ambulance, urgent care, etc) as well as travel coverage (lost luggage, trip interruption, travel delays, natural disasters, emergency evacuation etc). Please see their website for the full details.
- SafetyWing is affordable. Their packages start at $40USD/month which, if you break it down, is about $1.43 USD per day. I think that’s a very reasonable amount for peace of mind.
- Safety Wing is available in most countries around the world. There are, of course, a couple exceptions (Cuba if you are American, Iran, and North Korea). However, everywhere else is covered*
*there are some coverage limitations regarding kidnapping in certain countries. Get in touch with SafetyWing or visit their website for more information.
- You can buy or extend your SafetyWing travel insurance while travelling abroad (in the respective countries it covers)
- Many adventure activities, including renting scooters and motorbikes in Asia, are covered. Again, see their website for the full details.
- SafetyWing offers 24/7 assistance
- SafetyWing offers coverage in your home county as well. This isn’t typical of most travel insurance providers but is a great perk for nomads who visit home from time to time. Please note it’s only 30 days at a time per 90 day period, and your coverage cannot start in your home country.
You can book your travel insurance with SafetyWing here.
Travelling or Living Abroad for a Year or More?
If you are a digital nomad, doing a gap year, or just planning on being a long term traveller for a year or more, then consider the Remote Health Coverage Program. The Remote Health Coverage program offers more health-related coverage including coverage in your home country and pre-existing conditions. The downside? It is health focused and doesn’t have the same travel coverage as the original nomad insurance.
Remote insurance can be purchased for individuals, or, for your entire remote team. This insurance is best for those with nomadic lifestyles or those who plan on doing gap-year type trips as the minimum contract is 1 year. You can buy the Remote Health Coverage here.
Credit Card Insurance Options
As mentioned above, I have also used my credit card insurance for coverage as well. The timing on credit card insurance is usually better for short term trips however, my american express offers some pretty comprehensive coverage that came in really handy with my lost luaggage. If you are looking for a travel credit card, I highly recommend the American Express Platinum for it’s perks and benefits including insurance. Learn more about my thoughts on the credit card here.
Final Word on Travel Insurance
At the end of the day, chances are you won’t need your travel insurance. But, for such a low cost it really is worth it. Just in case!
*For Canadians: Depending on where you are located in Canada, you may get a pop-up from SafetyWing about needing to be out of the country to buy your insurance. SafetyWing IS available to Canadians, just get in touch with the team and they will sort you out.