Choosing the right travel insurance

DISCLAIMER: This is intended to be general advice. Please consult the PDS for any insurance you may be considering, and make sure that you select the right policy for you. 

As someone who has probably had more travel insurance claims than anyone else on the face of the Earth, listen when I tell you, if you cannot afford to pay for travel insurance, you CANNOT AFFORD TO TRAVEL. It really is as simple as that.

I’m not going to throw a bunch of “what ifs” at you, like a salesperson. I am going to give you true and accurate accounts of things that have happened to me, and some of them would have meant that my parents would have to mortgage BOTH their houses to help me out if I hadn’t had sufficient cover.

Firstly, yes it’s expensive. And it only gets more expensive the further away from home you go, and the longer you go for. It should be the first thing you buy though, and here’s why:

  1. DEPOSIT CANCELLATION & AMENDMENT COVER:I take out this type of insurance for domestic travel within Australia. All internal flights are non-refundable, and although some fares will let you change the dates, or put the amount into a credit for use at a later time, this isn’t always convenient. You generally have to pay more for those fares in the first place, or alternatively, whatever money you saved on the fare you paid for, you will end up paying more when you change it. Having cancellation and amendment cover, from the time you part with money means that you won’t need to worry about this. You should also make sure that you’ll still be covered for this while you’re overseas, in case you get stuck and you can’t come home. Your insurer should also make sure you can extend your policy in these circumstances.

My story: I had booked to go back to Egypt with my best friend. I was excited, she had never been. Then the Arab Spring happened. Tours were cancelled, it was called an act of terrorism. We had booked and paid for our flights, and for most of the tour we were taking. All of our money, some $3000 was refunded to us not by airlines and tour companies – but by our travel insurance.

My other story: I was sunning myself on a beach in Thailand in 2008, and my mother called me. She was worried sick, because some idiots had decided to close the airport in Bangkok. I was in Phuket, and while I had to fly through Bangkok to get home, I was away from the danger. Travel insurance let me not only buy a new ticket home with another airline, but also reimbursed me for the extra accommodation I had to pay for to stay in Thailand until I could get on a flight, the extra meals I had to pay for while I was there (unfortunately they don’t cover cocktails), and I got the return leg of my original ticket refunded, since I couldn’t use it. At the time, there were a lot of insurers that didn’t cover this, because it was an “act of terrorism” – check your policy carefully.

  1. SUFFICIENT MEDICAL COVER:I don’t mean just for in case you get food poisoning. I mean for the big ones. The ones that you will never have enough money to cover, not even if you married royalty. This includes making sure you have cover for any pre-existing medical conditions. Not just the ones you think matter, you need to tell them everything. For those just-in-case moments. This is really common sense, trust me the last thing you want is to be in a hospital, a thousand miles away from home and your mum, and not be able to speak the language.

My story: I got dengue fever in Vietnam. I had to cut short my planned itinerary up through northern Vietnam, and into Laos because a stupid mosquito got the better of me. I was in hospital in Hanoi for a few days, until I was well enough to be moved, and then my travel insurance arranged for me to be moved to a better, bigger, cleaner hospital with medical staff than speak English in Bangkok. To do this, I have to fly. I can’t sit up, so they fly me in business class. My claim for this portion of this particular trip was over $10k. I don’t have that kind of cash lying around, I don’t know any long-term traveller who does. The only thing I regret about this, is that I still haven’t made it to Laos.

  1. SUFFICIENT LUGGAGE COVER:It’s true, if an airline loses your luggage they will return it to you, but who knows how long that could take. And what was in your checked luggage? Everything you need for the next 2-6 weeks (or however long you’re away from home). Your life is in that bag. You’re the last one standing at the baggage carousel, you’ve been waiting so long for your bag that they’ve changed the sign to another flight number and new people are starting to fill up the space around you. I always include extra cover for things like my iPhone, laptop, iPad, camera etc.

My story: Barcelona, 2009. I was flying with the rest of my team from Perth, for a global achievers conference. I had worked my fucking ass off for a year to be here, I had my ball gown packed and ready, all my girly things in my case to take me from “jetlag witch” to “hot ass bitch” in less than 30 mins. I was that lone figure at the baggage carousel. Our flight had transited in Milan for less than 20 minutes, and my suitcase had decided to get off for some fresh air. Problem was, it also forgot to get back on the plane and meet me in Barcelona. Singapore Airlines kindly returned my bag to my hotel room, just in time for me to carry it downstairs to check out again on two days later. Lovely. Thankfully, I was permitted to buy all new toiletries, a new ball gown (I had to prove I had a function to wear it to!) new shoes etc. I was given a licence to SHOP. Dangerous, but awesome.

These are the big three. But you also need to be mindful of any other things you may specifically need cover for, such as pre-existing medical conditions and any extreme sports you may be inclined to try on your trip. Check your policy, you can’t ever be too careful.

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