Why you need travel insurance

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While individual circumstances may vary, here at Travelfish our solid recommendation to any traveller planning a trip to Southeast Asia is: make buying travel insurance a part of your planning -- don't leave home without it ... we certainly don't.

There's a perception among many travellers to Southeast Asia, that as basic medical care is relatively cheap, there's little need for travel insurance, and while it is true that basic health care in Southeast Asia can be cheap, the emphasis should be on the word basic -- not cheap. We've seen the inside of Cambodian hospitals and believe us, you want to spend as little time as possible in one.

True, Thailand and Singapore, and to a lesser extent Malaysia, have a higher standard of medical care, but bear in mind this care is often in private hospitals. Anything more than a few nights in hospital gets expensive fast and the medical bills associated with longer stays can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

In buying travel insurance, you're not only buying something that can assist greatly should you find yourself in need, you're also buying some peace of mind -- both for you, while you travel, but also for your family and friends back home.

A personal story

Here at Casa Travelfish we have a long-held tradition of leaving the purchasing of travel insurance till the last possible moment -- generally the bags are at the front door when we remember to buy it (at which time we logon to World Nomads and buy it). In the past that has always worked fine -- but good things never last!

In the middle of 2010, Samantha (Ms Travelfish to you) had planned to take a two week holiday to Istanbul in Turkey. We called it a womb tax -- her first "kids free" holiday since we had the kids. As per normal, she didn't plan to buy travel insurance till the very last moment. She did however go and book a couple of thousands dollars worth of flights and accommodation (this was most certainly to be a flashpacking trip!).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the day before she was due to leave, I came down with dengue fever. With a 40 degree Celsius fever and in considerable pain, there was no way I'd be able to look after the kids by myself. I was pretty much incapacitated and actually ended up being hospitalised. So short of getting Mum to fly up and look after me, Sam decided to cancel her trip.

Because she hadn't bought travel insurance, Samantha lost both the flights and accommodation money -- all up just shy of A$2,000. The travel insurance would have cost A$80, which, with a $100 excess, would have seen Sam reimbursed around $1,800.

From now on, when we buy the flights, we buy the insurance. Lesson learned.

So what does travel insurance cover?

Aside from medical care, travel insurance can protect you in the case of lost or stolen luggage and personal effects, trip cancellation, personal liability, funeral expenses (without wanting to sound morbid, dying overseas can be very very expensive), emergency dental treatment and evacuation back to your country of residence.

There's all manner of add-ons covering matters like expensive camera gear and gizmos like laptops and iPods, more adventuresome pursuits and even some special needs, but for many travellers a general travel insurance policy should provide a good starting point.

That said, bear in mind that not all travel insurance policies are born equal. As our recommended provider World Nomads says

"The best single piece of advice we can give is to READ THE POLICY WORDING CAREFULLY. Let's repeat that again: Take your time. Have a cup of tea. Sit down quietly and read the policy fine print. Especially the exclusions."

Things to watch out for

While you're battling your way through the small print, keep in mind the following potential pitfalls.

* Dangerous activities
Many insurers consider motorcycling, diving, parachuting, hot-air ballooning and many other largely safe activities as hugely dangerous pursuits. Falling off your motorbike, breaking your arm and spending a few days in hospital will only be more painful if your insurer tells you the bill is all yours.

* Country exclusions
No point in having travel insurance for your trip to Laos if it doesn't cover Laos.

* Working exclusions
Will you be working during your trip? If so, check that pouring those drinks in a bar on Ko Phi Phi won't void your travel insurance.

* Maximum amount per item
You don't want your $1,500 camera stolen only to find out your insurer has a maximum payout per item of $250.

* Excessive excess
The excess is the amount you have to pay to lodge a travel insurance claim. If the stolen goods part of your policy has an excess of $100 and you have a camera worth $120 stolen, you must pay the first $100. Some travel policies have excesses so high it is hardly ever worth claiming.

Who we recommend

When we travel (and we travel a lot), we use only one provider for all of our travel insurance needs -- World Nomads. Their policies are designed with independent travellers in mind and we believe the coverage they offer is a good deal for the price -- we wouldn't use them otherwise! As an added bonus, being an entirely web-based undertaking, it's easy to buy insurance, make a claim and even extend a policy online -- great news if you're having such a terrific trip you've decided to extend your trip.

At the end of the day, buying travel insurance is a personal decision. The vast majority of travellers will have trouble-free trips throughout Southeast Asia -- after all it is generally a very safe region to travel in. However, accidents do happen, and while having insurance won't just make the problems go away, it does make them easier to deal with -- often for as little as a couple of dollars a day.

Travel Tips from World Nomads

Here are a few things to consider when choosing your insurance to make sure that you will be covered on your adventure:

  • Cancellation: It's no fun if you fall ill before you leave and can not go on your trip. To claim though, you have to buy your insurance policy when you buy your trip. Not all insurance policies cover cancellation, so please read the policy wording relevant to you carefully
  • Lost or Stolen Gear: most travel insurance policies have a per-item value limit -- make sure its high enough to cover your gear or choose a policy that allows you to increase the limit.
  • Medical expenses over and above evacuation: check that your cover includes emergency treatment while away and transport to bring you home -- remembering that insurance providers will usually insist on getting you home as soon as you are fit enough to travel.
  • Adventurous Activities: look carefully at what your policy covers - you may find that you are not covered to do all of the adventurous activities that you are planning while you're away.
  • Personal Liability: Accidents happen. If it's found to be your fault and someone decides to sue you, you want to be covered.

Five things you should know about World Nomads

  1. How do I make a claim?
    With World Nomads Travel Insurance you can claim online even if you are still travelling. And if you don't entirely trust insurance companies, have a look at how World Nomads have helped some of their travellers.
  2. Who can buy it?
    World Nomads Travel Insurance is available to residents of over 150 countries.
  3. Extend your cover
    Had a change of travel plans? Unlike other policies, World Nomads allows you to extend your policy indefinitely. Because it's online, you can do it 24/7 from anywhere in the world.
  4. What can I do?
    World Nomads cover most adventure sports from bungee jumping in New Zealand to white-water rafting in Colorado.
  5. How do I buy it?
    You can only buy World Nomads policies online using a credit card. To start, please choose your country of residence.

We use World Nomads travel insurance ourselves whenever we travel -- we use them because we've met the people behind World Nomads and we think they've put together an excellent product designed with the independent traveller in mind. If you purchase a policy from World Nomads through a link on Travelfish, we may be paid a commission on that sale.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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