Like many travelers, I’ve gotten some great advice from many folks that have really helped with my travels. So I was a bit shocked the other day when I was called STUPID. I’d better clarify that while one particular traveler didn’t call me stupid directly, last on his email list of 11 Common Travel Mistakes was Only Stupid People Skip Insurance. As I don’t currently have any travel insurance (more on that later), I guess he must think I’m stupid. So that got me thinking about whether he was right or not in his assumption about people that skip insurance.
So first off I decided to ask some fellow travel bloggers whether they had travel insurance or not, as I was pretty sure that there must be many others that don’t have it. I was also intrigued to find out why they did or didn’t have insurance. Is it really that black and white a situation? As it turns out, there are quite a few others that travel without insurance, and some of them seem to have very valid reasons. But then there are others that completely agree with Matt, and also a few that learned the hard way that they should have got it before something went wrong.
Once I started asking people about their travel insurance, I started to realize that insurance is a lot more complex than either getting it or not, because many people also have varying degrees of coverage from other types of insurance, such as health, household and credit card insurance. So while some people may not have bought travel insurance, they may in fact be covered for medical emergencies or other situations.
Need more information? Check out this helpful guide to travel insurance on TravelChinaCheaper.
No Or Limited Insurance
As expected, I came across quite a few travelers that either don’t have any insurance cover all, or who don’t have travel insurance but have at least some sort of other cover. Here is what these travelers had to say about their decisions not to buy travel insurance.
I haven’t bought travel insurance while travelling the world, which I’m sure one day I will look back on with regret when I fall off a camel or become ill. However, my ignorance and love for danger/adventure has been spurring me on. One thing I have noticed when considering insurance is to always check what excursions are included, as most seem to be left out. Therefore if you do get insurance, it might be worth pushing the boat out and paying for the most expensive one.
Tom at Spaghetti Traveller
I don’t buy travel insurance because I try to travel as cheap as possible. I’m cheap, it is expensive…plus, for the few times I have paid for it, I’ve never had to use it.
Jeremy Ginsburg at The Culture Chameleon
I’ve been traveling for three years without travel insurance. People often find this to be irresponsible, but I completely disagree. I have considered purchasing travel insurance and decided against for the following reason:
In the long term, it’s cheaper on average not to be insured. The sum of all premiums received by insurance companies must be greater than the sum of payments made to subscribers. This is a basic, as the companies have to pay their costs and want to make a profit.
Therefore, one should only insure him or herself against risks that will significantly impact one’s financial situation. In my case, this means I only want to insure myself against hospitalization. Other things like personal belongings, trip cancelations and emergency evacuation I can bear the risk of. Hospitalization is covered by my Dutch health insurance.
Jasper Ribbers at The Traveling Dutchman
A while back I decided to self insure, meaning I estimate what I save on each trip by not buying insurance, and apply that towards a future situation where I would have benefited from insurance. So far I’m ahead. I do have evacuation insurance and auto trip insurance through AAA. One reason I decided to self insure is that there are so many gotchas in the fine print. I probably would buy insurance if I were going on an all-inclusive tour or cruise, but my trips are usually a la carte so not so much money up front.
I don’t buy travel insurance because I have wasted thousands of pounds on it over the years and got nothing back. This has included being refused money back on 2 cancelled flights in South America that were beyond my control. As well as stolen jewellery and stolen bags none of which were my fault. Now I just cut my losses and don’t waste the money on it. If I lose something, I lose it…if I get ill, I pay for the hospital fees…
The only time I take travel insurance these days is when it’s essential for a certain tour, or when it’s included in the price.
Jonny Blair at Don’t Stop Living
Learned From Experience
Some people learn from experience that travel insurance can be valuable. Here’s a situation you definitely wouldn’t like to find yourself in.
This is a story that dates back to my early travel days. I had been living in Thailand for a year, without insurance as doctors visits had always been very cheap – less then $5 per visit. I returned home to Canada for a visit and went back to Thailand without travel insurance again, but planned to get it this time as to not to press my luck. I had asked our Thai office assistant to look into it and she promised she would. In the meantime, I developed a severe kidney infection that required hospitalization. I wasn’t that worried about the cost, since I knew medical care in Thailand was cheap. Little did I know that I was in the most expensive hospital in Bangkok and my medical bill would total over $3000!
On my measly intern salary it took me an entire year to pay it off with monthly payments and left me with little to live on each month.
After that expensive lesson, I’ve always purchased travel insurance before a trip.
Laurel Robbins of Laurel Monkeys and Mountains
Then we have the people that always carry insurance.
I think it’s irresponsible to travel without health insurance. Expense is no excuse; if you can afford to travel then you can afford insurance. It’s not for that stubbed toe, case of Delhi belly, or even a broken ankle, but for those catastrophic cases where you may need serious medical attention. If you don’t have coverage who is going to pay for your care, or for you to be brought home? Your friends and family, that’s who. It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself in all aspects of your travels. Find a policy with high deductibles and low rates that way you can pay for that stubbed toe care but you will be able to help yourself in the worst case scenario.
To Insure Or Not?
All that has given me a lot to think about, but I don’t think the decision of whether to get travel insurance or not is as straightforward as many think. Gillian Duffy thinks that people that travel without health insurance are irresponsible, and I can certainly see her point. I spend most of my time in Thailand, which is a country with a very high traffic accident rate, and have seen a few situations of the type that Gillian talks about. Travelers get horrifically injured, don’t have insurance, and then their family and friends often have to step in and help pay the bills. This obviously isn’t right.
But if you look a little more closely, you’ll see that many of these travelers that are in fact injured in situations where they have put themselves at risk. I have seen cases of people being injured while drunk driving and while riding a motorcycle without a helmet. If they’d had travel insurance, you have to wonder whether they’d be covered, as I think most insurance companies don’t cover these situations. So these people may have have travel insurance, but friends and family are still expected to help out with the hospital bills because their insurance company refuses to pay out. I’m sure neither Gillian or Matt or commenting on this particular situation, but it’s something that needs to be considered. Buying insurance and driving drunk is the same thing as not buying insurance.
Another fact to consider is that many people can’t get travel insurance for various reasons. If you’re older or have an existing medical condition, you may not be able to find an insurer that’s willing to insure you, or the cost may be prohibitively expensive. Can we really call these people stupid? The alternative would be to stay at home and not travel. I don’t think it’s fair to brand these people as either irresponsible or stupid. They often have a lust for travel, but just can’t get insurance. I can totally understand why they choose to travel without it.
Whether you need medical cover or not also depends or where you’re traveling to. If you live in the EU, you can travel to other EU countries and you’ll usually get free medical care if you need it. So in that situation you’d be paying for cover that you may not need.
And then there is the situation where people are very diligent and always buy travel insurance. But when it comes to making a claim, the insurer does their best to find a way to not honor it. This actually happened to me a few years back. I eventually got my money after getting a lawyer involved, but the whole experience left me wondering what the point of insurance was. If I pay for insurance I expect any claim to paid, and not to have to waste my time and money hiring a lawyer.
So, What Do I Do?
Personally, I never buy any insurance apart from for the worst of emergencies, as I don’t believe that insurance in general is cost effective. Insurers are running a business and need to make a profit, so it is obvious that in the long run the average person will get less back in claims than they pay in premiums. So if my camera or laptop get stolen while traveling, I’ll pay to replace it myself. I’ve saved more than enough over the years to be able to do this. If I had particularly expensive equipment that I couldn’t afford to replace, then I would indeed get cover for it, so what’s right for each individual depends on their exact circumstances.
But I think for most people the main worry is a serious emergency, such as being injured and having to be flown back home. But for long-term travelers, where exactly is home? If you try to get an insurance quote from many major insurance companies, the first thing they want to know is your country of permanent residence. But what, if like me, you don’t have one? I’m from the UK, but left many years ago. My base is Bangkok, but I haven’t been in Thailand for many months and don’t currently have any right to live there. If I was injured I’d want to be repatriated to Bangkok, but would that work in practice?
I asked World Nomads about situations such as mine, and after talking to their underwriters, this is what they had to say:
Your country of permanent residence can be defined as the country you would wish to be repatriated to in the event of a medical emergency and where you would receive long term medical care, if required. This should also be the country where you are legally defined as a permanent resident (not temporary). Please be aware, however, that your policy does not cover expenses incurred within one’s country of permanent residence.
So, where does that leave people like me? I don’t think the UK has any legal definition of what a permanent resident is, as it depends on the situation. And in any case I left years ago, so I can hardly claim to be a resident there. Thailand is now where I consider home, and where I usually have permission to stay long-term, but I’m not a permanent resident there by their definition. So that leaves travelers like me in limbo.
I would like to have some kind of emergency cover, so will check with a few other insurance companies, but it’s not something I stress about.
What’s Right For You?
This is up to you to decide. As you can see from the comments above, different people are willing to accept different levels of risk, as is the case with life in general. If you can’t afford to pay for any loss yourself, then it’s probably wise to insure yourself. But if you can cover the cost of a stolen camera, delayed flight, etc, then you may prefer to save the premiums and just take out some kind of emergency cover.
So, do you have have travel insurance?
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