Travel Insurance: When a Good Trip Goes Bad

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Sara Nakash, Brooklyn bred, world tread. She has braved prison ghost cats in New Zealand, was involved in a bush taxi car chase in Togo, and accidentally biked from Luxembourg to Germany. Her love of travel was matched by her frustration in finding a service to cater to her particular travel goals. From this frustration Off the Map Travel was born. Here anyone can escape those cookie cutter travel packages and truly embrace the nature of your destination.

Anyone who has traveled much has probably had an unfortunate experience while “on the trail.” Perhaps your wallet was lost while you were hiking trails in The Andes or you broke your wrist while trying to learn to surf on Kauai. As much as we want our travel experiences to all be good ones, the odds are that if you travel, you’re eventually going to have a bad experience.

The question is, what do you do when that moment arrives?

Some years ago, I learned a lesson the hard way. I’ve always had good luck with my travel plans. For a long time, I traveled and nothing ever really went wrong. I had heard of travel insurance, but I really thought that it was another money making scheme dreamed up by the travel industry. That was before my fateful trip to Queensland, Australia.

One of the “must-do” items on my list while living and working in Australia was seeing the Great Barrier Reef. It was December 2010—the middle of one of the worst rainy seasons that had been seen in years. I watched the news and knew how bad the weather was, but I knew it was going to be my only chance to make the trip, so I booked my travel anyway.

My plan was to fly from Sydney to Townsville (a town in Queensland). I would stay two days on Magnetic Island, just off of Townsville, for two days, and then take the bus up to Cairns to spend one day on the reef. I would fly back to Sydney from Cairns. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. I left Sydney, arrived in Townsville and Magnetic Island. Then, Cyclone Tasha decided to visit for the holiday.

Caught in Cyclone Tasha
Caught in Cyclone Tasha

As I sat in my hostel, preparing to leave the next day for Cairns (and the Great Barrier Reef!) the rain started to pour and the trees began to sway. The power went out for most of the evening, but I was still optimistic—after all, I was going to see the Great Barrier Reef the next day. However, as I got ready to check out of the hostel at 5:30 the next morning, I received the unwelcome news that the Bruce Highway (the main road to Cairns) had collapsed in the storm. There was no way I would make it to Cairns by bus. I scrambled to find an alternate plan, but only one airline was flying and their rate was astronomical. Plus, the Reef was inaccessible due to the inclement weather.

Disappointed, I decided the best decision I could make was to stay where I was and wait for the conditions to improve. And here is where I learned my lesson: My $30 bus ticket was non-refundable, as was my $350 airline ticket from Cairns to Sydney. Plus, now I also had to purchase an additional airline ticket from Townsville, back to Sydney. If I had travel insurance, so much of this unnecessary expense could have been prevented.

Koala and cub on Magnetic Island
Koala and cub on Magnetic Island

Needless to say, now, I buy insurance whenever I travel, no matter how long or short the trip. Happily, I was able to make the most of the bad situation I found myself in during my trip to Queensland. Though I never got to see the Great Barrier Reef that trip, I was able to have some neat little adventures. I visited the aquarium in Townsville, took a nice walk along the beach, and saw a movie. The most incredible thing, though, was seeing a koala and her cub while taking a walk on Magnetic Island. I was very grateful for that positive outcome to my unplanned situation, but I still learned a very hard and important lesson about the real value of travel insurance.

My preferred travel insurance is through World Nomads. They specialize in travel insurance for travelers who are independent and looking for adventure. They cover flights, lost and stolen property, and medical care. However, make sure to look around and compare different companies and plans that are most appropriate for your particular area and type of travel. Take my word for it and learn from my experience—no matter which company you use, insurance is one thing you do not want to travel without!

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12 thoughts on “Travel Insurance: When a Good Trip Goes Bad

  1. Good Tip. Do you buy insurance for each trip or does it last all year long? How much is World Nomads?

      1. World Nomads offers multi-trip policies for travelers from the
        UK. For all other travelers, only Single-trip policies are available.
        The cost depends on your country or origin and the length of your
        travels (plus any additional coverage you purchase).

  2. Yana – World Nomads offers multi-trip policies for travelers from the UK. For all other travelers, only Single-trip policies are available. The cost depends on your country or origin and the length of your travels (plus any additional coverage you purchase).

  3. Very true! We just filed a $750 claim for a canceled flight and major delay on our recent international trip!

  4. Kelly – Hopefully you don’t have to deal with that again in the future!

  5. As someone who works with medical and humanitarian teams all over the world, I have heard dozens of horror stories that have taught me NEVER to travel without Travel Insurance. The worst horror story, I think, was a team member who fell deathly ill while in a country with little medical care. The travel insurance was able to pay to medi-vac him back to the United States so that he could receive care. Otherwise, he would likely have died. And his family never could have afforded the tens of thousands of dollars it took to medi-vac him back home. There’s no question — travel insurance is definitely worth the money that you spend on it!

  6. Sarah- you’re absolutely right. I’ve heard stories of people bringing tubes of blood with them when they travel to developing countries b/c they’re afraid of the hospital standards in case something happens. As you said, If they had all around travel insurance with medical coverage, the insurance companies what have covered the costs to be transported to a sanitary hospital in a more developed country. No need, then, to be carrying around blood!

  7. Dennis Miller has an old joke: “I have a test to determine whether or not you’re getting screwed by your insurance company. Question one: do you have insurance?” While I totally understand the seriousness of these horror stories about travel mishaps and accidents, I wonder if some people out there have horror stories of having a travel mishap which their insurance refused to cover, resulting in paying the insurance cost for nothing. This has happened to me with health, auto and homeowner’s insurance (and I’ve heard it enough times from others) to make me wonder. Obviously insurance can be necessary, but it seems to me that most of the companies make their money by charging as much as they can get from their customers and denying as many claims as they can get away with when a person actually wants to be taken care of by the policy they’ve been paying into.

    1. Eric – the one thing to remember about travel insurance (but, really all types of insurance as well) is there are a lot of restrictions regarding what they cover, how they cover it, and in what situations they will cover it. The important thing that travelers should do before purchasing insurance is to read all the terms and conditions of the coverage and be aware of what exactly is covered. Certainly there are cases where travelers have purchased insurances, mishaps have occurred, and then find out their insurance isn’t going to reimbursed them for their loss. The question is: was it in the accepted terms of the insurance? I’m going to guess that it was not. As a traveler, I’m all for travel insurance companies to increase their coverage. While I know this won’t be happening anytime soon, I’m making sure I know exactly what coverage is included.

  8. I agree – World Nomads is also my travel insurance of choice. The rates are relatively negligible and they have a solid track record of coverage. What I especially like is that they cover most adventure sports and have a clear policy on what activities are covered, and which are not. What most travelers do not realize is that typical US health insurance will only cover you for life & limb. Regarding property damage or, as in your case, a change of travel plans, having insurance can make the biggest difference. Great post!

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