Okay, look. I’m pretty cheap. Always have been. And I’m not just talking flying coach here. I mean, I’ve had the same hairdryer for 20 years and the sum’bitch has been duct taped for 10 of those. I’m talkin’ at-home leg waxing, still wearing clothes I bought in high school (I’m thirty-freaking-five), and I’m currently looking at a fake Christmas tree I plucked from the curb across the street. That’s covered in MetroCards on hooks instead of ornaments.
So when I’m telling you to spend money on something, you know it’s necessary. Like when I say, yes, you need travel insurance, you must hear me out.
WHAT IS TRAVEL INSURANCE ANYWAY?
Just like you have insurance here in the U.S. that covers medical care, car accidents, personal property (you do have insurance right? You’re not saving that money for, say, concert tickets, are you?), travel insurance covers most of all that when you are out of the country, on a one-time, per-trip basis.
Travel insurance can cover everything from minor issues like delayed baggage all the way up to stuff like helicopter rescues and medical repatriation (when you have to get flown back to your home country either to get better care or because you’re about to rack up one helluva medical bill—think of it as a very expensive ambulance in the sky).
Each plan is different, but typically travel insurance can cover medical care (including dental), lost/stolen personal belongings, flight delays, everything you’ve spent on your entire trip if you have to cancel, rental car damage, and even a long list of adventure sports which includes, but is not limited to: unicycling, air guitar, and zorbing. I feel like I’ve been taking all the wrong kinds of trips now.
DO YOU REALLY NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Well, all the experts will say yes. I mean, aren’t you just as able to get sick and/or injured in Europe or Mexico as you are here at home? Aren’t your chances of being involved in a car accident just as high in Central America or Southeast Asia as they are in the U.S.? Well, no actually, they’re higher! When traveling, you tend to take more risks and worry less about stuff like where your food came from, who you’re hanging out with, and which stray cats probably have transmittable diseases. (👋🏼 Guiltyyyyy!)
But let me be honest. Just like I don’t always get my oil changed on time or fill up my gas tank until I’m two puffs away from needing a tow, I don’t always buy travel insurance. Sometimes I forget and sometimes I just feel like gambling ‘cause I’m a straight-up daredevil. Bring on the zorbs! These are the times I feel I definitely need travel insurance:
- When I travel abroad / to unfamiliar territory | While traveling within the U.S. I have separate car, health, travel insurance that covers me already.
- When I’ll be doing physical activities during which I could (and probably will, honestly) get injured. (Examples: ice canyoning, spelunking, completing a via ferrata) If it requires specialized footwear, I’m buying the insurance. If it requires signing a waiver, I’m buying the insurance.
- When I’ll be away for an extended period of time | The longer I’m away from the U.S., the higher the chance of me falling off a double-decker bus or getting bit while trying to pet a feral cat. (That last one totally just happened in Germany. So far, so good though.)
SO HAVE I EVER HAD TO USE MY TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Oh you bet your money-saving ass I have.
There’s the time I was robbed in Italy back in 2012 | Granted, it was my renter’s insurance policy back home that covered my personal belongings abroad, but still. This episode proved, beyond the shadow of my pilfered Christmas tree, the value of being insured while you travel. With the exception of the emotional wounds that will never heal, that insurance saved me.
The total value of my insurance claim was over $3,000—during a time in my life when I was working as a waitress and attempting to pay for college out of pocket. Among the things that were stolen were my MacBook Pro, iPod, all my cosmetics (a few days before my engagement photo shoot so yes this matters—girl, you know), and my eyeglasses because thievery knows no bounds. At the time I had a medically diagnosed central visual acuity of 20/500+. In other words, I was PISSED.
The insurance I had covered every cent of it. Even the Victoria’s Secret panties. Even the box of tampons. Seven years later I’m still working from my replacement MacBook Pro.
Then there’s the most recent time—when a major trip I had planned for last summer got 100% canceled at the last possible minute.
In the summer of 2018 I was to spend two weeks hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc through France, Italy, and Switerland, eventually ending up at Mordor to toss The One Ring into the fiery chasms of Mt. Doom. Well, while at the airport waiting to board my plane, the flight got canceled due to storms in my connecting city. The flight got rebooked for the next day… when said storm had now reached my home airport and flights got canceled again. Being that the entirety of this trip revolved around WALKING from destination to destination—many of which being unreachable-by-anything-but-feet Alpine territory—I wouldn’t have been able to catch up. Thus, entire trip canceled. Have fun ruling Middle Earth, Gollum!
Luckily, I had purchased travel insurance about a month before my trip. Because the canceled flights caused my canceled trip, World Nomads refunded the cost of all my two-weeks worth of non-refundable hotel bookings, bus tickets, etc. (The airline refunded my plane tickets so I didn’t need to claim those.) World Nomads even refunded something I didn’t include in my claim but that they noticed I was due—by the airline, not even them. This canceled trip could have cost me $1,000+ but instead cost me little more than $100.
I admit that I never thought I would need travel insurance—that it was an unnecessary and luxury expense but that opinion is quickly changing. I find myself purchasing it more and more and, you know what, it’s too cheap not to. What is another small fee if it saves you a potentially monumental headache and/or a second mortgage? The cost and coverage of travel insurance is beyond reasonable. Also, WHAT IF?
KAY’S CAUTIONARY TALE
You don’t really know you have appendicitis until you wake up feeling like your stomach has fallen out of your body and crawled away. Okay, okay, I’m being a little dramatic. But, it’s painful, it’s confusing, and it’s easy to mistake as some other kind of ailment. Needless to say, appendicitis is just plain terrifying. Especially when it happens during a solo trip in rural Thailand.
This is the story about how my appendix burst while traveling solo and how travel insurance saved my life.
A Mistaken Hangover
It all started with a night out in Pai, Thailand, a popular stop on Thailand’s “banana pancake” backpacker trail. Despite the tourist craze, I’d heard from friends that Pai was wonderfully relaxing, a true haven to rejuvenate the soul. According to other travelers, Pai was home to fresh fruit farms, beautiful hiking trails, offbeat coffee shops and artistic boutiques. After months of solo backpacking, it sounded like exactly what I needed.
As recent-college-grad backpackers do, I went out one night in Pai with some hostel friends for a night of drinking and dancing around a giant bonfire. And as those kinds of nights go, I ended up having quite a few stiff drinks and plunged face-first into my bed when I returned home.
The next morning, I woke up with the expected hangover. Most notably, though, my stomach felt really queasy and in pain. I didn’t think much of it because, well, that’s usually how hangovers work. To help my body recover, I spent most of the day lounging in a hammock, only getting up a handful of times to eat, drink water, and stretch.
That night, I felt a little better so I went out to eat with some of my friends from the night before. They were equally as hungover as I was so I brushed off the increasing stomach pain I was feeling. However, the pain worsened throughout dinner, and by the time I was ready to head home I could barely walk. I hailed the nearest tuk-tuk driver and begged him to drive me the short distance back to my guesthouse. When I got back to my room, I took an Advil and went straight to bed.
The Moment My Appendix Burst
It was 4:00 AM when I realized something was very, very wrong.
I woke up with a start as the stabbing pain got worse and tried to stand but collapsed onto the floor. On my hands and knees, I crawled to the nearest bungalow and banged on the door. Eventually, the sleepy guesthouse manager opened the door. She didn’t speak much English, so I desperately tried a charades-style display to get her to understand that I needed to get to the hospital, ASAP. She understood and carried me to her motorcycle.
Yeah, my appendix was rupturing and I had to take a freaking motorcycle to the nearest clinic, 30 minutes away.
In the clinic, I was wheeled to a room with about a dozen beds–five of them occupied, all motorcycle accidents. As I sat there writhing in pain, I looked around and thought to myself, maybe I’m overreacting. Here I was, in a room full of people whose heads were bashed in with scraped and bleeding limbs, and here I was complaining of a stomachache.
But the sharp pains continued so I decided to stay put. I called my mom (back home in Texas) and told her I thought I was going to die.
Hanging On for Dear Life
The doctor at the regional clinic finally came around and concluded quickly that there wasn’t much he could do. Though the clinic had no scanning equipment, they still suspected appendicitis. After a flurry of phone calls, the staff organized an ambulance to send me the 4.5 hours it would take to get to the nearest hospital, in Chiang Mai. Somehow, the guesthouse manager knew I’d have to go and packed up all my things and brought my fully packed backpack to the ambulance before it left.
By this point, I could no longer walk. They put me on a gurney and wheeled me into the ambulance–an old van that had clearly been repurposed to hold a patient in the back. A nurse nonchalantly snapped the gurney into place then proceeded to play Candy Crush on her phone with the earphones in. Just then, my mom called me back and attempted to comfort me, telling me to hang in there.
Little did I know I’d have to literally “hang in there.”
The road between Pai and Chiang Mai is AWFUL. Think: winding, one-lane gravel roads on the side of a cliff. As we sped through these bumpy streets, I realized quickly that I wasn’t strapped into the gurney after all, and there was no air conditioning. I held onto the metal arms of the gurney for dear life, sweating furiously, convinced I’d die before I ever made it to the hospital. My stomach felt like it was being ripped from my body.
Four hours later, the roads became smoother, the sirens went on, and when I looked out the window, I saw a highway and not the side of a cliff.
I was going to make it.
Arriving at the Hospital
Luckily, I ended up at the nicest hospital in Chiang Mai which looked just like any hospital back home in the United States. I was rushed into the imaging area where they confirmed the appendicitis and scheduled me for emergency surgery.
When I woke up from the anesthesia, they wheeled me up to an ENORMOUS room on the top floor of the hospital with a balcony overlooking the entire city. My jaw dropped when I saw it. I thought to myself, How on Earth am I going to afford this?!
How Travel Insurance Saved My Life (and My Wallet)
Of course, I knew deep in my mind that I’d eventually have to pay the bill, and that it wouldn’t be cheap. A 4-hour ambulance ride, an emergency surgery, the most beautiful and spacious room in the entire hospital… back home, that would have run me tens of thousands of dollars, but probably more.
Before my trip, I got World Nomads travel insurance to protect myself in case of this exact kind of emergency. It was kind of hard to choose a travel insurance plan at first, but ultimately I went with World Nomads because I heard they were excellent to work with in the claims process.
On my last day, the hospital brought me my bill: $2,200. For everything. I had to pay it on my credit card, but World Nomads was quick to reimburse the entire amount for me so I could pay it off. Moreover, they also reimbursed me for hotel expenses during the two weeks I was unable to travel from Chiang Mai. My World Nomads representative called me often to see how I was doing and ask if I needed any assistance with documentation or organizing travel home.
The claims process required a lot of paperwork, but in the end was easy and fast. Out of pocket, the whole ordeal would have cost me close to $4,000. But, without travel insurance, I’m not sure I would have felt comfortable going to the hospital in the first place.
World Nomads also offered to fly me home once I was able to travel again (part of my coverage), but I declined. I was feeling a lot better in my recovery and I still had two more months of adventures planned. I went on a multi-day trek in Vietnam just 3 weeks after my surgery.
I’m So Grateful for Travel Insurance
In the end, the entire experience ended up being a huge test of grit and strength. I also learned that there are so many selfless people out there willing to help. To this day, I’m still good friends with a lot of the people who came to visit me in the hospital.
I’ve also learned the value of getting travel insurance, even if I don’t end up using it. Of course, after an experience like this, you’ll never find me out on a world adventure without travel insurance again!
WORLD NOMADS TRAVEL INSURANCE
So yeah, World Nomads is pretty much the standard for when you need travel insurance. They’re the most popular among major tour companies, and frequent and professional travelers like yours truly who use them every time. I love World Nomads because:
- Getting a quote is quick and painless. | It takes 27 seconds, start to finish. I just timed it. I even added a special widget below so you can get a quote directly from this page.
- Choosing a plan seriously couldn’t be simpler. | They give you two options and lay out what is covered, right there side-by-side, in language even my cat could understand. Oh, he knows what I’m saying—he just chooses not to respond.
- Should you need to file a claim, the process is as straightforward as can be. | If you can dodge a wrench, ahem I mean, if you can fill out a few simple forms and provide copies of your purchases/bills, you can make an insurance claim.
So, what if you don’t have any zorbing or stilt-walking or bull riding in your travel plans? Do you still need travel insurance?
Travel insurance, while invaluable in terms of surprise medical care and other fun emergencies, covers you in a lot of other unplanned instances like:
- If your luggage is delayed and you have to buy new stuff
- If your personal belongings are lost or damaged or stolen by the scum of the earth
- If you have to cut your trip short for a variety of reasons
- If you need to be shipped home in certain cases of terrorism and/or natural disasters
- If someone causes damage to the vehicle you’ve rented
- Or if your entire trip has to be canceled due to forces beyond your control