The Best Thing I Bought for My Trip Around the World Was Travel Insurance

I dithered a little about buying travel insurance for my solo trip around the world. I’m young and healthy, and what’s an adventure if some bean counter has insured me against all the risks of taking the world by storm? I’d probably never need to make a claim, and then I’d have wasted that money, when I could have spent it on a mountain trek in Laos instead. Then again, I’m remarkably accident prone, and if I fell off a mountain in Laos and needed emergency evacuation, I’d be screwed without an insurance policy.

I planned to be on the road for a year, the realization of a dream a decade old. I bought a policy through World Nomads, a company that specializes in insurance for longer-term travelers. I could get the Standard plan or, for $30 more a month, the Explorer plan. I like to see new places, but I’m no adrenaline junkie, and I figured I’d just need the Standard, until I saw that snorkeling was under the same coverage as extreme activities like base jumping and parachuting. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef was on my agenda, so I became an Explorer. For $100 a month, I was covered for injury and illness, emergency evacuation, loss of luggage, canceled flights, and some liability on car rentals.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. I got shingles in Australia, two concussions in New Zealand, an eye infection in Thailand, and stitches after being hit by a car in Vietnam. I went to one optometrist, three ophthalmologists, four general practitioners, and six hospitals. I went to at least a dozen pharmacies. I had to pay for it all out of pocket, yes, but I got receipts for every last thing and harangued doctors to type up medical reports. I provided proof of travel and swore that I didn’t have any other insurance that could cover me. I scanned everything at tiny copy shops in Byron Bay and Hanoi, and sent email attachments to the claims department of World Nomads.

It took ages to fill out the forms and put all the documentation together, but I’m glad I did. I spent almost $1,400 on doctors and drugs over the course of ten and a half months, and World Nomads reimbursed me every single penny. (I wish they were paying me to say that, but they’re not.) I don’t know how it would be if I’d been drunk when I’d had my accidents—I hear that’s a reason a lot of travelers’ injury claims get denied—but as it was, all my claims were paid in full. If I hadn’t bought the insurance, I still would’ve spent $1,200 on health costs, but I’d be out another $200, which got reimbursed because I took the safe route and bought insurance.

If I’d lost anything or missed a flight, the insurance would have covered that, too, and it was always a comfort to know that if I got really stuck somewhere, I’d paid some people in Pennsylvania enough to convince them to bail me out. Paying $1,200 up front was painful, but it would’ve hurt more to have been without travel insurance on this trip.

Nothing hurt more than those concussions, though. Those were the worst.

 

Lisa Findley has been injury-free for 33 days. You can read about her travels on Stowaway, at lisafindley.com.

Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

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26 Comments / Post A Comment

Lily Rowan (#70)

It’s stunning to me that all that healthcare only cost $1400.

Get it together, US~

Stowaway (#5,169)

@Lily Rowan Yes, and a large part of the cost was in Australia and New Zealand, where it would’ve been a lot cheaper if I’d been a resident. I got charged full cost because I didn’t have the magic health care card.

Marissa (#467)

@Lily Rowan There’s a fun travel book called Everything is Going to be Great by Rachel Shukert where she panics when she needs emergency dental work while in the Netherlands. She sucks it up, gets it done, and learns the whole shebang cost her something like $80.

tuntastic (#2,769)

@Stowaway there’s no such thing as a “magic healthcare card” here in New Zealand, it’s called “being a citizen (or permanent resident)”.

OneWayMonkey (#5,191)

@Stowaway Health care cards entitle the holders to free medical/dental care but are only unemployed, pensioners, students, low income earners etc are eligible. If you have a job or don’t have a disability, it costs about $60 to see a GP, dentists are exorbitant (although $16 per month private health care mostly covers unlimited dental plus extras) and emergency health care if free (ie, appendicitis or car accident etc).

Stowaway (#5,169)

@tuntastic Right, which for Americans, seems like magic! The good kind of magic.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@OneWayMonkey Is that NZ or Australia? Interesting, didn’t know the details, although most Kiwis and Aussies I spoke to spoke of negligible doctor’s fees (less than $60), so I’m not sure what their situations were.

Lianne (#4,240)

@Stowaway
I saw a doctor in New Zealand and needed to get some perscriptions.. I had travel health insurance but was completely blown away by how inexpensive the perscriptions were… what would have cost me $60 in Canada was only $10 in NZ! I heard from other travellers who had to get emergency dental work done there that is was incredibly inexpensive aswell (compared to Canada).

Stowaway (#5,169)

@Lianne That’s impressive! I found my New Zealand appointments and prescriptions cheaper than my Australia ones, but they didn’t seem that much cheaper than what I might’ve experienced in the States. But at least one of those times, I went to an urgent care place on a holiday, so that is automatically going to cost much more.

@Stowaway I think that must be Australia, I don’t know of any health cards here in NZ (except the community services card, which low income people get and use for further discounts on care). It’s been a while since I got any prescriptions filled, but they are like $3 a pop. I never go to the doctor, but those are about $30 an appointment. Vision and dental is all out of pocket though, so I’m putting off getting new glasses/my wisdom teeth yanked. That’s gonna be a BIG hit to the wallet.

sherlock (#3,599)

Interesting! I would love to hear more about the financials of making a huge trip like this work.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@sherlock Thanks! There’s certainly much more to share, so I’ll get writing…

mochi (#585)

@Stowaway yes, please!

bethmillery (#5,172)

Yeah! a series that went through all the details and tallied up the bills would be super interesting.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@bethmillery On it!

Ivanna (#5,174)

@Stowaway I’m planning on taking a year off to travel in 2015, I’d love to see a future post featuring an expenses breakdown of your travels.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@Ivanna I’m working on a breakdown as we speak. You can also check out the “by the numbers” posts on my blog to see some serious & silly breakdowns per country.

@Ivanna There are a LOT of travel bloggers out there who break down their expenses. Married with Luggage did (not sure if they still do). Legal Nomads has links to some travel budgets, and I also do some budget breakdowns on my blog (nzmuse.com). What countries are you going to?

ebgb500 (#4,432)

Did you do much shopping around before you decided on World Nomads? I’m leaving for a similar trip very soon and have become overwhelmed by the many different insurance policies. Would love to hear how you landed on World Nomads.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@ebgb500 I admit that I didn’t do much looking around. I was seduced by how well they seemed to understand the long-term traveler, rather than someone taking a two-week vacation. Any time I corresponded with them, they were super friendly, but not necessarily helpful on the particulars of my claim, which made me worry that they’d lost the paperwork or something, and then I got all the money I’d asked for, so I didn’t worry anymore.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@ebgb500 I also liked how they provided plain English translations of the fine print. I read the fine print before I bought, but it made my head spin. World Nomads’ FAQs broke down things like “no, we won’t pay if you get HIV on the trip,” “asthma counts as a pre-existing condition” (shouldn’t that change now, with Obamacare?), etc. They certainly seemed more trustworthy because they admitted up front that some things just won’t be covered, but they’ll do their best.

Good luck on your search, and let me know if you find another policy/company you like! Enjoy the RTW trip.

OneWayMonkey (#5,191)

@ebgb500 My friends and I chose World Nomads for our trip to New Zealand, Sri Lanka & India because it offered the same coverage as other companies but was much cheaper. We never had to claim though (thankfully!) The true test is when disaster strikes & I’m happy to hear via this article that apparently they come to the party when needed. I work in insurance and most people don’t understand what their policies mean or what they’re entitled to. I didn’t know a thing about insurance before I travelled but if I was getting a policy now I would be wanting answers to hypothetical scenarios before deciding on a policy.

tuntastic (#2,769)

This seems pretty pointless; I would have paid that extra $200 not to be spending time in tiny copy shops in Byron Bay and Hanoi struggling with receipts (which apparently took “ages”). Nil ROI.

lemonadefish (#3,296)

We got travel insurance for our honeymoon two years ago (don’t remember the company). We had no medical issues or lost luggage, but when Hurricane Irene cancelled all flights back home, it paid for four nights in a hotel (at $210 a night – Reykjavik is expensive!) and all our food for those days as well. I think the policy was something like $300, so we came out way ahead.

Stowaway (#5,169)

@lemonadefish Ahh! That sounds like one of those honeymoons that you later describe as “memorable.” I’m so glad your travel insurance served you well.

I actually don’t recall who our travel insurance policy was through – bought it from STA along with our RTW tickets (I do recall they are based in Australia from when I called up about a claim). Our one claim only cost about $250 for a Thai hospital visit though, which is about equal to our excess, so probably not going to bother following through with all the paperwork as there won’t be anything to reimburse…

Our coverage cost about $1k for two people for six months across Asia, Europe and America. Pricey but worth the peace of mind, esp since T is a magnet for injury/accidents and we know what it’s like to have stuff stolen.

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