We’ve all been there. We’ve all considered travelling without insurance or wondered whether we should spend that extra cash. Is travel insurance important? Some of us may take a risk and decide it’ll be ok, and fortunately, it most cases it is. But what if it isn’t? Not having cover not only can ruin your plans, but it can ruin you, full stop. Ok, that may be a bit dramatic, but here are some travel horror stories from experienced travellers who have had their fair share of travel mishaps that show why travel insurance is important.
Table of Contents
- 1 Thinking of Travelling Without Insurance? Keep Reading
- 1.1 A life threatening stomach ache
- 1.2 Dog attacks can be a serious matter
- 1.3 Family emergency back home
- 1.4 An infection worth thousands of $
- 1.5 Trip cancellation due to injury
- 1.6 Volcanic ash flight disruptions
- 1.7 Ruling out a potentially dangerous condition
- 1.8 Sometimes we cause our own disasters
- 1.9 Even the most minor of incidents can be expensive
- 1.10 When chicken pox grounds your family
- 1.11 The best laid plans often go awry
- 1.12 Food can be our worst enemy
- 1.13 Not having insurance can be scarring
- 1.14 Sometimes you don’t even need to be there when disaster strikes
- 2 Like this post? Pin and save for later
Thinking of Travelling Without Insurance? Keep Reading
A life threatening stomach ache
By Kay from Jetfarer
It was my first long-term solo trip and I got a stomach ache. At first it wasn’t that bad, kind of like the typical food poisoning that’s inevitable while backpacking through Southeast Asia, but then the pain continued to worsen throughout the night. Finally, when I could no longer stand up because the pain was too intense, I decided to head to the hospital. The verdict? I had appendicitis.
The biggest problem was that I was actually staying in Pai, Thailand at the time, which is 4-5 hours on a bumpy gravel mountain road from Chiang Mai, the nearest city. Since the local hospital was too small and ill-equipped to help me, I had to take an “ambulance” (read: a horrible converted van trunk) to Chiang Mai for emergency surgery. On a bumpy gravel road. With a burst appendix. Finally, when I made it to Chiang Mai, I was immediately wheeled in to the surgery that would come to save my life. It turns out that had I waited any longer, I likely would have died.
The reason why I ended up going to the hospital at all was because I knew my travel insurance had my back. As a backpacker, I didn’t have nearly enough money to justify spending thousands of dollars out of pocket, so having travel insurance really helped me feel safe and confident. After filing all of my claims, they not only paid all of my medical bills plus several nights in the hospital, but they also paid for my ambulance and 2+ weeks in a hotel in Chiang Mai while I recovered enough to fly again. It saved my life, and I’ll never even think of travelling without insurance.
Dog attacks can be a serious matter
By Jessica from Travel Solo Anyway
A few years ago, I was bitten by a dog while travelling solo in Bali. Even though I tried to keep a safe distance from the island’s many dogs, one evening I was chased as I was riding a bicycle back to my accommodation in Ubud, and it bit me on the back of the leg.
It happened incredibly fast – I remember a few moments of barking from behind and then the feeling of its jaw clenched around my calf. It bit me once and then disappeared into the shadows. The skin was broken and bleeding and I knew I had to get to a hospital as soon as possible to get a rabies vaccination.
At this point, the whole thing could have been incredibly expensive. I wasn’t sure if I’d have to go to a large hospital in Denpasar or where I’d be able to get access to a rabies vaccination at night.
Fortunately, I was able to go to a local 24-hour clinic and have my first rabies vaccination about 20 minutes later. I needed four more over the course of a month. My travel insurance covered it all and even reimbursed me for the cost of the pants I was wearing that were completely torn apart in the incident.
I was incredibly grateful I was not travelling without travel insurance and to know that, if I had needed to, I could have gone to the lengths necessary to protect my health without worrying about a huge financial burden.
Family emergency back home
By Sarah from A Social Nomad
We’d just arrived in Turkmenistan when we got the message that my mother in lawwas in the hospital. We’d arrived by way of the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan and been held on the ferry for 2 days as our visa didn’t start in time. That was seriously preferable to sitting in the parking lot of immigration. Two overnight bush camps and we got to the capital Ashgabat for wifi and cell phone coverage. The news was not good. Despite cellphone credit running out as fast as we could top it up and wifi being the worst we’d experienced in 4 years of travel, we managed to speak to our family and confirm that we were coming home as soon as we could arrange an exit. It turned out to be easier to cross the border into Uzbekistan and fly from Urgench via Moscow to London that to leave from Ashgabat.
We booked one-way flights, knowing that we wouldn’t be returning to join our overland trip – we were 30 days into a 90-day nonrefundable trip. We didn’t even consider calling our insurance company until we got back home to the UK, at more than £2 a minute from our pay-as-you-go phones we couldn’t get credit on quick enough to speak to people.
Edith, my mother in law, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and given just days to live as we were flying back. We got home and with the support of the NHS, Marie Curie and the District Nurse Team we were able to fulfill her wish of going home from the hospital. With endless visits from friends and family, the house was filled with laughter and fun for an amazing 2 weeks. Edith held court from her bed, entertaining friends, speaking on the phone with her sisters and eating her bucket list. She said her goodbyes on her terms and we held her hand through the long nights until she slipped away from us.
Our travel insurance company was superb. They paid for everything – those expensive flights, unused visas for China, the 60 days of the trip we’d paid for and even a contribution for our transport within the UK. They paid promptly and were very understanding in all their communications. Financially our costs would have been nearly £ 7,000 had we been travelling without insurance.
An infection worth thousands of $
By Auston from 2BT Travel
Travelling abroad can be one of the most rewarding and memorable adventures but leaving your home country presents additional challenges and risks. Some of the most important considerations are your health, safety and the security of your belongings. Over the past six years travelling and writing LGBT guides we’ve had our fair share of travel horror stories, and in many circumstances our decision not to travel without insurance really saved our ass not to mention our bank account.
Our most recent and extreme case happened in August 2016 during a trip to the US. David and I were spending a few days in California and later flew to Arizona for a week to visit family. Part way into our California trip, David got an infection in one of the glands in his cheek. While just a bit swollen and painful, he quickly visited an urgent care to try and catch the problem early. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics and he thought that would be the end of it. Four days later the infection got so bad he was advised to visit the emergency room and ended up staying for two nights in the hospital. Needless to say, hospitalization and treatment in the US is incredibly expensive. Combing expenses and medical bills, the total was well over $12,000. Travel insurance covered everything, with a policy cost of just $74, saved more than $11,900 in medical expenses.
Trip cancellation due to injury
By Thea from Zen Travellers
A few years ago I had to cancel a ski trip because of a serious knee injury. I had planned an exciting trip to Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, California and Aspen, Colorado where I hoped to ski to my heart’s content. Unfortunately for me, I was sidelined by a badly injured knee the week before I was supposed to leave. This meant cancelling flights, accommodations, and eating the cost of a now useless Mountain Collective pass. Fortunately for me, my travel insurance covered the costs of cancelling my flights and reimbursed me for my AirBnB booking.
It’s hard enough being injured, but losing money too would have been throwing salt on a literal wound. If I hadn’t had insurance, I would have had to swallow the costs of the flight and a week in a ski condo that I never got to stay in. This is why travel insurance is important and I never leave home without it now!
The picture is of the last light at Squaw Valley where I finally got to ski after healing back up!
Volcanic ash flight disruptions
By Sandy at Tray Tables Away
There are numerous active volcanoes around the world and Indonesia is no exception with 127 of them! A few years ago I was visiting Bali when Mount Rinjani on the neighbouring island of Lombok erupted. This resulted in the closure of the nearby airports and considerable flight disruption that lasted several weeks.
When travelling in countries on the Pacific Ring of Fire it pays to keep a close eye on the news and your airline notifications. On this occasion I contacted the airline and was told to keep monitoring their social media accounts and would be advised of a rescheduled flight. I checked my travel insurance and found that although covered up to a huge overall sum there was a daily limit for expenses up to AUD$200. This is fine in Bali but may be problematic in a more expensive country. Australian airlines are VERY risk adverse and are usually the last to recommence flying. We went on to spend a further 6 days in hotels before deciding to catch a different airline home via Thailand. Our insurer agreed to cover this cost as us staying in Bali was not proving to be a cheap alternative for them.
Many people do not currently realise that a lot of insurers have not declared last year’s Mount Agung event closed and travellers will not be covered if flying to Bali since. The most common insurance-related travel fails, besides travelling without insurance, are not reading your policy and not shopping around, so make sure you read the fine print VERY carefully and compare travel insurance policies.
Ruling out a potentially dangerous condition
By Josie from Josie Wanders
We started our first trip into South East Asia in Singapore. We only had three days here and I wanted to cram as much in as I possibly could. Over the first two days we walked and walked and walked. On the second night I noticed what looked like huge bruises from my ankles up about twenty centimetres to my mid calf on the inside of each leg. My legs were puffy but not sore so I didn’t worry about them too much. The following day we headed out as usual, and part way through our morning the thought popped into my head – what if this was DVT? I was getting on another flight the following day – was that a good idea?
I knew I had travel insurance, so we hailed a taxi and asked to go to the closest hospital. I knew I would be covered and didn’t have to worry about how much this was going to cost in a foreign country. I spent the rest of the day undergoing various tests that included having to call in a specialist on the weekend. The hospital was modern and luxurious, and service was quicker than I probably would have had back home in Australia. DVT was thankfully ruled out, the bruising put down to the amount of walking we had done and the heat. I went on to enjoy the rest of my holiday without having huge hospital bills to pay when I got home.
Sometimes we cause our own disasters
By Ben from The Sabbatical Guide
After three unforgettable days navigating pot-holes, dirt tracks and mining trucks on the Thakhek Loop in Laos, our hire truck was in perfect condition. Given the state of Laos’ roads, this was a minor miracle. On the final morning however, I changed all that, but there’s no exciting story here. I confidently, unceremoniously and without hesitation, backed the big beauty into a tree. Disaster!
This is the first time I’d ever damaged a hire car, and I was unsure what would happen. The guys at the hire centre weren’t exactly reassuring, doing their best version of a “that’ll cost you, mate” routine, before ringing a local panel-beating shop for a quote. I’m not sure how they reached a price, but they did, and I was issued with a receipt for a rather large amount of money.
Thankfully we had travel insurance, as we often travel without it, but for this 13-week trip I didn’t want to risk it. It was the first time I’d ever claimed, rounding off two first that I would rather have avoided! But I suppose that’s exactly why travel insurance is important and what it is for after all, so it turned an annoying and costly situation into just an annoying one.
Even the most minor of incidents can be expensive
By Rachel from Adventure and Sunshine
While out riding in the small town of Mayrhofen, located in the Zillertal Valley in Austria, I came off my bike in some loose gravel. My knee took most of the impact on a sharp rock. I thought I was fine, until I looked at my throbbing knee and realised it was in a worse condition than I expected.
It was the weekend; there was no hospital in town, or a doctor’s surgery open. My only option was to visit a privately run clinic. 20 minutes, 1 x-ray and 3 staples later I was presented with a bill for 580 Euro ($680 USD). I was immediately thankful I had travel insurance.
We were travelling through Europe, so the staples were removed from my knee in Slovenia at a public hospital a couple of weeks later for 40 Euro ($46 USD).
My insurance covered the initial x-ray and procedure at the Austrian private clinic as well as the visit to the hospital in Slovenia. The final cost to me? $75 USD excess.
A minor incident like this at home would be cheap to fix at the local doctor or public hospital. In Europe as a foreigner the cost was exorbitant. Why is travel insurance important? Because not only do unexpected things happen, but they can cost far more to resolve when you are in a foreign country. We always take out insurance when we travel.
When chicken pox grounds your family
By Cath from Passports and Adventures
When our son was two and a half we booked a week’s holiday to Lanzarote, Spain. Two days before we were due to fly home, we noticed a rash on his neck. What started as a rash soon turned to blisters overnight and I feared the worst. There was a doctor in the resort, so we visited him the next morning when he confirmed it was chicken pox and we were unable to fly for 5 days.
We notified our travel insurance, the hotel and Thomson agents, and thankfully were able to remain at the hotel as they weren’t full. Our insurance covered the hotel and both my son’s and my return flight home (which we claimed once back in the UK). My husband had to pay for his flight as the insurance only covered one parent remaining with the child. Our insurance would have covered the extra nights in kennels for our dogs and parking, but we chose to pay for them ourselves.
It has been the only time we’ve had to claim on travel insurance and we were so thankful we had renewed our annual policy. It just proved to us that you shouldn’t travel without insurance, as you never know when you might need it, especially when travelling with kids.
The best laid plans often go awry
By Sally from Our 3 Kids v The World
Travel insurance is a no brainer, someone once told me ‘if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel’. I have lived by this and never even consider travelling without insurance. Last year we travelled to India with Scoot Airlines to film a family travel campaign for Scoot. Part of the deal was that we would go a few days early so we could fit in a little side trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. We had a very limited time frame due to the filming commencing on a certain date with Scoot.
Unfortunately due to safety reasons our flight was delayed for 13 hours leaving Melbourne. This then meant that we missed our flight to Jaipur, our train to Agra and a night’s accommodation in Agra. To ensure we still go to see the Taj Mahal, I had to book a private driver to take us the 3-hour drive from Jaipur to Agra. Our travel insurance covered all of our out of pocket costs including transport, accommodation and also paid for the last minute accommodation we had to book on Singapore on the way through. I couldn’t have been happier that I didn’t travel without insurance. RACV Travel Insurance were really great to deal with, straight forward and quick to pay out.
Food can be our worst enemy
By Inma from A World To Travel
I’ve been travelling abroad since my late teens. Back then, travel blogs weren’t popular and no one would tell you why you shouldn’t consider travelling without insurance. So I learned it the hard way.
The first time I visited Morocco, and after spending 4 days in Marrakesh and the Erg Chebbi dunes; on my way to Fez the shared taxi I was travelling in, stopped for a quick snack. I was starving and bought ONE meat brochette. My travel partner decided not to have anything, as the food on display – without refrigeration – wasn’t appealing to him. Big mistake on my part.
A few hours from there, my memories blurred out. He told me I arrived at the dirt cheap guesthouse we had booked with high fever, pale AF and talking nonsense stuff. The next three days, in that – pardon my French – shit hole weren’t fun. I spent them throwing up, with temperature and bed-ridden.
He, on the other hand, spent them taking care of me. First, he went to look for a doctor in the medina. Then, he brought the doctor back to the guesthouse and finally, he had to go out again and buy the seven different medicines the doctor recommended. I don’t have a single memory of our time in Fez and I doubt seven meds were necessary. Also, I’m sure every person involved in helping him make his way around the medina took their cut.
Why is travel insurance important? It would have been so easy to call them and have it all sorted in a whim!
Not having insurance can be scarring
Jackie from Life of Doing
My husband and I spent a week in Easter Island, a remote island off of Chile. It was a memorable trip with seeing the mysterious moai and also getting into a scooter accident. We crashed our rented scooter on a muddy hill on our second day of the trip. Both of us had scrapes and bruises, but my left knee had a deep gash. The local hospital cleaned and stitched the wound, however, my knee worsen each day. We continued with our trip but at a slower pace.
Unfortunately, we were travelling without insurance since we never had issues with previous vacations. In hindsight, the travel insurance would have been helpful with our accident to cover the cost of the prescribed medicine, hospital visits, flight changes, and other expenses to get us home. Luckily the cost of the hospital visit and medicine wasn’t high at $215 USD. Yet, insurance would have allowed us to leave the island immediate to seek better medical treatment either on Santiago, Chile or travel back home to the U.S. We didn’t want to lose out on our airfare and hotels costs.
Once we returned home, we rushed to the emergency room for surgery. The knee was infected. Everything is fine now and I have the scars on my knee as my souvenir from the trip. The trip was a good opportunity to learn why travel insurance is important to have.
Sometimes you don’t even need to be there when disaster strikes
By Ron from Red Pill Rebellion
Travel insurance is one of those things we all take for granted. The fact is we don’t know we need it until we are at the point we wish we had it. I came to that realization when I had a close call when travelling by motorbike in Koh Lanta, Thailand while travelling with a friend.
We had just made the transition to travel to some of the Islands we had yet to explore after living in Chiang Mai for the previous 3 months. Upon arrival I had procured what would be our primary mode of transportation on the island, a motorbike.
One afternoon while I was fast asleep, I woke up startled by a loud noise. Unsure what it was and too tired to care, I fell back asleep. Roughly 30 minutes later, as we were walking out to go exploring, we noticed the motorbike wasn’t where we left it. This was a bit of a scare.
After inquiring with the staff, we were told that they moved it because a couple coming back had accidentally crashed into it. This was not good! Come to find out they were travelling without insurance and they almost left without saying anything. Luckily someone was at the desk and had witnessed the incident.
I contacted the owner of our bike and told them the situation. They arrived within 5 minutes. They assessed the situation and they were on our side.
They understood what had happened. Unfortunately the girl driving the other bike, didn’t really know how to properly operate one and had never bothered to learn. She kept saying “okay, how much?” “How much do you want?” She was incredibly rude and just wanted to pay for her mistake and wasn’t taking any responsibility for damaging this poor couple’s bike.
Lucky for us, the owners of both companies had worked it out between themselves. The couple who ran our company even gave us a ride back and replaced our bike.
I say we were lucky for many reasons:
- The staff had witnessed the accident and notified the other company.
- The motorbike company owners had known each other.
- We happened to walk out before the couple had a chance to leave.
- We didn’t have to pay anything.
If any of these things hadn’t occurred, I would be telling a different story that would’ve resulted in costly consequences. We would have lost lots of time and money. Two resources we didn’t have much of at the time!
Having the ultimate form of security in case of any travel mishaps like this one happens, or worse in case you’re injured or stolen from, is why travel insurance is important.
I hope this post has given you enough food for thought when it comes to travelling without insurance.
Have you had any travel horror stories that you would like to share? Let me know in the comments!
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Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel, and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel.