If you are planning a trip abroad, you might wonder if you need to get travel insurance. If you’re a budget traveler, perhaps you’ll frown at the cost, wondering if it is worth it.

Because “nothing will happen anyway”… right?

But if you ask me, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get yourself insured.

As a traveller you can face all sorts of challenges abroad. Realistically, many of these can be totally outside of your control. But getting some insurance is the one thing that’s completely within your control and which can give you real peace of mind—both before and during your trip.

Travel insurance won’t, in itself, help you stay safe or healthy, but it can minimize the considerable financial risks of travelling.

This is especially true in the case of accidents or other unforeseen situations. It will also give you access to a worldwide 24-hour helpline that you can rely on in emergencies.

On all of my own trips I’ve had travel insurance—and on a few occasions, I’ve had to use it too.

I’m glad I never had a major emergency, but if I did, I know I could get repatriated to my home country, get medical care, or legal support. I’ve also met other travellers who didn’t have insurance and got into serious difficulties when things didn’t go quite as planned.

2 main reasons to get insurance

Travel insurance packages can cover you for all sorts of things, ranging from gear theft to flight cancellations.

But ultimately, I believe travel insurance is mainly about two things: the medical and the personal liability coverage. Because these will cover the biggest potential “oh, shit” situations.

Medical coverage

This will typically include any medical expenses you might face abroad above a standard excess. Medical issues can range from a minor check-up all the way up to serious treatment or even repatriation to your home country, which is why medical coverage is often offered at levels of around a million (dollars, pounds, euros) or more.

Keep in mind that your standard medical insurance or national health service at home typically does NOT cover medical issues abroad. That’s why it’s key to get travel insurance that does cover this.

Personal Liability

This will be a real life lifesaverou accidentally damage someone’s property or injure someone. So if you happen to, say, walk through a luxury mansion and accidentally knock down an insanely expensive antique vase, it doesn’t have to bankrupt you for the rest of your life.

Personal liability is usually covered up to a significant amount (often a million or above) including for any legal fees you might face. Of course, you’re probably not going to be knocking over antique vases on your trip (that’s just a ridiculous example), but damaging rented vehicles/equipment or injuring another person in a traffic accident fall into this category as well.

These, to my mind at least, cover two of the high-risk scenarios. Probably nothing bad will happen, but if it does, the financial consequences could be severe.

There are many other benefits to travel insurance, including cancellation or curtailment coverage, theft coverage, and much much more.

But I like to think of these as great bonus features.

For instance, it’s nice to get some money back if your $200 camera gets stolen, but it’s a loss you could probably also absorb. What travel insurance is really about to me is covering you for that crazy $50,000 medical evacuation that you won’t ever pay for out of pocket.

Wait, should you always get insurance?

Hang on, should you get insurance no matter what? 

In fairness, some trips are relatively low risk. If you are going on a very short trip or somewhere very close to home, you might decide not to take any insurance. As someone from the Netherlands, am I going to get dedicated travel insurance for a trip to Brussels? Maybe not.

But if you’re travelling far and wide, it makes a lot of sense to get proper coverage. This is doubly true if you’re going to adventurous countries or planning to do any adventurous activities (things like hiking, zip-lining, or climbing). The risks are simply bigger on longer-distance and/or more adventurous trips.

Insurance for longer trips

If you’re going to be travelling for a while, it’s worth looking at packages specifically marketed to backpackers or independent travellers. These might be called “backpacker travel insurance” or “long stay travel insurance”.

Common features of such packages include:

  1. The possibility of longer term insurance, for example, many months or even a year. (Regular single-trip travel insurance is often capped at 30 or 60 days max.)
  2. More flexibility, such as the option of extending your policy while you are still travelling, or even buying your insurance when you are already overseas.
  3. Extensive coverage for activities such as sports, trekking, surfing, scuba diving and other adventure activities.

Finding the right insurance can be a bit of a mission though, especially with all the different terms that get bandied about. While I can’t say if a particular insurance package is right for you, there are two insurers that I’ve used and liked, which I’ll mention in a second.

Travel insurance I’ve used

I have used both of these companies myself and been very satisfied with them (and I have heard only good stories about them from the travel community).

As always, be sure to read the terms and conditions of the policy wording/description of coverage to check if their policy is the right one for you.

World Nomads

World Nomads specialize exclusively in insurance for backpackers and independent travellers. Insurance packages from World Nomads are flexible and allow you to add high value item coverage (such as for a laptop or expensive camera), as well as options for any adventure, sports, work or volunteer activities you expect to be doing. World Nomads may not always be the absolute cheapest around, but the value you get is reflected in their coverage and strong customer service. I now use World Nomads as my insurer on all my trips.

Get a quote at World Nomads »

Columbus Direct

Columbus Direct offers various types of insurance, but the package to look for is the “Globetrotter Insurance” package (select ‘backpacker’ when getting a quote on their site). While less expensive than World Nomads, it also has a lower single items limit and valuables limit for its theft coverage, among a few other things. Still, it offers comprehensive coverage for a really good price. I used Columbus Direct for two years and also had to make claims with them, which I found to be a painless process. Recommended.

Get a quote at Columbus Direct »

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