Why you need travel insurance

Why you need travel insurance

Many travellers to Southeast Asia hold a perception that as basic medical care is relatively cheap, there’s little need for travel insurance. This is a mistake.

Planning categories

While it's true that basic healthcare can be cheap, the emphasis should be on the word basic—not cheap. We’ve seen the inside of Cambodian hospitals and believe us, you want to spend as little time as possible in one. Thailand, Singapore and to a lesser extent Malaysia have a higher standard of care, but this is often in private hospitals, not public. Anything more than a night or two in hospital gets expensive, fast, and the medical bills associated with longer stays can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars—and higher.

This doesn't feel like Garuda. : Samantha Brown.
This doesn't feel like Garuda. Photo: Samantha Brown

In buying travel insurance, you’re not only securing something that will assist should you find yourself in need, you’re also buying some peace of mind—both for you while you travel, but also for your family and friends back home.

Two personal stories

Here at Casa Travelfish we have a long-held tradition of leaving the purchasing of travel insurance till the last possible moment—generally the bags are at the front door when we remember to buy it (at which time we log on to World Nomads and buy it). In the past that had always worked fine—but good things never last!

In the middle of 2010, Samantha (Ms Travelfish to you) had planned to take a two-week holiday to Istanbul in Turkey. As per normal, she didn’t plan to buy travel insurance till the very last moment. She did however go and book a few thousands of dollars worth of flights and accommodation (this was most certainly set to be a flashpacking trip!).

To cut a long story short, the day before she was due to leave, Stuart (Mr Travelfish) came down with dengue fever and was pretty much incapacitated (and ended up being hospitalised). Sam cancelled her trip. Because she hadn’t bought travel insurance, Sam lost both the flights and accommodation money—all up just shy of A$2,000. The travel insurance would have cost A$80, which, with a $100 excess, would have seen Sam reimbursed around $1,800.

From now on, when we buy the flights, we buy the insurance.

Hospital food FTW : Stuart McDonald.
Hospital food FTW Photo: Stuart McDonald

More recently, at the end of a family holiday to Australia in 2015/16, Mr Travelfish woke up early in the morning of the day we were supposed to fly back to Indonesia with bad chest pains and numbness down his left arm. We rushed to a hospital where an Irish doctor (who was also a very keen traveller) told us that he was very sorry to say Mr Travelfish wouldn’t be getting his flight back to Bali that day. In the end, it wasn’t the heart attack we all thought it was, but rather a post-viral inflammation of the layer around the heart, treated with, of all things, Nurofen. By then however Mr Travelfish had been in hospital overnight and transferred to another hospital by ambulance for some tests.

The final bill? Cancelled and rescheduled flights plus the hospital expenses came in at an eye-watering A$23,750. Suddenly the couple of hundred dollar policy with World Nomads was worth every penny.

Who we recommend

When we travel, we use one provider: World Nomads. When Travelfish writers travel outside the country they live in, they use one provider: World Nomads. We know many of the people who built World Nomads from the ground up, we’ve met them in the field, and we trust them to not let travellers down right when they need them the most.

We believe World Nomad policies are designed with independent travellers in mind and that the coverage they offer is a good deal for the price. Being an entirely web-based undertaking, it’s easy to buy insurance, make a claim and even buy another policy online while still travelling.

Buying travel insurance is a personal decision. The vast majority of travellers will have trouble-free trips throughout Southeast Asia. Accidents do, however, happen and while having insurance won’t just make the problems go away, it does make them easier to deal with.

What does travel insurance cover?

Aside from medical care, travel insurance can protect you in the case of lost or stolen luggage and personal effects, trip cancellation, personal liability, funeral expenses (without wanting to sound morbid, dying overseas can be very, very expensive), emergency dental treatment and evacuation back to your country of residence.

All manner of add-ons will cover items like expensive cameras, laptops and iPads and more adventuresome pursuits, but for many travellers, a general travel insurance policy should provide a good starting point.

That said, bear in mind that not all travel insurance policies are born equal. As World Nomads says: "The best single piece of advice we can give is to READ THE POLICY WORDING CAREFULLY. Let’s repeat that again: Take your time. Have a cup of tea. Sit down quietly and read the policy fine print. Especially the exclusions."

Things to watch out for

While you’re battling your way through the small print, keep in mind the following potential pitfalls.

Dangerous activities
Many insurers consider motorcycling, diving, parachuting, hot-air ballooning and many other largely safe activities as hugely dangerous pursuits. Falling off your motorbike, breaking your arm and spending a few days in hospital will only be more painful if your insurer tells you the bill is all yours.

I've often wondered how they managed this. : Stuart McDonald.
I've often wondered how they managed this. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Country exclusions
There’s no point in having travel insurance for your trip to Laos if it doesn’t cover Laos.

Working exclusions
Will you be working during your trip? If so, check that pouring those drinks in a bar on Ko Phi Phi won’t void your travel insurance.

Maximum amount per item
You don’t want your $1,500 camera stolen only to find out your insurer has a maximum payout per item of $250.

Excessive excess
The excess is the amount you have to pay to lodge a travel insurance claim. If the stolen goods part of your policy has an excess of $100 and you have a camera worth $120 stolen, you must pay the first $100. Some travel policies have excesses so high it is hardly ever worth claiming.

Got a ticket home?
Most travel insurers, including World Nomads, work on the assumption that you have a ticket home. If you don’t have one, be sure to read the small print carefully.

Travel tips from World Nomads

Here are a few things to consider when choosing your insurance to make sure that you will be covered on your adventure:

It’s no fun if you fall ill before you leave and cannot go on your trip. To claim though, you have to buy your insurance policy when you buy your trip. Not all insurance policies cover cancellation, so please read the policy wording relevant to you carefully.

Flight cancelled? : Sally Arnold.
Flight cancelled? Photo: Sally Arnold

Lost or stolen gear
Most travel insurance policies have a per-item value limit—make sure it’s high enough to cover your gear or choose a policy that allows you to increase the limit.

Medical expenses over and above evacuation
Check that your cover includes emergency treatment while away and transport to bring you home — remembering that insurance providers will usually insist on getting you home as soon as you are fit enough to travel.

Adventurous activities
Look carefully at what your policy covers. You may find that you are not covered to do all of the adventurous activities that you are planning while you’re away.

Personal liability
Accidents happen. If it’s found to be your fault and someone decides to sue you, you want to be covered.

Five things you should know about World Nomads

How do I make a claim?
With World Nomads Travel Insurance you can claim online even if you are still travelling. And if you don’t entirely trust insurance companies, have a look at how World Nomads have helped some of their travellers.

Who can buy it?
World Nomads Travel Insurance is available to residents of more than 150 countries.

Extend your cover
Had a change of travel plans? World Nomads allows you to buy another policy while travelling—they describe it as an extension, but it is more like a new policy. Buying a new policy brings with it "pre-existing conditions" rules, even if they occurred on the previous policy, so read the small print carefully. Because it’s online, you can do it 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

What can I do?
While coverage may attract a premium, World Nomads cover most adventure sports from bungee jumping in New Zealand to white-water rafting in Colorado.

How do I buy it?
You can only buy World Nomads policies online using a credit card.


We use World Nomads travel insurance ourselves whenever we travel—we use them because we’ve met the people behind World Nomads and we think they’ve put together an excellent product designed with the independent traveller in mind. If you purchase a policy from World Nomads through a link on Travelfish, we may be paid a commission on that sale.

Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.

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