Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

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If my woeful lack of preparation for Urumqi on my recent tour of Xinjiang was not indication enough, I should confess: I’m not really a guy who likes to plan things down to minute detail. In fact, some of my most memorable experiences have come when the most planning I did was ensuring I had pants on before stepping out the door.

During my trips to South Korea, New Zealand, Fiji, and China – I’ve never once thought to even look into travel insurance. After all, I’m young and relatively healthy and bad things just don’t happen to me. Unless I count the whole ‘food poisoning in a third world country’ thing. That wasn’t much chop…

And truth be told, I never really had anything worthy of stealing with me. But these days when I travel, I’m traveling with a small electronics store. Let’s run down the average contents of my carry on baggage, shall we?

  • iPad 2
  • iPod Shuffle
  • iPhone
  • Toshiba laptop
  • Canon SX20 IS
  • Kindle
  • Canon point & shoot

As you can see, I’m a guy who likes his shiny things. Couple that with the expensive watch my brother bought me and my inability to err on the side of caution when it comes to eating street food, and you’ve got a recipe for inevitable trouble on the road.

So, perhaps it’s time for me to ask the question: should I buy travel insurance? And while I’m at it, I should probably answer ‘yes’.

What travel insurance should I buy?

If you’ve been reading regularly, you’ll know that I’m about to embark on a five week tour of the United States. You best believe most (or all) of my shiny electric toys will be coming along for the ride.  I’m also not adverse to doing a few riskier things along the way. It’s been a while since I’ve done any scuba diving or kayaking, for example. And I certainly wouldn’t say no to losing my sky diving or white water rafting virginity.

So, I’m taking some expensive stuff and I’m also looking to take a few risks. I’d also like to be covered in case any of my three domestic flights is delayed, because I’m working on a pretty tight budget. So, let’s take a look at my options.

Trip Length

The first thing to consider when purchasing travel insurance is the length of your trip. Are you going on a short jaunt or an extended, expat style stay? For my US trip, I’d fall into the shortest of the three categories below:

  • Short (90 day) trip
  • Long term (up to 1 year)
  • Expatriate (permanent settlement overseas)

Since I’m covered by my employer’s medical policy here in China, I don’t need to worry about that. So, I’m after short term coverage. Let’s look at the extras I’d need.

Extras and Inclusions

There are a variety of options when putting together your insurance plan. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Emergency medical
  • Emergency dental
  • Medical evacuation
  • Trip cancellation or delay
  • Lost or delayed baggage
  • Return of remains
  • Loss of passport or travel documents
  • Personal liability
  • Compassionate visit from a family member

Given I’m prone to take a few risks, I’d obviously want emergency medical care. I think I’ll take my chances as far as emergency dental goes, though. I’m not anticipating needing an emergency evacuation from the developed United States, either.I don’t anticipate needing an emergency visit from family either. Touch wood.

And shit, if I die, they can bury me in US soil for all I care.

But I would certainly need coverage for my baggage and I’d like some piece of mind in case a flight or an activity I’ve booked is cancelled or delayed. I’d also like coverage in case I lose my passport – something I’ve done twice already but been lucky enough to have people return.

So, I’d be looking for a plan that included emergency medical, coverage for lost or stolen baggage, and coverage for cancelled or delayed portions of my trip.

But how do I go about finding cheap travel insurance?

Finding the right fit

Despite having been almost perenially on the road since late 2007, I’m actually only aware of one travel insurance provider. I’ve had the pleasure of working with World Nomads on several occasions: including writing articles for their site, winning their Blog Your Backyard competition last year, and participating in the 2011 Great Nomads Chase.

Given my relationship with the company and my friendship with several past and present employees, I’d be inclined to let loyalty win out and just go with them.

But if you’d rather do your research (and hell, why wouldn’t you?) there are a number of sites that compare travel insurers and help you to find the best fit for you. Companies like iSelect are great for this.

Should I buy travel insurance?

It pains me to say it, but the days of being completely irresponsible when it comes to my belongings and my personal safety are well behind me. I’m damned lucky that the worst that’s ever happened to me while traveling comes down to a dead heat between a broken heart on the road, finding a used condom in my bed, and getting a nasty bout of food poisoning.

I figure my luck can’t hold out forever. I know I’ll be spending the extra cash in the lead-up to my US trip to make sure that when my lucky streak does end – I’m not left struggling to make ends meet or begging my family for a loan I’m sure they’d provide, but couldn’t necessarily afford.

So when you find yourself asking “Should I buy travel insurance?”. do a quick check:

  • Are you Superman, Batman, or Wolverine?
  • Are you Chuck Norris?
  • Do you like having things?
  • Do you like not being dead?

If you answered ‘No’ to the first two questions and ‘yes’ to the second, you should probably buy travel insurance. Just sayin’.


Got any travel insurance recommendations of your own to share? Or horror stories about not having the appropriate cover? We’d love to hear about your experiences with travel insurance.

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  1. I always  always always buy travel insurance because I have terrible luck when travelling – once my suitcase came out completely mangled (the airport put my stuff into a cardboard box, shrink wrapped it and put what was left of my bag on top to help me ‘identify’ it from the belt!) when I arrived back at Changi, (got about 1500 usd from the insurance company AND Singapore Airlines)  another time I lost a Panasonic FZ20 and a Canon G9 in one fell swoop to a loose fitting mineral water bottle in India (I’d like to think they decided to go swimming in my bag) and lost an iPhone in an airplane back from Bali (the airport wouldnt let me back on to the plane to look for it due to ‘security’, so some cabin crew must’ve been really happy with his find). And then there was that fall head-first in my hotel room on a biz trip and had to get a doc to do a house call in Kuala Lumpur…. I could go on.. lol.   I’ve used world nomads too, they make purchase easy. 

    • Wow, you probably shouldn’t be able to travel without two full time carers haha.

      I damaged my Canon SX20 IS when I was in New Zealand in much the same way. A waterproof bag, a loose battle cap, and bye bye LCD screen. Thankfully, I can still use the camera – it just doesn’t work as I’d like.

  2. Great article! I always buy travel insurance when I’m traveling outside of Europe, but often it costs more to have an insurance that covers your luggage, something many people forget to check.

    We changed from using World Nomads to a Swedish insurance company partly because they weren’t using complicated ways of getting around things. 

    World nomads say they cover your winter sport equipment – except for when you’re using it. If your ski equipment breaks while you’re using it, they won’t cover for it. They seem to have their ways of getting around things…

    • I think it’s an investment I’ll have to make this time around. I was irresponsible not doing it for my recent Xinjiang trip given the region’s warnings about theft. I’m lucky to have made it back with my shiny gadgets all still in my possession.

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