When booking an expensive trip abroad or while on travel, generally great but sometimes not so great surprises can occur. I have personally been robbed in broad daylight by an enterprising band of muggers, narrowly missed being dinner for leering crocodiles in the Zambezi and wondered if my lost lugfgage and I would ever be reunited. I have also known of a pedestrian looking the wrong way in London traffic and being hit by a car, able-bodied younger travelers who broke an ankle on a charming but ancient sidewalk and Bermuda tourists having mishaps on mopeds along glorious coastal byways.
The solution? Find the right insurance policy for the length, destination and activity type for your trip.
Tip 1. Consider whether you need insurance at all by answering a series of questions.
Is this an employer paid business trip?
How far in advance are you booking? (The longer the lead time the greater likelihood of a work, personal or family emergency requiring cancellation.)
If your only pre-departure costs are hotel and airfare, check their cancellation and modification policies. Many hotels have almost no cancellation fee or only one night’s deposit. Airlines may allow changes subject to charges that vary with each carrier.
Do you have family obligations that could require a last minute cancellation?
Are you working at a firm or company that historically has had a policy of “vacation cancellations”?
Do you have health issues that could prevent travel?
Would your existing health insurance cover most contingencies abroad?
Tip 2. Look at definitions in each policy before buying one.
For example, here are some fairly standard terms that show up:
- Reimbursement limited to “usual and customary medical cost”. Be aware that the customary cost in mid-town Manhattan is very different than in a small town in the Amazon. However, insurers may take an average cost not necessarily the customary one at your destination.
- No coverage for a “pre-existing medical condition”.
- Coverage abroad may only be for a specific facility like a “Hospital” not merely a clinic.
Tip 3. Adventure vacations for solo travelers are increasingly popular.
Just last year I went Up-river in the Amazon on a small boat. We were frequently admonished to avoid accidents since we were “10 hours by fast boat from the nearest hospital”. “Glamping“ in the Okavango Delta we had a Black Mambo Snake allude capture when only a “zapper” stood between us and some remarkably lethal venom!
So do read your policy carefully as to express exclusions, such as:
- Skiing even!
- Scuba diving
- Use of other than scheduled airlines (excludes helicopter/small plane sightseeing)
- Failure of vendors, including the tour operator
- Price of documents or tickets that are lost except for administrative fees
Explore our adventure tour packages for upcoming deals.
Tip 4. How long does the coverage last?
If you return home bitten by a wild dog, the rabies incubation period is one year. In areas I have traveled, the Center of Disease Control recommended costly rabies shots among other more conventional vaccines. Although I chose to forego that expense, I had visions of marauding monkeys looking for one free bite! Luckily, that did not materialize. (In fact, the few monkeys I saw up-close and personal were so disinterested in me I could barely get a single photo!)
However, I have known of a fellow traveler who, having not taken precautions, contracted malaria in Africa. Having taken malaria pills several times prior to visiting parts of Africa and SE Asia, I was puzzled that he was unaware of the risk at his destination.
So see if your travel insurance covers a period of time on return for illnesses and injuries resulting from your trip abroad.
Tip 5. Consider whether local law may govern.
Look at the fine print and consider whether the policy may be limited by your local law at home. For example, policies may look at the law where a traveler lives for coverage of “Domestic Partners”, “Family Members” or “Spouses”.
More puzzling is local law at your destination. As a law-abiding citizen at home, I learned one January in Russia that scurrying across the Neva River’s thin ice could have subjected me to arrest if apprehended. If I had fallen through the ice, my policy might have prohibited coverage since I was engaging (unknowingly) in a prohibited activity!
Tip 6. Know the value of items you are taking abroad.
Stolen/lost property may require proof of value. If you are not typically a hoarder of all past receipts, you may have trouble here. One alternative, besides making a list of items packed/approximate purchase date(s), you can photograph items as you pack to show ownership and labels. The better practice? Leave your jewelry and haute couture at home!
Read our solo traveler safety tips from seasoned travelers and security experts.
Tip 7. Do you need to purchase a policy with “trip cancelation for any reason”?
This really requires careful reading of each policy and its definitions. This is especially helpful for “one-percenters”, i.e., not billionaires, but those subject to unusual reasons for cancellation.
You are a business owner making much less profit this year but with no insurable risk. (The store did not burn down.)
Your dog needs surgery equal to the cost of your deluxe trip.
You were virtually assured a partnership in your firm with higher pay but that promotion went to the owner’s son-in-law.
Your passport was stolen and can’t be updated in time for departure.
Your visa is stuck in processing with no hope of receipt in time for the scheduled trip.
Look at your costs if you have to cancel. Is it less than the cost of the insurance? Is it largely recoverable by rescheduling flights and hotels albeit at a potential additional charge?
Alternatively, if you have booked a tour where you will forfeit a significant deposit or full payment, do get travel insurance but: (i) comparison shop, (ii) read the definitions and exclusions carefully and (iii) “know before you go” what your selected policy covers.
Visit InsureMyTrip to compare hundreds of travel insurance policies for your upcoming trip.