When I was quite a lot younger, I thought that travel insurance was a bit of a waste of money. As I’ve become a bit older, I have become (slightly) wiser and these days, I wouldn’t consider travelling without having good travel insurance.

The chances of something going wrong on your travels are slim, but sometimes life can give you hard kick in the nuts when you least expect it. In August 2012, we booked a flight to Thailand for May 2013. When Bart became ill in late 2012, it was clear that there was no way we’d be able to go. Fortunately, we had travel insurance that covered us and we got our money back.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good…

The first time that Bart and I found travel insurance useful was years ago on a 5-day trip to Berlin to celebrate the Pride festival, Cristopher Street Day. From where we lived, the quickest journey was to fly from London City Airport with KLM via Amsterdam. This was when KLM used Fokker 50s on the London City to Amsterdam route. We’re talking very small planes with tiny overhead bins. 2 Jetset Boyz + enough outfits for 5 days of Pride events + tiny overhead bins = checked luggage.

We arrived at Berlin and stood with the crowd of passengers waiting for their bags. Eventually, the baggage belt began to turn, four cases came out, there was a pause and then the “last bag delivered” sign came up. Like most of the other passengers, our bags weren’t there.

After a visit to the lost luggage desk, we made our way to our hotel with just the clothes we were wearing, a laptop, two cameras and a couple of KLM amenity kits. Phone calls to KLM the next day revealed that 1, there had been a baggage system failure in Amsterdam, 2, our bags had been on the plane from London City to Amsterdam but they had no idea where they were now and 3, they had no idea of when they would get the bags to us.

Fortunately, we had good travel insurance and when we contacted them we were told that as the airline couldn’t trace our bags we could spend £500 each on replacement clothes and other stuff. We headed out for a shopping trip. Later that evening, we arrived back at the hotel loaded up with a completely new wardrobe. Imagine our surprise when we walked back into our room to find that our cases had been delivered!!

Not having travel insurance can be costly

Our experience with the lost luggage was lucky. We were fortunate that not only did we get a pay-out that bought us new stuff but we also had our old stuff back. My mum was not so fortunate when her case disappeared on her way back from Italy.

Good travel insurance will also cover you for medical cost and these can quickly mount up. Comedian Gina Yashere used to do a piece in her stand-up routine about the cost of being taken ill in New York. She wound the piece up by saying that if she was taken ill again in New York, she would get in a taxi and go to the airport. At the airport, she would buy a first-class ticket back to London and then get a taxi from Heathrow to a hospital in London, because that would be cheaper than being taken to hospital by ambulance in New York.

Gina Yashere may have been joking, but she’s not far from the truth. In 2016, a reporter on New York Daily News revealed that a 4.5-mile ambulance trip for his daughter was billed at $2,056.95. If you have an accident or are ill abroad, without travel insurance, the costs will start piling up before you even get to a hospital.

And don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because you’re travelling within Europe. The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) only covers you to receive the same medical treatment that would be available if you were a resident of the country you’re visiting. Since most of the rest of Europe don’t get free healthcare, that means that you’ll still need to pay for at least part of the costs.

What to look for in a travel insurance policy

The best travel insurance policy isn’t necessarily going to be the most expensive. When it comes down to buying one, check what’s included and think about what you may need it to cover. Typically, travel insurance policies will cover you for:

  1. Medical cover – a must in case you’re ill or injured while travelling
  2. Cancellation – for times when life delivers an unexpected blow and you can’t travel
  3. Delays & missed connections – Freak storms, mechanical failures and industrial action can happen at any time, but having insurance the covers you for delays can take some of the sting out of them
  4. Baggage and belongings – sometimes things go missing. Occasionally someone tags your bags to LCA (Larnaca, Cyprus) when you’re flying to London City Airport (LCY)
  5. Personal liability – it’ll cover you if you manage to mow down a group of old ladies with your hired bike

There are some things that aren’t covered as standard. Dangerous sports like skiing and rock climbing need specialist cover. (However, if your dangerous sport is crocodile wrestling in a meat skirt, you may struggle to find anyone to cover you for it).

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you MUST notify the insurer when you take out the policy. It may cost you a little extra to get covered for medical cost relating the condition. However, that will be minimal compared to what you’ll end up paying when your insurer refuses to pay out because you didn’t disclose it.

What type of travel insurance policy is best?

If you travel more than twice in a year, then it may make sense to get a multi-trip policy. Then you have to choose between European or Worldwide (with or without the USA). European insurance will often cover you for some countries that aren’t geographically in Europe, like Morocco or Egypt. The “with or without the USA” distinction is mainly down to the sky-high cost of medical treatment in the country.

If you’re off on a globe-trotting marathon, normal travel insurance won’t cover you. Most policies will only cover you for up to 60 days per trip. However, you can get backpacker travel insurance, also known as gap-year or extended leave travel insurance. Generally, these policies will cover you for 18 months and some can be extended.

Shop around for your travel insurance

Like with most things, you can get the best travel insurance deals by shopping around. Price comparison websites like Compare the Market and Go Compare will save you a lot of the legwork. By filling in their forms, they can get you multiple quotes in seconds. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that some insurance companies like Direct Line don’t sell via price comparison sites.

Other insurance companies will only offer their standard insurance policies on comparison sites. John Lewis Finance allows you to create bespoke packages, but these are best done by going to them directly. Post Office Money offers a wide range of different specialist policies and these are easier to find directly on their site. (And while you’re there you can also pick up your foreign currency).

The worst deal you can get for travel insurance is to buy it with your ticket or from a travel agency. Almost without exception, it will be a lot more expensive than sourcing your own.

Taking a trip without travel insurance is a risky option. The question you need to ask yourself is not can I afford it?, it’s really a case of can I afford to deal with the costs if something does go wrong?