15th August, 2017 | 5 minutes
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One man's nightmare travel misadventures

by Shawn Low
Writer and editor, Lonely Planet

You don’t work as a travel writer and editor for Lonely Planet and co-found a travel app without being an experienced traveller. One of the biggest lessons I learnt from my globetrotting adventures is that it really pays to be backed by travel insurance.

If you’re a traveller who likes to risk going without cover, think again. Travel insurance has gotten me out of a financial pinch more than once – being pickpocketed and cracking my tooth are just two examples of when insurance was helpful.

Stolen wallets and cracked teeth

The first time I needed travel insurance it all happened so quickly. I was standing on the street in Xiamen, China, with my guidebook open and looking at a map. I’d only been standing still for a couple of seconds before I worked out where I was going and continued on. The muggy summer heat made me thirsty so I popped into a cafe for an ice-cold bubble tea and… I couldn’t find my wallet.

I had just been pickpocketed.

While I managed to retrace my steps and find my wallet dumped in a nearby rubbish bin, I’d lost a fair bit of cash. I got a police report from a sympathetic officer (who kept apologising on behalf of the city) and using this as proof, I was thankfully able to get my money reimbursed through an insurance claim back in Melbourne.

Since then, my appreciation of travel insurance has only grown as I’ve been on many more trips and had to make claims for several other incidents. Let me run through some of the highlights:

  1. Lost filling: I lost a filling eating sticky street candy in Anhui, China. I had the filling replaced in Shanghai. Insurance paid for it.
  2. Cracked tooth: On the topic of teeth, I cracked a tooth munching on lamb chops in London. Again, insurance paid out the dental fees (and the chops were delicious by the way).
  3. Smashed smartphone: My iPhone screen was smashed in an incident involving the pavement and butter-fingers. The repairs were paid for by my insurance policy.
  4. Broken camera: A DSLR camera I owned just stopped taking pictures while I was away. Yep, you guessed it, I got it fixed and insurance paid for it.
  5. Delayed flight: A flight out of Atlanta was delayed by six hours. I received several hundred dollars as compensation. Thank you very much!

One man's nightmare travel misadventures

Why take the risk?

I’ve clearly gotten bang for my buck with insurance policies over the years, yet a fair number of Australians take travelling for granted. A survey on Australians’ travel insurance behaviour, conducted by Smartraveller, revealed that a whopping 24% of Aussies who travelled internationally experienced a loss that would likely have been covered by travel insurance.

Furthermore, 77% of uninsured travellers aged 18 to 29 think it’s safe to travel to a developed country without seeking insurance. That’s ironic seeing as a large percentage of my claims arose from trips to developed countries.

So what are some of the reasons people are put off by travel insurance?

Wait, isn’t the claiming process a pain?

If your main reason for avoiding travel insurance is because you’ve heard the claiming process isn’t worth the hassle, I can tell you from experience that it’s surprisingly easy. Many insurers now have an online form to fill in, so there’s no more sending off hard copies of claims forms. Most claims I’ve lodged were reimbursed within 30 days.

Here’s four tips I’ve learnt from my many claims to help you get the most from yours:

  1. Keep all details handy: Have your policy details as well as a contact number for your insurer handy. For anything less than an emergency, the sooner you contact your provider, the sooner you can get your claim underway. Your provider should have a number to contact in case of an overseas emergency.
  2. For major emergencies: If you need anything major such as surgery or a helivac, you should focus on getting the assistance you need first and foremost. When you or someone you’re travelling with gets a chance, then feel free to contact the insurer to confirm if coverage applies.
  3. Keep all your receipts: If you’re claiming replacement supplies because your luggage didn’t arrive, or having an item repaired, the insurer will likely ask you for receipts.
  4. Get reports: Whether you’re claiming against theft or for damage to luggage caused by an airline, it’s always good to get a written report. For theft claims, make sure you get a police report done within 24 hours of the event where possible.

Why you don’t need insurance… until you do.

Many people don’t think they need travel insurance for shorter trips, but this isn’t always the case.

For example, some friends of mine recently went on a lovely long weekend to Portugal, but their return flight was delayed. To make matters worse, several other passengers decided to get roaring drunk while waiting for the rescheduled flight. They were refused entry but insisted on boarding. Security had to throw them off the plane and a two-hour delay turned into five.

Of course, my friends hadn’t bought a policy because they didn’t think they’d need it for a long weekend. If they’d been covered, the compensation from the claim could have paid for their next long weekend away.

Personally, I think of travel insurance as buying a little peace of mind so I can enjoy my trip without any worries.

Tips from a travel insurance pro

Having relied on travel insurance so many times in the past, I’ve learnt what to look for to get the most from my policies.

To start with, make sure to choose a level of cover you’re comfortable with. If you’re worried about theft and tend to carry cash on holidays, make sure the policy compensates against loss of cash. Not all policies do.

If you travel several times a year, it’s worth considering taking out an annual policy instead of single-trip policies. Most annual policies cap the length of their trips however – you usually can’t claim anything beyond the 60- or 90-day mark, depending on the policy.

One final tip: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Smartraveller website has a lot of handy travel tips and advice on insurance and more. It’s worth a look.

Sure, travel insurance can get overlooked in the excitement of a trip, but take it from someone who knows – the peace of mind and security it brings is worth every dollar spent.

Bon voyage and safe journeys!

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