How I learned travel insurance is important (the hard way)

How I learned travel insurance is important (the hard way)

In my earlier days as a traveller, I always saw travel insurance as an afterthought. I would either assume the free travel policy from my credit card was enough, or even just not buy it at all.

08 Aug 2022
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How I learned travel insurance is important (the hard way)

Today I’m a more experienced solo traveller, with actual experience of a theft, and later a violent crime; and now I would never consider travelling without the best policy I can find. Here’s why:

●      Thefts can happen any time during your trip

●      Unsubsidised medical costs are absurdly unaffordable

●      Emergencies cause other emergencies, in a cascade

●      You’re too afraid to do many things without coverage


1. Thefts can happen any time during your trip

During a solo trip to the US, I boarded a 17-hour flight from Singapore to Japan, and then New York. As I was alone and the in-flight coffee was weak, I eventually dozed off in my seat.

By the time I disembarked at the airport, I checked through my bag and discovered that my laptop, an envelope with cash, and my tablet were all missing. But how? I had just landed.

That’s when the airport police informed me it’s not unusual for thefts to happen on the plane itself. Thieves will rifle through your overhead cabin while you sleep, pretending to be looking through their own luggage; in reality they’re going through your items. As it’s dark and most other passengers are napping, there’s few people to see them.

There’s also no hope of catching them after the plane lands, as they disembark with the other passengers.

So when you’re facing a long flight, be aware that your vigilance will be tested. Keep your important items close to you, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable. More importantly, make sure your travel insurance has a good pay out for stolen items, as the risk is higher on long flights.


2. Unsubsidised medical costs are absurdly unaffordable

Most people can’t afford unsubsidised medical care. This is especially true in countries like the US, where medical costs are the highest in the world. For example, an MRI scan in Singapore can cost a few hundred dollars (subsidised), while the price in the US can be around US$18,385.

Imagine then, the cost of medical evacuation, in case you need to be airlifted to the hospital (incidentally, if you’re on a cruise ship, you will quite likely need a helicopter ride to the hospital). In countries like the US, medical evacuation can cost around US$25,000.

Some travel insurance policies though, like from Great Eastern, provide coverage of up to $1 million for medical evacuation.

Also remember that Singapore is tiny, and healthcare is always nearby. But if you’re hurt in a place like the Australian outback, there may be no choice but to medically evacuate you - the closest healthcare facility may be too far even by ambulance.

During a mugging incident in Japan (admittedly rare), a simple dose of anesthesia and an X-ray scan ended up costing around SGD$700, which was fortunately covered by my insurance.


3. Emergencies cause other emergencies, in a cascade

It’s important to have comprehensive coverage, because one emergency tends to lead to another.

For example, when I was mugged, I didn’t just incur medical costs. It also meant my cash and phone were stolen, thus requiring other claims. On top of that, I had to switch to another airline, as I was unable to walk the next day (I had to postpone the date of departure). The next airline I chose proved less than reliable, and the flight was cancelled due to mechanical failure; again necessitating another claim.

Finally, to rub salt in the wound, the thief used my stolen credit cards to buy things online; thus requiring me to make a claim for fraudulent card use.

So don’t think of your travel insurance as protecting you from just one setback. A single emergency can lead to a cascade of other emergencies, and you may need more help than you think.


4. You’re too afraid to do many things without coverage

When you have no travel insurance, you tend to travel in fear. Do you really want to take a hike up a mountain trail, when you won’t be covered if you fall? Is it really safe to visit a theme park, when you have zero coverage if the rides go wrong?

Ultimately, the lack of protection will hover over you like a dark cloud, and leech all the fun out of your trip. I’ve found the cost of travel insurance is minute, compared to the greater peace of mind I have when travelling. 

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