Do I Really Need Travel Medical Insurance?

Written By: The Planet D

Do I really need travel insurance? That is a question we often get from people before they travel. We’ve had so many people tell us over the years that they never buy travel medical insurance. We’ve heard things like, “I don’t need travel medical insurance, hospitals are cheap where I’m going.” Or people have said things like “It really depends on the situation, I’ll just come home if I get sick or injured.”

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

We would never take that risk when traveling. Personally, Dave and I have never travelled without travel medical insurance and there have been several occasions where we have used it.

Times we used our Travel Medical Insurance

surreal desert moments mountains
It’s always an experience to travel!

1. Dave Broke his back in South America
2. Dave and I had second-degree burns from a motorcycle accident in Thailand
3. I had a bad skin infection in Africa that turned onto cellulitis.
4.  had an extreme reaction to Malaria medication in Asia
5. I had very bad food poisoning in South America
6. I even had a panic attack once in Asia and went to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack!

All injuries and illnesses required a visit to the hospital. Some were affordable, some would have broken the bank.

Each time we were grateful we had it because we never second-guessed or wasted a minute deciding whether or not to go to the hospital.

We knew we had coverage, so we didn’t take a chance.

Reasons We’ve Heard Why People Don’t Purchase Travel Insurance.

need travel insurance

1. I don’t need travel insurance because it is too expensive, and I’ll just pay for my hospital stay if something goes wrong

It is true, an ER visit in other countries can be cheap and there have been times when we’ve visited the hospital and never submitted our receipts for reimbursement from our insurance company because it was just so reasonable.

However, if we had something serious happen without travel insurance, we could be out of pocket for thousands of dollars.

When we’re paying thousands of dollars on flights and hotels for a vacation, travel insurance is a pittance of the cost.

That small investment gives us peace of mind that we will be covered should we need emergency surgery, a medical evacuation flight home, or if we need to book a hotel while one of us recovers in the hospital.

Plus, there are many expenses that happen during an emergency that people don’t know about: pet and vehicle return, meals and accommodation and emergency medical transportation.

2. I don’t need travel insurance because I can just fly home if I get sick.

air ambulance service
Dave is finally on the air ambulance home

I don’t understand why people think that just because they are on vacation, a serious illness or injury won’t happen.

We have talked to people who have said “I’ll just fly home if I get sick.”

First of all, flight changes are expensive and unless you booked a flexible flight, they are often not changeable at all.

Second there are certain emergencies that require immediate surgery or a hospital stay.

We’ve had that situation when Dave broke two vertebrae in his back in the Amazon.

He couldn’t fly home on a regular plane because he had to stay flat on his back.

We needed an air ambulance home so that he could lay down on a stretcher.

But we know of even less severe cases.

travel insurance myths
Dave using a scooter when he sprained his ankle in Ireland

My brother once broke his arm in Florida. One would think that he could just deal with the pain and fly home or even make the 20-hour drive. But the break was so bad, that he had to go directly to the hospital. He was told that he needed immediate surgery at it was a really bad fracture.

We all know that trips to the hospital in America can be expensive, so if he didn’t have insurance, he probably would have just dealt with the pain, drove home with my sister-in-law at the wheel, and then end up with permanent damage.

My brother doesn’t travel a lot, but even he saw the value of having insurance. He told me that he won’t even cross the border on a day trip without it because you never know what can happen. And we won’t cross borders without it either. We always think about the possibility that a life-threatening accident could happen at any time.

3. I don’t need travel insurance because I’m only going away for a day or two

niagara falls road trip toyota
Hitting the Niagara Parkway for our road trip

Just because we are taking a short trip, it doesn’t mean we are completely safe from having something happen. We live close to the American border and drive across for day trips all the time. But we always have insurance whenever we travel. Even if it is only for a day.

If we were hit by a bus in Niagara Falls (which is just across the border) the ambulance driver isn’t going to say, “Oh wait, we have to drive this girl back to Canada so she can be treated without having to pay!” No way. The ambulance is going to take me to the nearest hospital which will automatically give me a huge bill. Check out Where to Stay in Niagara Falls

What if I had a heart attack and I was just across the border? I would never wait in line at immigration to come back home for treatment. Getting to a hospital quickly is of the utmost importance. In an emergency, timing is everything. One delay could cost us our life or permanent damage. We never take the chance.

4. I already have travel insurance with my credit card.

american express gold rewards card

Many credit cards offer travel insurance but not all plans are created equal. We have a great plan with our American Express Platinum, but even when we travel, we know our card doesn’t cover everything.

That is why we always have travel insurance above and beyond what our credit card offers.

Before we travel, we always check with our credit card insurance provider to see what is included and what we need to supplement. For example, some cards we’ve had didn’t cover emergency medical expenses including evacuation and there were many stipulations where other coverage like trip delay or baggage loss might not be covered. When in doubt, we always make the phone call to both our insurance provider and credit card company.

5. I won’t cancel my trip, so I won’t need trip interruption or cancelation insurance

brasada ranch deb

The truth is, maybe for short trips, or trips that we haven’t invested a lot of money on, we wouldn’t purchase trip cancellation insurance. But for those larger trips where we invest a few thousand dollars, I’d be so sad if I had to cancel unexpectedly and had to swallow our upfront costs.

Life is unpredictable and I’d hate to have an emergency like a death in the family, damage to my home or even a car accident on the way to the airport cause me to lose the entire cost of my trip.

Losing Money on a Trip

Friends of ours missed out on a trip to Cuba because one of them was hospitalized in an unexpected medical emergency. They lost their trip and their money and had to wait another year before they could travel again. Had they purchased trip cancellation insurance, this situation could have been a covered reason. But since they didn’t, they lost their investment and had to save up another year to take their next vacation.

We also remind ourselves that just because we have travel insurance, it doesn’t mean that we can cancel a trip because we have a headache or changed our minds. We make sure to check what the covered reasons in our policy are.

And whenever we’ve had an emergency, we make a call to the agents to tell them what is happening and ask what we need to do to make sure we are covered. Like keeping receipts and other paperwork. It really offers important points to think about on our future travels.

6. I don’t need travel insurance because I am young and healthy

travel safety products
Backpacking requires extra safety

It is difficult to think about emergencies when you are young and healthy, but we had the majority of our hospital stays in our earlier days of travel. We were strong and healthy and felt that nothing could get in our way. Even though we always bought travel insurance before our trips, we never dreamed anything could happen to us. Until it did.

Motorcycle Crash Thailand

deb motorcycle

Imagine our shock when we had a motorcycle crash in Thailand and we both ended up with serious burns on our legs. If we didn’t have insurance, we probably wouldn’t have gone to the hospital to have it cleaned and we definitely would have gotten infections in that tropical heat.

Knee Infection in Africa

I know first-hand what a serious infection feels like and just how serious it can be. When I had cellulitis in Africa, I could have lost my leg or my life. I had a small crash on my bicycle causing a cut in my leg. Within hours my leg swelled up to twice its size and the infection spread at a rapid rate from my hip to my ankle. Leaving a minor cut, scrape or burn in tropical conditions can quickly turn to life-threatening injuries. Luckily, we had insurance both times and had doctors take care of our injuries.

7. I Fly Carryon Only, I don’t need Lost Luggage Insurance

anti theft travel accessories dave airport
Keep your luggage safe at the airport

It’s a sad but true fact of life – theft happens. Our carryon luggage has our most valuable items in it like cameras, laptops and other electronics. If someone stole my bag when I wasn’t looking, I wouldn’t know what to do. And let’s face it, airlines are getting stricter each day. When I’m on a small flight, staff has taken my carryon at the gate telling me my bag is too large for the plane.

If we do end up checking our bags and something happens, I’d rather have some coverage for delays so we can buy a few essentials to tie us over until our luggage arrives.

Sometimes bags can fall out of an overhead bin and damage items as well. Even though I am traveling carryon only, accidents can still happen. We like having peace of mind rather than worrying about every situation that can possibly happen. After 9 years of full-time travel and 10 more extensively traveling the world, we have likely come across every situation.

We have had fellow travel companions break a tooth and need dental surgery, we have been hospitalized, we have needed to be flown home, we’ve pickpocketed and robbed, scammed and we have been in the middle of storms and unrest.

We know the value of insurance and that is why we purchase it each and every year.

do i need travel medical insurance?

Travel Planning Resources

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Book Your Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner. We have used them for years and have found that they have the best flight deals.

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor.

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Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Safety Wing - Occasional Travelers.
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Book Your Activities: Looking for walking tours, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more? Then we recommend Get Your Guide.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

32 thoughts on “Do I Really Need Travel Medical Insurance?”

  1. if you personally is to me, I think it’s always good to have some type of personal insurance anywhere you go, even if you travel outside the United States.

  2. I’m one of those who always says I don’t need it and then subconsciously worries the entire trip about falling off the mountain or simply twisting my ankle walking down Main Street. Bookmarking this post as a reminder for my future travels!

  3. Thanks for sharing this post. This shows the importance of the travel health insurance. It’s very important to have insurance whenever you travel out of the country. I started buying now and even don’t allow my family to travel without it. It’s really very important to travel safely.

  4. Thank you for the post! That is so true! I always buy travel insurance even though it may be a bit pricey! Definitely worth it though! A friend recommended me this mobile app called Wesurance, which I recently bought my travel insurance on to Japan next month. the travel insurance including medical only cost $2 per day! That’s the cheapest I’ve found! So I guess travel insurance doesn’t have to be that expensive after all!

  5. This is so very true. I am one of those people who does not believe too much on insurance, but then I opted for a free travel insurance by the government (railways board) once while traveling to Kerala from Mumbai. The train got derailed (nothing serious) but it was assuring to know that we would have received quality treatment/logistics had it been serious. It’s great to have insurance, and when you’re traveling it’s no different.

  6. Thankful you got what was desperately needed, along with help from International Expeditions and Pam Bucur of Explorama Lodges. We’ve been going to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest through Explorama since 1991 (IE & Amazon Rainforest Workshops were also involved). We’ve been well aware of how difficult it is to get what’s needed should a bad accident happen – all it takes is a stumble, a slip on damp logs or walkways, or a misstep into a hole. Congratulations on a full recovery and reimbursement.

  7. It was quite sad to know something of that sort happened, and really good to know that you are fine. But yes, this surely brings out the importance of travel insurance. Let me wish you safe and adventurous travel in future. 🙂

    • Thank you Kshitij, we were lucky. Not only that Dave’s injury was one that he fully recovered from, but also that we didn’t have to write about “How I wish I had travel insurance.

  8. I kinda have the same reasons for not buying a travel insurance, but yeah, I think I must remove that kind of thinking.. accidents happen all the time.

    • Good thinking Rachel. Accidents do happen all the time. We’ve actually written about the importance of travel insurance before on the blog. We have had a few accidents but they weren’t as big as this one. People didn’t listen as much in the past because, they thought, well what’s a 2nd degree burn, I can get on a plane and deal with the pain if I had to. Or what is Cellulitus anyway, I’ll never catch that. But I think having something huge like this happen has opened some people’s eyes. it’s not like we were trekking in the Arctic or cycling Africa, or climbing mountains, we were on a cruise that people go on all the time. It really shows that anything can happen anywhere.

  9. Great post! This is one of the best posts I have read recently about the true importance of solid International Cover when people travel abroad. More people need to see read this post. Too many think they do not need it or the cost is not worthy of the investment. You are really helping those who think they can go without. I have worked in this market for a long-time. I enjoy your blog! Good job!

  10. Glad to here you are safe and doing better Dave. Good job Deb in getting him home and yes thank god for insurance and for a minimal fee you are covered for so much….a lot less than 85k.

  11. Glad to here you are safe and doing better Dave. Good job Deb in getting him home and yes thank god for insurance and for a minimal fee you are covered for so much….a lot less than 85k.

    Take care…..

    • Well said Bonita. And so great to see you here! How are things? But yes, travel insurance is just a minimal fee compared to what you could face should something go wrong.

  12. We’ve finally been looking into more options for insurance–inspired in part by you two–but are stumbling on the coverage for trips up to 45 days, etc. Do you know of anyone who covers a more full-time travel lifestyle? Travel insurance vs. trip insurance? Coverage that can handle some of our spontaneous changes in itinerary? We have also run across this with American Express: “We are not accepting enrollments in American Express Travel Insurance at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience.Please check back with us shortly.” I’m a Platinum Card holder. grrr. Hope recovery and the new normal are settling around you. Best regards!

    • HI Kristin, The coverage we is year-long coverage that covers us for 45 days each time we leave the country. When we do need more time, if we are going to be out of Canada for longer, we just call them up and buy extra. We’ve been out for much longer than 45 days in the past couple of years and we’ve simply added an extension of our coverage. Have you tried giving them a call? It’s strange. I’ve never had that happen and I renew my insurance every year. In the past we’ve always gone through our credit card for extended coverage. Even when we left for 6-8 months we just called up our credit card and bought long term travel medical coverage. I’d try calling.

  13. Thanks for this post. I haven’t seen a detailed account of travel insurance in action before. My wife and I are planning a trip to Southern Africa and this helps me make my mind up on the need for better travel insurance than we usually get. This has been very helpful. Get well soon!

    • Thanks Tom and I’m glad that we at least got you thinking about travel insurance. It’s important to keep yourself safe and healthy and this is a piece of the puzzle that we never leave home with out.

  14. My 3rd trip to France was to visit US WWII Cemeteries. In Epinal France I slipped on snow that covered ice coated marble steps. My right wrist hit the sharp edge of the step. I was taken to the local hospital and 1 day later had surgery. They required two credit cards to ensure my $8,000 bill for three days and 2 nights were covered. The ONLY trip I had taken without travel insurance. I learned a VERY EXPENSIVE lesson.

    Two years later I had travel insurance when I went to Sweden to see the Northern lights. I again slipped on ice (I live in a warm climate). This time I fell into a granite bolder and broke my left arm. The town had no doctor and no hospital. I had to hire a cab to drive me 1.5 hours to the nearest hospital. There they told me they had all surgeries closed due to Easter holiday and then sent me via bus to a hospital 3 hrs away where they did my surgery at 11:00 PM. Again 2 nights, 3 days but this bill was $10,200. I gave the hospital my insurance info. I later found out THEY do not submit your info to the company for reimbursement. After arguing with my travel insurance company, 11 MONTHS later they paid the bill, but I was charge $1000 in late fees the insurance company would not cover.

    Get the insurance. I have been to 6 of the continents and 42 countries without need for medical, but when you do need it, you NEED TO HAVE IT.

  15. I’m so glad you had proper insurance. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. I’m also glad that Dave is doing so much better already.

    I was wondering what the customs and immigration process was like while you went through all of this.

    • Great question Pamela, The customs and immigration was completely different. We went to a different part of the airport and had an entirely private process of exiting Peru and entering Canada. Now I know how stars and diplomats travel. We didn’t go into the public parts of the airport at all.

  16. Guys, thanks for the wake up call! I live in Thailand and I always postpone buying the insurance. I don’t think any of my friends have it either. It’s just the cost of it, which is the biggest issue. I work here and buying a western insurance is a bit costly.
    But after reading this I think I might just look into it. I might find an insurance, which is cheap and good at the same time.

    • Hi Jo, I’m glad we could persuade you. Thailand has more affordable medical than other places, but if there is a huge emergency it will still be a big cost. Plus, having that medical evacuation insurance is important. If you are stuck on one of the beautiful islands, you’ll want to be able to be evacuated quickly and insurance covers float planes coming out to get you.

  17. Hi Deb and Dave,
    Thanks for sharing your story and giving insights in a real life emergency. I hope that Dave is recovering well.
    I also think that it is very important to have a health travel insurance. I’m travelling with my husband for many years now and luckily we never had a health issue. But you never know. With an insurance its a much better feeling to travel and its good to know that there is financial help in case of an accident.
    All the best to the two of you,

    • Yep, you said it Reni. We travelled for years without a major emergency, but once it happened, the first thing we said was “Thank God we’ve always had the mindset to buy insurance.” What if that happened without it.