Travel Insurance

X-Ray of Zac's Broken Arm.

It’s easy to be blasé about travel insurance. Let’s face it, most of us will live our lives without ever claiming on travel insurance. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

Because travel insurance isn’t there for the small things. I didn’t use it when I got pickpocketed in China, when my waterproof camera ceased being waterproof, when I took out a car window with my head during an a car crash in Egypt, or when I came off a bike in Thailand and scraped my arm.

THIS, however, is where travel insurance comes in really handy.

Zac on the helicopter over Mongolia.

This helicopter cost over $30,000.

Travel insurance is for when something major goes wrong. Such as my son’s broken arm. A break which, back home, would have involved nothing more complicated than ringing an ambulance to take him to hospital for surgery cost our travel insurers more than $150,000.

Our travel insurance helicoptered us from a rural clinic with no running water in the middle of nowhere, Outer Mongolia, to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for an X-ray at the best clinic in the country. Then they flew us to Hong Kong, on a private jet, for surgery at the best emergency hospital in all Hong Kong. And then they flew us “home”.

If we hadn’t had travel insurance? My son would have travelled 12 hours overland in a jeep to a primitive hospital in a town of 30,000 people to get to an X-ray. And, because his arm had been badly splinted, he’d likely have had permanent nerve damage by the time he arrived.

Land ambulance and air ambulance on tarmac.

This air ambulance cost over $100,000.

Let me underline this, one more time.

When you need travel insurance, you REALLY need it. And what you are buying travel insurance for is NOT your possessions, but your life, and your safety.

Zac in MRI Scanner

The hospital and surgery? Another $30,000.

As longterm travellers, we now use World Nomads.

Here’s five reasons why:

1: Their medical and evacuation cover gives us what I need to ensure my son’s and my own safety.
2: Their residence requirements are highly flexible. Conventional insurers often require a fixed period of physical residence in your home country before issuing insurance: World Nomads can cater to nomads.
3: Their adventure travel insurance is excellent and flexible. Their level 2 cover is perfect for us, as UK travellers, whether we’re hiking to Everest Base Camp or diving in remote islands in Indonesia.
4: I can buy their insurance online, for periods up to a year, wherever I am in the world, and top up if we’re still travelling.
5: As a British single parent doing adventure travel with a child, my dependent son comes free with my cover, saving me the extra expense of a family policy. Their family policies are also ideal for longterm family travel insurance.

When buying travel insurance, it’s critical to read the Ts & Cs to ensure you’re covered for everything you intend to do. Click here for more on why this matters.

I am a WorldNomads affiliate. That means that if you buy travel insurance by clicking a link on this page, you’re helping keep this site running at no extra cost to yourself.

41 Responses

  1. Barry Gilbey says:

    Thanks for the reminder, we are going to Nepal to do EBC, Cho La & Gokyo in a few weeks and we need to sort insurance.

    Hope the spawn is ok 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      Yeah — you really do need it. Just in case. You don’t want to be paying for your own helicopter in cash if one of you comes down with altitude sickness (it happens). The spawn is flourishing like a bay leaf, thank you.

  2. So glad he’s ok. and yes, never travel without it!

  3. THIS is why I always advocate so strongly for travel insurance. Not for if you stub your toe or get Dehli belly but for when things go really, REALLY, horribly bad. Thank goodness it all worked out.

    • Theodora says:

      Exactly, Gillian. It really pisses me off when people say “Oh, but it costs $5 to get medical treatment in Thailand/Egypt/Indonesia [delete as appropriate].” And I’m like, “Not if you have to have major surgery or get evac-ed out, it doesn’t…”

  4. Ali says:

    I worked in aviation insurance, mostly workers’ compensation, for 9 years. While not quite the same as travel insurance, a lot of the claims I saw were similar to what you guys experienced. If you get sick or injured in a remote area or somewhere without decent healthcare options, it’s insanely expensive to get flown out and get all the necessary treatments. I’m SOOOO glad you guys had insurance and were able to get this all taken care of. I hope his arm is doing better!

    • Theodora says:

      His arm is right as rain, thank you, Ali… It’s a salutary tale, though. Insane how crazily costs can spiral, even with something as non-critical as a child’s broken arm. I don’t let our insurance lapse even for an hour now…

  5. Yep. Well said. We use World Nomads too!

    • Theodora says:

      They’re not the cheapest, but they are a great option. And they’re used to adventure travel claims handling, which I would imagine really, really helps.

  6. Aleah says:

    I usually don’t buy travel insurance when I travel. Thanks for the reminder! I’ve been reading about Zac’s story and I can’t imagine what I would do if that happened to me.

    • Theodora says:

      Well, quite. Likely, you’d have ended up with nerve damage after being flown home scheduled for treatment with the arm strapped with your chest — that’s assuming you had the money at hand to get yourself home on scheduled. It really, really is always worth travelling with insurance unless you’re somewhere with a reciprocal agreement on medical — and even then, if you’re doing risky stuff, you might find you’re not covered for the transportation.

  7. Theodora, first of all I’m so glad that Zac is doing well. I couldn’t agree more with you about travel insurance, we book it the second we have a trip planned.

  8. Larissa says:

    Fortunately we did not need to make any claims during our RTW journey, but I was glad we had the coverage. In the grand scheme of things, the cost is minimal.

  9. DJ Yabis says:

    Cray cray. I hope your kid is fine now? Something major also happened to my travel partner’s arm last year in Sweden. Imagine paying all the bills in Sweden!

  10. Kerwin says:

    I use the same service and never worry about it as long as I’m 100 miles away from my “domicile.” But then I’m almost always away.
    People think twice but they should not. You spend more on coffee for a week than the premium.

    • Theodora says:

      Well, exactly. Our premiums are quite high at the moment, because of diving, but travel insurance is absolutely critical.

  11. Dale says:

    Though it must have been a hard time for the both of you I’m so glad to see that you made the right choices before you set of by taking out insurance.

    Far too often I read blogs and the comments of other travellers who say; “ah, what’s the point? I can just use the money for flights or a glass of wine!” and that mindset drives me crazy.

  12. anne says:

    So helpful! I’ve been researching travel insurance and keep coming across the same site – glad you had it for your son!! 🙂

  13. I’ve been on the trail now for nearly 3 full years (mostly in Asia, incl. likewise the g-forsaken wild of Mongolia, and now here in Ecuador), and I agree catastrophic travel insurance is a must.

    And while World Nomads seems to a most popular choice, alas for those of us of uh… “a certain age” WN has an age limit, so I instead opted for a most robust and economical alternative: IMG (International Medical Group).

    (Thankfully – whew!) haven’t (yet) had to use it, but oh so good to have the peace of mind…

  14. Chris says:

    Hi, Theodora. I like your posts and blog. Happy to know your insurance saved your son as you describe!

    I did lots of research on insurance and I’m having a hard time finding examples of World Nomads honoring claims for accidents, even big disasters like your case. You can read a detailed account of my worries here. I link your blog there.

    Reading your article there was something I couldn’t understand. After you tell the story of the rescue you say that “now we use World Nomads”.

    I wonder: were you not using it before? I ask this because nowhere do you mention that the rescue was made by World Nomads. Was the helicopter evac covered by other insurer and then you changed insurer after that?

    I also noted that your links to them are affiliate links. This means that you are paid by them for referrals.

    I’m cool with that, not judging. Just trying to understand if your praise for them is because of an actual positive claim experience you had or if it’s based only on the fact that their coverage offer sounds great (which it does, I know).

    Thanks a lot.

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Chris:

      They are indeed affiliate links, which I should disclose on this page (and thought I actually had!) – I’ll make an edit to that tonight to reflect that. I haven’t claimed through WorldNomads, and I know that every insurer you ever deal with will do their best to get out of whatever situation they’re in – that’s the loss adjuster’s job.

      I had to threaten to sue the provider who eventually came through with the helicopter evac to get it to happen (short version – they found a loophole, I argued they should have known given I’d been insured with them for 2.5 years that the loophole was there and there was an email string to prove it, they covered us ‘ex gratia’). I was phoning ambulance chasers in the UK to get action lined up while he was in his hospital bed in Mongolia (some of this saga is covered on the blog proper). I’m now with WN because they’ll provide cover no matter how long you’ve been away from home and AFAIK no one else does – the old provider refused to extend cover.

      However, I do know people who have had positive experiences: friend of friends had a child murdered overseas, and raved about the sensitive, no-fuss assistance they received, including support in handling media, handling police and getting the body home (very difficult when it’s a crime victim) with no quibble over costs; I personally know Stuart of Travelfish (also a WN affiliate) who tells his minor medical story here (I’m the friend in the story); I also know others who’ve successfully put through minor medical claims.

      I’ve also heard one WN horror story – guy motorbiking, had an accident, died, family sued for medical costs as he didn’t have a license/wasn’t wearing a helmet (I forget the details). But I don’t think that’s unique to WN – underwriters are the same the world over.

      For us, they are also good because of what they cover – scuba, high trekking etc. Premiums have soared for UK and EU residents in S-E Asia, especially for scuba which is now level 2 for us (the old scuba to 30m at level 1 has gone): according to this, that’s because they’ve had a high payout rate. (That would be the case: premiums for single parents doing longterm travel in Asia tripled on our old provider after the mega-payout.)

      My personal view – all insurers and underwriters will do everything they can to avoid paying out. WN, however, will provide cover that others don’t and to people that others won’t, so for the moment they remain the default. Hope this helps….


      • Chris says:

        Thank you for your honest answer, Theodora. Your last paragraph pretty much summarizes it. There’s a lack of better alternatives for long-term travelers. At least WN gives them a policy when nobody else does. It is better than nothing.

        I raise a concern here regarding the unlimited extensions.

        • Theodora says:

          Hi Chris, The family we know of who lost the child got support from WorldNomads despite having been out of the country for some time, and as far as I know they honour their statements about residence. Every insurer works to reduce their losses – it’s just the nature of the industry. If you find a company that pays claims every time with no questions asked, they’ll be out of business fairly rapidly…. Theodora

      • Kevin says:

        Hi Theodora,

        As avid readers of your blog, my wife and I would love to know who your old provider used to be?


        • Theodora says:

          Hi Kevin,

          Sorry! I saw this comment on my phone and forgot to reply. Our old provider was Worldwide Insure. They covered us ex gratia as there were email strings showing that they should have known we’d been out of the country for too long to be covered, but it was ropy for a while, hence the shift to World Nomads. Last time I checked, their premiums for single parent families had soared, presumably due to the evac. FWIW, I do personally know several people who’ve had successful and trouble-free claims on World Nomads. Fortunately, we haven’t needed to… Cheers, Theodora

  15. Simon Monk says:

    I actually founded World Nomads for people who travel a little like me. (Writing this from Bhutan!)

    Anyway, of course we pay claims. We actually pay millions of dollars.

    We don’t try to avoid paying claims, I find that offensive, we are there to help people when they need it. But of course we ask questions – what do you expect? The only way we can afford to pay for huge medical bills is by asking such questions.

    and if you saw what we see every day, you’d never travel without insurance again.



    • Theodora says:

      Lucky you, for being in Bhutan! And thanks for your comment – clearly if you covered everyone who was drunk-driving a scooter with no helmet for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of brain surgery and air ambulances, no questions asked, everyone’s premiums would be higher.

      “Minimise costs” would have been much more accurate than “avoid paying out” – although, of course, the first questions asked when you’re in touch with the emergency team are the ones that establish whether you’re in breach of terms. That said, the family I mention who lost the child are a shining exception, and they were full of praise for your team.

      Anyway – enjoy Bhutan.

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