Think you don’t need trip insurance? Think again

Trip insurance was not something I ever thought about.  My husband and I weren’t old, didn’t have health problems and couldn’t see the need for the extra expense. We generally travel independently, eschewing tours, cruises and guides. Why would we need trip insurance?

Ambulance at the start of the Inca Trail

The First Time

Somehow, as time passed, we weren’t so young anymore. Then my husband, Steve, had a mild heart attack. He recovered fully but it changed our thinking a bit. Due to our increasing “maturity,” we had more time off.  We decided to travel for a month in Peru, which involved a trek along the Inca Trail. Unfortunately, the only way to hike that trail is with a guided service due to regulations, which involved a big outlay of cash. When Steve paid for the tickets online he noticed an offer for Allianz travel insurance that could be added on through the airline. For the amount we had forked over already, it suddenly occurred to him that it might be a good idea to tack that on.  Little did we know how beneficial that decision would be.

Planning an independent backpacking trip on the Santa Cruz Trail, Peru: Part 1

When Things Went Wrong

The trouble started right away on the Inca Trail. We were very fit and acclimated to the altitude, having just backpacked the Santa Cruz Trail in a more rugged area of Peru, so this should have been easy. We carried light day packs and the porters did all the heavy lifting, literally. They even set up camp and prepared lavish meals. The first night, however, Steve was up a few times and by morning was sick with diarrhea. He gave it a good effort but after an hour of agonizingly slow hiking, it was obvious he wasn’t going anywhere. I conferred with the guide about his previous heart attack and we aborted the hike, to our great disappointment. All I remember was a blur of a “horse ambulance” to get Steve down the mountain, a real ambulance and a nurse who met us at the hotel. She got an IV running with antibiotics within minutes. Steve was suffering from severe dehydration. Our one and only expensive, guided trek was over almost before it started and we hadn’t achieved our one primary goal of the trip, which was to see Machu Picchu.

This was a painful ride for Steve on the “horse ambulance”

Twice a day doctor visits to the hotel ensued even as we made our way to Aguas Calientes, once Steve was strong enough for me to prop him up in the train. Lab work was done and special electrolyte mixes provided, along with a barrage of medicines. Ultimately we did make it to Machu Picchu by train and bus and the excursion was salvaged.

What About the Trip Insurance?

When Steve had purchased the trip insurance it was because it would cover costs associated with the plane ticket and tour. We never even considered health concerns so it took us awhile to even think of it.  Once we did, we wondered if it would cover any of the expenses or our lost tour. We pulled out the fine print and were pleasantly surprised to see the extremely comprehensive list of what we had paid for.

Ultimately, we couldn’t have been more impressed with the service. They covered the full cost of our tour for both of us, many extraneous expenses associated with the ordeal, basically everything except direct medical expenses that his medical insurance paid for. They paid the part of the claim they knew they would cover within a week. The medical insurance coverage dragged out over months but once the medical insurer paid, the balance was taken care of quickly by Allianz.

The doctor met us at the hotel with a big bag of medicines

We’re Believers

On our next holiday, we purchased Allianz trip insurance again, even though it was only a week at Whistler that we have done every year for over 20 years. That year I was struck down by the flu (the real bone-breaking thing, not just a sniffly cold) and could barely move from my bed. Trip insurance covered all of our expenses associated with all the change fees and lost lodging deposits when we delayed our flight.

Of course, we’ve been touting our experience to all of our friends. We were supposed to hike the Tour of Mont Blanc the same time as another couple and carefully coordinated our expeditions.  Steve and I were hiking independently but the other couple chose a guided service for a different route. After hearing our stories they purchased trip insurance for the first time. A month before the journey our friend broke her foot and couldn’t hike.  They lost a big chunk of their deposit with the tour operator and were quite pleased to get fully reimbursed by their insurer.

Planning a Tour of Mont Blanc hike

Does everyone need trip insurance?

I don’t know if everyone needs trip insurance but I am now certain that it’s a good idea for many. It depends on the journey and the circumstances. A twenty-something healthy young person seeing the world on a budget has less of a need for trip insurance. An aging boomer who still thinks he can go on extreme adventures may be more likely to need it and may be better able to afford it. Anyone with health issues and those who are very risk averse will appreciate the safety net.

Another aspect of modern society that has become very real is the threat of terrorism. I’m not one to stay home in fear but the fact is that every time there is an incident in popular tourist destination many people have their plans disrupted. Allianz reported that they have noticed that travelers “…are considering the purchase of travel insurance so that they have the option to cancel or interrupt their trip should there be a terrorist event at their destination within 30 days of their arrival.” In 2016 Paris, Brussels and Istanbul saw declines of 12.8, 19.6 and 60.2% respectively from 2015 levels among U.S. travelers. On the other hand, Amsterdam, Venice and Lisbon saw increases. Trip insurance can provide flexibility if world events dictate a desire for a change of itinerary.

I met a young woman at the Sun Gate in Machu Picchu who heard our story and related that her father bought her trip insurance before she embarked on her ‘round the world’ gap year. I thought that was an imminently practical going-away gift that probably gave them both peace of mind.

Does everyone need trip insurance? Maybe not, but when things go wrong and you have it, it’s pretty wonderful.

Things to consider

There are many companies that offer travel insurance and others that offer medical evacuation services, such as Medjet, so it’s important to do the research. Start by assessing what you already have in terms of coverage from your medical insurance and any concierge services you might have with your credit cards, such as Chase United Club Card. Then think about any health issues you have that could crop up while you’re away or cause you to have to delay or cancel your plans. Of course, illness, injury, accidents and natural disasters can’t be predicted.  Consider what the financial impact might be if you have to change your trip. If you have a tight connection to a cruise, what happens if your flight is canceled and you have to arrive a day or two later? Will you have to forfeit the whole trip?  Will there be costs associated with joining a tour mid-stream if you are delayed? If you don’t have medical insurance and you break a leg or need surgery in a foreign company, do you have the financial resources to pay for treatment and perhaps an expensive air ambulance? Ultimately it’s a personal decision based on individual circumstances but many will find that it’s a relatively small cash outlay that can solve a lot of problems.

See below for links to the Consumer Affairs comparison site, the provider that I used and articles with more information.

We’re believers now. We consider trip insurance an essential part of travel planning for any major journey.


Consumer Affairs-Travel Insurance Comparison

Allianz Global Assistance

Medjet Assist

We were relieved to be in this bare bones ambulance on the way to Ollantaytambo