“When should I buy travel insurance?” This questions plagues the mind of inexperienced travelers around the world. All the big travel search engines love to pound it into our heads scaring us into thinking if we don’t buy it we could be making a mistake. Truth is, maybe you are, but this is a question that can’t be answered directly.
To start with, you need to think about the type of trip you’re taking. Are you going on an extreme sports tour through SE Asia? Or are you heading to your Grandmas house in Florida for some bingo, tea and crumpets over the long weekend? These two trips are obviously very different, and require different strategies when calculating if you should purchase travel insurance or not. The issue you’re considering here is are you at risk of getting seriously injured, kidnapped, or lost.
Next you’ll need to decide how flexible you are with your travels. If you miss a flight, is the rest of your trip ruined because there will now be a chain reaction of missed flights? Are you meeting friends at your destination? Do you have critical meetings or commitments you need to get back for? Do you have extra time at your first destination, giving you the ability to recover from something like a delayed or cancelled flight? If you’re on a strict schedule, having travel insurance may allow you to purchase a new ticket on a different airline at no additional cost, helping you to get where you’re going quicker and easier.
You’ll also need to consider your personal style, habits, comfort levels, and sentiments. Are you comfortable taking risks? Are you the type who has to have every little detail planned before starting your trip? Do you have tendencies to be late, reckless, or make bad choices (alcohol related or not)? If so, you’re probably a better candidate for travel insurance. Say the airline loses your luggage, are you going to be able to survive in the same clothes you’ve been wearing for 18 hours on your flight from LAX to Rio? What if they lose your bag for good, do you consider the possessions you carry in your bags to be irreplaceable or extraordinarily valuable? I don’t care about my checked bag, it’s just clothing, and I don’t value my clothes, they can easily be replaced. However if I lost my carry on bag with all my valuables and work stuff I’d be screwed.
The last big factor in determining whether or not you should purchase travel insurance is your destination. A trip in The Congo obviously presents a lot more risks than a trip to Zurich. Are you at high risk of encountering problems with locals, being attacked by a rabid gorilla, or stepping on a land mine? Sad to say, but all these things happen, even to tourists. Getting air lifted out of a bad situation is not cheap, and you may not even be able to arrange for it without insurance.
I realize I haven’t really told you if you should buy travel insurance or not. That’s because for the reasons expressed above, travel insurance is best treated as a situational precaution, and whether or not you’re a good candidate for it is based on your personal travel style. This means there is no blanket answer to whether or not you should use it, you have to decide for yourself by evaluating your trip. If you’re curious whether I purchase it, not always, I consider the points discussed above, calculate the odds of needing it, and go from there.
Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences on travel insurance below, I’d love to know how other people feel about it and what strategies they use for deciding whether to buy it or not.
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