Do NOT Leave Home Without Buying Decent Travel Insurance

Of the thousands of 18 to 24-year-old backpackers leaving the UK over the next few months, one in three will travel without insurance. Perhaps they think that it will never happen to them. Like many people, I thought it would never happen to me, but fortunately decided to cover myself regardless.

A couple of friends and I decided to flee the cold December chills and head out to sunny Florida to jump out of perfectly good aeroplanes. It was the second day of the trip and our third jump. It was also my Mum’s birthday. I had forgotten to call her and so had made a mental note to do so as soon as I landed. The jump was one of the best I have ever done - I’ll save you the boring details.

My parachute opened uneventfully and I began my flight back to the landing area. At about 400ft I initiated a radical turn so that I could do a show-off landing in front of all the spectators in the bar. Sadly the turn was a little too radical and I bounced... twice... After a quick wiggle of the toes I was reassured that I hadn’t done any serious damage, and I began to focus on the pain coming from the area of my right knee. I had broken my femur (thigh bone).

I was pumped full of morphine, packed into an ambulance and spent the remainder of my trip in Florida Hospital Deland. I now have a titanium bar supporting my right thigh bone.

Kev Dynan broke his femur whilst in the USA

Now you’re probably not travelling to skydive, you may not even be planning to do a tandem skydive, bungy jump or go white water rafting. Even if you do these ‘hazardous activities’ you are still more likely to be involved in an accident while travelling crossing the road.

Most trips are uneventful and it hopefully it won’t happen to you, but if you are considering travelling without insurance, particularly in the USA, you should think again. Here is a breakdown of how much it would have cost me if I hadn’t been insured:

Emergency ambulance $531.71
X-rays $160.00
Physician visit $386.00
Surgeon's fees $3,891.00
Anesthestic services $780.00
Hospital stay (five days) $20,029.65
Ambulance transfer to Miami airport $843.00
Hotel stay (5 nights) $230.00
Flight home $2,009.60
Ambulance from Heathrow to home $420.00
Total $28,749.25 (£16,231.10)

I travel quite a lot and so have an annual multi trip policy. On reflection, it was the best £96 I ever spent.

Countries with reciprocal health agreements

The UK has reciprocal health agreements with many European countries and Australia and New Zealand. Travelling with an E111 European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) means you don’t need insurance for these countries, right? Wrong!

Reciprocal health agreements don’t always include ambulance / air ambulance services, emergency repatriation (if you have to be flown home), curtailment (compensation if you cut your trip short) or, gruesomely, flying your body home if you’re killed.

Top insurance tips

Just in case it does happen to you...

  • Never travel without insurance.
  • Ensure that the policy covers you for all the activities you are going to do (note that some policies, particularly the cheap ones, don’t cover hazardous activities like bungy jumping or tandem skydiving).
  • If practical, contact the insurance company before seeking treatment.
  • Make sure you take your policy documents with you (the hospital may insist on proof of insurance before treating you).
  • Make sure the policy covers emergency repatriation (up to £1.5 million is more than enough).
  • At the very least carry the name, emergency contact number and policy number with you at all times (most companies provide a credit-card-sized summary that you can keep in your wallet or purse).