I can’t claim that insurance was the first item on my Christmas List, but maybe it should have been.
After the FCO released a string of festive GIFs about Father Christmas and his relaxed travel habits this December (check out the links below), I started thinking about how easy it is to get too relaxed whilst abroad. Incidentally, when I was midway through writing this article I had to fork out for a second flight home from Germany because I had carelessly booked for the wrong date, proving how easy it is to get lulled into a false sense of security if you travel frequently. The Santa in the GIFs (which populated my Twitter feed) had clearly become too accustomed to the jet setter lifestyle, and was neglecting to bother with the essentials that travellers should be thinking about, like purchasing travel insurance. This landed him in some sticky situations, and I couldn’t help but sympathise as he was wheeled off a ski slope being chastised for neglecting to take out cover by a caption that read: ‘get travel insurance before you #checkin to avoid a gift you weren’t expecting’. The overriding message of the animations was that even Santa needs to be travel aware; because no one is exempt from expensive hassles like medical bills or things going wrong in a foreign country.
Although skiing is not something I’ve ticked off my list, I’ve had plenty of other close shaves when it comes to insurance. This ranges from a last minute scramble to find cover after deciding on a spontaneous paragliding trip to spending a weekend at the foot of an active volcano which rendered my insurance invalid. However, the closest encounter of all, which had the highest likelihood of bankrupting my parents, occurred when I was simply strolling down a mountain path. My friends and I did a five day hike to the ancient city of Machu Picchu; but one of us didn’t make it past the second day. As we trekked down the slope, all in high spirits after reaching the highest point on the route, we heard a sudden shout behind us. This was followed by the clattering of hooves and the appearance of a galloping horse that had lost its rider. The terrified animal proceeded to crash into the back of my friend who was walking next to me, sending her flying to the ground before it careered on down the mountain. As the dust settled, we picked her up and it was immediately apparent that her collarbone was badly broken. It’s probably needless to say that getting an injured person off a mountain in Peru is no easy task, but just to emphasise the point I feel I should specify that she reached a hospital 16 hours later after being carried to a road on an elaborate stretcher made of sticks and rain coats, visiting two poorly equipped clinics, and taking 3 long buses. Following this ordeal she needed an operation to insert metal plating, a recovery period in hospital, and then a flight home to England with a doctor by her side.
This cost thousands of pounds; which was thankfully covered by her insurance. However, when I took a look at my own insurance policy a week later, I realised that if I had been on the other side of her and taken the weight of the horse it would have been me and my parents footing the bill. I was not insured to hike above 4000m and we were well above 5000, details that I hadn’t even thought to check.
The lesson: just because you have insurance doesn’t mean that you’re covered for everything, even for seemingly harmless activities like going for a hike. So, don’t chuck your policy in the darkest pocket of your rucksack; keep referring back to it every now and then to remind yourself what’s on the list and to see whether it corresponds with what you’re doing. And if you don’t have any insurance at all then you really need to evaluate the items on your Christmas list for next year; because accidents easily happen and are often easily corrected (but always at a large cost). Why foot the bill when an insurance company could? Especially if Santa is paying them.
For more information on getting the right travel insurance, hit www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-insurance