In my opinion, travel insurance for solo travelers – or any travelers, for that matter – is a must and, like accommodation, meals, tips, etc., it should be considered a fundamental cost associated with any trip.
Whether it's getting sick from food in Paris or tripping on a root while hiking in Patagonia, things can go wrong. You could lose gear on your travels or have to cancel before even leaving home.
If you don't buy travel insurance, you are responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong. If you do buy, you can claim many expenses back as I have, for a variety of things.
- I had a pair of glasses replaced that were lost in the UK: $300.
- I had a crown fixed that came off a tooth in Sydney: $272.
- I was refunded for a flight to Peru that I couldn’t take due to my mother’s ill health: $1,100.
Travel insurance can cover a wide variety of situations. Not all policies cover the same things or to the same degree, so you need to study what you’re getting carefully. There are also different sellers of insurance. There's a lot to consider. Before getting into the details, here's the bottom line for you.
The Bottom Line First: Recommended Travel Insurance
It is not advisable to travel without travel insurance. Here are my recommendations:
- Total coverage:
- World Nomads is an excellent option for residents of just about any country. They have two tiers of coverage, Standard for most travelers and Explorer for more active people. Both Tracey and I have used them. I have not yet had the need of their support but Tracey did when her luggage was lost in Italy. She found them to be efficient and very helpful.
- If you're American, also check out TravelInsurance.com.
- If you're Canadian, I'd suggest World Nomads but if you are a senior or have health concerns, I recommend that you read Travel Insurance for Senior Solo Travelers.
- If you're only interested in medical insurance, I suggest that you look into Travel Medical Insurance for International Travelers from Travelinsurance.com
For a comparison of World Nomads and TravelInsurance.com, see my chart below. There are times when one is better than the other, which is why I recommend both.
If you are over the age of 69 (65 in Canada), please read Travel Insurance for Senior Solo Travelers.
Do I Need Travel Insurance? Five Reasons the Answer is Yes.
I don't believe in taking insurance every time it's offered (see When to Buy (and Not Buy) Insurance) but I do believe in having insurance to cover my travels.
Here are five reasons you need travel insurance:
- Accidents happen: It is when we are out of our normal routines that accidents tend to happen. I was told this by an emergency room doctor and this bit of information has stuck. We travel, in part, to break our routine. To find the new. Since this is when accidents are more likely to happen, I never travel without insurance.
- Luggage is lost by airlines every day. If you travel with more than a carryon, at some point over the course of your many trips, it is likely that your luggage will be lost. Your insurance can help you get your luggage back promptly, provide funds to buy items needed in the interim and replace things if your luggage doesn't ever show up.
- Expensive items can be lost: On a hike I perspiring too much and put my glasses in my jacket pocket. Then I was too warm for the jacket. At some point, while carrying it, my glasses must have fallen out. They were replaced by my travel insurance.
- Ordinary health issues can arise just as easily when you're traveling as at home. How could I have known that a crown on my tooth was ready to come off? I couldn't have. It did, when I was in Sydney Australia. The emergency dental work was covered by my travel insurance.
- Other people's lives can affect your travel plans. Everything for my trip was planned but my mother fell ill. My travel insurance refunded the expenses I had incurred for the trip.
I'm Canadian. Do residents of other countries feel the same way? Here's what travel bloggers from four other countries have to say about the importance of travel insurance for solo travelers, couples, and families.
Matt of Landlopers is American. He says: “I think that travel insurance doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves and while I never travel without it, most of the people I know almost never buy it. This has always confused me – we insure every other investment in our lives, so why not the travel experience? After all, there’s a greater chance of having a severely delayed flight than an earthquake destroying my house.”
Caz and Craig of Y Travel Blog are Australian. They say: “Travel insurance is a priority for us in preparing for a trip. It's not an exciting cost of travel, nor something anyone ever really wants to pay, but I'd rather pay it and eliminate a potential expensive disaster and huge amount of hassle. The peace of mind it gives makes it worth spending money on something that rarely eventuates.”
Sarah and Terry Lee of LiveShareTravel.com are British. They say: “Our mantra is ‘never leave home without it.' From personal experience I can vouch for this. In 2004 when my dad was taken ill while on a cruise his insurance was crucial. Without his insurance we as a family would have been bankrupted. His stay in the cruise ship hospital, an unscheduled stop at the Panama Canal, ambulance, and three-week hospital stay in Panama, plus a medical team being sent from the UK to escort him home on two flights cost over £250,000.”
Keith of The Velvet Escape lives in the Netherlands. He says: “I never travel without travel insurance. I have a blanket insurance policy which I renew every year that covers things like theft, lost baggage, costs incurred by delayed/cancelled flights, accidents, watersport accidents, medical costs, and repatriation. The policy also covers costs incurred for situations whereby I have to cut short my trip due to an emergency at home or if I have to stay longer due to illness or a mishap. In the past, I've also taken an add-on policy for winter sport trips.”
The consensus is that travel insurance can be worth every penny.
Should I Buy Travel Insurance? Is My Credit Card Insurance Enough?
Before buying insurance it's best to determine whether you're already covered by your company health plan or your credit card while you're traveling. To do the analysis, look for the gaps between what you consider to be adequate coverage and what you actually have. This means reading the small print.
Look at the financial limits of the coverage and whether you're covered in the countries you're visiting for the length of time you'll be traveling. All these factors can affect whether you have adequate insurance. Check for:
- Emergency medical coverage limits and deductibles.
- Companion coverage, which is especially important for solo travelers.
- Upfront payment for claims.
- Trip delay coverage.
- Trip length limits.
- Age restrictions.
- Baggage loss coverage.
- Baggage delay coverage.
Note for Ontario residents: As of January 1, 2020, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will no longer cover any portion of out-of-country medical expenses. Wherever you live, it is critical to determine what kind of care is covered if you are traveling out of state, out of province, or out of country.
What Travel Insurance Can Cover
While you may not want coverage for all the items listed in the previous section, it is worth understanding in more detail what they all are. Once you know this, you can decide what kind of coverage you want.
- Emergency medical and dental coverage for illness or accident. This is a priority for me. You also want to know whether the expenses will be paid by you and then reimbursed or whether the company will pay the medical bills directly. Check for deductibles.
- Companion coverage so that should you be in hospital, your insurance company will send a friend or family member to be with you, covering their costs and their insurance. This is a crucial component of travel insurance for solo travelers specifically.
- Emergency evacuation for when it's important to get home to your own medical and personal support network as soon as possible.
- Trip cancellation, interruption, or delay. This is particularly important if you have purchased a tour or cruise, in which case you should buy insurance as soon as you make a deposit on a trip. When you travel independently, you don't usually put out as much money up front, making this coverage somewhat less critical.
- Baggage and personal effects loss, theft, or damage. This is important and not usually too expensive. However, it can be a huge inconvenience that affects your enjoyment of your trip. Go with carry-on luggage only and you will reduce the potential of loss considerably. If you have checked baggage, reduce the possibility of loss with the tips in this post: Checked Baggage: Top Planning and Packing Tips.
- Cancel for any reason. This is typically an add-on to regular insurance and is not offered by all insurers. It is a very expensive option and less common in the wake of the pandemic.
Know the exact terms of the insurance you're considering so that you can make a proper comparison between companies. Download the Certificate of Insurance. This is usually available in smaller print on any page promoting a plan or at the bottom of the site under the heading, “forms.”
Should I Buy a Single Trip or Annual Plan?
When buying travel insurance you first need to consider your travel plans for the year. You need to determine whether your plans include:
- only one or two trips per year,
- a long trip of more than 30 days, or
- multiple trips during the year.
If you're only planning one or two trips a year of a couple of weeks each, you will likely be better off with a single trip plan for each trip. Once you're up to three trips or trips of longer duration, you will want to compare price and coverage with annual plans.
Best Places to Buy Travel Insurance
You can buy your travel insurance from travel agents, airlines, or tour and cruise companies but they are not legally allowed to offer advice on the best travel insurance to purchase. Basically, you're buying it off the shelf with no consideration of your particular circumstances. Since it's a complicated purchase, it's not one to just bundle in with other purchases. It requires a bit of thought.
Here are my recommended companies to buy from and the pros and cons of each. All are specialized travel insurance brokers meaning that they can advise you on your insurance coverage. All offer telephone support.
International Seller of Insurance
World Nomads serves travelers from many countries. They work with different insurers in each country and offer two comprehensive insurance packages, the Standard Plan and the Explorer Plan for more adventurous people. Since they have made the choice of the best insurer to work with in your home country, you simply decide whether their offer is right for you. There are no deductibles on World Nomads policies. It is also one of the few companies that allows you to buy travel insurance after you leave on your trip.
Travel Insurance Comparison Site for Americans
TravelInsurance.com is a comparison site and a travel insurance broker. When you use their site you complete a form with specifics about you and your trip and it shows you travel insurance options from a variety of companies. At this point you have to compare the offers and make a decision. Watch for the total dollar coverage, deductible, and terms.
See price comparisons below.
Travel Medical Insurance: Get the Right Coverage
My primary goal with a travel insurance policy is to be protected from medical emergencies. To lose $1,000 on a flight is one thing. To lose tens of thousands on medical costs is quite another.
- Coverage Limits Most travel insurance policies should cover expenses for medical attention, paramedical services, ambulance, emergency dental, and expenses to return home or bring family to your bedside. When shopping for coverage, compare the dollar limits available for similar benefits and any deductibles. For example, two policies may both offer emergency medical coverage but one may offer $5,000 in coverage while another provides $5,000,000. I don't think that anything under $250,000 is adequate. The more coverage the better.
- High-risk Activities Some companies won't insure for activities like scuba diving or mountain climbing. Some won't even cover snorkeling or zip-lining. If you are an active traveler, make sure that the things you're inclined to do are covered. World Nomads offers a Standard and an Explorer Plan. The second is only a bit more expensive but covers you for more things.
- Emergency Evacuation This will get you home if it is deemed best for you and your health.
- Emergency Medical Reunion This is a particularly important part of travel insurance for solo travelers. Emergency medical reunion is offered by many policies, however, the terms can vary greatly. Again, know the exact terms of the insurance you're considering so that you can make a proper comparison between companies.
Travel Insurance and the Coronavirus
As I write this, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. It has raised the issue of times when the travel insurance you bought, as found in the small print, is no longer valid.
- World Nomads Based on a phone support conversation, medical insurance will cover a postponed trip or your needs should you contract COVID-19 while traveling, unless you entered a country whose borders are closed to your home country. From their website: “Some but not all of our policies provide cover for some coronavirus-related events – select your Country of Residence to find out more. Cover is not available for loss arising from: government intervention including travel bans, border closures or broadly imposed quarantine requirements; events for which the Government (see your policy) has issued a ‘Do Not Travel’ warning or its equivalent, for your destination(s); or failure to follow advice from official bodies. Your ability to travel may be affected by travel restrictions. Check your cover and the latest government advice and our travel insurance alerts.“
- TravelInsurance.com: Some of the policies that appear as a result of your search will cover COVID-19 and some will not. Review each policy carefully.
Travel Insurance and Pre-existing Medical Conditions
Before purchasing travel insurance, solo travelers should consider their pre-existing medical conditions and the risks associated with treatment for those conditions while away.
Some insurance policies may offer full coverage for existing conditions while other policies may require that your health has been stable for a period of time. This is called a stability clause and it's used to limit what the insurance covers. Still others are more concerned about pre-existing conditions as it relates to trip cancellation insurance rather than medical insurance. If you have pre-existing conditions, it is important to:
- read the fine print concerning pre-existing conditions carefully before you buy. Pay special attention to the policy’s definition of “Stable” and “Treatment.” These definitions can vary and directly impact your available medical coverage.
- be completely honest about any pre-existing conditions when signing up for insurance so that your policy will not be considered void for misrepresentation.
- call the insurance company so that you're really clear on what their terms mean. For example, if you have a heart condition you may still be covered for a heart attack as this is an unpredictable event. Seriously, call. Their customer support people can be very helpful.
Trip Cancellation, Delay, or Interruption Insurance
Beyond medical insurance, I also want to be covered for unexpected trip cancellation, delay, or interruption. It's important that you purchase the insurance as soon as you make your first payment towards your tip.
- Trip cancellation for medical reasons. Should your trip cancellation be due to health issues, you will likely be covered by the medical portion of your travel insurance.
- Trip cancellation due to border closings, tour cancellation, or severe weather. This is where you want read the trip cancellation portion of your travel insurance which would come into play. Have a look at the details of your policy to see what is deemed coverable by your policy. Here's the coverage from the Standard World Nomads policy for a 40-year-old living in New York State: “Reimburses for prepaid, non-refundable cancellation charges if you must cancel your trip (after the effective date) due to covered sickness, accidental injury, or death of you, a family member or traveling companion; inclement weather, unforeseen natural disaster at home or at your destination, strike or other covered reasons.”
- Trip interruption. The terms for trip interruption are similar to those for trip cancellation.
- Trip delay. This is typically for when your trip is delayed for a day or two. Again, from the World Nomads Standard policy: “Coverage is for unused portion of pre-paid accommodation or additional expenses, on a one-time basis, if you are delayed en route to or from the trip for 6 or more hours due to a defined hazard as explained in the certificate/policy.”
I have used World Nomads here for simplicity of explanation. Look for similar coverage from any of the TravelInsurance.com insurers.
Lost Luggage, Baggage Delay and Personal Effects Travel Insurance
Your luggage and gear can easily be delayed in transit. This happens frequently. But it can also be lost completely. The question from an insurance perspective is, when is it considered lost rather than just delayed?
- Baggage delay – This coverage will typically kick in once your baggage is delayed for a specific number of hours. In the case of World Nomads, that's 12 hours. Once you've reached that point, keep receipts for reimbursement for the purchase of necessary personal effects. As mentioned above, Tracey found World Nomads very helpful when trying to track down her luggage on one of her trips.
- Baggage loss – If everything goes missing by your airline or you lose an item while on your trip (as I lost a pair of glasses), this is the insurance feature that will kick in.
If you have a lot of expensive gear such as computer, photography, or sporting equipment, it may be worth taking photos of everything before leaving so that you have proof of ownership.
I should mention that I keep quoting World Nomads above for simplicity. The terms of the different TravelInsurance.com insurers' policies can be easily seen by clicking on the value of coverage for each aspect of coverage.
Travel Insurance Price Comparison
My analysis below is for a 40-year-old traveler from New York. They are not getting involved in any high-risk activities such as skiing.
- One 2-week trip. The value of the trip is $2,000. Save a bit with World Nomads.
- World Nomads: $78 with $100,000 medical coverage, $300,000 medical evacuation, $2,500 trip cancellation and interruption, $500 trip delay.
- TravelInsurance.com.: $101 with $250,000 in medical coverage, $1,000,000 medical evacuation, $2,000 trip cancellation, $3,000 in trip interruption. There's no mention of trip delay coverage but it could still be there. They also have a $62 premium but the medical coverage is only $25,000 which I don't think is enough.
- One trip, 60 days in one year. The value of the trip is $6,000, though World Nomads does not collect this information. Save a fair sum with Travelinsurance.com
- World Nomads: $367 with $100,000 medical coverage, $750 dental coverage, $500 hospital advancement, $300,000 medical evacuation, $25,000 non-emergency medical transportation, $2,500 trip cancellation and interruption, $500 trip delay, $1,000 baggage and personal effects.
- TravelInsurance.com: $291.60 (most comparable option to World Nomads) with $100,000 medical coverage, $250,000 medical evacuation, $6,000 trip cancellation, $9,000 trip interruption, $1,500 baggage loss.
- Insurance for a full year worldwide travel It's a toss-up. I think both are good value.
As you can see, there is no straight answer when it comes to travel insurance for solo travelers. But it is extremely important. Compare prices, coverage, and terms to find the best deal and coverage for your needs. Nobody loves reading the fine print, but it's so much better to do it before purchasing than at the moment when you need it. See Sick & Solo: What’s a Traveler to Do? And, don't forget to buy insurance as soon as you put money down for your trip.