Travel insurance at affordable premiums

A guide to travel insurance

In this guide, you will find a good overview of the principles of travel insurance together with some tips about different types of holiday.

  1. Travel Insurance
  2. Backpacker's Insurance
  3. Cruise Insurance
  4. Winter sports insurance

Travel Insurance

What is it?

Travel insurance is a form of policy offered by specialists such as Bengo Travel*. It typically offers cover for things such as:

  • lost luggage;
  • illness while abroad;
  • medical repatriation;
  • theft of loss of documents;
  • the theft of possessions;
  • travel delays;
  • missed flights;
  • and so on.

Note that the elements of cover mentioned above may not all be included in a standard travel insurance policy - policy features, terms and benefits vary depending on your travel insurance provider - so always make sure you know exactly what the cover entails.

If you think it couldn't ever happen to you, remember that if you are in trouble overseas in terms of expenses you can't pay, emergency financial assistance from British embassies and consulates** may be very limited or in some cases simply unavailable.

Why do you need travel insurance?

Life isn't risk free.

That's why insurance exists, covering things such as your motor vehicle, your life and your property.

When you travel, the risk patterns and profiles typically associated with your day-to-day life change.

To take one obvious example, if you live in the United Kingdom you have automatic entitlement to medical treatment on the NHS for certain categories of illness. Once you leave the United Kingdom, depending upon your destination, that entitlement might cease and you would need to pay for any medical treatment you receive in an emergency - unless you had a travel insurance policy to help.

Remember that sometimes the cost of medical treatment can be phenomenally high and easily reach hundreds of thousands or even millions for major care in high-cost countries such as the USA.

Other examples of the need for insurance are perhaps equally clear.

To take one more illustration, if you miss a flight for reasons beyond your control you may find yourself incurring significant additional expenses for accommodation etc. Travel insurance may be able to help you cover some or all of those costs.

It might also be advisable to be cautious about making assumptions relating to what sort of insurance cover might come automatically in certain situations. The best illustration of that might be the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Yes, that is available entirely free of charge from the NHS and entitles you to the same level of emergency medical treatment in a European Union country as citizens of the country will themselves receive. Bear in mind though that:

  • that is not necessarily the same thing as saying free treatment;
  • some medical services and care provision that are free of charge in the United Kingdom are payable services in other European Union countries;
  • so, if you were receiving the same treatment as local citizens, you would have to pay for those care services - and the cost may be very high.

Annual multi-trip or single trip insurance?

The specialist providers of travel policies will typically offer cover on the basis of either:

  • a single trip of a specified maximum duration or;
  • cover for an entire 12 month period, perhaps with a specified maximum duration for the number of days that can be spent out of the country on each trip.

Both forms of cover may be able to provide broadly similar protection but the cost-effectiveness may vary depending upon your travel plans for the year ahead.

If you are planning to make a number of trips outside of the UK in the next 12 months or even if you simply wish to keep your options open in that respect, annual multi-trip insurance might prove to be more cost-attractive.

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Backpacker's Insurance

Some people like to travel light and on a relatively flexible itinerary basis, and this is where backpacker's insurance comes in.

What is it?

There are certain things about a backpacker type experience that make it significantly different to the typical holiday.

As a general rule, backpackers might:

  • be inclined to travel long distances through multiple different countries;
  • vary their itineraries and the country's visited at short notice;
  • carry all their possessions, including money, credit cards and gadgets, with them for extended periods of time when in transit;
  • use local and sometimes irregular means of transport to get around;
  • stay out of the United Kingdom for relatively lengthy periods of time;
  • be extremely budget-conscious and generally looking for some of the most cost-efficient deals around;
  • perhaps engage in short-term work abroad where regulations so allow; etc.

As you might imagine, some of these variations in travel patterns have an associated impact on the risk profiles and indeed the sort of cover that is suitable for a typical backpacker.

That is why some specialist providers, like ourselves at Bengo Travel, produce a special policy for backpackers. Such cover is designed to offer a range of options for protection including:

  • last minute - offering the very basic levels of medical protection for those needing to move quickly;
  • essential - ideal for those who are planning to travel light and for whom budget is of paramount importance;
  • optimum - delivering a much higher level of overall cover which might more closely resemble full travel insurance.

Top tips for backpackers

The things you may wish to think about before setting off might vary considerably depending upon your planned destinations.

However, here are a few general points that might apply irrespective of where you are going:

  • vaccinations - make sure you have them well before you set off and include all those required for your destination***;
  • companions - backpacking alone can be dangerous almost anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, whatever should be the case in an ideal world the reality is that this might be particularly true for unaccompanied females. Where possible, travel with a group of other backpackers that you either know or get the chance to get to know before you depart;
  • destinations - it is also regrettably the case that some countries or regions are simply not safe for casual and unaccompanied travel. Make sure you take official advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on any planned destinations****;
  • main travel routes - try to avoid extremely remote and rural areas when travelling around and where possible, stick to well-populated travel routes. Stay in hotels and hostels that are popular with backpackers and recommended by reputable sources;
  • travel documents - keep copies in a safe place in case your originals are lost or stolen;
  • expensive items - don't carry jewellery or gadgets on you that will be eye-catching for thieves. For example, you may wish to consider leaving your expensive smart phones or tablets at home and taking a cheaper basic portable phone with you to keep in contact with those back home;
  • keep people (preferably both your family back home as well as local people) informed of your plans and itinerary - that includes telling them where you are staying, where you are planning to travel to and when. Do this very regularly;
  • keep your wits about you. Some criminals, in all parts of the world, specifically target tourists and especially backpackers. False-friend approaches are much favoured by some of them, so be cautious about overly-zealous strangers looking to make friends;
  • eat and drink sensibly to try and avoid illness. Be cautious with exotic food you haven't seen being recently cooked or water / juices from sources you're unsure of. Also, avoid taking drink and food from strangers or near strangers;
  • familiarise yourself with the local customs in advance - this may avoid causing unintentional offence and associated issues arising. For example, in some countries men walking about without shirts or women wearing shorts / short skirts may cause local ill-feeling - particularly if you're in the general vicinity of a religious shrine, mosque, church, synagogue or some public places such as markets.

Of course, you should be travelling to enjoy yourself and not constantly worrying but a few common sense precautions and some advance research may help avoid some of the more commonly-encountered backpacker problems.

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Cruise insurance

For many people, the idea of a cruise is the ultimate in luxury indulgence.

However, it does bring with it the need to think carefully about your travel insurance provisions and to consider specialised cruise insurance.

What is it?

There are a number of things that might make the cruise trip significantly different to other forms of conventional holiday:

  • depending upon the cruise you have selected, you may be out of the country for longer than is the case on some other types of holiday;
  • you might typically be visiting a large number of different countries during your voyage;
  • in the hopefully very unlikely event that you will need serious medical attention, you may need to be evacuated by helicopter to hospital in the nearest country.

Broadly speaking, many elements of cover provided by cruise insurance will be familiar to someone who has previously used standard travel insurance. However, some enhanced, components will be provided in order to cope with some of the above differences - notably medical evacuation where required.

Top tips for a relaxing cruise

Here are a few top tips for maximising your enjoyment of the cruise holiday:

  • although your cruise ship will typically be fully equipped with a doctor's surgery and medical clinic, even so, it might make sense to take a supply of basic medication with you such as painkillers and anti-seasickness pills;
  • eat and drink in moderation for the first day or two of your time aboard. Give your system time to adapt to the on board cuisine and changes in temperature (whether you are cruising somewhere warm or somewhere cold);
  • in a similar vein, for the first few days eat within your comfort zone in terms of different cuisines and delicacies. Make sure you have your sea legs and are fully acclimatised before trying exotic food stuffs that you might not have seen and eaten previously;
  • follow all advice you are given for port excursions. Seeing many different and exotic places can be a marvellous experience but be aware that some locations may be tourist traps that exist only to service cruise ship passengers. Your on-board representatives will typically give you advice on how to avoid those and it would be prudent to listen;
  • if you suffer from a recurring and non-trivial medical condition, it might only be common sense to check with your doctor whether it is advisable for you to go on a cruise. It might also be a good idea to check with your provider of cruise insurance as to whether or not the condition would be covered under pre-existing conditions clauses. An experienced travel insurance expert, such as ourselves at Bengo Travel, should be able to clarify any issues in that respect for you;
  • if your travel plans include a connecting flight, train or car journey that's being made independently of your cruise arrangements, make sure you travel in plenty of time to catch the ship's departure. Last minute crisis races to get to the port because of traffic jams or flight delays for example won't get your holiday off to the best possible start. In some cases, consider staying in a hotel locally at the port of departure, the night prior to sailing;
  • take appropriate clothing. Even at the height of a summer season, temperatures at sea might vary from being extremely hot to occasionally cool if a stiff breeze blows up or a squall. Conversely, cruises to say the fjords in winter will require very warm clothing when out and about on deck but temperatures inside the ship are likely to be very warm - meaning you'll need a wide variation in clothing;
  • keep active aboard. Most ships will usually have excellent facilities for exercising, ranging from bracing strolls around the deck to gymnasia and swimming pools etc. Sitting around all day on a full stomach though and in hot sun, might not be a good idea in terms of things like your digestion and so on!
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Winter sports insurance

The fact is that one of the biggest growths in recreational activity holidays over recent decades has been that of winter sports.

Holidays are now available not only in the traditional European resorts but also in destinations further afield such as North America.

There may be very good reasons why you should consider a specialist sports insurance policy in addition to all the traditional cover justifications that you might take into account with conventional travel insurance.

What is it?

As the name suggests, this is a type of policy specifically designed for those who are travelling to participate in winter sports.

Sometimes that is occasionally considered to be only skiing but in reality there are today a wide range of snow-based activities that might generically be called winter sports.

Your cover needs vary from those of a traditional holidaymaker in a number of important areas:

  • inevitably, you may be at far higher risk of injury and the need for emergency medical treatment or emergency medical repatriation, than might be the case for conventional holiday makers;
  • you may be travelling with specialised ski equipment and clothing that you own and if it is lost, stolen or badly damaged, you may incur significant cost to replace it or rent alternatives;
  • in some cases, you may have invested a lot of money in your holiday but upon arrival, find that there is insufficient snow for you to be able to participate. Unfortunately, these things do happen from time to time even in resorts with a normally good snow record*****. In such situations, you may be forced to either abandon your holiday or to travel to another resort where there is more availability of snow.

For all these reasons and others like them, specialised winter sports cover might be highly advisable if you are planning to take such a holiday in the future.

Top tips for winter sports holidays

Many of these things will be second nature to you if you are an experienced winter sports enthusiast but if not, some of the following tips might come in handy:

  • don't just turn up for your ski resort transfer from the airport with unusual and outsized equipment. Unless you have booked appropriate transport in advance, the driver may be unable to accommodate your kit due to space restrictions and that is going to mean significant extra expense and delays for you;
  • check your winter sports policy carefully for its position with respect to certain sports and activities. Some policies might prohibit off-piste skiing, engagement in competitive activities or participation in sports which are regarded as highly dangerous, perhaps including things such as ice hockey;
  • look closely at your final accommodation location. Some accommodation might be outside of the centre of the resort and in a location that is typically difficult or even impossible to access by vehicle. Unless you have made special arrangements with the owners, you may find yourself needing to lug heavy and cumbersome equipment over a fair distance to get from the airport transfers drop-off point to your accommodation - something that is not always easy to do in deep snow;
  • those that are relatively new to winter sports should be cautious about investing large sums of money in equipment until you know that it's going to be something for you going forward in future. It's typically possible to hire just about all forms of kit in a resort of any size;
  • think about your own personal preferences and the type of accommodation you select. Most economy-type accommodation might involve a high degree of sharing and group activities around things such as meals and even sleeping accommodation. There may be nothing wrong with that if you are a naturally open and sharing person but it might not suit if you prefer a greater degree of personal or family privacy;
  • carefully review your chosen resort, before finally booking, for après-ski activities. Even the most fervent ski enthusiasts typically enjoy doing other things as a break from the snow and some resorts might be rather better equipped in that respect than others. Although most might typically have an excellent selection of restaurants, bars and discos, not all necessarily will be able to offer extensive swimming, spas, theatres and cinemas etc.;
  • look closely also at the transfer times from your arrival point in the country (or adjoining country) concerned (stations or airport) to your resort. Some holidays might select an airport for the class of economy flights it offers rather than necessarily its proximity and therefore convenience to the resort you have chosen. That might not be an issue for you but some people don't always enjoy the prospect of a three, four or five hour transfer from the airport to their hotel;
  • take a rest when you are engaging in strenuous sports. Even the fittest individuals can become weary and when that is the case it can lead to errors in judgment and associated injuries. In particular, if you are not fit and have no previous experience of engaging in strenuous physical exercise (or have not done so for some years) it might be sensible to both take medical advice before departure and to take it easy in your first few days on the slopes.
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