rsz james backpacking 1

“You can't really go crazy without it,” says James Boyle, 24, world traveller and clearly a fan of travel insurance. For good reason.

"It was a real lifesaver for me. I would not go travelling for a long time without it."

Over six months, James tramped 3,250 of the 3,500-kilometre Appalachian Trail, which passes through 14 US states.

Then he rolled his ankle. Thinking it broken, he had it x-rayed and saw a doctor for a couple of minutes tops. Yet to simply find out it was a bad sprain suddenly spawned a medical bill of US$4,000.

So it was good news, bad news. The good news: his ankle wasn’t so bad and although he couldn’t finish the trail, he could keep travelling. The bad news: he’d have to cut his trip short if he needed to pay that hospital bill.

And that is precisely when travel insurance proved its worth. He continued on to Central America, and even though he would get a grain of sand in his eye and break a surfboard there, he was covered for those costs too.

All up, insurance paid out more than $7,000 for events during James’s travels.

The art of not getting stuck with the bill

Most insurance is there to protect our money and avoid us getting left holding the bag when something unexpected happens. You don’t want to be hit by a bill you didn’t plan for.

When you’re travelling, there are so many “unpredictables”. All you need is one volcano somewhere to start spewing ash to radically change your flight plans. That, of course, is part of the adventure.

Some risks are worth carrying yourself, and some are better given to a company to pool that risk with many others and take care of it. Yet according to the Insurance Council of New Zealand, one in five don’t take out travel insurance.

And almost half think insurance only starts once they start travelling. But the coverage typically kicks in just after you buy it, so if something changes in the weeks or months before your trip, it’s there to help.

Here’s what travel insurance can do for you

Travel insurance can cover you for:

  • Medical costs overseas – in extreme cases, these can add up to hundreds of thousands
  • Costs from flight disruptions, when tickets or accommodation need replacing
  • Costs for returning home in an emergency
  • Loss or theft of luggage, credit cards or passports
  • Costs from injuring someone else or damaging someone’s property

Here’s more information on travel insurance from the Insurance Council.

But shop around, do your research

James had broken his ankle five years earlier, so he knew he needed to make sure he was covered by insurance before he left for his big tramp. “I was almost certain I would injure my ankle along the way.”

When it looked like an insurance company he had previously used would cover his ankle issues, he wanted to make sure. "I called them up to double-check. After they confirmed they would cover me, I was stoked and just went with them."

Not all insurance is the same, so it has to work for you. If you’re into crazy stuff like wingsuit flying, you may need a specialist insurer.

James recommends reading policies carefully to see what they include and not just “cheaping out” on the most economical option.

He’s keen to go back to the States someday and knock off the last 250km of the Appalachian Trail. "I'll go back and finish it off,” he says. “It's eating away at me.”

Once again, he’ll take travel insurance with him.

rsz james on the trail 2


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