How Travel Insurance Saved My Life (And Could Save Yours, Too)

In Blog, Storytelling, Travel Tips by Kay2 Comments

Exactly two years ago today I almost died. Alone. In Thailand.

That sounds really morbid but it’s true – I was traveling solo in rural Thailand after graduating college, and my appendix ruptured one day. Once I arrived at the hospital in Chiang Mai after close to five hours of transit, the doctor told me I had escaped death by just a few hours. If I’d mistaken my pain for anything less than life-threatening, I may not be here writing this for you right now.

So, today I’m here to tell you that you should not travel internationally without travel insurance. Not only was travel insurance instrumental in helping my survive this nasty bout of appendicitis, but it also provided me with a lot of resources while I recovered in Chiang Mai. Please, if you do anything before taking off on a long-term trip, set yourself up with some kind of travel insurance plan. You’ll be glad you did.

How travel insurance saved my life

At first I thought the pain was food poisoning. Then I thought it may have been caused by dehydration from going out the night before. But the more I tossed and turned in my sleep, the worse the pain got. Something wasn’t right.

It turned out that my pain was much more serious than either of those things – my appendix had ruptured, and I was a ticking time bomb. You can read the full story of how I escaped Pai, experienced the worst ambulance ride in the world, and made it to Chiang Mai in the nick of time to get that horrid appendix out of my body. The tl;dr? I cut it really freaking close.

On prior trips, I’d never gotten travel insurance. I simply didn’t think I needed it. The only reason I got it for my 4-month trip to Southeast Asia was because I planned to do things like scuba diving and canyoning, and I wanted to be covered in case of a freak accident with one of those activities. I went online, did some research, purchased a plan with WorldNomads, and kind of forgot about it.

So where does travel insurance play into my appendix nightmare? My ultimate deciding factor, especially as a budget traveler, was to go to the doctor because “I can get it reimbursed anyway.” If I hadn’t had that fallback, I probably would have waited a little longer to make sure it was serious before heading to the doctor. By then, it could have been too late. Having travel insurance gave me the peace of mind to seek help when I needed it, not just as a last resort.

Not only did my travel insurance help my feel good about my decision to go to the hospital, but it also gave me a daily budget for accommodation when I was “stuck” in Chiang Mai recovering from surgery. After consulting with the doctor, he told me I wouldn’t be allowed to fly for two weeks. TWO WEEKS?!!?!? Luckily, I’d made a few friends in Chiang Mai while in the hospital, so those two weeks weren’t spent completely alone. However, I was worried about being stuck in this city in a 12-bed, no-AC dorm somewhere suffering silently.

Because of insurance, I didn’t have to. My travel insurance gave me a sizeable budget each day to spend on a hotel while I was unable to fly, and allowed me to choose which one I wanted to stay at. After surgery, I wasn’t able to walk around easily, so I chose a hotel with a concierge lounge so I wouldn’t have to venture far for food. Also, my visa was about to expire, so I opted for one with staff who could help me sort my visa paperwork. Having the extra budget to use on a quality place to stay and recover really made the difference in my trip, and helped me get to a point where I felt comfortable traveling again after I was cleared to fly.

I’ll never leave home without travel insurance again. It’s simply not worth it. Among the most important things I learned through my near-death experience was that things can change in an instant. You never know what will happen, and you should never let money determine whether you will get emergency help. With travel insurance, that worry goes away, because medical emergencies are covered under your plan.

So, why should you get travel insurance?

Maybe you have already gotten your appendix out, or maybe you feel that you are immune to freak accidents. Whatever you think your situation is, travel insurance is always worth having. It can give you money if your things get stolen or the airline loses your bag, can provide funds to fly you home if you need to be evacuated for emergency reasons, and can help pay for a hotel if your flight gets cancelled. There are a host of reasons why you should get travel insurance, and medical coverage is only one of them.

In order to make a claim, you might will need to have documented a few things, so always keep a paper trail of your purchases. Save your receipts for travel, for medical expenses, and for items bought that you’ll need covered. Doing these few tiny tasks can help ensure the safety of you and your belongings, so it’s definitely worth it even if it seems like a pain in the ass at first.

Who do you recommend purchasing travel insurance from?

I haven’t used anyone except WorldNomads, as I really enjoyed my experience with them. There are dozens of other companies who do the same exact thing, at different price points and coverage levels. Before departing, I’d heard from friends and other bloggers that WorldNomads was a great company to work with if you have to file a claim, so I decided to give them a try. They didn’t disappoint!

To give you an idea of what working with an insurance provider is like, I can tell you about my experience with WorldNomads. First of all, they have customer service representatives that are available by phone 24 hours a day. For the first couple of days after my surgery, a representative would call me to check in and see how things were going. WorldNomads outsources their actual medical policy to a third-party provider. I worked with the provider via phone and email to submit my paperwork and get reimbursed. It was a long process, with a lot of forms and paperwork involved, but it was fairly easy. Reimbursement happened fairly quickly, within a couple of weeks. All in all I really liked WorldNomads and will continue to use them for my travels around the globe.

Is it worth the cost?

When you’re trying to cut down expenses on a trip, is it really worth it to spend $50+ per month on travel insurance? My answer to this is 100%, absolutely, no-questions-asked YES. Spending $70+ a month on travel insurance for my Southeast Asia trip paid itself off many times over. My transportation fees, medical care, surgery, five days in the hospital, and two weeks in Chiang Mai came out to a few thousand dollars, and my travel insurance policy reimbursed almost all of it.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are invincible. Anything can happen while traveling, from freaky spider bites to boating accidents to being robbed to food poisoning and much, much more. And you never know when it will happen to you until it does. I never expected my appendix to decide its untimely death, especially while I felt like a baller traveling by myself for months. It’s both humbling and sobering to know that these kinds of things can happen no matter how healthy or fit or careful you are.

So thanks, travel insurance, for helping to ensure my safety and well-being, back then and now!

Every year on this day since 2015, I count my blessings for being alive following my close call in Thailand. I won’t say that travel insurance is the sole reason that I survived my appendix incident, but it did make my life a lot easier when all was said and done. Two years later, I’ll never leave home without buying some kind of coverage again. Risking my life and safety is simply not worth it.

Do you buy travel insurance when you travel? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with others in the comments or on Facebook!


  1. HI Kay!
    I was actually looking in to getting travel insurance from World Nomads, I believe your blog post about it is a sign haha. I never leave the country without travel insurance despite having really good travel luck 🙂

    1. Author

      Hey Tiffany! So nice to see you around the site again 🙂 Definitely get it! I never leave home without it. Definitely not worth the risk!

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