Whenever I hear of travel accidents and injuries, one of the first things I think of is “oh, that sucks. But that would never happen to me.” Despite being the world’s clumsiest person, I always thought that I was stupidly invinsible to serious injuries. Bruises and scrapes, sure but surely nothing life altering. All that changed when a glass shower door collapsed on me, cutting my hands and arms in multiple places. I stood there naked (I was in the shower) with my hands bleeding profusely, unable to move out of shock and fright. After that, everything else was one big blur.
My friend rushing in to help. Getting wheeled out of her apartment in a computer chair, unable to walk as my feet had large shards of glass inside. Blood everywhere. There I was in the ambulance on the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam as a million and one thoughts raced through my head. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so invincible. In fact, there was nothing more I wanted to do that to go home and be with my parents. Yeah, that’s right, middle-aged me who has been gallivanting around the world wanted her mommy.
Luckily, I had travel insurance. Something I sheepishly admit I only got because I needed it to apply for a European visa. As the insurance purchase was more of a side thought (i.e. the cheapest plan I could get), It didn’t fully cover everything. It did, however, pay for at least some of the bills, not completely leaving my already “Im-a-backpacker” bank account bleak and dry.
The truth is, travel accidents and injuries suck. And yes, they can happen to anyone, including you. Our personal travel insurance provider is World Nomads due to a variety of reasons. We love the fact that you can purchase a plan even if you aren’t in your home country as well as the fact that it covers over 150+ activities (something we badly need as adventure travelers and full-time nomads!)
In order to prove my point, I asked a few other travel writers and friends to share their personal travel mishaps and backpacking travel insurance stories. While some injuries and consultations only end up costing not more than $50, for some, these travel blunders end up costing a few thousands of dollars. Hopefully, this article will urge you to realize that getting a good travel insurance is a must and shouldn’t be just another travel afterthought.
Related: World Nomads Travel Insurance Review
It Could Happen to You: Stories from Real Life People
Surfs Up: A Broken Leg
Oksana St John | Drink Tea & Travel
As with most accidents, mine could not have been predicted. Max and I had just gotten married in Costa Rica and were gearing up for a 4 months honeymoon in South America, when a casual surfing session and an unlucky jump off a surf board on a beach in Costa Rita’s Guanacaste province left me with a tib/fib and weber b break on my left leg.
A group of local surfers carried me off the beach on a surf board and an hour and a half of bumpy roads and excruciating pain later, I found myself in a public hospital in a town of Nicoya. I got cast and a bleak prognosis of 3-6 months recovery, but 10 days miserable days and sleepless nights later, I opted for a surgical intervention. They inserted a titanium rod into my bone, attached a titanium plate to my ankle, securing everything with 11 titanium screws. The surgery sped up the recovery dramatically and I was back on my feet within a month and hiking in Brazil some 4 months later. Sadly, our travel insurance had just run out and all the medical bills came out of our own pockets. But the surgery and the speedy recovery was worth every penny of the $7,000 we paid to a private hospital in San Jose.
4-Month Long Concussion
Thais Saito | World Trip Diaries
I was suffering from altitude sickness in La Paz, Bolivia. One day, I woke up, went to the toilet, and passed out. Woke up again with the husband calling my name while I lay on the floor. I was dizzy, couldn’t walk properly. We called a doctor to check me out at home and he said I was fine but I didn’t improve during the next week, nor the other. I ended up going to the ER, had a CT that cleared me from brain injury. It cost around $100 in total. I felt a bit better at times, but it worsened other times too. It was the head spinning, the sensation that I was going to faint, the pressure on the head, and the lack of balance all around. I ended up going to the ER again, in Colombia, and it cost around $500. Luckily, it was really just the post concussion syndrome, and it’s almost gone now after 6 months. For 4 months, I was in bed for most of the days. We are insured by World Nomads and they covered for everything.
Broken Arm Mishap
Shoba George | Just Go Places
We were visiting the USA and my son was messing around on the monkey bars in a playground. He fell awkwardly and broke his arm. The hospital confirmed it was a clean break, put his arm in a plaster cast and sent us on our merry way to enjoy the rest of the summer. We had the cast removed when we returned to London. The American hospital sent a bill for an outrageous amount ($18,000) to the British travel insurers. The British insurers were querying how it cost that much when there was no surgery, no overnight stay etc and delayed paying out. The American hospital called us in London and tried to pressure us to pay the bill. Then we could reclaim against the British insurer. We said no way. Eventually, the claim got settled between the hospital and the insurance company. Thank goodness we had travel insurance!
It’s always better to be safe than sorry on your travels, but it is also important to get your insurance from credible travel insurance companies. Do your research and get peace of mind!
Cast vs. Surgery
Erin Rennie | Seven Wanderers
Last November, we were twelve days in to a three week holiday in Bali with our five kids. While staying in Ubud we hired a driver for the day and toured the surrounding area. Our last stop was at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces. As we walked along, making our way down the terraces, our eldest daughter Anna, who was ten, lost her footing and fell from one of the terraces (about 2m). The screams from our normally tough little girl told us immediately that something was seriously wrong. Her face was pretty scraped up and she was holding her wrist. We took her to a nearby doctor who had her transferred by ambulance to a hospital. After x-rays, they told us she needed surgery. We were in shock.
We got straight onto our travel insurance who had their own medical team look at the x-rays. They assured us surgery was not necessary and she just needed a cast. The hospital refused to plaster it, adamant that she needed surgery. Our insurance sent us to another hospital who once again insisted on operating. After nearly two days of this and our poor little girl in loads of pain, our insurance flew us back to Australia. We went straight to hospital from the airport where her wrist was plastered. Six weeks later the cast came off and she was completely healed. No surgery needed!
Kay Rodriguez | Jetfarer
While traveling solo in a rural village in Thailand, I woke up one morning with a stabbing pain in my abdomen. The pain was so horrific I could hardly walk or move. I was terrified. After finding my guesthouse manager, she brought me to the local clinic by motorcycle. There really wasn’t anything they could do for me there, so they sent me to Chiang Mai by “ambulance” on winding, gravel roads. Two hospitals, a motorcycle ride, and a 4-hour ambulance ride later, I finally got a diagnosis – appendicitis. The doctors immediately rushed me into emergency surgery and I spent five days in a hospital room afterward.
The total cost of this little misadventure? Roughly $4,000, which included all of my ambulance transportation, surgery, 5 days in the hospital, and 2 weeks of recovery in a hotel. Luckily, I purchased travel insurance before departing on this trip, and they covered all of my costs. Having surgery in Thailand was much cheaper than in the United States, but if I hadn’t purchased travel insurance, I’m not sure I would have spoken up in time to get the help I needed.
Impaled by a Branch While Hiking
Claudia Tavani | My Adventures Across the World
I was on a 7-day hike, going from Dana to Petra and hitting some of the most incredible places to visit in Jordan. It was a challenging hike, if anything because there was no path to follow, and I was on my own with a guide who spoke practically no English. On the third day of our hike, he decided to follow an alternative path to the one we were meant to be on due to the weather.
In fact, the alternative path meant no path at all. I followed the guide silently, even when he went through some bushes. That’s when a very thick, sharp branch hit my leg – so badly that I got a deep wound. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no phone reception, so I decided that instead of walking the 3 hours back to where we came from, I should push through and see if I could get help later. It took us forever to reach the camp, because the trail was challenging and my leg hurt badly.
When we finally made it there, I managed to explain that I needed to make a phone call to someone who spoke English, and demanded to see a doctor. He refused to stitch my wound but gave me a shot for tetanus and prescribed antibiotics. He didn’t seem on top of it, so as soon as I crossed back into Israel a few days later, I called my insurance who sorted a doctor’s appointment in Jerusalem. Funny enough, the first question he asked was why I did not get stitches. He then medicated my wound and prescribed a different antibiotic. The wound healed well in the end, but I still have a scar. Between the various medications and medicines, I spent roughly $40 USD.
Our Car Got Totalled…While We Were Parked
Julia Raczko | Julia and Sam
After an awesome road trip on California’s Central Coast, we finally got to LA – relaxed and rejuvenated. We gave back our Minnie Winnie camper van (which we relocated from San Fransisco) and got a hire car to move around the city. It was a last minute decision, the car was ridiculously expensive as we paid around $150 for a little Ford Fiesta, for 24hrs! But, “Whatever”, we thought, “We are on holiday”. So we spent that sunny afternoon exploring Hollywood and Beverly Hills, enjoying our last day in the US. Just after
Just after sunset, we went to a… viewpoint to catch a night panorama of the City of Angels but when we arrived, we found out that the park was closed. We pulled off on the side of the road to check where to go next and then… At first, I thought it is was an earthquake – suddenly the car started to move forward towards the edge of the cliff. It was just a few seconds but felt like minutes. We just looked at each other and got out quickly. A drunk woman just drove into us, without braking! We were in shock, both cars were totaled. After 10 minutes my ankle started to swell. Almost a year later I still have problems with it and am awaiting surgery. Luckily we had full insurance coverage with our hire car but what we found out is that my particular travel insurance doesn’t cover anything once you are home which is unfortunate.
Moldy Lung Infection
Hannah Logan | Eat Sleep Breathe Travel
In 2015 I spent three nights in a crappy hostel in Mostar, Bosnia. The wall of my dorm was covered in a big, black mold patch and although it was gross, I didn’t think much of it because I was only there at night to sleep. Big mistake. After a week of having a horrible cough and feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest, I went to the doctor who in turn sent me to the hospital. A few chest x-rays later they determined I had a lung infection and had to take nine antibiotics a day to clear it. I had travel health insurance, but the timing took place between when one plan expired and the other started up. The new insurance refused to cover my costs because I got sick before my plan started. In the end, I had to pay for the visit to the doctor and my medication (about 75 euros altogether) but I never got the bill for the x-rays. Something I’m still grateful for.
Head On Bus Collision
Jarryd and Alesha | Nomadasaurus
Back in 2014 we crossed the border into Myanmar and jumped on a bus heading towards Yangon. After surviving crossing the pass on one of the most dangerous roads in Southeast Asia, we swapped to another bus in Hpa-An and bounced on to the city.
Unfortunately, about an hour into our trip, another bus came around the corner, on the wrong side of the road, and crashed directly into the front of our bus. Once the violent shaking and noise and subdued, Alesha and I checked each other for injuries, as well as the people around us. We quickly jumped out of the window and started helping people out of the wreckage. Once we got our driver out we applied first aid to patch up his injuries. The police showed up shortly after, as well as a truck to drag the smashed buses off the road. With night falling, and us not wanting to stick around the middle-of-nowhere, we flagged down another random bus and made it to Yangon about 6 hours later than we were meant to. On the bright side, now we know how to survive a bus crash.
Travel Insurance: Don’t Leave Home Without It!
Editor’s Note: For Peace of mind…always make sure you have insurance. Get a free quote from World Nomads.
Broken Front Tooth
Trisha Velarmino | P.S I’m On My Way
On to my 3rd and final month in Colombia, I was challenged to cross a slack line by one of my Australian travel mates. Though I would usually say yes to everything (2013 was my year of the yes) and slack lines look super easy so I gave it a go. Damn, it wasn’t easy at all. I consider myself to have great balance but it was very challenging. I fell a lot of times but the last fall was the worst – I smacked my face on the slackline which didn’t hurt but when I got up, my front tooth was missing. It cracked. It would’ve been fine if nobody’s seen it but everyone started looking at the ground to search for my absent tooth. It was really awkward! I was working in a hostel then so everyone knew what happened.
Again, it would’ve been fine if I wasn’t stationed at the reception. Imagine, for 3 days, I had to welcome and talk to guests (a lot) without my tooth. I had to wait that long because I already had a flight to Barranquilla with my Colombian host family. They knew a good dentist in their city so they advised me to wait instead. $550 USD is the cost of a flawless porcelain tooth. I didn’t have travel insurance like many young and broke backpackers so it caught me by surprise. From then on, I vowed to myself to always buy insurance even if I always believe nothing can ever break me on the road.
Cow Bite Gone Bad
Megsy Collins | Food Fun Travel
People always laugh when I tell this story – and it is a funny story, but at the time it was a massive pain and expense. It’s the time I was bitten by a cow, yes a cow! We were in the hill tribes of Myanmar on a motorbike trek when we stopped into a Nepalese village for a bit. They had a little calf and out tour guide told us it’s hilarious to put your hand in it’s mouth because he’ll suckle on your hand and it tickles….and it does tickle until he accidentally bites!
Being in the middle of nowhere the best I could do was squeeze a ton of hand sanitiser into the bite and hope for the best. It sadly still got infected and this led to needing a tetanus shot and a bunch of rabies shots. As we were not going home anytime soon this led to trying to get the shots in Thailand, Hong Kong and China. Hong Kong was the most expensive as they don’t have issues with rabies there. And in China we had to get our Mongolian friend to badly translate in Chinese what we needed along with a bunch of charades movements trying to reenact the story.
What made it all worse was that our travel insurance refused to pay out unless we had a GP in Australia inspect the wound and translate all of the documents from purchasing the rabies shots into English. Needless to say, we never went with that insurer again!
Horseback Riding with a Cast
Margherita Ragg | Crowded Planet
I’ve been very lucky, in over 10 years of travel I never suffered anything more serious than traveller’s tummy or a grazed knee. Until my recent trip to Kyrgyzstan. I was at the end of a three-day hike with my husband and another couple, when I tripped and fell into a stream while hopping on rocks to get across. My first concern was for my camera and phone – then I realised I couldn’t stand on my left foot. My ankle had swelled to three time its original size, but we were still four hours away from the nearest village, with no phone reception and no way to get anywhere besides walking. We managed to get a horse to carried me to the nearest village where I got a lift to a hospital where I had my foot x-rayed. Luckily, there were no breaks, but the doc recommended a cast ‘just in case’, as well as 10 days bed rest. I still had 10 days to go in Kyrgyzstan, but did you think I stayed in bed? No way! I switched hiking with horse-riding, and enjoyed the rest of the trip- cast and all!
Chris Backe | One Weird Globe
Khon Kaen, Thailand: a random weeknight. I’m biking home after a quiz night and a few beers (let the record show a few beers isn’t even enough to get me buzzed). I’m rounding a corner on road I’ve biked lots of times… the next thing I know I’m over the handlebars and land on my back onto a grassy spot under a street light.
Stunned, I sit up and do that classic check. Legs OK, the bike looks OK (the basket was a little bent), left arm OK, right arm… erg. My forearm was floppy. The shock hadn’t worn off and the pain hadn’t set in, even as I was slowly coming to realize both bones in my forearm had been broken… As fate had it, I was literally across the street from the hospital, so off I went to their emergency room…
A couple days of hospital food, a surgery, and a couple of steel bars later, I had a scar that I’ll have the rest of my life. I did not have travel insurance at that time and don’t remember how much it ended up being out-of-pocket. This was Thailand, however, so I’m pretty sure it ended up being less than $1,000.
Wear Reef Shoes!
Alana Tagliabue | Family Bites Travel
I recently stood on coral on a ‘sandbar’ in the Maldives. It quickly turned into a gnarly infection! We’d moved to a tiny village in Sri Lanka by the time it was clear I needed medical intervention. The “private” hospital nurses spoke no English, nor I any Sinhala. I showed her my foot. Sans gloves, she got her trusty unsterile scissors and tried to remove the HEALING tissue. I had to screamed “NO”!!!! This prompted another nurse to jump on me to hold me down. Luckily, I had a local intervene to stop their unrestrained desire to debride my toe!
After more charades, the nurse clearly unhappy without her scissors proceeded to use force to ‘clean’ my wound I burst into tears. I removed her hands off me and waited for the doctor. He spoke a little English but I got into an argument when he wanted to prescribe me 2 of the strongest oral antibiotics available, an antifungal and an anti-parasitic! I did have travel insurance. In the end though, the nurses fee, doctor’s consultation and the drugs, cost a grand total of $10US! I ended up only using a topical antibiotic and it did take about 6 weeks to fully heal! My tip – reef shoes!
“Almost” Air Evacuation
Jeanette Cheney | Traveling Honeybird
After a few wines and seeing a really cheap Jetstar deal to fly to Myanmar, I couldn’t help but book tickets. Clearly, the universe wanted me to go to Myanmar, celebrate Thingyan and have a truly unique experience. What the universe forgot to tell me was how the majority of the country, including hospitals for foreigners and government offices, close for most of April. After a full day of partying in Manadaly, dancing on a stage and generally having a great time being soaked in water from a moat I got ill. Not your usual travellers tummy ill but horrific, throwing up, unable to digest any food kind of ill. One of my reasons for going to Myanmar was to go hiking. Instead of hiking my way to happiness in the mountains behind Hsi Paw with my travel buddies, I found myself all alone and locked in a shoebox room in a hostel wondering if how I was going to get medical attention.
With barely anyone in town, I stumbled down to the only Dr who spoke English and could diagnose my illness. As a trip to the chemist, the night before with drugs given had provided no relief and I was still unable to keep any food or fluids in my body. The Dr was quick to diagnose a stomach infection and hand over the good drugs. For the rich price of $8USD. As I slid off the bed to leave the practice he casually mentioned that if there was no improvement in my condition within 12 hours that we would need to consider an air evacuation to Singapore to the nearest hospital that could treat a foreigner. As I stumbled back to my shoebox I made the calls to my insurance company to advise and then the call home. All before pumping myself full of drugs, water and sleeping it off. Thankfully the new super power drugs that the Dr prescribed gave me the relief needed to eventually get home safely. It’s taken over 12 months, two more rounds of antibiotics and some gentle TLC for my stomach to calm down and return to some level of normal.
Full Moon Party Fail
Janet Newham | Journalist on the Run
When I was travelling in Thailand last year, I had my first big travel disaster in a hostel on Koh Tao island. I got up in the middle of the night to turn on the fan and ended up fainting from the heat. I fell backward and cracked the back of my head on the bunk bed, which made me pass out and fall forward onto the ground knocking my front tooth out. I woke up with my hair all matted in blood, a massive bump on my forehead and having no clue what happened or how long i had passed out. Someone drove me the clinic on a scooter and I ended up getting 6 stitches in the back of my head and then had to get my tooth sorted at the dentist on a nearby island. Worst part of all? Due to some string antibiotics and painkillers, I had to do the Full Moon Party stone cold sober!
Mugged in Vancouver
Gemma Armit | Two Scotts Abroad
During our 17-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe we (Gemma and Craig) visited 16 countries including less economically developed countries such as Bolivia and Nicaragua so it may come as a surprise to hear that Craig was mugged in Vancouver! Canadians are renowned for their friendliness yet someone felt it was appropriate to punch Craig to the ground causing blood to pour from both nostrils. The perpetrator left him unconscious while stealing his prehistoric mobile phone but they were kind enough to leave his driving license. Unfortunately, Craig struggled to get a taxi as apparently, a man covered in blood does not look like a victim at 1 am in the morning. Craig managed to get cleaned up at a petrol station which allowed him to hail a cab and head home to wake up to his unexpecting wife-to-be (me) with crusted blood up both nostrils and bruising to the head. Craig vomited for the whole of the next day, however, like most stubborn men refused to see a doctor.
Bug Bites and OBGYNs
Nathan Aguilera | Foodie Flashpacker
“What was it that bit me?”, I asked. “Insects”, he replied. “What kind?”, I wondered. “Big ones” he said. There I sat in the doctor’s office in Fez, Morocco with HUGE red welts all over my face. I had woken up like this, taken one look in the mirror, and ran to the doctor. I vaguely remembered there being mosquitoes the night before but nothing that should have caused this kind of damage to my face. For some reason, the doctor x-rayed me for bug bites, then wrote me several prescriptions and sent me on my way. Since I don’t speak French, the language the prescriptions were in, I sent a photo to my friend that speaks the language for him to help clarify the instructions.
He immediately calls me laughing uncontrollably- “Why were you at a vagina doctor for bug bites”, he asked. Apparently, to make matters worse, my guesthouse had directed me to an OBGYN.
Jennifer Melroy | Made all the Difference
I was hiking in American Samoa. On my final hike, I noticed that my left foot was hurting. I got to Fagatele Bay and didn’t check my foot before I went snorkeling. As I hiked back to the main road, the pain continued. Once at my hotel, I didn’t feel the pain again until the following day in Hawaii. I check on my foot and there was a spot on my left toe. It was a weird looking blister/bug bite but I figured it would heal. Little did I know this little blister/bug bite would, later on, cost me around $400.
I got back to Virginia and did my best to keep my foot clean and dry and avoided wearing my work boots. A couple of days later, there was a work emergency and I flew up to Boston. My foot went into my work boot for the first time since American Samoa. The pain was so bad that I spent the day wanting to cry because my foot hurt so bad. After work, I found a red streak running up my foot. Off to the hospital, I went where my foot was examined and was positive for a staph infection.
Blinded in Ukraine
Iris Veldwijk | Mind of a Hitchhiker
On my way hitchhiking across the border from Slovakia to Ukraine, my eye caught a piece of dirt around a construction site. What was mild discomfort, in the beginning, became a fully-inflamed horror story in less than 24 hours. My Slovak drivers were kind enough to drop me at the train station in Uzhgorod, where there was a doctor present. Asking for a “doktor” was easy enough, but explaining to her what happened to my eye wasn’t. I traveled through the night in semi-silent agony until Lviv, where I went to a big hospital. Upon noticing that I was in a lot of pain and unable to explain what was wrong, a receptionist helped me find the correct department. She made me skip the entire waiting line and left me with an English-speaking doctor. He probed around my face with some ancient-looking equipment and squeezed some liquids onto my eyeball. Gasp. Instant pain relief! Within 10 minutes I was out with a prescription for two treatments for my scratched and fungus-infested cornea. It cost $14 my insurance would refund (if I’d bothered). It’s a shame I experienced my first hours in Ukraine without much visual input; I’ve heard Uzhgorod is beautiful!
There you have it folks, random accidents, weird incidents, and most of all, unexpected travel stories that prove that travel insurance is something you should definitely consider before even planning any sort of trip. We personally recommend Word Nomads but there are also other brands out there that are worth considering. Check out this Allianz Travel Insurance Review.