Why you shouldn’t travel without travel insurance will be abundantly clear (I hope!) after I tell you this tale of two silly girls in Thailand. Have some tissues handy…

Let me tell you a little story about a horrible scene we recently witnessed in Thailand that will hopefully convince you as to why you shouldn’t travel without travel insurance.

I’ve noticed some really bad advice on the web recently about travel insurance — mostly on Twitter and usually dished out in unhelpful proclamations like “Don’t buy travel insurance — I’ve been to 100 countries and I’ve never needed it”. Well, aren’t you the lucky one?

It wouldn’t concern me if it wasn’t coming from influential bloggers who should know better, travel bloggers who travellers listen to. Well, let me tell you a little story about a scene we recently witnessed that will hopefully convince you why you shouldn’t travel without travel insurance.

Why You Shouldn’t Travel Without Travel Insurance

I can’t understand anybody who doesn’t understand why you shouldn’t travel without travel insurance. But some people still don’t travel with travel insurance, so here’s a cautionary tale.

We were in Thailand two weeks ago working on some stories in Hua Hin on a blisteringly hot summer’s afternoon. Two twenty-something female backpackers in cut-off denim shorts and tank tops had obviously had what they thought was a bright idea at the time — to hire a motorbike and (I’m guessing by the bikini straps) head out of the city on a short ride south to cleaner beaches and cooling ocean breezes.

When we spotted them they were giddy with excitement. Their cheeks were flushed and they were grinning ear to ear. We were walking in their direction and couldn’t help but exchange brief looks as they popped on their cheap motorcycle helmets (locals in this part of the world call these helmets ‘eggshells’) and one at a time swung their bare legs over the bike.

The girl who initially took control didn’t appear so confident once she was sitting up front, her fingers uncertain on the grips. Her pixie-haired friend seemed more at ease, perhaps even a little too cocky, and although we didn’t hear what she said to persuade her friend she was the better driver, they quickly and somewhat awkwardly swapped places.

It was very obvious that these were girls who weren’t at all comfortable on a motorbike. What were they thinking?!

The girl at the controls was smiling wide and they shared a laugh as she failed to start the thing the first time. She glanced in our direction, and despite her confident revving of the bike, as we got closer I detected a glint of nervousness in her eyes and I’m sure my heart missed a beat.

I felt an ever so slight sense of fear for her that almost compelled me to offer some advice (although I have to admit that it had been a long time since I’d ridden a motorbike), or to suggest to Terence that he share a few tips.

But just as we reached them, they took off, and took off too fast, as they left the lane and turned right into the town street.

Within seconds of passing by them, we heard a screech, crash and screams. As we turned around we saw the motorcycle crash into a row of stationery bikes before falling on its side and the girls and the bike skidding and scraping along the bitumen as they all slid down the road into oncoming traffic. Thankfully they weren’t on the busy main road.

My first impulse was to rush over to see if I could help. But just that second two old expat blokes had already left their bar stools and hurried to their aid, and a couple of locals joined them. I knew if I had have been the girls and was conscious I wouldn’t have wanted a crowd.

If they weren’t dead, we thought, they must have been terribly hurt. But miraculously, as a young Thai guy retrieved the bike, the girls got to their feet.

One staggered, the other tottered. They were dazed and obviously in shock. The girl on the back of the bike crumpled onto the footpath where she sat, stunned. We were some distance away, but I’m sure I saw a blur of blood, on her head and pouring down both their legs.

One of the old expat blokes looked responsible and conveyed an air of authority and had taken charge. He was talking to the girls, I assumed, to ascertain their state. A Thai from a nearby business was on the phone — no doubt calling an ambulance.

Elsewhere on the street, shopkeepers returned to their businesses, to their newspapers, their bowls of noodles, their embroidery. They have obviously seen this sort of thing before. Many times before, as we’d later learn.

Confident that things were under control, we continued our walk.

“Such silly girls,” I said. “Why even attempt to ride a bike if you don’t know how?”

“I hope they have travel insurance,” Terence responded. “They’ll definitely be in hospital under observation overnight.”

Or worse, I thought.

I was thinking about another incident a few months earlier in Siem Reap. An American backpacker mysteriously dropped dead in the street, apparently from cardiac arrest, after having been ill.

It seemed he didn’t have travel insurance and the family couldn’t afford to have his body sent home to the US, so he was cremated here and money was raised online to have his ashes returned to the States. I can only imagine the heartbreak and sense of helplessness his family must have felt until his friends came to the rescue.

Their son could have saved them a lot of pain had he have had travel insurance.

Travel insurance need not cost a lot. Our insurance has actually run out and I’ve been researching different packages online. One of the cheapest travel insurance products I’ve seen starts from as little as $100 for one traveller for a month in Asia.

Some travel agents will sell you insurance for even less than that if you’ve already bought flights or a package while some credit cards even offer free travel insurance.

One-year packages of the sort we want are far better value. But if you can’t afford $100 then you really can’t afford to travel.

Our advice: you should not even be thinking about travelling without travel insurance.

While the chance of you dropping dead on the street in Siem Reap is extremely rare, motorbike accidents throughout Asia are ridiculously common.

You’d be silly not to have insurance that covers ambulance, hospital stays, treatment, and, in case you’re coming to Cambodia, medical evacuation.

But then you’re also pretty silly getting on a motorbike in shorts and a singlet, particularly a motorbike you didn’t know how to ride.

See this post for more on why you shouldn’t travel without travel insurance.

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