Covid really taught us to expect the unexpected. Seriously, who had "global pandemic" on their bingo card of things that could happen in 2020?
It was a good reminder that no matter how secure we feel in our world, things beyond our control can come out of nowhere and turn our lives upside down.
That's why we take out insurance – to buy peace of mind that we'll have a safety net if things go wrong. And when you're travelling, that's especially important – who knows what could happen while you're away?
We take out insurance to buy peace of mind that we'll have a safety net if things go wrong
But, before you congratulate yourself for being sensible enough to take out travel insurance, there's one big mistake that could see your $5000 holiday blowout into tens of thousands if something goes wrong.
Don't assume you're covered
So, what's the biggest and most expensive mistake you could make? It's assuming that you're covered just because you've taken out travel insurance.
Travel insurance buys you peace of mind, but it's not a set-and-forget task and many make the mistake of thinking that their travel insurance will cover anything that goes wrong while they're on holiday, no matter what.
It can turn the trip of a lifetime into the debt of a lifetime
If you happen to need help for something that's not covered by your policy, then you're on your own – and that can turn the trip of a lifetime into the debt of a lifetime.
Before you even pay for insurance, make sure you're completely clear on what you're paying for so you don't get caught out.
What to do to make sure you're covered
International travel insurance is a must, whether you're going to the ends of the earth or just across the ditch to New Zealand. But the devil's in the detail.
The product disclosure statement (PDS) for your insurance should be your bible. But don't just say a Hail Mary and hope for the best – read all the important passages and learn them by heart.
If you can't bear the thought of reading a 40-page document all the way through, at the very least check the list of "general exclusions" – it'll spell out exactly what's not covered.
If you have specific concerns, you can open the PDS on your device and search for relevant terms, such as "injury", "alcohol", "covid" and so on.
Check the general exclusions of your travel insurance product disclosure statement (PDS) and read the fine print so you know what you're not covered for.
Other assumptions that could land you in hot water
As well as assuming that you're covered for everything, there are some other more specific assumptions to look out for when buying travel insurance.
Don't assume you're covered for all things COVID-related
With COVID-19 likely to be hovering over our travel plans for some time to come, many travellers are looking for insurance that covers them for cancellation and medical expenses caused by the virus and its variants.
"It's a good idea to understand how your insurance coverage applies to any travel disruptions or medical expenses associated with COVID-19, such as if you become sick and are unable to travel, either before you leave home or while at your destination," says CHOICE travel insurance expert Jodi Bird.
Some policies only cover medical and repatriation costs if you get COVID-19 overseas, while other policies provide limited cover for cancellation costsCHOICE travel insurance expert Jodi Bird
"The available cover varies quite a lot between insurers. Some policies only cover medical and repatriation costs if you get COVID-19 overseas, while other policies provide limited cover for cancellation costs in addition to medical and repatriation costs."
Reading the fine print in your PDS is vital. Check our reviews to see which policies offer COVID-19 cover and find the best value travel insurance.
Don't assume your insurance covers your existing medical conditions
You might not think your asthma or occasionally-dodgy back are a big deal, but if an asthma attack lands you in hospital or a slipped disc means you can't fly home, don't expect your insurer to help you out if you haven't told them about it upfront.
"Insurance cover for pre-existing medical conditions varies widely and it can be expensive and frustrating to get cover if you have certain conditions, but in all cases, if you don't declare you have a condition, it could cost you later on," says Jodi.
If you don't declare you have a condition, it could cost you later onCHOICE travel insurance expert Jodi Bird
Some insurers automatically cover certain pre-existing medical conditions, so double-check the list first, but for some conditions you'll need to apply for coverage – and this is subject to approval by the insurer.
"Compare prices from at least three different insurers – our travel insurance comparison lists the insurers that cover pre-existing medical conditions," says Jodi.
"Check the insurer's PDS for a specific list of conditions. If a condition is not listed as automatically covered then you may be able to apply to the insurer to cover your condition."
It's always best to declare everything, even if you think it's not significant: you just don't know what could flare up and how badly while you're away.
Don't assume the Australian Government will be able to help you out
Australia lives up to its reputation of being the "lucky country" in terms of medical care in emergencies and social security. But while you'll generally be looked after here, don't assume you'll have the same kind of support while you're abroad.
If you haven't taken out travel insurance, you could be left with medical bills of hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars
Most of us have a lot of faith in the Australian government: 68% of travellers think that the Australian embassy would ensure they get medical treatment if they need it overseas. And half think that the government will pay for them to get home, while a huge 43% think the government will pay their medical bills.
Unfortunately that optimism is misplaced: it's on you to make sure you're covered with travel insurance.
If you end up injured or sick overseas and haven't taken out travel insurance, you could be left with medical bills that stretch into hundreds or thousands of dollars (or even tens of thousands for complex or long-term treatment).
Don't assume you'll be covered if you're drinking
Having a few Pina Coladas or cold Bintangs is the perfect way to unwind while you're enjoying your holiday. But if you overdo it and something happens, your travel insurer may not cover you.
"Travel insurance covers you for unforeseen events, but insurers rely to an extent on your own ability to foresee events and take evasive action," says Jodi.
"If you've had a few too many drinks, your ability to foresee events can be compromised, so there's a much higher risk of something going wrong – so insurers won't want to cover it."
Check the PDS to see what's excluded in the cover. You can do a search for 'alcohol' or 'liquor' in the online PDS to bring up any alcohol-related exclusions.
Many travel insurers will just exclude cover for claims that arise from you being under the influence of alcoholCHOICE travel insurance expert Jodi Bird
"There's likely to be a clause that requires you to do a blood alcohol or breath analysis if you make a claim and the insurer suspects you've been drinking. We've also seen insurers get their hands on your bar tab to estimate your blood alcohol concentration (BAC)," says Jodi.
Cover-more specifies that the limit is a BAC of 0.19% – at which point most people will struggle to walk in a straight line.
"Many travel insurers however will just exclude cover for claims that arise from you 'being under the influence of alcohol'," Jodi says.
"That's a grey area, but it generally comes into play at the point where the event that caused your claim wouldn't have occurred if it weren't for you being drunk."
Most insurers will also exclude cover if you're under the influence of drugs. (And don't forget that in certain countries you can end up in real trouble if the authorities catch you with drugs – remember Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine?)
Don't assume it's okay to jump on a scooter or moped
It may be a fun way to see the sights, but hiring a scooter is not without risks. Obviously you don't want to stack it and be confined to your hotel room for most of your trip, but injuries aren't your biggest problem.
If you need medical treatment after a moped accident, or if you need to change your flights and extend your stay until you can travel home again, your insurer may not help you out.
"Most insurers will only cover you if you have an Australian motorcycle licence," says Jodi.
Most insurers will only cover you if you have an Australian motorcycle licenceCHOICE travel insurance expert Jodi Bird
Again, check that PDS with a fine-tooth comb if you fancy a joyride. And please, for goodness' sake, wear a helmet. Some policies will cover you if you only have a car licence, but not if you don't wear a helmet. You don't need to bring a brain injury home along with your souvenirs.
You may need to take out specific cover for certain activities, like skiing, white water rafting, scuba diving, skydiving, hang gliding, and paragliding. The potential for misadventure while you're adventuring means that insurers won't cover these activities automatically, so find a specialised insurer.
Don't assume your credit card travel insurance will cover you
Premium credit cards often spruik various benefits like travel insurance for signing up, but it's important to check the terms and conditions before deciding whether to use it or not.
Check how to activate the cover, what the excess is, what's covered for overseas medical expenses, Covid cover, whether family members are covered too, and if there are any restrictions on the maximum period you can travel for.
You might find you need to buy a standalone insurance policy to get the cover you need.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.