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I was traveling through Budapest when it happened, when I collapsed and my lips turned blue. It began with a coughing which just wouldn’t stop, though as I felt my airways narrow and swell, I freaked out because I knew.

As you would expect from most 19 year old backpackers on Contiki through Europe, I had spent the better half of the evening reaching an early stage of incredibly drunk. Not too long after we got back to our campsite I was on the ground.

Any number of causes can trigger asthma, and severe asthma attacks can prove deadly. I found myself unable to speak in full sentences, though the words that I did manage to wheeze out in-between coughing fits on the ground successfully made the point that I would kill anyone who called for help.

Without health insurance there was no way in hell my backpacker budget had enough left in it to afford an ambulance call out fee. Especially after I had just spent it all on booze.

The Day I Stopped Breathing Abroad

Drunk in Europe

Drunk in Europe. Should have taken out health insurance which covered that!

Purposely Avoiding the Hospital

Hundreds of thousands of tourists find themselves in the same position every year; purposely avoiding the hospital despite being in dire need of medical care, simply because they don’t have the budget to foot the bill.

Your regular health insurance generally won’t cover you while abroad, so if you trip on a cobblestone street and break your nose, somehow trigger an asthma attack and can’t breathe, get hit by a Tuk Tuk in Asia, or even slip and break your back while on an Amazon cruise, for lack of a better phrase, not having medical insurance which specifically covers international travel means you’re screwed.

Luckily my freak asthma attack passed within an hour, and luckily I wasn’t hit with hospital fees I couldn’t pay. Though there’s no worse feeling, knowing you need care, and knowing you don’t have the means or insurance to cover it.  And I didn’t know enough Hungarian to convey that I couldn’t pay the bill.

Budapest Dinner Cruise

Drinking in Budapest on the day I stopped breathing abroad. The photo is as blurry as we were drunk.

The stupidest thing you can ever do is to think it will never happen to you. A good friend came back from the Solomon Islands one year with a broken arm from playing a casual game of football.

My sister set herself on fire in Thailand during a fire breathing course. My brother-in-law during that same firey Thailand trip, went head first over the handle bars of his motorbike while on a day tour.

And then there’s the Australian woman who passed out drunk in the streets of Canada and woke up with the most graphic and severe case of frostbite the world has ever seen. Literally, click through to that story – her fingers were swollen to the point of full size balloons, and she’s genuinely lucky to still have the use of her hands.

Regular Articles on Health Travel

Brand Ambassadors for GeoBlue

As international medical coverage is such an important issue for those traveling abroad, we have recently teamed up with to write regular fortnightly articles about everything to do with travel health!

You may have caught our most recent articles on “Which countries won’t let you in without health insurance?“, and “Legal travel to Cuba for Americans” – you can expect a lot more where these came from in terms of fantastic tips and tricks on international health; we’re in the process of writing about topics such as emergency medical evacuations abroad, first aid tips for the hard-core hiking enthusiast, and tips for staying safe in some of the world’s most dangerous countries.

Through our partnership with IndividualHealth we have recently become Brand Ambassadors for GeoBlue, a leader in global health cover offering policies which exceed the needs of just about all travelers and expats alike. Our new fortnightly health column will as such be proudly sponsored by IndividualHealth on behalf of GeoBlue. We are excited to partner with and show our open support for our health insurance provider of choice.

What to Look For in an International Health Insurance Policy

As mentioned above, medical coverage for travel is important as your regular health insurance generally won’t cover you while abroad.

When looking for a health insurance policy which suits your needs, you should seek cover which offers at least:

  • Reimbursement for unexpected medical costs due to emergency medical care.
  • Reimbursement for unexpected dental costs due to an accident.
  • Advance payments to medical facilities and help to get emergency medical transportation when you are injured.
  • Coordination of and payment for emergency medical evacuation services, including medical care providers to attend to you until you reach an appropriate medical care facility.
  • Accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) and travel accident benefits to help take care of you or your family if you are seriously injured or killed while traveling.
  • Emergency travel assistance services to help you locate a local and appropriate medical facility to care for your medical needs and those of your family. Source.

You should also look to find a policy which will reimburse medical expenses no matter which hospital you end up at (some policies do not).

Medical coverage plans for international travel will come in the form of single trip travel medical (less than 6 months), multi-trip travel medical (covers multiple trips for up to 12 months), or long-term major medical (renewable, continuous coverage for the long term traveler).

GeoBlue – Health Insurance We Trust

Blogging Sydney Blog Computer Laptop

Why we advocate for GeoBlue Insurance is because their policies offer all of the above and more. They offer the most complete set of benefits and services in the industry and essentially provide a worldwide, all-access pass to an exclusive level of care.

GeoBlue has an elite network of doctors from most every specialty ready to see you in over 180 countries. Only a small fraction of doctors around the world meet GeoBlue’s exacting standards—participation is by invitation only.

They seek out professionals certified by the American or Royal Board of Medical Specialties who speak English, and they factor in recommendations by over 158 Physician Advisors from all over the world.

They assemble in-depth provider profiles so that members can choose with confidence, and they put formal contracts in place to ensure preferred patient access. GeoBlue doctors and hospitals bill them directly so you don’t have to even worry about filing a claim, and you don’t have to lay out any cash.

Pexels Money

Though let’s say you’ve been knocked unconscious and rushed to a medical facility which is not part of the GeoBlue network. GeoBlue makes their best attempt to arrange direct payment no matter which medical provider you see. Most of the time they are successful and there is no cash outlay for you as the patient at all.

In the instance that you’re required to pay a rural provider outside of the GeoBlue network for health services, it’s easy to submit claims online via your phone or computer, and you’re reimbursed within days. That’s right, I said days. Not weeks, not months, but days!!  The concierge level of guidance is also amazing, and the level of care is exceptional. GeoBlue is involved every step of the way, and they make sure you’re covered always.

But what’s the use of an elite network of doctors if you can’t find them? The other brilliant advantage of GeoBlue is their mobile app and excellent 24 hour assistance.

GeoBlue Mobile Assistance

When you’re covered by a health insurance plan with GeoBlue, GeoBlue travels with you. Policy holders can use their mobile device to quickly and conveniently connect to quality care across the globe for anything from emergency needs, to filling a simple prescription, to translating your symptoms, to finding the right doctor at home or abroad.

With a few simple taps, you’re able to get detailed profiles of carefully selected primary care physicians and specialists, as well as a broad range of hospitals, pharmacies, even dentists, where you are, when you need it. Review qualifications, make an appointment, and get directions, right from the App on your cell.

Plus, proof of coverage is always at your fingertips, ready to show and share with providers. Mobile Assistance is backed 24/7 by their toll free assistance line as well.

As a policy holder, your computer or mobile device becomes a powerful translation tool. Their database consists of over 5,000 commonly used medical terms and 4,000 medical health phrases in dozens of languages. It’s easy to find the term or phrase you need, and once you do, audio files allow you to play a precise translation in the world’s most widely spoken languages.

You can rely on GeoBlue to help you translate brand names or find generic, and get accurate dosing information in the world’s top destinations, even if you can’t understand Icelandic!

So don’t think of it as just one more thing to carry with you, but something to carry you past medical misunderstandings. GeoBlue provides the best tools available to navigate the complexities of healthcare and arrive at the best decisions for personal care.

Get a Free Quote Today

To apply for coverage with GeoBlue or obtain a free quote, contact Timothy Jennings at or via email at

A health insurance broker we trust, Timothy has worked in the international and US domestic market for more than 30 years and offers travelers a range of different options on plans and coverage including short-term travel medical (generally less than 6 months), annual renewable coverage for expats, and coverage for business groups worldwide. Timothy is one of a limited few brokers that works full-time in this field, and he definitely knows his stuff!

Get a Free Quote Today


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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

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  1. After reading this post I can certainly see the benefit of having travel insurance! Honestly, I have never taken out travel insurance once but may have to reconsider this after reading this. Being from UK, we are really spoiled with the NHS but now that I reside in USA, I can certainly appreciate and understand the trials and tribulations folks have to go through when dealing with the health sector this side of the pond. I can only imagine what it would be like trying to get treatment for a medical issue while traveling somewhere, especially with no knowledge of the health care system and associated costs.

    • Absolutely – it’s something I think we all overlook and don’t really even consider or think about until something happens. But things do happen, as we saw recently with Deb and Dave at The Planet D when he slipped and broke his back on their Amazon Cruise. So glad he’s ok, and so lucky they were covered for a medical evacuation. Can’t even imagine the costs otherwise!!

  2. What a crazy story! I actually had to use insurance when studying abroad in France. My throat closed up due to an infection. Fortunately, my school required travel insurance, which covered most of my costs and antibiotics.

    • There’s nothing scarier than your throat closing up :S So glad you ended up being ok, and that the school had required insurance. You really just never know, it’s never worth the risk to go without it.

  3. I’ve used GeoBlue (used to be called HTH Worldwide) for 6 years now. Really like them – however sadly they don’t qualify as credible coverage under Obamacare so be prepared to pay the dreaded health insurance penalty on your taxes. ugh.

    • Glad you’ve also found GeoBlue to be great Sherry. Ugh the fun Affordable Health Care Act; now living in the States we’ve just paid the fine this year for the same reason.

      Problem for Americans who travel is that plans which do meet the Individual Mandate as credible coverage under Obamacare don’t really tend to function well outside of the US, and are not designed to, so if you’re a traveler it’s definitely wise to have both or to pay the fine I guess!

      I know as far as US Citizens who are expats living outside the U.S. are concerned, they are exempt from ACA rules if they’re living in another country for 330 days or more per calendar year. You do meet ACA requirements if you are covered by an expatriate group plan purchased in the U.S. by your employer.

      Anyway, glad you’re covered for your international travels!

  4. Megan,
    I am old and dumb I guess, but I can’t find a way to email this post to myself. If this is possible please forward to Thank you kindly young lady!

    • Hi Mike, so glad you found the article useful, Of course I can email it to you. Will do it now :)

  5. Leaving for South America soon, so I’m always looking for health insurance providers that I can afford but provides all the services you pointed out. Will check out GeoBlue.

    • Definitely look into GeoBlue; they are overall one of the most comprehensive providers who really do insure you for everything. Shoot Tim an email at Individual Health for a quote and tell him we sent you :) (Timothy Jennings )

      Happy travels!

  6. We get covered through our credit cards which is always a bonus. However, as my husband has a pre existing condition anything related to that would not be. He knows his body very well and we ensure there is money available should we need to make the flight home at the drop of a hat.

    • I do love the insurance included on credit cards as well, and it’s generally great in terms of a standard level of cover. Though as you mentioned, doesn’t always cover you for every circumstance or for pre-existing conditions, where policies through GeoBlue do.

      Travel safe!

  7. My travel insurance is the best, they are so helpful and informative. They went through everything with me over the phone when I asked for it, and best thing is its barely a break in the bank, £55 for a year. We are also lucky in Europe to be able to use our EHIC cards (European Health Insurance) that’ll get us treated anywhere we need.

    • So glad to hear you’re set up Sammi! £55 for a year is amazing for coverage, you would be ridiculously stupid not to take that up! I’ve heard of the EHIC cards throughout Europe – do they apply worldwide though or just throughout Europe?

  8. I have so bad experiences with my travel insurance. Long story short, during my RTW trip I got salmonella & amoeba in Indonesia, contact my insurer, went to the hospital in Melbourne and than my insurer did’t honour my claim. It was two years and I’m still arguing with them. I don’t recommend Compensa Vienna Insurance to anyone. But I’m still getting insurance when I travel. Great article and great tips Megan! Thanks for that.

    • Ugh sounds like a nightmare Julia!! Seriously, consider switching to GeoBlue – you’ll be covered everywhere and you won’t even need to file a compensation claim because the hospitals and doctors bill them directly.

      I hope you’ve recovered from being ill – there’s nothing worse while you’re trying to enjoy time abroad! xx

  9. I’ve been pretty lucky so far. When I’ve been sick abroad my travel doctor meds I got beforehand as a precaution did the charm! I do agree that ensuring you are covered is so important, I’m lucky that I am covered through my job!

    • I always travel with a mini first aid kit from the travel doctor as well – often does save a trip to the hospital while in a foreign country. Though like you, I do like having the security of knowing I’m covered anyway…just in case! Hold onto that job – sounds like they offer great benefits!

  10. It’s always good to be reminded of the fact that we’re not invincible when we’re overseas. We just checked our medical coverage and it does cover us completed while overseas. That’s a good thing to know!

    • Absolutely – and I think the biggest problem is we generally believe we are. Glad we could give you the incentive to look into your policy and double check everything’s in order – glad to hear you’re covered also!

  11. Great information and so important. You never know when something is going to happen and good coverage is well worth the price.

    • Absolutely – I’m glad you found the post helpful Jennifer :) Let us know if you have any further questions; we’ve always maintained that it’s better to pay for full coverage than chose a lesser policy and get hit by the one thing they don’t cover when you’re abroad. You know it happens too – totally murphey’s law!!

  12. We have never traveled with insurance. Let me study this some more!

    • Definitely look into setting yourself up with a policy – I can’t recommend having health insurance more; especially when you’re living on the road, it’s never worth the risk :)

      Let me know if you have any questions about GeoBlue – they have a great range of policies, so if you shoot Tim an email at he can email some options your way :)

      Travel safe!!

  13. That’s so scary! I used to be horrible at remembering to purchase travel insurance before my trips, but I’m getting better at it, especially after hearing stories like this one.

    • It really was – and it’s combined with that horrible feeling of “shit, I’m about to go broke”!! I got lucky, but I’ve never made the same mistake again!

      Glad we could help remind you that it’s always a good idea :D! Travel safe :)

  14. I’ve been fairly lucky and haven’t had to use health insurance but I know I’m just biding for time. You’ve got to be prepared for any scenario when traveling. Thanks for the tips!

    • There’s never anything wrong with being prepared. It always happens the day after you quit a policy because nothing had happened in the past as well! Murphey’s law!

      Glad you found the post helpful – stay safe out there!

  15. After needing emergency surgery in China, I’ll never travel without travel insurance again. Glad you’re okay!

    • That doesn’t sound exactly pleasant! That’ll definitely teach the lesson though!! Glad you’re ok now – how scary!!

  16. I always travel without insurance, because I’m a EU citizen, so we don’t need it, actually, if we travel within Europe!
    But I guess I’ll have to get insurance, still, if I want to travel big one day!

    • Absolutely, awesome benefits for Europeans under the EHIC card; though definitely look at setting yourself up with adequate coverage for when you travel outside of the EU.

      I know there are enough destinations within Europe to easily keep you satisfied for a lifetime lol but you never know!

  17. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been when you had the asthma attack!
    Travel insurance can be very expensive, but I always make sure I buy one before travelling. Fortunately, I’ve never had to make a claim!

    • It’s absolutely worth every cent for adequate coverage though and the security and peace of mind knowing you’re covered no matter what happens abroad.

      Glad to hear you’ve never had to make a claim – travel safe and let’s aim to keep it that way!!

  18. This is very helpful Megan, I’ve always been so clueless about medical coverage while abroad. I’ve been lucky to not have any serious medical issues while traveling but I know it’s silly to remain uncovered. Will get that free quote for sure!

    • Glad you found it helpful Leah, I was clueless about it too until my little episode made me really stop and think hard! I’m now trying to get the word out as much as possible to make sure that as few people as possible have to learn the hard way!

      Let us know if you have any questions – always happy to help :)

  19. I may be the odd budget backpackers, but my law background taught me that I should never travel without a health insurance, no matter how low my budget is. It really came in handy last year when I had such bad tonsillitis that I had to go through 3 cycles of antibiotics before deciding to finally go back home from Peru; and it was handy those two times in Mexico where I had such a bad case of food poisoning that I could not even drink water and risked being dehydrated. I also have asthma, hence one more reason to always have an insurance!

    • So glad to hear you’re insured Claudia – though sorry to hear about the food poisoning and tonsillitis! The thing is, when you travel as much as a lot of people are starting to do, your chances of something happening abroad become more and more likely. We have to stop thinking we’re invincible.

      It’s absolutely never worth the risk, and if you can make room for it on a backpackers budget then that’s proof that there’s really no excuse for anyone else! Really can prove to be the most valuable thing you ever bought!

  20. I’ve always been a big advocate for travel insurance but recently have hit a major problem with getting cover as a traveller with chronic illness. I need a minor hospital procedure every two years just to monitor the condition not as treatment. As with any general anesthetic there are some risks but they would always play out within days of the procedure if they were going to happen. However in Australia I can’t find a company that will cover me for one year after each procedure – effectively I can only travel every second year. If it was the condition they had an issue with I’d understand but I can pay extra premium for that, it’s the tests they’ve got a bee in their bonnet about.

    • Sorry to hear that Toni. Shoot Tim an email at IndividualHealth and see what kind of options they could offer you under GeoBlule.

      GeoBlue policies cover pre exisiting medical conditions, I’m not 100% on their policies for chronic illness or your specific case re the testing, though I can’t believe there’s no-one in Aus who would cover you! Totally agree, I could understand a premium, but to not offer coverage at all because of tests seems rough.

      Give Tim a shout and mention we sent you, and hopefully they can do soemthing for you under GeoBlue.

  21. Travel insurance is so important. Unfortunately I learnt the hard way after being hit by a motorbike and unfortunately no one now will insure me!! Hefty amount of hospital bills!

    • Absolutely – ugh I’m so sorry you had to learn the hard way :( That’s NEVER fun. Why will no-one insure you now? Did you sustain permanent injuries?

      Shoot Tim and email at Individual Health (click on the “get a free quote” button above) and see if they can do anything for you through GeoBlue. They have policies which cover pre-existing medical conditions so hopefully they can sort something out for you. Mention we sent you :)

      Travel safe xxx

  22. I travel a lot and don’t get travel insurance so this is an eye-opener! Yikes!

    • Time to make a call! Shoot Tim an email at and see what kind of policy options they can offer you :) Trust me, it’s the most valuable thing you could ever do!

  23. Oh wow, what a scary experience that must have been! I can’t even imagine that feeling. Glad you recovered quickly from that asthma attack.

    Anyway I agreed that travel insurance is a must. You can’t plan accidents, it can happen at any time. It might be expensive but its well worth protecting yourself. I have never heard of GeoBlu but it sounds like a great travel insurance company to check out. Thanks for listing out everything about GeoBlu.

    • You really can’t plan for accidents, and they happen all over the world. Absolutely worth protecting yourself, I was talking to a traveler yesterday who had to have an $8,000 operation in Singapore to have his gall bladder removed – that’s a hefty bill if you don’t have insurance!

      Definitely check out GeoBlue, their the leader in the field and I give them my best recommendation :)

  24. We always get travel insurance as we travel a lot with children, we hadn’t bothered before that…and thankfully haven’t had to use it at all, but all you need is that one time to have it all crashing down and get hefty hospital fees!Very useful post on what to look for when search for insurance..thanks for sharing!

    • Absolutely, one hospitalization one year can be double what you paid in health insurance 8 years with nothing happening. It’s definitely one of the best investments you could ever make. Especially when you travel with children as you do – they’re always the more adventurous and happy to take more risks to explore!!

      Safe travels Samiya :)

  25. We’ve been shopping around a lot for travel insurance lately–it’s always good to have a reminder of why it’s so important to have. Thank you for sharing!

    • Absolutely – if you’re still shopping around be sure to shoot Tim an email at Individual Health – they have great plans available and he can hook you up with something incredibly comprehensive so you’re covered always :)

  26. I never travel without a health insurance, never! I didn’t have to use it so far but I prefer to have it, just in case. It’s not that expensive but you don’t know why you might need it… but well, I must admit I wasn’t that smart few years ago ;) (still nothing happened, fortunately!)

    • Absolutely – it’s always best to have it just in case, and one hospital bill could end up costing you far more then 10 years worth of health insurance, so it’s a long term investment which can prove very valuable if you do end up needing it.

      So glad to hear nothing happened while you were traveling without it. And so glad to hear you now always travel with! Travel safe :)

  27. I’ve never traveled without health insurance. I’ve never needed it, but it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it :) I remember how panicked I was when I got to Istanbul and realized after a day I have forgotten about the insurance, haha.

    • Absolutely, it’s always better to have it for that one moment where you’ll end up needing it most. As I mentioned to some of the girls who commented above, paying for health insurance for 8 years might be nothing compared to the hospital bill you could get stuck with that one time something does decide to happen. Always better to be safe than sorry!

      So glad to hear you’re set with insurance Vled. Travel safe!

  28. Insurance is really really important, and yes, not just for trip cancellations because so much more can happen while there. A topic that is not often talked about. Thanks for sharing.

    • Absolutely – I think everyone jumps to insure themselves for trip cancellations but often neglects the more pressing conversation of travel health. Sure, trip cancellations probably happen more frequently than hospital visits abroad, though it’s the hospital visits which could potentially send you broke!!

  29. Getting drunk in Europe is an awesome and yet extremely expensive activity!!! :o

    • Lol yes it is – make sure you’re insured!!

  30. I’m sold! I am going to be going to Africa in the coming months and I will definitely get supplemental insurance to cover me in case of an unforeseen incident.
    I am so sorry you had an asthma attack away from home, or ever. I am glad to know that you made it through ok.

    • Glad we could help you out Priscilla – shoot Tim an email via the link above and let him know we sent you :) You’ll LOVE Africa, one of my favorite continents by far! We hit Kenya and Tanzania and just had such a wonderful time!

      Enjoy your travels & travel safe! Let us know if you have any further Q’s as your trip draws closer :)

  31. Even though we’ve never had to use travel health insurance (knock on wood), we’ve never traveled without it. Mainly because having lived in the US, we know how a small accident can bankrupt a person.

    • OH absolutely – the US is a scary country to be in without insurance. We’ve heard so many horror stories about how one hospital visit can completely send you broke. Not taking the chance!!

      Hold onto that health insurance, though I’ll knock on wood that you’ll not have to use it :D

  32. We’ve always skimped on travel insurance. Travelling on a tight budget, we’ve always considered it a luxury item of baggage. After reading this, we now realize it’s an essential one.

    • Definitely something which is an essential – hope you’ve since found a plan :)

  33. Do you have Timothy’s email, don’t see it here. Thanks!

    • Hi Mark, absolutely, it’s Timothy Jennings:

      sales @

      – let us know if I can help out with anything else.

      Safe travels :)

  34. Health insurance plans are needed even international students who are F1 visa holder needs to get health insurance plan.

    • Absolutely Randy – it’s generally a requirement now of many resident visas :)

  35. Yeah, I know travel insurance took an important thing in our traveling moments.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Glad to share, thanks for stopping by Matthew :)

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