Ultimate Guide: Travel insurance explained

Travel insurance guide student

Insurance policies of any kind can be a total ball-ache and usually associated with spam phone calls and TV ads that air exclusively during The Jeremy Kyle Show, but unfortunately, just like those all-important-DNA-results, they’re essential.

It is particularly important to make sure you have proper insurance if you’re going on holiday. Not only to protect you against your own f*ckups (injuring yourself, losing your camera, missing your flight) but also against other peoples’ (airline going bankrupt, volcanic ash cloud appearing). What’s worse than going skiing and breaking your leg? Going skiing uninsured and breaking your leg and being flown home with a 40,000€ medical bill.

If you’ve booked a holiday, don’t hang around - purchase your travel insurance right away so that you’re covered for the period before you’re due to leave. Once you’ve got your certificate of insurance and policy documents, print them - it’s a good idea to leave copies with your parents/relatives/a responsible person at home as well as taking them with you in case anything happens.

To make it easier to understand what to buy and why, we’ve put together the following points to help you get covered in all the right places:

#1 - Annual cover vs Single trip cover

Think about the next twelve months. Will this be your only holiday? If you’re likely to be going on two or more trips in the next year, then it may be cheaper to buy an annual policy.

What’s the difference?

  • Multi Trip cover lasts all year and so will cover multiple trips (but there may be a limit on the how long each holiday can be for you to be covered).
  • Single Trip cover is for one trip only.
  • If one or more of your trips involves crazy activities (skiing, bungee jumping etc.), this will require separate insurance (we’ll get to that..) so in this case, annual cover may not be cheaper.

#2 - Have your parents got you covered?

  • It’s worth checking with your parents or partner to see if they have travel insurance that already covers you.
  • Usually for family cover, children up to the age of 18 are covered even if living away at uni.
  • Sometimes travel insurance comes as an added extra with certain bank accounts or credit cards, so for example if your partner or parent has a Nationwide FlexAccount they may already qualify for free travel insurance which can be upgraded to cover family. Other banks that offer travel insurance include Natwest, RBS, Halifax and M&S bank so it’s worth asking family members what they’ve got.
  • If it turns out you are covered, make sure you still get a copy of the policy and certificate of insurance to take with you.

#3 - Get what you need

Travel insurance can cover a multitude of scenarios, not all of which will apply to you. Beware of jargon - have a look at our table:

What is it?

What does it mean?

How they get you


Cover for the cost of your holiday should you be forced to abandon it or cut it short, say if you become seriously ill or if someone dies (usually you’re only covered if its a family member though, and APPARENTLY goldfish don’t count).

Be careful to check exactly what is defined as what, as this will vary by insurer. The 2010 volcanic ash cloud for example was defined by some companies as ‘weather conditions’ and others as a ‘natural disaster’, which was NOT covered in the cancellation cover.

Emergency Medical Cover

This covers you for medical care you receive abroad. Remember that the UK is one of very few countries to offer free medical care - in other countries even calling an ambulance can cost several hundred pounds. Make sure your cover also includes ‘repatriation’ (the cost of flying you back to the UK if injured or ill). If you’re travelling within Europe, you can also get free medical cover with an EHIC card - see below.

It will not to cover you for pre-existing medical conditions, so make sure you declare EVERYTHING when you take out the policy, and any diseases you contract in the lead up to your holiday. See Point Four for more info.

However, you may also be offered more cover than you need - experts say £2m is enough but insurers may suggest £10m for a small amount extra, but only 5% of claims are over £10,000.


If your luggage is lost or stolen either en-route to your destination or while you’re there. It also covers individual items like cameras and equipment. Make sure whatever’s in your bag doesn’t add up to more than your baggage cover, e.g. if you’re covered up to £750 but your phone is worth £350 and you’re carrying £400 in foreign currency you may need to get more.

Check carefully about sports gear, particularly if you’re going skiing, as this may only be covered by additional Winter Sports Cover.

Missed Departure

This cover is for any costs incurred in getting to your holiday destination, for example missing your flight.

If the policy does include Missed Departure cover (which it does not necessarily do) circumstances make all the difference. For example, you may be covered if your car breaks down on the way to the airport, but not if you get stuck in traffic. Read the specifics, but even if you are covered for missing your flight, it may only be for up to £250, as well as having to pay the excess, so don’t see it as an alternative for being at the airport ridiculously early.

Personal Liability

This is for damage caused by you - perhaps by skiing into someone on the slopes or drunkenly falling into the hotel’s Christmas tree (like TV’s Jack Bauer from 24 did).

Again - if you are going skiing or undertaking any other form of “high-risk” sport, check that your personal liability cover actually includes sports-related damage or injury. Often it will be excluded and will instead come under additional Winter Sports Cover.

Winter Sports/Adventure cover

A lot of things are not covered by your travel insurance if they are deemed too “risky”. Typically these “risky” activities can include:

  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Scuba diving
  • White water rafting
  • Bungee jumping

Therefore it’s worth checking what IS covered. If what you’re doing isn’t, you can take out a specialist insurance policy like Winter Sports cover or sometimes have specific activities added to your policy for an extra cost.

Read the small print. Will it cover you if you lose your ski pass and need to replace it? What if you break your hired skis? What if you break your leg? Make sure whatever cover you get is comprehensive and actually does what it’s supposed to.


Europe cover covers you for trips to Europe (or should do. . . see right).

Worldwide cover includes countries further afield - although not every country.

A lot of insurers can’t decide on what ‘Europe’ is - some don’t include Spain, others do include Egypt - so don’t just assume the country you are going to is covered.

The same goes for ‘worldwide’. The ‘world’, in insurance terms, sometimes does not include the USA. Go figure.

#4 - Don’t lie about your health

  • Medical cover won’t cover you for pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, so if you need treatment abroad your insurance will not cover you.
  • If you do not inform your insurer of all health conditions you already have, it could invalidate the entire policy and allow them to refuse payout for any claims you make.

Serious medical conditions

  • If you have a serious medical condition or have had one, you may find that travel insurance is A LOT more expensive for you, or that companies just don’t want to insure you at all (charming, eh?).
  • Even if you’ve recovered completely, it is still not worth travelling without insurance just because it costs more. There are specific insurers who cater for those who have pre-existing medical conditions and offer much cheaper rates such as All Clear Travel, who also only ask you for one year of your medical history too.

#5 - Have an EHIC card (and don’t be afraid to use it)

European Health Insurance Cards are free to get and entitle you to pay the same rate for state-run medical care as a local does in the country you’re in. So if locals get free healthcare, so will you.

How do I get an EHIC card?

Apply via the NHS website by filling out the online form, or call 0300 330 1350.

Things to watch out for

  • An EHIC lasts up to five years, so check the expiry date before you travel.
  • There have been some instances of EHIC cards being refused or rejected in certain countries so make sure you know what you’re entitled to in your holiday destination of choice before your trip.
  • The EHIC gives valuable protection but should NEVER be seen as a substitute for travel insurance. It does not cover the cost of flying you home or things like mountain rescue, and some local healthcare provisions are pretty scary.

#6 - Get compensation if your flight is delayed

  • ‘You’re entitled to compensation!’ always sounds as if there’s a catch but if your flight is delayed more than three hours, by EU law you can get some money back.

Find out more in this helpful video from our fave Martin Lewis: