I've been meaning to write this for a while but wanted to wait until all my shit was sorted before I started. When you set off on your adventures, the last thing on your mind is that things can go wrong at home causing you to prematurely terminate your travel but it's good to know that at least the financial side is covered when things go wrong.
When I first found out my mum was sick, I didn't even think about going home. I'd just settled into Seoul for a longish term stay and figured it wasn't too serious. As the night progressed and we found out she had to have emergency surgery, I thought I should be there.
To be honest, I wasn't even aware that my travel insurance covered me if I had to cancel my trip and return. Oops, I never read the policy or the fine print. My main reason for getting travel insurance is to make sure I'm covered if/when my bags go missing or maybe in case of a health scare.
When I checked though, I was covered for "cancellation due to unforseen circumstances beyond my control".
My travel insurance was with World Nomads so what I say here might be different for other companies but this is what happened with me. I got in touch with them to initially ask what would happen. Unfortunately, while they have a 24/7 emergency phone line, their emergency email is not monitored on weekends outside of a few hours so it was a long wait to get information. I couldn't phone them because, obviously I was in a foreign country and also I have all kinds of Skype issues (long story but mostly because they have been taking over by Microsoft and there's some issue between my Skype login and my MS one).
According to the policy I had, I needed preapproval in order to claim for my travel home. The woman I spoke to was a bit vague about it all and just told me to go ahead with it and claim when I got home. In the meanwhile, my mum was getting worse and I had decided I absolutely needed to get home. Not just to see my mum but so that my sister didn't have the full load of caring for her.
I was told to try to reschedule my flights rather than book new ones and to get a letter from the hospital about Mum's condition for my claim. About 10 minutes later, I had all three flights changed and hotels booked enroute. I needed to fly from Seoul to Tokyo then Toyko to Melbourne and from Melbourne back to Tasmania. Because I'd intended to do that slowly, with time in Melbourne and Tokyo, my flights didn't line up at all. I couldn't even change to a flight from Seoul that would get me on my flight back to Australia in time. It took me three days to get home!
Strangely enough, my Jetstar flight was the easiest to change. Just a $50 fee and presto! I also had a REX flight back to Tassie. That was pretty simple. My flight from Seoul to Tokyo on the other hand cost me $200 to change! If I'd have been bothered shopping around, I probably could've gotten a new flight for cheaper -- but maybe not when it's such short notice.
The other thing I had to do was cancel the Airbnb bookings I'd made. The two bookings for Tokyo and Melbourne were easy to cancel because they were a few months out, except that I had to still pay the Airbnb service fee. As for my apartment in Seoul - not so easy.
I'd booked for three months and had stayed for 10 days of it. Airbnb have a policy for cancellations due to extenuating circumstances -- which I selected when I cancelled but then my host went into prolonged negotiations. Seriously, in the middle of all the operations and hospital visits, she messaged me to say she was too busy to deal with things. Don't say that to someone who has just spent the night trying to sleep at a hospital. In the end, I contacted Airbnb directly and told them the situation and within hours they gave me a full refund for the time left on my rental (including their fees). I'm not sure if they have some arrangement with the host but she seemed pretty happy with it.
It took me ages to put my claim in. I've had so much other stuff to deal with that I hadn't even thought about it until about two weeks ago. The last time I claimed with World Nomads, the process had been awful. You couldn't save your claim once you started it and I kept finding I needed things I hadn't prepared. It took me about ten attempts to get it done, each time starting from scratch.
They must've sorted that out though, thank goodness, because now there is a save option.
It took them less than a week to get back to me to say my claim had been approved and then another five days to send me the money. Well within their time frames. I was impressed with the whole process.
What to do if you need to return home:
- Even before you travel, it's good to have a talk about what you want to do if something goes wrong at home. Back in the olden days, if I was going on a short trip overseas, I used to tell my family not to tell me if someone dies. I'd rather find out when I got home. I'm not sure if that's possible nowadays unless you completely stayed off social media.
- While you are having that discussion, let people know what you want done if you die overseas. I know it's a bit of a gruesome chat to have (we are okay with it in my family but some people wouldn't be). Would you want your body shipped home or to be cremated? I figure an urn of ashes is much easier to deal with than a whole body.
- Travel insurance is so important. They say if you can't afford insurance, you can't afford to travel and I am totally behind that.
- Check your policy and talk to the insurance people. Find out what documents you need.
- Talk to the airlines if you need to change your flights. Some airlines will waiver or reduce charges if it's an emergency. I was flying Seoul-Tokyo with Air Jeju and there was literally no way to contact them! I think that $200 change fee was a total rip but what can you do? If there'd been any contact details at all on their site, I'd have spoken to them about it. *Note: maybe there are contact details on their Korean language site but that wouldn't have helped me at all.
- Book everything online. That way, you have a nice trail of emails to use as receipts.
Other things to note:
I use World Nomads because they are the only travel insurance company I've found that will insure long-term travel. A lot of other companies are totally about holidays only, and you need to have a return ticket. With World Nomads, you can extend the cover while you are travelling so you can be a lot more flexible.
I found initially they were very vague about what I could claim. I'm not sure if they do that intentionally so you don't go on a five star hotel spree. If you aren't sure if you will be compensated for your hotel stay, you are more likely to pick a reasonably priced option.
Always, always make sure you are insured. I've mentioned World Nomads (and those are affiliate links). I've found that their customer service isn't fantastic (that might just be an Australian thing because I know people who've used them from other countries who have no issues) but both times I've claimed they've been fantastic about it. And really, that's the main thing.