We Didn’t Buy Travel Insurance, Then Chris Broke His Arm And We Almost Missed 4 Flights

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Oh, Karma… what a lovely woman.

Isn’t that how it always works, though?

Whenever you buy insurance or pay the little extra for the warranty, nothing happens. But if you don’t buy that Apple Care, rest assured your computer will break literally one week after your warranty ends.

It’s just how the world works.

Travel Insurance is your best friend

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That One Time Chris Fell Off The Roof of a Dive Boat

This Chinese New Year, Chris and I spent a lovely two weeks in Sumatra, Indonesia. We rode motorbikes around the largest volcanic lake in the world. We trekked with orangutans in the jungle, and we went diving at one of the best dive sites in Indonesia.

On our last day diving with Rubiah Tirta (great company, amazing dives!), a large group of us went to dive The Canyon, Pulau Weh’s most famous dive site. I spotted striped Moray Eels, a giant pufferfish, and swam through schools of black and white fish scattered around me as if it were snowing them from the surface.

When it was time for my group to surface, I still had a pretty full tank of air, so my divemaster let me continue on with a more advanced group for another twenty minutes or so. When I finally made it back to the boat, I was absolutely shocked to hear the words:

Richelle, Chris has had an accident. 

I looked over to find Chris laying on the bottom of the dive boat, knee covered in blood. I rushed over with my weight belt still on, with absolutely no clue what had happened to him.

He fell off the roof of a dive boat.

Diving travel insurance

The Rubiah Tirta dive boat

How Did He Fall Off a Roof???

Many medium and large-sized dive boats have a roof you can sit on. Most have railings and even seats up there, but Rubiah Tirta’s boat had only a ladder with a small hole leading up to the roof. It was a good place to sit and lay in the sun, and we all had a great time up there before the dive.

That’s all great and dandy until a giant wave comes and knocks you off the roof while you’re busy taking your wetsuit off with your hands stuck behind your back.

That’s right. While I was sneaking in a few extra minutes of diving, Chris climbed up on the roof by himself to get a little tan. While Chris was trying to pull off his wetsuit, a large wave struck the boat and Chris toppled off the edge with his hands still caught in the wetsuit behind his back.

Thankfully Chris was able to yank his arms out of the suit as he was falling, just before he struck the edge of the wooden dive boat and fell into the water. With his arm free, he was able to save his face, sacrificing his forearm to the dive gods instead.

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Just chillin’ on the roof pre-dive

Thankfully He Didn’t Die

It could’ve been way worse. Another few feet and he would’ve hit the tanks. He came dangerously close to landing on another diver who had just surfaced as well.

In shock, Chris was able to get himself out of the water and onto the boat. Originally, we didn’t think his injuries were that bad, and we even had a good laugh about it once I discovered that he was okay.

But once we headed back to dry land, the pain set in and we rushed off to the medical center.

Pulau Weh

No hospitals on this island…

Don’t Break Yourself When There’s No Hospital

Remember that time I stepped on a sea urchin on Koh Rong and the “doctor” told me to leave the spines in my foot causing a blood infection??? If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s: Don’t hurt yourself when there’s no hospital!

On the shore, one of the Rubiah Tirta staff grabbed the owner’s car to take us to the tiny island medical center a few kilometers away. We had to make a quick pit stop at our guest house to grab my spare cash to make sure we had enough money for medicine or an x-ray.

At the medical center, the staff were unable to do anything but clean up his superficial wounds. They didn’t have an x-ray or a sling, so I made one out of a sarong for Chris to use.

The nearest hospital was a 1-2 hour ferry ride away on Banda Aceh. We briefly considered making the trip, but it seemed like a waste considering we were flying back to China the next day. Thinking Chris’ arm was only sprained or minorly fractured, we decided to wait until we got back to China.

Sumatra Indonesia

Chris pre-broken arm

One Ferry and Four Flights- What Could Go Wrong?

If there’s one thing we underestimated on our Sumatra trip, it was how long it takes to get from A to B. Not wanting to waste any more time than we needed to on endless travel days, Chris and I decided to make the journey from Pulau Weh to Beijing in one 26-hour period… Because we’re ballsy like that.

Ferry from Pulau Weh -> Banda Aceh, Lion Air flight from Banda Aceh-> Medan, Lion Air flight from Medan -> Jakarta, China Southern flight from Jakarta -> Shenzhen, China Southern flight from Shenzhen -> Beijing.

What could go wrong????

Pulau Weh

Bye Paradise!

Our Ferry Was An Hour Early

Chris and I woke up around 8:30, thinking we’d need to leave around 9:30 for our 11:30am ferry. Apparently, it’s a long drive. However, around 9am we got a knock on our door from the guest house owner- the ferry was leaving at 10:30!!

Why is this a problem? Oh, well if we missed that ferry we would miss our flight, causing a chain sequence that would mean missing ALL of our flights.

We threw the last of our items into our bags, frantically running up the giant flight of stairs from our beachside bungalow to the main road. Thankfully, the car was already there waiting for us, and we piled in, Chris clutching his injured arm to his chest in my home-made sarong sling.

Thankfully, we made it to the ferry just in time, and then the ferry ended up being 30 minutes late anyway.

Pulau Weh

The Northernmost part of Indonesia! (also where Chris broke his arm)

That One Time We Almost Missed Our International Flight

While our first flight went off without any issues, our second flight landed an hour and 30 minutes late. What was once a safe 3-hour layover, was now a disaster. Why? Well, we were about to miss the check in for our INTERNATIONAL flight with A DIFFERENT AIRLINE.

For those of you who aren’t frequent fliers, if you miss a flight because your previous flight is late, you fall into one of two camps. If your second flight was booked with the same airline, you’re safe. If your flight was booked separately with a different airline, you’re screwed, unless you have travel insurance, then you’ll probably be fine depending on whether or not you have good insurance.

Like an idiot, I had decided not to purchase travel insurance because my company’s health insurance covers me everywhere in the world (except the US). But, as a frequent traveler, I SHOULD know that travel insurance covers much more than just your health. World Nomads was there for me that one time my iPhone was stolen in Koh Lanta, and they WOULD’VE been there for me as I hyperventilated on the plane, staring as the clock ticked into danger territory.

But like an idiot, I decided to save myself $40.

Sumatra diving

Diving on Pulau Weh

Our Amazing Race Moment

With Chris preoccupied by his shattered arm, I flagged the Lion Air flight attendant and told her our predicament. She told us not to worry, and that they’d help us once the plane landed.

On the ground, the attendant pulled us aside and told us we’d able to get our bags from the bottom of the plane rather than waiting for baggage claim. Score! However, they took LITERALLY TEN YEARS to find my bag, Seriously. There was only one guy looking while everyone else sat around twiddling their thumbs.

Once we received our bags, we asked the clueless ground staff if there was a speedier way to get to our international check in. Eventually, we were led through the airport, following the exact same path we would’ve taken ourselves. Then we were passed to a guy who was too busy watching a tv show on his phone to walk faster than a snail’s pace. This man ended up walking us straight to the shuttle which would take us to another terminal.

Thank you Jakarta Airport Staff for supervising a walk we probably could’ve done faster without you.

Iboih Beach

Pulau Weh’s Iboih Beach

Do you have anything faster?? This won’t get us there in time!!

We pleaded with the man, still distracted by the tv show on his phone. He pointed to a taxi, and with no other choice, we scrambled in. He spoke in quick Indonesian with the driver, explaining our plight.

Sensing our desperation, the driver demanded 100,000 rupiah ($8 USD) for a 5-minute drive down the road. Seriously?! After saying “no” multiple times, the driver left without an agreed upon price. I actually only had 36,000 rupiah in my wallet anyway, so when we arrived I gave it to him and got out of the cab. He tried to argue with me for about two seconds, but after seeing the I will kill anyone who steps in my path look on my face, he drove on. 36,000 rupiah was still a jackpot compared to what he would’ve gotten if he had used the meter.

Once at the international terminal, I sprinted through the building, asking anyone who worked there if they knew where the China Southern counter was. Of course, no one knew. After about 5-minutes of frantic running (with Chris hobbling behind), and a man yelling “RUN GIRL, RUN!” after me, we finally found the counter just as it was closing.

WHEW.

Pulau Weh

More serene beach photos

Then We Almost Missed Our Next Flight

Seriously??! Seriously.

Our next flight was another solid hour late, which wouldn’t be much of a problem except for the fact that the Shenzhen airport makes you collect your bags, go through customs and re-check in for all flights (even domestic flights).

Zombies from our red-eye flight that woke us up at 3am to feed us a meal (Why China? Why??), we were unable to care that we may miss our final flight home, especially since this one was covered by China Southern.

We were met at the gate by a pretty, but basically clueless, woman who led us through the exact process that we would’ve gone through ourselves. She waited for us to stand in line at immigration. She then stood next to us while we waited for our bags at baggage claim, looking panicked the entire time.

bukit lawang

Hey guess what! We saw orangutans

When we approached the giant customs line, I suggested to her in Chinese (she didn’t speak English), that maybe we might want to cut the line. Wasn’t that the point of her anyway?

Rather than moving a rope and letting us pass, this special snowflake decided to make us shove past everyone in the giant line with our cart of bags and Chris’ broken arm. “Excuse me, sorry, sorry, excuse me”, as people bumped into Chris’ arm and I accidentally jammed our cart into peoples’ feet.

Eventually, a second woman ran over, giving the first an exasperated expression as she let us cut to the front of the line the normal way.

She had us check in at a special counter and we made it to our flight right before they closed the gate.

Ibioh beach

Our beautiful bungalow in Pulau Weh

$4,000 and Four Days in the Hospital???

Once we got back to China (and slept), Chris and I headed to the hospital to finally get that x-ray. After 30 minutes of running around to different departments for consultations and x-rays, helping Chris cut the bracelet off his arm (and scattering beads everywhere), it was finally time to see what was wrong with him.

Chris and I even had a bet going. If his arm was sprained, I’d have to buy dinner, but if it was fractured, dinner was on him.

We were both wrong.

When the doctor pulled up the x-ray, a thin white line was visible. It’s broken!

Whooo, I win!!! I exclaimed as we laughed about me winning the bet. That was until we saw the next x-ray.

x-ray broken arm

Whoops.

I immediately felt sick to my stomach as the doctor explained that Chris would need surgery and would have to stay in the hospital overnight for 4 days. Four days???!

Chinese hospitals are bizarre. When I was looking at getting my tonsils removed they wanted me to stay in the hospital for a week.

When we asked how much the surgery would be, I was shocked at the response: 30,000 RMB, or $4,000 USD!! Not only did Chris not have travel insurance, he doesn’t have any sort of health insurance in China either. That is a LOT of money to spend out of pocket and a very expensive mistake to make.

Travel Insurance

Chris before he casually flew to Australia for surgery

Flying Back to Australia

Thankfully, Chris is from Australia and not the US, and is completely covered by Australian public health insurance, despite the fact that he doesn’t live there or pay taxes. WTF?! As an American, this is completely mind-baffling to me.

Once we were sure the surgery would be free in Australia (Free?! FREE?! What is this????), we started looking at plane flights back to Australia. Unfortunately, the really cheap flights weren’t for another two weeks, but with a tight deadline, Chris couldn’t afford to be too picky.

So a few days ago Chris flew home to Australia to be nursed back to help by his mother, sister, and the socialist welfare state that is Australia. His pockets are only short a few hundred dollars rather than a few thousand, but he did have to stay in the hospital for 5 days because his surgery kept getting bumped back.

Life is funny like that.

Want to watch the whole epic saga? Cringe our day goes from good to bad to worse on Snapchat

It Could Be Worse…

When I was getting my Master’s at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, one of my classmates went to Indonesia for the Chinese New Year (I’m sensing a pattern here). During his trip, he got in a motorbike accident and BROKE HIS LEG. My friend didn’t have health insurance either and needed surgery too.

My friend was afraid to get the surgery done in China, which wasn’t covered since the accident happened in Indonesia, so he decided to fly back to the US. The costs for his surgery were so expensive that he decided to drop our of our Master’s program so he could get a job in the US and make the money back.

Seriously, one broken leg caused him to drop our of our Master’s program.

bukit lawang

Chris and I playing in a waterfall pre-broken arm

Travel Insurance is SO IMPORTANT

Time and time again, seasoned travelers like Chris and myself think it’s okay to travel without travel insurance. Thankfully if it had been me I would’ve been covered for the surgery due to my employee healthcare, but if we had missed those flights (can you imagine if we missed that ferry?!), I would’ve been out a lot of money.

You think it won’t happen to you. You think you won’t be that guy who falls off the roof of a dive boat. You think you won’t be the girl who steps on a sea urchin and gets blood poisoning. But when you travel, especially in developing countries doing adventure activities, even if you think you’re beeing safe, things happen!

Dave from Planet D broke his back in the Amazon and had to be AIR LIFTED back to Canada. How did he break it? Oh, just FALLING DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS. Seriously, horrible injuries can happen at any time, which is why you should always have health insurance.

Travel Insurance

Get covered for transportation and theft too!

Travel Insurance is More Than Just Health Insurance

Don’t be like me and assume you don’t need travel insurance because you already have health insurance. My travel insurance was there for me when my iPhone was stolen in Thailand and would’ve been there for me if we missed those flights due to circumstances outside of our control.

You never know what will happen down on the road. Maybe your plane breaks down. Maybe the ferry accidentally drops your bag into the ocean (it could easily happen). Maybe you get shipwrecked in Indonesia (seriously, what is it with Indonesia??).

Whatever it is, you want to be prepared.

You think you won't be the girl that steps on a sea urchin and gets blood poisoning… Click To Tweet
Travel Insurance

More from Pulau Weh

Which Travel Insurance is the Best?

While I haven’t tried every brand of travel insurance (obviously), the insurance I use and recommend is World Nomads. Most of my travel blogger friends use World Nomads, and after the way they handled my claim about my iPhone, I will always use them.

With World Nomads, you can even select your level of coverage. Most travel insurance companies won’t cover “extreme sports” like scuba diving, but with World Nomads, you can choose a standard plan, or an explorer plan that covers things like base jumping, cave diving, hang gliding, tandem skydiving, SHARK CAGE DIVING and more.

With the explorer plan, you’ll also be covered when flight delays make you miss your next flight, along with other handy things like lost baggage, passport replacement, travel delays, and even pre-trip cancellation due to an injury or illness.

Get a Quote!

Seriously. Don’t be stupid like me and Chris. Buy travel insurance always. 

Did you ever have a moment where you REALLY wished you had travel insurance? Tell me your story in the comments!

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

41 comments on “We Didn’t Buy Travel Insurance, Then Chris Broke His Arm And We Almost Missed 4 Flights

  1. Wow, what an epic story! I had already heard bits and pieces of it, but didn’t know about nearly missing the flights or the surgery quote in China. We were lucky to have previous trips covered by credit card insurance (who even paid out over $500 AUD for when Joel dropped his iPhone into the sea off Palawan). We’ve now got World Nomads for our travels without an end-date (sorry I used someone else’s affiliate link!)

  2. Oh wow! I had NO idea Chris was dealing with that when he contacted me about you being sick after your return. Poor guy! And yes, your story is even hitting home with those of us who don’t do the “extreme sports” stuff.

  3. Travel insurance can be amazing. My brother was in Chile and developed some sort of weird neurological symptoms with vision and other strange things. They paid for flights back to the capital, accommodation in a hotel, transport to and from the hospital each day, hospital/doctor and changes to his flight back to Australia. So it was def. worth the money. And I think they helped organise a lot of that.

    Also important is to buy insurance soon after booking flights (or other expensive aspects of your trip). Before the same trip, my brother’s friend who he was travelling with had an accident which meant their trip had to be delayed a few weeks. Unfortunately they hadn’t purchased their travel insurance yet so had to pay for the cost of changing flights. If they had already bought it, the company said they would have been covered.

    • Wow that’s great to know! I usually don’t think about it until right before I’m about to leave, and it’s been tempting not to get it because my health is covered by my job. What brand of insurance do you use? This one sounds pretty good. Is it World Nomads?

  4. I have been waiting for this story.
    Oy.
    I’m glad in the end it turned out ok but holy stressful.
    I got screwed over on travel insurance once, thankfully it was only a couple hundred dollars, but still. I never go without it now. Even just my short trip a couple weeks ago to Iceland for 2 days- I spent the $30 bucks and bought it. Not something I want to mess with anymore.

    • Yeah I never want to be in a position like this again. Could you imagine if he couldn’t fly home? I forgot to buy travel insurance going home to the US (my health insurance doesn’t cover me there) and I got really sick and couldn’t see a doctor because it was too expensive. Now I always AT LEAST have health insurance.

  5. Oh no, poor Chris! That´s a lot of pain to endure for so many days! :-O I always traveled with insurance, but I´ve only used it two or three times – one time it saved me 3000 dollars when I spent three days in the hospital in Cambodia with dengue fever and kidney infection…I heard World Nomads are great, but I got a great deal with my credit card with Allianz a few years back – I was really lucky because they don´t provide that anymore as far as I know, but still keep my contract active so I pay maybe 40 euros a year and can travel indefinitely. Not sure what I would do otherwise, but insurance is seriously important for me!

  6. Sheesh, so many mishaps in one trip! Thankfully things worked out in the end. Chris deserves an award! How did he manage to put up with the pain for so long?!? I can’t imagine. Travel insurance is something I buy for every trip, just to be 100% safe.

    • Right?? The doctor says he has a high pain tolerance. Also, speaking from experience, broken bones don’t hurt as bad as you think they should. I had a broken foot bone for 2 months before I decided to get it checked out and found out I’d snapped it in half!

  7. Oh no! So glad you are both OK but how horrible. The arm sounds really painful! I’ve often travelled without travel insurance before, especially when I had health insurance that covered worldwide like you. Won’t take that risk again! Thanks for the reminder!

    • Yeah I need to find something for my next trip that covers travel but not health since I’m covered- although my next trip is to the US where my health insurance doesn’t work… lol

  8. What a crazy story, glad everything turned out alright in the end!

    I have been traveling for a bit now without travel insurance and it’s always been in the back of my mind. This post just convinced me to just do the smart thing and buy it. So thanks for sharing your story! (and probably saving my cheap-o self some $$$ in the long run hahah)

    • Oh wow! I’m so glad you bought it. It’s tempting to save the money but it’s really smart in the long-run. A lot of healthcare is cheap, but then you accidentally fall off the side of a boat and need surgery. You never know!

  9. Wow! What a story to tell. I think something like this usually happens and finally teaches us a lesson. We almost missed our flights recently and I was so bummed thinking we’d end up losing money that I told my husband that never are again are we leaving without coverage!

    • Yeah I’m going to be much more careful. I have medical insurance, but flights and gear are expensive! I’m going to always buy it from now on… and I think my boyfriend definitely learned his lesson.

  10. OMG! What a story, but yes, I’ve been caught out on in 2011 in Asia.

    We were at the end of our Qatar-Thailand-Indonesia-Qatar family holiday, when my husband got ill. That wasn’t the problem as he only had a nose infection. The problem was that our flight had been changed by the airline and as compensation they were going to get us a driver, a 5 -star hotel and a visa into Qatar – free of charge! Due to the worry over my husbands constant nose and ears infection getting worse instead of getting better, we forgot the change and missed the flight. And it was our last flight back to Europe too!

    Qatar were generous and said that they could accommodate us free of charge. Six days later! My husband was fed up with Asia and we really needed to get home ‘cos of school and work, as we had been away for over a month…. And did we have travel insurance that would have cost us just €80.00? Nope!

    We ended up flying to Korea and paying over €3,000 in order to get back to Germany instead! I went to the Philippines (TBEX) and Taiwan last year, and this time I bought insurance from Nomad too!

    • Oh wow! Yeah anything can happen on the road, and while I was covered medically, I wouldn’t be covered for missing a flight because of a medical issue. It’s easy to blow off travel insurance but I’m going to always purchase it from now on!!

  11. SO much I want to say about this. (1) I need to be Australian, free surgery!? (2) I’m living in Indonesia and the airports are ALWAYS the worst, no exception, they are just awful. Late flights, uninterested staff, zero organization. And if one flight is late, you’re completely screwed. I feel you. (3) I recently had a bike accident (in Indonesia, yes, there’s a theme), luckily I only got abrasions on my feet and my school paid for the doctor, but I can’t imagine if it was worse. Hospitals here are cheap, but not well-stocked. (4) thinking I should renew my travel insurance…

    I hope ya’ll are safe and sound and staying positive! (Also, love the blog!)

    • Thanks so much! I definitely think you should renew your travel insurance…. It’s good to know that it’s not just our bad luck with the flights. Our first two flights were fantastic and right ontime, although they did always change the gate on us about 3-4 times per flight. I think it was honestly our flight for booking so many flights in one day. Whoopsies.

  12. OMG what an epic story!, I’m the kind of person who always wants to save a couple dollars not buying insurance but it’s definitely important! I’m planing to go to South East Asia and I want to do some extreme sports so I’ll follow your advice and buy World Nomads! Thanks for sharing!

    • That was me too! I didn’t buy travel insurance at first, and I didn’t even really know what it was. Then I went to Cambodia, stepped on a sea urchin and got blood poisoning. Thankfully Ningbo China’s hospitals are cheap, but my friend broke his leg and had to quit grad school! I never skimped on insurance again. As for your trip- that sounds awesome! If you have any questions be sure to let me know!

  13. Oh no… but I totally agree with your saying about karma an I hope the rest of your trip would turn out great. Safe travels and don’t forget to but travel insurance next time!

  14. WOW. This post was such a ride. I’m glad everything managed to work out for you guys. I generally always purchase travel health insurance based on previous experience but I never really thought about travel insurance. I’m on a month-long trip right now and I lost my cell phone. I really really wish I had bought that travel insurance.

    • Yeah I was shocked when I realized my phone would be covered under my travel insurance. I usually only think about the health insurance part, not flight reimbursement, theft or any of the other stuff!

  15. Wow, I am impaired. Wonderful writing skill. I really enjoy your post. There you mixed everything. There I get everything safety tips, information about the place, Great post thanks for your sharing.

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