Will Eve of Bondi has taken 25 overseas trips in his adult life and believes he has spent at least $3000 on travel insurance.
He had never made a claim until an adventure in Peru: in a "freak accident" at a Lima skateboard park he suffered a double fracture of his right ankle that trapped him in a local hospital for two weeks. The hospital bill totalled $30,000.
"My insurance covered everything, from the hospital stay, treatment, to my flights home," the 27-year-old marketing professional said. "You only ever hear the bad stories, but it's important to have. It's a small expense in the scheme of things."
Comparison service Finder has calculated the difference in costs between a one-night stay in an overseas hospital bed, based on WHO figures, and a typical travel insurance policy for a 35-year-old traveller spending two weeks at that destination.
It looked at what it regarded to be the 20 most popular holiday destinations for Australians and found that a traveller without cover would least want to become ill in Singapore, where a hospital bed costs $893 compared with travel insurance of $73.
The second most expensive country was the US, where a bed cost $751 compared with insurance of $103, followed by Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
"The reality is that if you're overlooking insurance, you're taking a gamble," Finder's Bessie Hassan said. "Sure, nothing may go wrong, but on the off chance you do fall ill, travel insurance may just end up being the best value-for-money decision."
The research also found travel insurance costs would outweigh one-night hospital bed costs in countries such as China, Indonesia, India and Vietnam.
A money-conscious traveller without cover who needs to stay overnight in hospital may be slightly relieved to find themselves in the Philippines, India or Vietnam.
A hospital bed in Vietnam would cost $27, compared with an average travel insurance policy of $74.
"While the stats show that paying for a hospital bed in some areas is cheaper than the average cover, if you're paying for terrible quality services in a disadvantaged destination, you're still being ripped off," Ms Hassan said.
"It's also possible that medicines and surgery in these areas is exorbitantly more expensive, something that these figures don't capture. This is where travel insurance provides much more peace of mind."
Allianz Global Assistance revealed a traveller with gastroenteritis could be hit with a medical bill worth $15,000 in Hong Kong, or $1000 in the Philippines.
The insurer said the average medical claim was $7229 for travellers in Singapore - three times the average for travellers in India.
"Our advice to all travellers ahead of a trip is to thoroughly research the destination and take out the right level of cover that best applies to the activities they're looking to undertake," AGA chief market manager Damien Arthur said.
Consumer advocacy group Choice said travel insurance is recommended, but travellers should shop around to ensure they will be adequately covered for a fair and affordable price.
It's a pertinent call at a time when tens of thousands of Australians are holidaying overseas and reports of injuries and fatal accidents emerge, including the death of a 65-year-old Australian man in a snowmobile accident in Canada.
Josh Mennen, a Maurice Blackburn lawyer who handles travel insurance disputes, said the bulk of them related to medical expenses, with most concerning pre-existing conditions.
He said while most policies exclude pre-existing injuries and illnesses from medical and hospital expenses cover, the devil was in the detail in respect to how a pre-existing condition was defined.
"That's where it's very much worthwhile shopping around and having a look at different definitions of pre-existing injury and illness," he said.
"It's usually defined as an injury and illness for which you have received medical treatment or taken medication in a specified period of time before the policy starts. But that period of time varies from policy to policy, from 21 days to say 12 months."
Mr Mennen also raised concerns about the fine print, saying policy documents were often written for legal eyes and ran to 10, 20 or 30 pages.
Top tips for travel cover
- Know what you're covered for: Travelling to a country despite a government issued warning, being intoxicated or even being negligent while making travel plans could all be grounds for not having your claims honoured. Read the fine print before choosing a particular policy – and do it well in advance.
- Take out cover as early as possible: Securing cover early means you could also be covered for delays or cancellations to your travel, which may not be the case as it gets closer to travel time.
- Follow fundamental safety principles: It may be simple advice but it's sage nonetheless: taking small security measures will work wonders in the unfortunate event of making a claim. Stick padlocks on your luggage, lock your hotel room windows when you're not around, use the safe in your hotel room, and don't leave belongings unattended during transit.