Travel Tribulations

In the 90’s I used to have a moustache and wear an eyebrow ring. I also grew shoulder length ringlets with unwashed hair that would have driven any prospective girlfriend to stay outside a ten-metre safety radius. What a catch! Now I get a monthly haircut on freshly laundered hair, wear a sports coat with elbow patches and am about to rant about taking out taking out adequate travel insurance! How times change.

Having just organised urgent orthopaedic surgical care for an athlete who has returned from a Thai-based training camp, it reminded me that being comprehensively covered is exceptionally important. He has paid thousands of dollars of costs up front and must now to try to wrench them back from an obstructive insurance company. What a drag… so how can athletes best to avoid this situation?

Aside from keeping the rubber side down, it’s simply a matter of being well prepared. For frequent travellers (which most triathletes are) an annual fee works out quite well. QBE partner up with Qantas and offer a decent rate for every domestic and international trip with comprehensive coverage. This means you can ‘set and forget’ until the reminder comes in to renew at the end of each year. Take care to opt in for extra coverage for equipment- especially bicycles.

It’s time consuming but read the full policy document. Then read it again. Ask someone for advice on the bits you don’t understand- it will be difficult to understand. As preparation for this article, I read the policy document provided through the Triathlon Australia website (V-Insurance group- formerly Willis insurance) and needed to ring Triathlon Australia for some clarification about the policy. It barely helped that I had studied at University level for twelve years!

The take home was, that a 1973 law prevents general insurers from providing health insurance coverage IN Australia. That is, private health in Australia is only provided by private health insurers, not general insurance. So anything that is part paid for by medicare, will not be covered by travel insurance. i.e. private hospital, private surgeons/anaesthetists etc That said any costs paid overseas are fully covered. So ask your health providers to provide a non-medicare invoice. This could save you thousands of dollars.

Private health in this setting is valuable. There are gaps in what a travel (general) insurer will pay. This is a fall-back, in conjunction with income protection insurance to make sure your wages are fully covered. A broken arm under the TA policy will pay $1000 plus some entitlements for lost income.  They specify what is detailed in a table or your weekly income, whichever is less. I can suggest that specifying an amount with income protection insurance gives you peace of mind if the break happens!

Using your credit card to pay for travel helps insure you against gaps in your travel insurance. There are policies inherent with your purchases by credit card, namely flights and accommodation that afford you additional protection. Much better to have extra coverage than to find you are not covered for problems before or during travel.

Most issues likely to be deal-breakers for overseas travel are surgical operations. Some operations are time-sensitive and cannot be delayed- i.e. bleeding, open fractures. But many procedures can be delayed and treated better in Australia than in a non-first world country. Any orthopedic procedure that leaves metal in a wound needs to be performed in a first world hospital- preferably Australia. I have seen infected wounds that have caused serious on-going complications for athletes with implanted metals. We have an amazing level of care in Australia and settling for second best for fear of paying for optimal coverage is short-sighted.

Make sure you contact your insurer to let them know you need to travel home for care. Some insurers will simply refuse to cover your return expenses if they are not consulted about the trip. A good second call is to your GP or sports doctor- they can provide verbal and written advice to bolster your claims back to an insurer if you need to return home for care. With mobile communications, an image of a break can be simply transmitted to your clinician, whereby they are able to give you preliminary advice, without physical examination.

Rehabilitation is another expense covered by health insurance. Use this to it’s optimal capacity. The mindset of most athletes is to return to pre-injury activity as soon as practicably possible. This can leave you with deficits that will only declare themselves when you return to work and/or training. In my experience, you should let a physiotherapist and GP guide your return to work after injury.

A visit to your GP or sports doctor prior to travel can assist on a number of levels. You can ask them about your level of insurance and be reassured by their assessments. Similarly, you can run through some hypothetical’s about when it might be important to return home to seek treatment. I often give advice to athlete’s regarding potential illnesses in their destination and a ‘what to do’ in the advent of injury. A medical kit with analgesia, anti-inflammatory and anti-biotic is a great addition to any trip.

Finally, don’t leave anything to chance. If anything can go wrong, it will…so be prepared. A rear guard action on illness and injury while travelling is never as well covered when compared to pro-active treatment. Reading the fine print is boring and if you can’t be bothered, then outsource the job to a travel agent or medical doctor so that your trip can be happy, healthy and well slept!


1) Read all fine print
2) Ask a travel agent
3) Check your equipment is covered
4) Private health insurance check
5) Credit card insurance for bookings
6) Specific travel insurance per annum
7) Visit your doc pre-departure
8) Out of pocket expenses = separate invoices
9) Rehab is critical