What did pioneering explorers and travellers do before the days of travel insurance? Did Mungo Park have an extensive medical insurance package in place before venturing down the dark river? Did Colonel H. Fawcett have a provision for emergency evacuation negotiated should he get lost? And how did George Orwell find cover before travelling to Catalonia to fight the fascists? Most of the famous explorers were, of course, contracted on grand ventures rather than merely holidaying. Most had wealthy employers or sponsors on a promise to oversee their responsibilities back home. However, being from a different era, they would have accepted that in the event of catastrophe, help was far away and would probably come too late. Not all globe-trotters had powerful backers though – missionaries, mercenaries, nurses and prospectors have walked through new worlds without a guarantee of getting home. They too would have had family that were worried for their safety.
Today's insurance companies have done good business from a modern travellers need to be utterly safe, secure and protected against all the ill winds of chance and circumstance. Access to instant medical care anywhere in the world is demanded. Sensibly perhaps, we try and insulate ourselves from the repercussions of risk and danger, often picking a calmer road after weighing up all the possible scenarios and unlikely outcomes of an exciting diversion. Visions of cold, hunger and disease seem logical to consider but it's all too easy to build them up into actual glimpses of a real event instead of a nervous daydream. Our worries and concerns eventually give themselves an almost physical substance that we must guard against lest they creep up in the dark. An initially innocent doubt is magnified into a wall of fear and so we seek a guarantee of well-being before venturing out.
Or do I have this the wrong way around? Is it the case instead that travel insurance allows working class people the freedom to travel the globe with peace of mind? Something that was denied to earlier generations who had neither the means or sponsorship available to people like Shackleton, Speke and Nanssen et al. I don't know which is true. Maybe I was born too late. I only know that I'd be quite prepared to travel to any part of the world without travel insurance and self-assess any sort of activity based on my own standards of risk versus reward without having to consult small-print. I'm happy to trust my own judgement with full acceptance of any consequences arising. I'm a big, big fan of self-reliance and I'd relish the opportunity. But of course, my peace of mind would be shattered – not out of concern for impending catastrophes – but with worries about those who were worried about me and any financial implications that may fall on them despite my wishes.
So, as an inter-continental, multi-year, touring cyclist I find myself in the position of many other such travellers. Which is one of reluctantly searching through the very, very slim pickings of companies that are prepared to offer insurance. In two months I've found one expensive possibility accompanied by an exhaustive list of terms and conditions which I refuse to be handcuffed by. A comprehensive policy, covering every possible illness or disablement is out of the question but I'm hoping that I can, at least, find some simple cover that can allay a loved one's worst fears.