John Burke advises travellers to recognise risk.

The holiday season is beginning, and there is a lot to do – from booking to packing.  Yet there are some things that, for a psychological reason, are either left to the last minute or ignored altogether.


They add up to realising that the unexpected might ruin a happy holiday. You must do several things to minimise or mitigate disaster, such as taking a medical kit and concealing that your home is empty, but the three principal necessities are travel cover; medical card; and emergency funds.


Amazingly, one Briton in four goes off uninsured, and this exposure rises to 38% among young travellers, the very ones most likely to venture into unsafe situations.

These figures come from the Association of British Travel Agents that has case-histories of parents in dire financial straits after backpackers faced such medical bills as £16,000 in Thailand or £100,000 in America.

New York, United Nations

Hospital costs are sky-high in the USA.  © JBB


Some holidaymakers of all ages wrongly assume that they are sufficiently protected in countries like Spain or Greece by the medical facility mentioned below. Yet wherever you go in the world, emergency repatriation could cost as much as £211,000, according to the Association of British Insurers.


Besides that risk, cover is vital for other eventualities, ranging from loss of luggage to delayed flight, so make sure that you and any dependents (accompanying or alone) have insurance.   Annual cover is probably economic if you are likely to go abroad twice or more per year; and besides, that way it cannot be overlooked, especially if obtained at leisure.


Travel policies can be either for Europe (defined generously rather than geographically to include southern shores of the Mediterranean) or worldwide (not everywhere) which is more expensive. There are various grades of cover as well as basic protection for backpackers and packages for families, while even pensioners over 80 can be insured.

Aleppo in Syria

Syria is among no-go countries for most insurers. © JBB


Before taking out a policy, you must do two things.  First, thoroughly compare

terms and conditions, which tend to be in small print.  For example, various exclusions will start with the first £50 or more of claims.  Four out of ten insurers exclude terrorism.  Some will not cover children living apart from the insured parent.


Secondly, wholly answer the questionnaire that includes previous claims, hazardous sports and medical history.  Otherwise, the policy is voided, which happened to a sun-seeker who died recently in an Egyptian hospital for lack of £7,000.


Cover apart, if you are going to Europe (here, it means less than the whole Continent) ensure you take a plastic EHIC, which is valid for five years.  The   European Health Insurance Card replaces the old E.111 form, and it is free when ordered directly from the National Health Service in Newcastle.

Klosters cable-car

EHIC works in Switzerland, but insurance might not cover skiing. © JBB


In principle, it entitles you to free or discounted hospital treatment and medicine in the 28 members of the European Union plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.  It should apply for a pre-existing medical condition, including pregnancy, but it is not a licence for medical tourism or private treatment.


Moreover, what you pay and what you get will vary from country to country, including some overseas territories like Madeira, and anyway the card is not available to Manxmen or Channel Islanders.   EHIC is still a reassuring back-up for travel cover, yet more than half of Britain’s residents do not have one, and another 5½ million hold cards expiring this year.


Finally, there are many emergencies – not just ill-health or accident – where a lone or lead traveller desperately needs cash.   They vary from miscalculating expenses to being stranded after the collapse of a carrier (like Monarch last year), but the most obvious and frequent one is being robbed of everything, including passport, tickets,  plastic cards and mobile phone in somewhere like Rio.


It is vital that before anyone – from backpacker to pensioner – sets out that someone

at home knows how to send them money.   The obvious choice is a close relative, but

it could be a bank manager or solicitor. Whoever it is in Britain, ensure that you have their email address and telephone number written down.


Both parties should know beforehand how to report lost cards; where the nearest British consulate is; and the best way to wire funds. There are a dozen channels for monetary transfer, but the three fastest are MoneyGram, Western Union and WorldRemit.

Signpost to Darwin


Cash can be received at 20 agencies along the Costa del Sol. © JBB


Here again, both the potential sender and receiver should know which will be the best outlets for paying in and picking up, which may mean a trade-off between nearness and opening hours.  When frantic, this is more important than comparing rates and fees, but the last named above is offering the first transfer free.


MoneyGram transfers more than 58 currencies between 197 countries through 350,000 outlets that include 11,500 branches of our Post Offices as well as Thomas Cook travel agencies and many Tesco stores.   Among the locations abroad are three branches of Standard Bank in Cape Town and Itau banks in Brazil where various rivals are used by the much larger Western Union.


It wires 135 currencies between 200 countries where it has 500,000 bureaux or agencies such as 170 of Sainsbury’s 1,411 stores.   The network also includes 40 diverse locations in Acapulco and 20 bank branches in Cairo, while 20 agencies in Istanbul include Bulvar Palas hotel.


WorldRemit differs from its rivals by only accepting funds emailed from a computerised device.  Cash becomes available in 45 currencies at 30,000 locations in 125 countries, examples being Banque de l’Habitat in Tunisia and Government Savings Bank in Thailand.

Fuengirola. harbour

The networks have 20 terminals in Northern Territory.  © JBB


Wiring cash for pick-up may be done within minutes or hours, but as with bank-to-bank transfers, reckon days for cheaper options or remote locations or undeveloped countries.


For fail-safe, visit a MoneyGram or Western Union outlet next time you go shopping or arrange to test WorldRemit during your holiday, identifying beforehand where to collect.  Deciding on your annual cover just after Christmas will also bring peace of mind.