I’ve managed to escape the need for a hospital visit my entire life – until I was struck down last month while in India. What I thought was just a little stomach virus turned into some serious food poisoning and a day in a hospital in Delhi, India.

Overall, the experience was not bad, but I hope to never again be lying in a hospital bed surrounded by eight people who I know are talking about me, but I can’t understand a word. I was fortunate to have my local friends with me to assist.

Of course, I consciously decided for this trip not to bother with travel health insurance as I would not be doing anything dangerous (which is not always the case). But I will not make that mistake again. In the grand scheme, damage was small — $500 for a day in the hospital, stomach scope and ultrasound. Had that been the US, I would have left with a $20,000 bill.

So here are the lessons I won’t soon forget:

  • If you use the hotel to call you a doctor, clarify what hospital the doctor is coming from. I learned the hard way that in these situations they tend to call a friend of their uncles they want to do a favor for and not the best clinic available. On our way back from the hospital, we realized my hotel was only a few blocks from a huge, more modern hospital versus the smaller, less advanced hospital the hotel had called for me.
  • Don’t agree to tests you don’t need just because they recommend it. In hindsight, I definitely did not need an ultrasound but I didn’t at the time feel I was in a position to debate this decision. Now I know better.
  • Ask them in advance to tell you the cost of any procedures and estimate the cost of your stay. My friends definitely felt they saw a “white face” and threw in anything they could.
  • And the biggest lesson of all is to ALWAYS get travel insurance whenever you will be out of the country. I wasn’t in a situation where I needed to be air-lifted out of the country, but it still would have come in handy. It is not expensive and well worth it if you get in a bind.

I have obtained it only a few times, so I don’t have any strong recommendations, but here are a few companies I have used:

Travelex

Travel Guard by AIG

Allianz Travel Insurance

Also, here are some comparison/review sites:

www.reviews.com/travel-insurance

www.travelinsurance.com

I travel enough that I am going to buy an annual insurance policy so I don’t have to get it each time. I got a quote and it is only $250 a year — money well spent!