In 2003, I travelled to Thailand for an 11-day whirlwind of stunning views, coconut curries, and near-death adventures. I think I almost used up all of my nine lives during that one short trip. Sure, I was young and healthy, but when it came to travelling, I was naïve and inexperienced. My travelling companion, Rachelle, and I did silly things like trek—ankles exposed—through jungles that were home to poisonous snakes. We blindly trusted a taxi driver who took us (far) off the beaten track to watch his daughter perform at her school event. (I’m still not sure how we got ourselves into that one!) And to save a few bucks, we opted for the rickety old ferry rather than the shiny new one. We did this and much, much more sans travel insurance—I didn’t realize just how silly that was until I lived to tell about it.
Of my several blunders, the rickety old ferry takes the cake. See, it should have been a pleasant ride back to the mainland from the lovely island of Ko Samui. I remember the two of us sitting on the front deck, Rachelle hugging her sunburned knees to her chest as she leaned against the railing. She looked peaceful, even though her bleached blonde hair was dancing violently around her face. That’s when I noticed the dull white sky growing darker by the minute, the wind blowing in heavy gusts, carrying with it the scent of fish and salt. Suddenly, I felt a shock of cold under me, and I jumped up as the sea came, uninvited, on deck. A refreshing surprise or cause for alarm? I got my answer soon enough.
As the waves kept hopping over to join us on deck, someone, somewhere started to wail. The cries were a warning bell that signalled the seated group of us—now frantic—to get up and make our way clumsily to the side of the boat that was still dry. Fearless backpackers turned helpless babies, we huddled in the stern and hoped the storm would leave as quickly as it had come. Rachelle and I took comfort in singing to each other, our voices mostly lost to the wind. A sudden gust almost stole a bag of souvenirs from my hand, but I held on tightly, then wondered why I even cared. Imagine no possessions; it’s easy if you try, we sang.
I looked around at the many strangers on board, some crying, others praying, the lucky ones snuggled up to bright orange life jackets. I started to wonder if the boat would sink, and if we’d all go down with it, alone in our anonymity.
An hour passed, and soon the storm did too. The sun even made an appearance, a ray of hope peeking out at us from behind a cloud. Disaster averted. We had been lucky. And that’s all it was, really. Luck.
When you consider the tsunami that hit Thailand exactly one year after we were there, or the tragedy of the sinking ferry in South Korea just this year, it makes you understand that benefits like emergency assistance, air evacuation, and coverage for life-saving medical care are more important than we care to realize. The thing is, we don’t like staring our mortality in the face. But sometimes we just don’t have a choice.
My advice? Keep your nine lives. Get travel insurance before any trip.
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