I’m a die-hard fan of travel insurance. That’s not something you normally hear a typical 23-year-old getting excited about, but my story below explains why.

It was 3.37am on Saturday October 20, 2012, when I received the news that not only changed my life forever, but taught me in the most powerful way why no tourist should head overseas without proper travel insurance. I can still remember the tremor in my mum’s voice as she tried to explain that my sister, Nicole, was being rushed into surgery with serious head injuries after a motorbike accident in Thailand. She immediately asked whether I could search through Nicole’s emails to find her travel insurance details. Panic-stricken and frightened for my sister, it was a relief that I was at least able to do something productive to help my family in such a moment of terror.

Nicole watching the sunrise (her favourite time of day) on Koh Samui beach, the morning before her accident

Once we located the details, the travel insurance company was amazing in supporting my parents as they made the heartbreaking arrangements to rush to Nicole’s side – from helping to organise flights and accommodation to payment of hospital bills. Tragically, my sister passed away before my parents even flew out of Sydney that morning. She was just 24. Physically letting go of my Mum and Dad to travel half a world away just hours after my sister had died was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – but knowing the experienced hands of our insurance company would guide them through the distressing process to follow brought me some much needed peace of mind.

Nicole and her partner Jamie enjoying a relaxing lunch at their resort during their first few days in Koh Samui

If my sister had not purchased travel insurance, our family tragedy would have been compounded further by a severe financial burden. The cost of bringing a body back home from overseas is in excess of $20,000 – not to mention the huge medical bills from the surgery the doctors desperately tried to perform on Nicole. In fact, my Mum told me the first thing that doctors confronted them with as they walked into Koh Samui hospital, before they were even allowed to see Nicole, was the hospital bill which was in millions of baht. Crippled by grief, money was the last thing she could comprehend. Fortunately, the insurance company was able to take care of this, which meant it was one less thing my family had to worry about.

Yet it wasn’t just the financial support that made travel insurance so priceless. The company’s empathy, care and understanding also provided much-needed emotional support for my family. Right through the weeks that followed, if there was any way they could bring us even a glimpse of solace, they would do it. For example, they originally booked Nicole home on a Thai Airways flight, yet Mum knew my sister was a proud Aussie and asked whether Nicole could travel together with the rest of the family on Qantas. Even though the flight cost more, the insurance company rearranged this without hesitation which meant the world to my family, as we know that’s the way Nicole would have wanted it. The insurance company even went as far as sending red and white roses (symbolic of Nicole’s undying love for the St George Illawarra Dragons rugby league team) to lie on Nicole’s coffin at her funeral. These touching gestures really made me grateful my sister had been wise enough to get travel insurance, and ignited my passion to do what I could to help ensure more tourists do likewise.

One of my favourite family photos from the morning of my brother's wedding, December 2011

As a young traveller myself, I know how many of us screw up our noses at travel insurance, often thought as a waste of money that’s better spent elsewhere. Yet after reading countless horror stories of families whose lives have been devastated by astronomical medical bills overseas, I’ve become a woman on a mission to change this mentality. Through educating and opening tourists’ eyes to the dire consequences they may suffer without insurance, I want them to understand why it’s as essential as having your passport when leaving Australia.

This is a big part of what inspired my family to establish the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation. Our mission is to save others from our heartache by delivering travel safety presentations to students that opens their eyes to why we must never compromise our safety on holidays - especially in countries where more relaxed safety standards may put us at greater risk. Our self-created presentation has now been seen by more than 25,000 Year 11 and 12 students across Australia, whose speechless faces by the end say it all.

A lantern our family lit in honour of beautiful Nicole at Lantern Floating Memorial Day in Hawaii, May 2014

Being barely older than those students and having lost my sister to sudden tragedy, I am able to powerfully break down the sense of invincibility many teens feel. Alongside sharing my sister's story, I offer practical travel tips to ensure their holidays remain safe and enjoyable, while preparing them to cope if the unthinkable does occur by emphasising the importance of travel insurance in a way they can relate to. 

This education is perfectly in sync with the important information Understand Insurance provides. It’s why I’m so honoured for my sister’s Foundation to be working in partnership with this initiative. Together with Understand Insurance, I really do believe we can help save Australians from financial tragedy and be better prepared to deal with the unexpected, wherever they are in the world.