After tempting fate once too often Paul Charman is an advocate for travel insurance.

Each year up to 10,000 Kiwis claim from ACC after having accidents overseas.

Some years this country pays out $12-$16 million to rehabilitate them, mainly following soft tissue injuries, sprains, strains, lacerations and the like.

ACC can't say how many claimants are holidaymakers but - especially as Aucklanders turn over-priced homes into travel - it's clear many are.

And late last year in Chicago - totally out of the blue - I became one of this group.


I wasn't larking about on a bicycle, arguing with a potential mugger, or straying over the centre line while driving . . .

Okay, foolishly I'd done all these things but somehow got away with them.

No, me getting "banged-up" was due to some bad steps on Navy Pier and I still can't get over the paradox.

For example, we'd expected cycling American roads would be dangerous - but it wasn't.

San Fransisco streets were hugely safer to cycle than Auckland's, with much less air pollution.

Fresh off the plane, we hired bikes at the Ferry Building and whizzed to Golden Gate Park, a round trip of about 18 km.

It was Labour Day, crowded with cars, bicycles and pedestrians - yet every chilled-out road user showed courtesy.

"It's a bike town - just go where you like," a taxi driver told us and he was right.

Then fancy footwork during a three-day rail journey from Emeryville to Chicago should have got me clobbered - but it didn't.

Paul, pictured here with wife Debra-Rose, says he had
Paul, pictured here with wife Debra-Rose, says he had "a face like a racoon", after tripping on stairs in Chicago.

The two-storey California Zephyr swayed life a ship through the Rockies.

But each day I zigged-and-zagged the full length of the train, with a coffee in each hand.

On our first morning in Chicago we took complimentary hotel bicycles along river and lakefront.

A taxi driver warned that a British tourist had recently ridden down a 1.5 metre bank and was now paralysed.

We saw the hole where she crashed but, despite much broken concrete along the cycleways, nothing ill befell us.

I was pedalling along, one-handed, camera held out before me like a GoPro and heartily belting out "Chicago, Chicago" at the top of my voice.

If anyone deserved to crash that day it was me - but I didn't.

And that night, fed-up, with getting conned, we had a noisy dispute with a stranger who popped up at our outdoor cafe table.

This character - one of many who approached us for money - got some choice words from a wife fed-up with men at the time.

Not the smartest way for strangers to speak in the big city at night, sure.

But after ominously accusing us of "disrespecting him", the stranger said, "what's the world coming to" (I'm paraphrasing) and sidled off.

But the next day, when visited highly recommended Navy Pier my luck really ran out.

At dusk I tried to get one last photo before the sun set, stepping out onto tappering steps - a kind not allowed under the NZ Building Code - and lost my balance.

I'm told I went down the entire flight with my arms deftly extended outwards and downwards, like a penguin.

After briefly losing consciousness a security guard rolled-up in a small buggy and bandaged my bleeding head.

I recall signing a document, no doubt absolving the Navy Pier from liability, and being bundled into the taxi.

The face and chest were bruised but nothing was broken; not so much as a headache.
And the kind folk of Chicago really came through.

An excellent central city GP charged just US$160 to assess me, though entitled to to US$500 or US$600.

A downtown optician fixed my glasses for free, putting my big tip into a collection box for the homeless.

My Australia-based travel insurer seemed - I have to say - a wee bit aloof and hard to contact and deal with.

But since my policy had an excess of $150 it was barely worth contacting them.

Though, I suppose that even now my torn trousers and bent glasses could can still be claimed for.

What I learned was that an overseas holiday really can change in an instant.

One minute you're the confident happy tourist and the next, all banged up and bewildered.

Yes, take travel insurance because it's a great idea.

But what I really want to say, after touring for weeks looking a raccoon, is simply to be careful out there.

And above all watch your step.