Hiking to Forca Rossa, Alta Via 2, Dolomite Mountains, Italy.

Ask Me: Should We Get Travel Insurance For Overseas Adventures?

In Ask Me, Backpacking, Family Adventures, Hiking, International Adventures, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments

[Note: This blog post of an email exchange reveals the story of a reader who experienced a traveler’s nightmare in a foreign country. Her cautionary tale offers valuable advice for anyone who travels internationally.]

Hi Michael,

We are planning a hut-to-hut trip in the Dolomite Mountains this summer and I was wondering if you could give advice on travel insurance. When we went to Patagonia last year, I didn’t even think about it, but a doctor friend of mine recently highly recommended some sort of travel medical insurance for when we do hiking trips abroad. I know you do a lot of international hiking trips with your family, so it’d be great to hear your thoughts and experience!

Your trip report on the Alta Via 2 in the Dolomites was very helpful for our trip planning and one of the inspirations for our trip! Thanks for all your hard work on your blog and for all your advice on our Sawtooths trip last year—it was a really great trip although the mosquitoes were ferocious!

Happy trails,

Katharine
Denver, CO

 

My family trekking toward the Pale di San Martino in Italy's Dolomite Mountains.

My family trekking in the Pale di San Martino in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains.

Hi Katharine,

I’m glad your Sawtooths trip went well. Good on you for planning to hike in the Dolomites (photos above and at top of story). What a great place. I want to go back. My short answer to your question is that I have not tended to buy travel medical insurance, but I’m not saying travel medical insurance is a bad idea. Maybe I’m cheap. Do you mean travel insurance that covers you if you have to cancel your plans, or just medical insurance for traveling? I don’t know much about it, to be perfectly honest.

I’d be curious to hear what you learn.

Michael

 

Jeff Wilhelm trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia.

Jeff Wilhelm trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia.

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the response. A lot of information about travel insurance is definitely focused on the trip cancellation/lost baggage side of things, which is not my biggest concern. I’m generally okay with risking the few thousand dollars I’ve already paid for the trip, although, of course, it would be a shame. But from what I’m learning, most U.S. health insurance plans don’t cover much if anything outside of the U.S. And they definitely don’t cover any evacuation expenses. So, there’s a potential to owe or lose not just the few thousand dollars in trip expenses, but tens of thousands of dollars for medical costs—that’s what is making me consider travel insurance.

For example, on our Dolomites trip, say one of us broke an ankle on the trail far from road access. If we needed some sort of rescue transportation, then hospital care to get x-rays, etc., it could end up being very expensive. And while I really hope that doesn’t happen, it certainly could on this type of trip. When put in that context, the $175 for travel insurance for the both of us seems like a really good deal.

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Sounds like a lot of outdoors travelers like World Nomads for travel insurance, since they cover a range of adventurous activities that other standard travel insurance doesn’t cover.

Here are a few resources I found:

lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/76903
ricksteves.com/travel-tips/trip-planning/travel-insurance
wanderingearl.com/how-ive-handled-travel-insurance-over-the-years/
nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/travel-insurance/

I guess it’s like all insurance, you hope to never need it, but if you do, it can be a big help.

Katharine

 

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Hi Michael,

Just wanted to give you an update on our Dolomites trip and the issue of trip insurance. Unfortunately, we ended up using our trip insurance, and were very glad to have had it!

We had four great days of hiking the Alta Via 2, and then had a scheduled rest day in Malga Ciapela, where my husband started to get sick with food poisoning/travelers diarrhea. We decided to take a couple days off the trail for him to recover, but after five days with worsening symptoms and two doctor visits that didn’t provide any relief, he ended up needing to take a one-hour ambulance ride to the nearest hospital. Somehow it had turned into sepsis and he spent five-and-a-half days in the hospital before he was well enough to travel home. The ambulance and hospital stay was remarkably affordable compared to U.S. prices, only about $2,200, but since of course it’s “out of network” for our U.S. health insurance, there’s a $2,000 deductible—so basically, they will only reimburse $200.

So it was great to have the trip insurance, which meant we didn’t pay anything out of pocket for rescheduling our flight home, and they will cover the medical costs as well as the hotel/food/travel costs for the extra days we had to stay. So I expect to get about $3,000 back after the claims are processed. It also really helped reduce the stress of the ordeal because I knew we didn’t have to worry about the costs, we just had to focus on getting my husband healthy again.

 

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Anyway, I think I’m definitely now a believer in trip insurance, at least for international trips! I hope we never have to use it ever again, but the approximately $150 insurance policy is worth the peace of mind.

My husband is fully recovered now, and we are both very glad that I didn’t get sick so that I could help him. We were also lucky that he happened to start getting symptoms when we were on our rest day in a hotel, rather than in the rifugios (mountain huts). Having those symptoms while staying in a dorm with shared bathrooms would have been much more miserable. And, of course, it was much easier that he didn’t have to hike out or get transportation out of the mountains. So we know it could have easily been worse, but it’s still a bummer that the vacation wasn’t what we were hoping for.

 

Jeff Wilhelm on the Kepler Track in New Zealand's Fiordland National Park.

Jeff Wilhelm on the Kepler Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.

By the way, we did end up using World Nomads for the travel insurance, and I would recommend them based on the service we’ve experienced. I liked that they obviously catered to more independent adventure travelers rather than cruisers, they had 2 straight forward plan options (standard vs. explorer) depending on the activities you will be doing and the level of coverage you want, and even the basic included emergency evacuation, which at the time was my primary concern. I thought their website was more clear and straight forward about what was covered compared to the other companies (I appreciate a simple table!).

The only concern I had with World Nomads is that I believe for emergency evacuation you have to call them first, essentially to get approval for the evacuation or have a physician order the evacuation. In the moment, I’m not sure how that would actually work, since in the case of most backcountry evacuations, you wouldn’t have phone service or a physician on hand. It’s possible I don’t quite understand what they mean, though. We hike with a SPOT emergency beacon, and I wonder whether World Nomads would cover the costs that result from activating the SPOT and having a rescue/evacuation (assuming it was a true emergency and you were justified in activating it). I wouldn’t be surprised if other companies have similar provisions, so it’s not necessarily an issue only for World Nomads. Luckily we didn’t need to use that part of the coverage!

Hope that helps.

Best,
Katharine

Katharine,

That certainly does help. You’ve convinced me! Thanks very much.

Best,
Michael

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2 Responses to Ask Me: Should We Get Travel Insurance For Overseas Adventures?

  1. John Kelly   |  January 10, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Michael and Katherine,

    I have travelled overseas virtually every year since 1998, and as you know Michael the past few years have been trekking in mountainous areas of .Europe, South America and Asia. I always purchase travel medical and because the lost baggage etc. Is a relatively inexpensive add on get that too. I also have a Global Rescue membership which provides medical and/or emergency extraction services almost around the globe.

    I have used the medical three times for my wife. On a trip to Israel the medical costs avoided probably have paid for all of my premiums.

    I have had a number of colleagues either get ill or hurt while trekking and medical insurance has saved them immensely.

    It is a personal choice but I always buy it.

    Happy travels

    • Michael Lanza   |  January 10, 2017 at 8:36 am

      Excellent perspective, John. Thanks for sharing.

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