Before Nick Myllenbeck left for his mountain-climbing adventure in Chile and Argentina, he had a thought: What if something happens to me? And then he wondered: What’s the best travel insurance for hazardous activities?
He was right to worry. Just a few months ago, two Brazilian mountaineers trying to climb Mount Fitz Roy on the Chile-Argentina border went missing. A Czech climber in another climbing party also died of hypothermia while descending.
“What would happen if we were injured?” says Myllenbeck, a scientist who lives in Livermore, Calif.
Myllenbeck and his girlfriend paid $35 each for a travel insurance plan through Atlas International, an international medical insurance policy with emergency medical evacuation, hospital room and board, and crisis response for kidnap and ransom situations abroad.
“I felt a bit more confident knowing that I would be rescued if I injured myself on a trek. I wouldn’t say it made me bolder in my activities, but it gave me peace of mind knowing that I had that extra layer of security, should anything happen,” he says.
Adventure tourism, defined as traveling outside your regular environment, is growing by leaps and bounds. Whether it’s caving, climbing, cycling, hiking, hunting, or rafting, experts say it’s on track to post a 17% gain from 2017 to 2023.
That’s a lot of danger, potentially. And it requires a new kind of travel insurance coverage, say experts. But what is the best travel insurance for hazardous activities?
“Adrenaline-fueled adventure travel comes with risk,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance site.
Make that risks.
Locations can be remote. Weather can be unpredictable. Civilization can be hundreds or thousands of miles away.
“There’s a panoply of venomous creatures, the chance of exposure to tropical diseases, the threat of terrorism and kidnapping,” adds Shrivastava.
Companies are scrambling to meet demand. Travel insurance sites already offer a range of mountaineering and hiking insurance. There’s Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance, a combination of medevac and rescue insurance with other benefits such as trip cancellation, trip interruption, and lost baggage. It famously evacuates policyholders from harrowing situations. And last week, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection announced the launch of AdrenalineCare, a new comprehensive travel insurance offering for adventure travelers, with features such as enhanced baggage protection, coverage for extreme activities and higher medical limits.
It’s nice to know your summer adventure is protected
Fortunately, Myllenbeck’s adventure went off without a hitch.
“We explored Chile and Argentina, mingled with locals and learned about the culture, but mainly wanted to take in the breathtaking scenery and unbeatable peaks and lakes,” he remembers. “Personally, one of my favorite experiences was hiking through Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and seeing the incredible glacial lakes. Monte Almirante Nieto was particularly impressive. We definitely did some strenuous hiking around the mountains and got pretty high up to get the best views.”
But he also liked the peace of mind, knowing that if something had happened, he had the best travel insurance for hazardous activities. He even purchased a travel insurance policy for an upcoming trip to New Zealand.
Why you need travel insurance for your next adventure
Experts say insurance is essential when you’re on an adventure.
“You absolutely must have solid medical insurance,” says Gregory Crouch, author of the book Enduring Patagonia. “It’s not just for trauma surgery and recovery, but also because many of the most interesting places are also host to some pretty savage exotic diseases. Those can put you in the hospital for weeks.”
Among the worst: falciparum malaria, dengue fever, meningitis and parasites. Lots of parasites.
“I’ve had climbing buddies come down with all of those and require hospitalization. Some of the host countries will give you free care — I had excellent care in Ecuador when I caught bronchitis, and it was provided by the state — but not all of them,” he recalls. “Others won’t treat you at all unless you’ve got some kind of insurance.”
What’s the best travel insurance for hazardous activities?
Here’s what you absolutely must ask before you go out adventuring:
Do I need specialty insurance?
As a general rule, if you’re planning a day hike, you probably don’t need hazardous sports coverage, says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a travel insurance site. “However, if the day-hike requires technical equipment like ropes, crampons or ice-axes or the mountain exceeds a certain height — above 15,000 feet for example — then you definitely need the optional coverage.” Also, if you’re doing recreational SCUBA diving, you’re probably fine. But if you go below the recreational depth and start doing decompression stops or mixing gas, your garden-variety policy won’t cover you.
Am I covered for a medical evacuation?
“Some of the most beautiful and enticing places are also some of the most remote,” says Glenn Murray-Prior, a bungee jumping pioneer who runs the adventure travel company Action Culture. “Hospitals simply don’t have the quality of care to ensure you will be OK. In these situations, it’s critical that you get evacuated to modern medical care as soon as possible. This type of medically supported evacuation is extremely expensive. This is why specialized travel insurance is so important.” Check with your insurance company to ensure you’re covered for medical evacuation in the destination you’re visiting. If not, you might want to get a Medjet membership, which will help evacuate you in a medical emergency. Murray-Prior also recommends World Nomads, which offers a range of specialized adventure travel insurance.
Is my gear covered?
“Many travel policies provide only a few hundred dollars, which is plenty for my usual jeans and T-shirt wardrobe,” says Charles Merritt, the co-founder and CEO of Buddy, an on-demand accident insurance product. “But I had a mountain bike damaged earlier this year during a flight home from a race in Arizona, and replacing a couple of minor components pretty much maxed out the luggage benefit. If the frame, wheels, or fork had been crushed, I’d have been paying out of pocket.” A good travel insurance policy will cover most, if not all, of your gear.
What are the exclusions on insurance?
Yes, even specialty insurance for adventure travelers has exclusions. That’s what Matthew Riechel, the founder of Inertia Network, discovered. Inertia develops community-based tourism in recovering war zones and politically isolated locations, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and North Korea. “There’s no coverage for any competition, racing or national squad training, acrobatics, tricks, stunting, freestyle, aerials or jumps,” he says. “There’s no coverage for any unaccompanied or solo dive or commercial diving.” Also not covered: unsupported or solo climbing or solo expeditions, free mountaineering or free soloing, expeditions within the Arctic Circle, the Antarctic or Greenland, activities in remote regions, exploratory expeditions and new routes, high altitude climbing over 19,800 feet, or search and rescue operations.
“It’s important to read the exclusions in your policy to make sure you’re not lacking coverage for the activity you’ll be participating in,” says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing for Travelex Insurance. Travelex offers policies with an “adventure sports” upgrade that covers activities such as professional athletic events and mountain climbing.
How about my other medical expenses?
The best specialty travel insurance policies will cover either medical repatriation (flying you to a hospital close to your home) or will transport you to the closest hospital qualified to treat your medical condition and will fly a loved one in to be with you. “If you are in a foreign hospital it will pay for a loved one to be with you in the wake of the health scare,” explains Katie Tu, a spokeswoman for QuoteWizard, a site that helps consumers compare insurance quotes. Without this type of coverage, you might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting back home — or flying relatives to be with you when you’re ill or injured.
Life is an adventure (but buying the best travel insurance for hazardous activities doesn’t have to be)
Regular travel insurance might not cover you and your gear for the things that could happen when you’re on a summer adventure. But don’t just buy the first specialty travel insurance policy that comes along. Instead, go for trusted brand names like AIG, BHTP, Ripcord, Travelex and World Nomads.
“Travelers who do not add a hazardous sports rider to their travel insurance policy risk incurring huge medical bills,” warns Shrivastava of VisitorsCoverage. “They also risk incurring permanent injury due to the lack of emergency medical evacuation for needed treatment should they incur serious injury while engaging in hazardous activities.”