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Imagine this: While on a backcountry ski trip in a remote area of Patagonia, you take a nasty fall and break your leg. It takes several hours for a rescue team to reach you and move you to safety. You evacuate by helicopter to a regional hospital where medical professionals successfully operate on your leg. However, you face many large bills, and the hospital is asking for some payments before discharging you. Though you have good domestic health insurance, it doesn’t cover medical evacuation or healthcare in foreign countries. Between the rescue, helicopter ride, surgery, and hospital stay, your out-of-pocket costs are astonishing. Months of rehab and a possible second surgery await you at home.
While this scenario may seem unlikely to less adventurous travelers, safety and health is never a guarantee on any excursion. Medical emergencies can occur on all types of trips — from adventure travel in remote corners of the world, to luxury sightseeing tours, to budget hostels and backpacking expeditions. Expenses can add up fast without the right insurance coverages in place.
Luxury travel involving outdoor recreation has grown more popular in recent years. Social media has fueled curiosity about rafting, backpacking, mountain biking, sailing, backcountry skiing, scuba diving, and other pursuits. It’s also driving interest in exploring lesser-known, remote destinations.
Of the millions of Americans who travel internationally each year, an unfortunate number encounter some type of travel difficulty. Airlines regularly cancel or delay flights, resulting in missed connections and trips, or even being stranded for days. An estimated 15-37% of those traveling internationally experience health problems. And, especially for those traveling for adventure or luxury recreation, unexpected accidents and injuries can occur.
Travelers are typically responsible for all out-of-pocket costs upfront when receiving medical treatment outside the country. Even countries with nationalized healthcare may not provide coverage for non-citizens. When a serious illness or injury occurs while traveling, treatment can also require medical evacuation. A medical evacuation might span a short distance to a nearby hospital. Or, in situations requiring specialized care, it can involve long-distance air transportation back to the individual’s home country. Without travel insurance, a medical evacuation or repatriation trip can cost $250,000 or more.
There are two main types of travel insurance policies: trip protection plans and travel medical insurance plans. Trip protection focuses on your travel costs and non-refundable expenditures. It typically includes coverage for trip cancelation, trip interruptions, missed flights, canceled tours, baggage issues, weather issues, and general delays.
Travel medical insurance includes medical-related coverages for things such as illness, injuries, accidents, medical evacuation, and repatriation. A comprehensive travel medical insurance plan can include both medical benefits and trip protection benefits.
Multiple factors influence the cost of travel insurance policies. Underwriters and algorithms consider the trip cost per traveler, age of travelers, trip duration, deductibles, destination, planned activities, and coverages. The cost of a policy can range from 5% to 15% of total travel expenses, depending on the type of policy and benefit levels. Coverage limits for each benefit can vary significantly.
Often, each policy has options that allow the traveler to customize the coverage, limits, and deductibles. For example, the travel medical benefits could range from $25,000 on one policy to $1,000,000 on another. Some policies offer the option of a special coverage called “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR). However, this type of coverage requires advance purchase, early in the travel buying process, and it is expensive.
Other differences between policies are more nuanced. For example:
Make sure to read the fine print of the policies. Definitions and covered conditions can vary widely. Pay close attention to the definitions of “family member” and “pre-existing conditions.” Make sure the policy definitions, restrictions, and coverages fit your unique needs.
Working with a qualified, knowledgeable travel insurance broker is the most reliable way to make sure your travel insurance covers you when you need it. An experienced travel insurance professional will ask you why you are buying travel insurance. They will explore what benefits, coverages, and limits are most important to you. You’ll gain a clear picture of coverage options, types, and limits available, so you can make an informed purchase decision.
A broker also can provide support throughout the trip and the claim follow-up process, guiding you if something goes wrong and acting as your advocate. If you have frequent trips in the coming months, ask if an annual or multi-trip policy might be a better option.
When traveling internationally, it’s important to be cautious, prepared, and thoughtful. For a smoother trip:
Taking luxury and adventure trips can be exhilarating, eye-opening, and gratifying, but it can also be dangerous and challenging. By working with your travel insurance broker early in the planning process, you are much more likely to have the coverage and travel benefits you need and expect. Having the right travel insurance in place can’t prevent accidents or travel inconveniences, but it can afford you more peace of mind to enjoy the journey.
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About the author – Rick Bagnall
Rick Bagnall helps luxury and adventure travelers secure the right travel and medical insurance for their unique journeys. He specializes in providing health insurance and travel medical insurance coverage for people living an active lifestyle. This includes solutions for crew medical, worldwide travel adventures, and expatriate lifestyles.