Travel Insurance for Adventurous Holidays
Whatever your trip you will need to take out travel insurance appropriate to the countries you are visiting and what you will be doing when you get there. It is important to take out your policy as soon after booking your trip as possible. If you need to cancel for a legitimate reason then your trip costs and flight costs will be covered.
Policies are sold for an individual trip or as annual cover. Some companies sell an annual travel insurance policy as part of a package which might include house and car insurance, but in our experience those travel polices are very general and may not cover the sorts of activities that we provide. Do always check that what you buy covers what you are planning to do. This page offers some advice on what to check for.
Make sure you are covered for emergency rescues for whatever activity you participate in, at any given altitude.
Trip Cancellation Coverage
An important aspect of travel insurance is cancellation coverage. If for whatever reason you are unable to travel then you are able to claim back the costs of your bookings and flights, as long as your reason is listed in the policy. It's best to get cover in place as soon as possible because you are covered for cancellation prior to the trip dates.
Regional and Activity Coverage
Check the area you are visiting is covered by the policy. Some areas like Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus require using companies that specialise in providing insurance for those areas. Check the UK Government FCO pages (or your own country's travel advice website) for latest information on where you are going because some places are listed as 'all but essential travel' which might impact on an insurance policy's validity.
Most importantly you need check to that the policy covers you for the activity you are doing, and insurance companies have different ways of defining trekking and climbing. Some will list conditions based on just the altitude, others will have specific comments on guided or unguided, and some will mention the use of ropes. There is a big variance in what the small print says.
The vast majority of our trips are guided treks and mountain climbs which are non-technical, with altitudes of around 4000 - 6000 metres. Some of them we ask that people carry crampons and an ice axe which is standard for moving on snow. Some require a harness with slings and karabiners in order to clip onto a fixed line, which is not the same as technical climbing at all. A few require you moving on a man rope with a guide through glaciated terrain, which would be classed as more risky.
Most insurance companies are not specialists in this type of travel and therefore the parameters of a policy might be very generic. Others are more specialist and are more specific with their conditions. In general we have found that a trek falls quite easily into most active adventure policies, but a climb requires a more specialised policy.
If you're on one of our other holidays - safaris, trips to Borneo, volunteering or electives - then from an insurance point of view you fall into the more standard 'holiday maker' category. Volunteering is an exception though, if you're doing any building work in a developing country then you're unlikely to be covered by a generic holiday policy.
For some UK based companies check out True Traveller, World Nomads, Insure and Go, JS Insurance, Covered2Go and also the British Mountaineering Council or the Austrian Alpine Club.
Medical and repatriation cover
All travel policies provide cover to get you home in the event of an accident, and that should include from the point of incident all the way back to your house. It should cover any medical expenses incurred, air ambulances, and also the costs of a rescue.
For all of our treks, climbs or holidays in wilderness areas you will need to be covered for rescue potentially by helicopter. The costs of this can be high and it is important you check the maximum value which is covered under this clause.
In Nepal there is a very good Helicopter Search & Rescue service, but the highest cost (for example from Everest Base Camp) is $10,000 per person. However lots of people use horses to get back down the trails, which cost about $120 per day, if they are feeling sick. For most of the treks it's fairly easy to get to a nearby village and call in a helicopter or use a horse. For mountain climbs in Nepal like Island Peak and Mera Peak, a rescue would involve being assisted off the slopes by the staff down to the nearest village where a helicopter could be called in. For the bigger peaks like Mount Everest, there is a helicopter pad at base camp.
On Kilimanjaro there is a helicopter rescue service which costs $2000 per person, which will pick up casualties as high as 4600 metres at Barafu Camp elevation and bring them down to a high altitude clinic in Moshi. Otherwise, it's actually very easy for our staff to get people off the mountain and down to lower levels quite rapidly, just by having two people either side of you. There's no cost to that of course, but we also pay a rescue fee to the National Park which allows us to access a jeep which can come as high as about 3200 metres to the Shira Plateau. Some routes like the Rongai route are more remote and don't have any vehicle access like that.
In Borneo a helicopter can be used at a cost of around $2000 per hour, which is useful for trips into remote areas like the Penan villages, but generally any evacuation would be quite easily managed using road and river transport and then a wide network of small aircraft.
But on Aconcagua a helicopter service from base camp to the park gate is included in the cost of the permit. Any rescue high up on the mountain would be self-managed and assisted by the mountain Rangers, depending on weather and accessibility. This is a mountain where the level of self-sufficiency is much higher.
On Elbrus there is no helicopter service on the mountain but there is a very good snow machine and snowcat service which can get people quickly off the mountain on the south side up to 5100 metres. The cost of this is about $600 for the whole snowcat, and it's paid in cash to the driver. The machine will take you straight to the huts or to the chair lift and cable car off the mountain and down to the village. Like many purchases in Russia it's cash only and it would be a little difficult for the driver to provide a receipt for an insurance claim though. There's no such facility on the north side though, any rescue would be self-managed and then the casualty taken by 4x4 back to the city of Pyatigorsk.
It is important to check with us the levels of cost that would be incurred and to ensure you are properly covered. In many places - especially high mountains - an evacuation is handled by the staff and the team because there's no access for a helicopter, and that is an acceptance that you must take for these types of trips. Sometimes the weather is too bad, or visibility is low, and it's impossible to bring in a helicopter. An accident would require the team of staff and everyone to work together to bring a casualty down to the nearest safe place. On a trek this is often not a big issue but on a mountain climb
Adventure Alternative recommends True Traveller or Sports Cover Direct or Campbell Irvine if you are climbing Mt Elbrus. All of them have good policies. For an annual policy if you're planning to climb regularly then the BMC would be a good starting point.
Insurance may not be as exciting as trekking, but it's important none the less!
If you can get them to email you back with words to the effect of "We can confirm that these are the details of a policy that will cover you for your trek to X and climb of X to a maximum altitude of X including helicopter search and rescue, also including X activities and covering your shiny new X to the value of X" it will mean that there should be no questions later on if you come to claim.
You need to make sure that you fill out the medical declaration accurately and disclose any conditions or history that may be at all relevant however small. In the unlikely situation where you need to make a claim any undisclosed issues that may have affected your risk may cause your policy to be invalid and can quickly rack up huge medical, rescue and repatriation costs.
If you have any concerns or queries regarding your insurance cover you should raise them specifically, in writing, with the insurance provider.
Or for Mt Elbrus:
There are also providers who specialise in cover for people with existing medical conditions. Some general providers may either not provide cover or offer much higher premiums. If you do have specific requirements or conditions it is worth contacting companies such as All Clear Travel.