Traveling to an international destination often comes with many unknown factors. For instance, did you know that in South America people will strike and shut down all transport without any notice at all? How about this, did you know that any lettuce you eat in most South American countries need to be washed with a few drops of bleach or iodine? If not, you might end up in the hospital with E. coli, Salmonella or parasites. There are many factors that might just take your trip you planned so well and turn it upside down! The good news is that you can protect your trip with an inexpensive travel insurance policy that will cover the unknown!
In addition to running Haku Expeditions adventure company, my husband and I also ran a bed and breakfast in Cusco. Tons and tons of tourists passed through our home every year. Here are some situations that I’ve personally seen happen that will hopefully convince you how important travel insurance is.
Situation Number One: Two Lovely Ladies and the Amazon
Two really cool gals from Texas came to Peru on a month-long trip. The basis of their trip was not Machu Picchu like it is most people, but rather the jungle of the Amazon Rainforest. They spent many days in Cusco on adventure tours before the climax of the trip, the Amazon! However, the day before the trip to the Amazon, the doctor came to the house and gave the bad news. One of the girls who’d fallen ill a couple days before, it turns out, could not travel to the jungle where the medical facilities were nil to none. This was because he told her that she’d picked up a bad case of Salmonella, which means going to the Amazon where she would suffer even more from the heat and dehydration was a definite no-go. They didn’t have any kind of travel insurance and lost the entire trip. Only through luck did their company allow them to use the trip at a later date. Had they purchased trip insurance they would have been refunded the cost of the Amazon trip they missed plus all medical expenses and all additional hotels they needed to book while she was sick.
Situation Number Two: The Labor Strike
A major bucket list item, Machu Picchu is the main reason many tourists come to Cusco. Every once in a while we get people here for a seriously short visit: arrive, see Machu Picchu, and leave. We are talking like 3 days max. What you may not know is that Cusco and most of South America is well known for their labor strikes. All of a sudden, from one day to the next, you’ll see signs and hear chants saying “Viva el PARO!” These strikes always shut everything down, including the airport and all transport. You literally can not go anywhere! Good luck getting to Machu Picchu on a strike day. Your Machu Picchu trip with nothing included except Machu Picchu entrance and the train up there will run you about $200-300. Add into the cost of Machu Picchu, hotels and flights and you are looking at one to two thousand dollars for this tour. Twice we had groups that were in Cusco for two or three days only and got stuck in Cusco due to a labor strike unable to see Machu Picchu. One of these groups had insurance and was refunded the cost of the trip that they missed, the other was not so lucky.
Situation Number Three: Airport is Closed!
Just recently, a plane had some issues on the runway. Flat tire, hit a bird, who knows. There were alot of stories of “what really happened.” It went off the runway, fell over and created a big stir in Cusco and shut down ALL flights in Peru for a day and all flights to Cusco for three days. A nice couple from Australia that bought a huge package from us for 10 days missed the first 4 days of their package. Expensive adventure tours and part of their Machu Picchu trip were in those first few days. They had bought a travel insurance plan for somewhere around $100 per person for a full month of traveling around South America. We went through their package and I wrote them receipts for their trip along with a letter stating everything that was missed, including all the little things needed like new train tickets, hotels in Lima and extra transports. I sent this all in a letter to their company and they got all their money back for the missed portion of the tour plus any additional expenses they incurred. It’s a no-brainer. Get the insurance.
I have about 20 more stories just like these ones such as: single $200 day trips being missed, people accidentally booking trips on the wrong dates, broken bones on bike trips, moderate to severe altitude sickness, three cases of pulmonary edema (that was the most expensive of them all) and an entire family missing a 10,000 tour due to their daughter having mononucleosis and racking up thousands of dollars in new hotels and medical expenses. Some of these people had trip insurance and received large sums of money back allowing them to plan another trip, others had large losses because they did not purchase this insurance. After working in the travel industry I can assure you that I do not travel without a travel insurance policy. The cost generally ranges from $20 USD to $100 USD depending on which company you use.
When buying travel insurance there are many web sites that will help you compare policies. I do recommend you look at a few travel insurance policies as they often are varied. For instance some trip insurance policies will offer you money for travel delays while others do not. Some companies, such as TravelEx, do not charge for children under 17. There are travel insurance policies that will offer you a full refund for trip cancelation for any reason, others have specific reasons listed. Once you have found a policy you like, give them a call. It is very important to talk to someone and ask questions. Create a policy specific to your travel needs. Also, ask them what to do if you need to use the coverage. Who do you call? How does it work? Do you pay out of pocket and save you receipts or do they cover everything upfront? Will it cover you if you are let’s say…mountain biking in Nepal or trekking Rainbow Mountain in Peru and happen to be over 5,000 m/16,400 ft?
Specific Things to be Aware of when Buying Travel Insurance.
Some travel insurance policies do not cover activities over a certain altitude. In places like Nepal or Peru you will often find yourself somewhere near 5,000 m/16,400 ft! Many companies have a policy for adventure sports. Some travel insurance policies will allow mountain biking (not competitive) where others you must add this activity on for a few additional dollars. Know that some companies will want to see receipts before you leave on your trip so that they know what you are getting covered while others do not. TravelEx, mentioned above, will cover pre-existing conditions if you purchase the coverage within a certain amount of days from buying your flights! Here is a pro-tip, ask how much they charge to make a claim! Sometimes for only a few dollars more your deductible is much lower or nearly nothing!
To wrap things up here: Buy comprehensive coverage, with trip interruption and personal liability, not just medical coverage. Know how the policy works and what is covered. Have all the info on hand while traveling so that you can use it in case of an emergency. In the case that you need to use your trip insurance plan, have your travel agency write a letter letting them know what happened and why you need to make a claim. If you have to receive emergency medical care, get an official letter from the doctor or clinic stating everything that happened with you and what they recommend you do such as, “skip a trip, fly home immediately, get to lower elevation,” etc. Protect your trip. If you do not use the coverage, great! However, if you need it you will be happy you had it!