Guide to insurance for adventure travel
Accidents on adventure trips can happen, but getting the right travel insurance makes it hurt a lot less.
RACING A TOBOGGAN DOWN an icy Austrian mountain road seemed like a good way to score a cheap thrill in between downhill runs. That was until I smashed my face into a guardrail and spent a painful session with a non-English-speaking dentist and his very scary drill.
But what hurt even more than being sidelined from the slopes with a swollen jaw, was discovering that my budget insurance policy would not foot the bill. With long days to scour the fine print, I soon realised that further indulgence in my action-packed itinerary of rock climbing, high-altitude trekking, sea kayaking and cross-country skiing would leave me high and dry if (or when) things went horribly wrong.
While holiday travel insurance has long been the saving grace of anyone who has ever been bitten by a monkey, lost their luggage off a tuk tuk or been scammed on a cheap tour, it simply will not save adventurous travellers from themselves.
According to the Insurance Council of Australia, most dangerous activities are classified as general exclusions in most policies, meaning that cover for high-risk activities can’t be bought off the rack. And it’s not just rock climbers, mountaineers and anyone mad enough to run with the bulls who play at their own risk. Sea kayaking, skiing, snow boarding and quad biking are all on most insurance companies’ “dangerous” lists, along with white/black water rafting (grades 5–6), skydiving and canyoning.
THE GOOD NEWS FOR adrenalin junkies is that with a little negotiation and some extra cash up-front, cover can be customised to suit your next trip. If you have a specific activity or adventure in mind, start with an internet search for insurance policies designed to suit, or check out industry or club websites for advice. For instance, rock climbers and mountaineers can organise specialised cover online at www.insure4less.com.au, although these policies place restrictions on altitude, authorised routes and free climbing. If you are planning a winter escape skiing or snowboarding, look for a standard policy (eg. STA insurance) that can be ramped up for the cost of an added premium. Be aware that these generally don’t cover heli-skiing.
In addition to covering yourself, you’ll need insurance for all that pricey equipment going with you: customised surfboards, climbing hardware, diving or snow gear, plus any photographic or film equipment you’re taking too. This is where it pays to check the fine print. Look for a policy that offers the replacement cost of stolen or damaged gear (“new for old”), so that you can continue your adventure, then check both the maximum single amount allowed for each item and the total valuables limit too.
The price tags of adventure gear can easily exceed the standard replacement value of $600 an item. And if your entire kit is pinched, damaged or disappears off the side of the mountain, you’ll be happier knowing that your total allowable limit comes close to the cost of buying more gear abroad.
Insurance companies work on the principle that travellers who undertake high-risk activities, often do so independently and in remote locations. If they expect big bills for your recovery and evacuation in the event of an accident, you should too. Getting choppered out of the mountains, or retrieved from a remote coral cay with a case of the bends will rapidly do you out of traveller’s cheques. What’s more, many private rescue-helicopter companies will not fly in to get you unless you can either prove you have a sufficient level of medical insurance or can guarantee the price of the mission.
When comparing policies, opt for those that offer top medical cover and repatriation (evacuation) back to your home base in Australia, not just to the nearest foreign hospital, leaving you to recuperate a long way from home. Anyone travelling in tandem would be wise to ensure that your travelling partner’s expenses are paid for if you both need to pull out of your trip. Alternatively, the travel costs of a relative flying in to organise your return trip home should be covered.
IF YOUR ADVENTURE PLANNING and training has left you short on time, consider consulting an insurance broker to seek out a good deal for you. In briefing a broker, it’s important to bare your soul about everything you really plan to get up to (but haven’t told your mum about), outlining all the activities you expect to participate in and every country you might do them in. Remember that while you may be heading overseas to go high-altitude trekking or join a surfing safari, you may be tempted to join a whitewater rafting trip or go skydiving once you get there.
There are a couple of things worth querying before you sign. If you need to access emergency medical treatment, ask whether the insurance company’s medical staff are available to you 24 hours by phone, and if they can be contacted (by reverse charge if necessary) from the countries you are visiting. Ensure you know how much excess you will pay, and whether the insurer pays directly for your medical treatment or you have to fork out first and redeem expenses later.
Visiting a country against the Federal Government’s advice will invalidate many insurance policies. For a current list of global danger hotspots and tips, check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website at www.smartraveller.gov.au.
Extreme travel tips
1. Scan or photograph your insurance policy documents, passport, tickets and equipment receipts and email them to yourself. This will make any insurance claim much easier to sort out from the road.
2. Arrange insurance before or when buying airfares to cover against potential cancellations or flight changes.
3. Keep your insurer’s 24-hour assistance telephone number handy.
4. Make sure all the countries you intend to visit are covered by your policy.
5. Organise emergency funds: traveller’s cheques, a credit card with a big limit, or a cashed-up relative at home.
6. When it gets to the dicey stage of your trip – the start of a trek, kayak or mountain stint – email a responsible friend or family member with specific details of where you will be, when you are likely to return, and how, if possible, they might contact you while you are out there.
> For rock climbing and mountaineering cover, check out the packages offered online at www.insure4less.com.au
> To find an insurance broker anywhere in Australia, head to www.needabroker.com.au
> For travel insurance tips, read the Insurance Council of Australia’s advice at www.insurancecouncil.com.au
Source: AG Outdoor Oct/Nov 2009
Skills for travellers