You run a guide service. Should you refer travel insurance to your clients?

Yes, however, you need to understand, and probably communicate to your clients that travel insurance is extremely limited for outdoor recreation activities.

Travel insurance was created for European vacations. You booked a 12-day trip to Europe. If you got sick, or the bus, you were traveling on died, and you came home on day eight, then your travel insurance sent you a check for 1/3 of what you spent except your trip. It was simple math and very simple underwriting defined by the travel insurance policies. Europe was like the US, and the risks were known.

The UK added to travel insurance because its health care system did not extend beyond its boundaries. So UK travelers leaving the UK have always bought travel health insurance. Again, this is simple underwriting:  travelers are normally in good health and so the only real risk was an accident while traveling.

Everest Base camp does not really fit into the underwriting of either of those types of polices, yet the policies have not changed since they were first written.

Understanding Policies

First, there are two types of travel insurance that are very different and both called travel insurance. One covers medical and sometimes evacuation home or at least to a local hospital when you are outside of your home country. The second reimburses you for costs if your trip is canceled (before departure) or interrupted (after the trip starts).

Most travel medical policies are fairly easy to understand and read. They have a specific limit on how much they will pay, and a specific time frame where your injury and medical services must occur. As I stated earlier, I’ve found the best ones are those sold for UK travelers. I’ve even purchased some policies that paid for rescue up to 20,000 feet.

Travel Medical insurance policies are great to have because of the limits that HMO’s and PPO’s my place on services outside of the US. When in doubt spend the money and buy a policy if you are traveling outside of the US>

Travel Insurance Policies

Travel insurance policies are also easy to understand if you take the time to read the policy. Most policies are online and easy to find. If you are traveling for an outdoor recreation trip, you must read the policies.

And by policies, I mean the actual policy, not the lengthy description listed on the website. Most travel insurance companies have their policy online if you dig enough. If not call or email the company, tell them you are getting ready to travel in a few months and want to see a copy of their policy. Tell them you have read the coverage review on the website, but you want more information. TravelEx, a leading company calls their policy “Description of Coverage.”

As an example, the policies sold by online sites that you are booking your air or hotel through are very specific and will only cover your air or hotel – nothing more. A sleeping bag or tents are not either of those.

Travel insurance policies are very different from other insurance policies you may purchase in the US. The policies are written so absolutely only what is listed is covered with no exceptions. They are written to say for $XX you get $XX paid back if something listed in the policy occurs. If it is not listed it is not covered.

Many policies will have a grace period or cancellation period. You can purchase the policy and then have 10-15 days to cancel the policy if it is not what you want.

Travel Insurance policies may have a small medical benefit. However, this is not insurance. Meaning after you have paid the medical bill you can file a claim and ask to be reimbursed for the amount of the bill up to the limits of the policy. The medical benefit is usually around $10,000 so if you have a large medical bill you are going to eat the rest and will only be paid the $10K once you show the insurance company paid receipts.

Any claim will only be paid by including your receipts with the claim. So keep every receipt. If you are having a hard time tracking your receipts use your phone or camera to photograph the receipts. Several good apps are also available to track receipts. Again if you don’t have receipts, you won’t receive any money from the insurance company.


Claims are paid if the cause of your claim fits squarely in the list of coverage. As an example, this is the list of coverage’s from a common travel insurance policy.

Trip Cancellation and Interruption Covered Reasons Coverage is provided for the following unforeseeable events or their consequences, which occur while coverage is, in effect, under this Policy if there is a change in plans by you, a Family Member traveling with you, or Traveling Companion:

1. Sickness, Injury or death of you or your Traveling Companion and/or you or your Traveling Companion’s Family Member or Business Partner. The Sickness must commence while coverage is in effect, require the examination of a Physician, in person, at the time of Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption and, in the written opinion of the treating Physician, be so disabling as to prevent you from taking or continuing your Covered Trip.

2. Common Carrier delays resulting from inclement weather, or mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation;

3. arrangements canceled by an airline, cruise line, motor coach company, or tour operator, resulting from inclement weather, mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation.

4. arrangements canceled by a tour operator, cruise line, airline, rental car company, hotel, condominium, railroad, motor coach company, or other supplier of travel services, resulting from Financial Insolvency;

5. being directly involved in a documented traffic accident while en route to departure;

6. being hijacked, quarantined, required to serve on a jury, or required by a court order to appear as a witness in a legal action, provided you, Family Member traveling with you or a Traveling Companion is not 1) a party to the legal action, or 2) appearing as a law enforcement officer;

7. your Home made uninhabitable by fire, flood, volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster;

8. your destination made uninhabitable by fire, flood, volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster;

9. mandatory evacuation ordered by local authorities at your destination due to hurricane or other natural disaster;

10. being called into active military service to provide aid or relief in the event of a natural disaster;

11. a documented theft of passports or visas;

12. a Terrorist Act which occurs in your departure city or in a city which is a scheduled destination for your Covered Trip provided the Terrorist Act occurs within 30 days of the Scheduled Departure Date for your Covered Trip or during your Covered Trip;

13. a cancellation of your Covered Trip if your arrival on the Covered Trip is delayed and causes you to lose 50% or more of the scheduled Covered Trip duration due to the reasons covered under the Covered Trip Delay Benefit;

14. a transfer of employment of 250 miles or more;

15. your involuntary termination of employment or layoff and was not under your control. You must have been continuously employed with the same employer for 1 year prior to the termination or layoff. This provision is not applicable to temporary employment, independent contractors or self-employed persons;

16. your host at destination is hospitalized or dies, provided you made previous arrangements to stay at the host’s personal residence during the Covered Trip.

If you claim does not fit within one of the 16 listed above claims you do not have a chance. The next issue then is to look at your claim and see if it fits the claim you have identified perfectly. The language of the coverage list is defined in the policy in preceding paragraphs.

For Example, let’s look at the Everest season ending this year.

You might first think that if you bought a policy and could not climb Mount Everest this year because of the deaths and closing of the ice fall you would have a claim under paragraph 2, “organized labor strikes.” However, I don’t think that would qualify because Sherpa’s are not common carriers nor are they public transportation. Common carriers are airlines, bus lines, etc., and I doubt much in Nepal except the airline would qualify. Public transportation is like your local city bus service…..which has not made to the south side base camp yet.

Paragraph 3 would not work for about the same reasons.

Paragraph 8 may qualify. “your destination made uninhabitable by fire, flood, volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster” However, the top of Mt. Everest, your destination was fine; the route to your destination was destroyed.

Paragraph 9 would work if the Nepalese government had closed base camp or Everest from the south side, however, all news reports stated just the opposite, the Nepalese government worked hard to keep the Sherpa’s on the mountain and working.

As you can see, the language of the policy fits European vacations, the issues and claims the policies were originally written for.

Another policy My Travel Guard had this list of claims:

The Company will reimburse the Insured a benefit, up to the Maximum Limit shown in the Schedule or Declarations Page if an Insured cancels his/her Trip or is unable to continue on his/her Trip due to any of the following Unforeseen events:

(a) Sickness, Injury or death of an Insured, Family Member, Traveling Companion or Business Partner;

(1) Sickness or Injury of an Insured, Traveling Companion or Family Member traveling with the Insured must be so disabling as to reasonably cause a Trip to be canceled or interrupted or which results in medically imposed restrictions as certified by a Physician at the time of Loss preventing continued participation in the Trip;

(2) Sickness or Injury of a Family Member not traveling with the Insured Such disability must be so disabling as to reasonably cause a Trip to be canceled or interrupted and must be certified by a Physician;

(3) Sickness or Injury of the Business Partner must be so disabling as to reasonably cause the Insured to cancel or interrupt the Trip to assume daily management of the business. Such disability must be certified by a Physician;

(b) Inclement Weather causing delay or cancellation of travel;

(c) Strike causing complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or Destination;

(d) the Insured’s Primary Residence or Destination being made Uninhabitable or Inaccessible by Natural Disaster, vandalism or burglary;

(e) the Insured or Traveling Companion is hijacked, quarantined, subpoenaed or required to serve on a jury;

(f) the Insured or Traveling Companion is called to active military service or military leave is revoked or reassigned.

The following only apply if the Additional Unforeseen Events Upgrade is purchased:

(a) Sickness, Injury, death or hospitalization of the Insured’s Host at Destination. A Physician must certify the Sickness or Injury;

(b) Financial Default of an airline, Cruise line or tour operator provided the Financial Default occurs more than 14 days following an Insured’s effective date for the Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Benefits. There is no coverage for the Financial Default of any person, organization, agency, or firm from whom the Insured purchased travel arrangements supplied by others;

(c) a Terrorist Incident in a City listed on the Insured’s itinerary within 30 days of the Insured’s scheduled arrival;

(d) the Insured or Traveling Companion is involuntarily terminated or laid off through no fault of his or her own provided that he or she has been an active employee for the same employer for at least 1 year. Termination must occur following the effective date of coverage. This provision is not applicable to temporary employment, seasonal employment, independent contractors or self-employed persons;

(e) the Insured and/or Traveling Companion is directly involved in or delayed due to an traffic accident, substantiated by a police report, while en route to the Insured’s Destination;

(f) the Insured or a Traveling Companion being the victim of a Felonious Assault within 10 days prior to the Departure Date. No coverage is provided for Felonious Assault committed by another Insured, Family Member, Traveling Companion or Traveling Companion’s Family Member;

(g) mechanical/equipment failure of a Common Carrier that occurs on a scheduled Trip and causes complete cessation of the Insured’s travel and results in a Loss of 50% of the Insured’s Trip length;

(h) the Insured or Traveling Companion is required to work during his/her scheduled Trip. He/she must provide proof of requirement to work, such as a notarized statement signed by an officer of his/her employer. In the situation of self-employment, proof of self-employment and a notarized statement confirming that the Insured is unable to travel due to his or her job obligations will be required;

(i) the Insured or Traveling Companion is directly involved in a merger, acquisition, government required product recall or bankruptcy proceedings and must be currently employed by the company that is involved in said event;

(j) the Insured’s or Traveling Companion’s company is deemed to be unsuitable for business due to burglary or Natural Disaster and the Insured or Traveling Companion is directly involved as a Key Employee of the disaster recovery team.

Here paragraph c might qualify, if you can call the actions of the Sherpa’s a strike. “Strike causing complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or Destination” However, once you read the definition of a strike as defined in the policy, it will not qualify.

“Strike” means a stoppage of work which:

(a) is announced, organized, and sanctioned by a labor union; and

(b) interferes with the normal departure and arrival of a Common Carrier.

Again, Sherpa’s are not common carriers and not recognized by any labor union.

After reading all the covered claims, I don’t think any would apply to the Everest disaster this year.


If you are looking for insurance coverage for an outdoor recreation trip start with what you already have and then try to fill in the gaps with what you can buy.

Your homeowner’s/condo/renter’s insurance may provide coverage for your gear while traveling. That coverage is usually only for it being total loss, not just delayed. You may have additional protection so check this policy first.

The credit cards you paid for your trip with, may provide coverage that a lot of travel policies cover.

Go over your health insurance policy with a fine-tooth comb. Make sure you understand what coverage you have and do not have. Again, buy a policy to fill in the gaps. Compare the coverage on the travel insurance policies to the coverage provided by a travel medical insurance policy. Most travel medical insurance policies have a broader coverage.

Keep track of all of your receipts. Without receipts, you don’t have a claim. Keep a diary tracking date and times because you may have to prove what happened when. You might be able to job your memory with your photographs also.

The risk of outdoor recreation trips is greater than just the chance of getting hurt or injured on the water, under the ground or on the mountain. You may never get the chance to try.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) 334-8529


Call or Email me if you need legal services around these issues.


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