Travel Insurance 101: What is It? Do You Need It?

Inherent Danger. . . Risk. . . Injuries and Accidents. . . the outdoors can be an intimidating environment, filled with uncertainty, doubt, and more than anything else, the possibility for a situation to go south, fast. The best form of “insurance” is experience in the mountains, the “know-how” and ability to make smart and prudent decisions. There is no substitute for knowing how to identify dangerous storms, snow conditions, and other environmental hazards.

Being careful in the mountains is always important. Here I am fording a river in New Zealand that is nearly up to my hips. When rains are heavy, this river can flood to levels higher than my head.

That said, whenever I travel, explore, mountain climb, or venture into the outdoors, I ALWAYS have a formal insurance plan. For international trips, I always purchase general health insurance through BlueCross BlueShield’s Voyager program; and for every backcountry trip, I am covered with search-and-rescue (SAR) insurance through GEOS Alliance.

|| Traveling Internationally? Consider Travelers’ Insurance ||

Travel insurance comes in a number of different forms: health travel insurance, travel cancellation insurance, etc. I will not go into too much detail, as Consumer Advocate has an extremely thorough collection of information on all the different types of travel insurance options available (https://www.consumersadvocate.org/travel-insurance).

Within the United States, my family’s health care plan covers me in the event that I need an emergency room visit, but when I venture abroad I always use GeoBlue Voyager through Blue Cross Blue Shield. The GeoBlue travel insurance program has two separate options: Voyager Choice and Voyager Essential. The Voyager Essential plan does not require any primary healthcare plan and is slightly more expensive, as compared to the Voyager Choice plan, which does require a primary healthcare plan.

NOTE: The Voyager plan is for single-trip; there is a TREKKER program from GeoBlue that may cater to those travelling more frequently, as well as an XPLORER long term plan.

The GeoBlue website is incredibly user-friendly: there is a side bar where you can generate a quote for your trip and compare the cost of different insurance plans. I personally always choose the $0 deductible option with a $1,000,000 limit, as it is only marginally more expensive and gives me the peace of mind that I am covered for a significant medical bill, with no out of pocket expense.

|| What is NOT covered? Search-and-Rescue (SAR) Insurance ||

It is always important to read the fine print on insurance policies and plans, and for GeoBlue I have and can tell you that any search-and-rescue is NOT covered under the GeoBlue plan. That means a helicopter rescue, park ranger evacuation, or other mountaineering related evacuation will be on YOUR dime unless you purchase an additional SAR insurance package.

As a Garmin inReach owner and subscriber, I have a search-and-rescue insurance plan through GEOS Alliance. If you do not have a Garmin inReach, SPOT, or other personal locator beacon, you can still purchase an “add-on” insurance package from GEOS. On their website, they offer:

  • SAR50 Individual
    • $50,000 USD per incident, with a maximum of $100,000 USD per year
    • Valid for 365 days from purchase
  • SAR100 Individual
    • $100,000 USD per year, with no maximum per incident
    • Valid for 365 days from purchase
  • SAR HR
    • “The SAR High Risk or SAR HR membership is the same in coverage as the SAR 100. This plan also covers multiple incidents up to $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum. SAR HR removes many of the restrictions found in the basic SAR 50 and SAR 100 memberships.” – GEOS Alliance
  • GEOS Global MEDEVAC
    • “Annual benefit $1,000,000 USD in emergency medical evacuation assistance without trip length limitations” — GEOS Alliance

You can click on each of the links for more details. Whenever I bring friends or family on extended backcountry trips in the mountains, I have them purchase a SAR50 Individual plan and connect it to my inReach IMEI.

|| Consumers Advocate — A Simple Database ||

If all this information seems overwhelming, I understand. Fine print is one of my least favorite things to read. Thankfully, Consumer Advocate has a user-friendly website that has compiled reviews, detailed descriptions, and in-depth information on insurance plans. Their website has information on all different types of insurance plans, mortgages, and other services, and their staff of customer representatives are extremely helpful and responsive to questions.