Going on a safari? Here’s the travel insurance you need to protect your trip

Safaris are expensive. Here’s why you should consider protecting your investment and yourself

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a safari vacation, it could be vital to look for a robust travel insurance plan for your adventure. A once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa will likely include outdoor experiences in remote territories and terrain, several flights to get there and exciting excursions.

All this will usually require prepaid deposits that may be non-refundable. These large non-refundable deposits are what you want to insure with a travel insurance policy. And because the nature of the trip may include multiple legs of travel, potential for delays and an element of risk, purchasing a travel insurance policy with wide-ranging benefits is essential.

Lisa Cheng, spokesperson with World Nomads, a travel insurance company, reports that trip cancellation is the most common travel insurance claim for safari trips, followed by trip delay and emergency medical expenses due to illness while abroad. Here’s how to buy the right coverage for these problems.

Trip-cancellation insurance for a safari vacation

Jet-setting across the world is expensive, and a safari trip is likely part of a tour package that requires large deposits and prepayments for specialised tours and transport.

If you need to cancel your trip for a reason covered by the policy, you can make a trip cancellation claim. Reasons that are commonly covered include:

  • Illness or injury to you, a travel companion or family member
  • The death of a family member
  • Severe weather
  • Civil unrest
  • Terrorism
  • Unexpected jury duty

Under a trip cancellation claim, you can be reimbursed for prepaid expenses like airfare, hotels, private excursions and tours.

For example, if your father suffers a stroke and is hospitalised right before your vacation, trip cancellation benefits may apply.

Not all reasons for calling off a trip are covered under standard trip cancellation insurance. For example, if your daughter was having marital problems and asked you not to travel, this would not be a covered reason.

To get the greatest level of flexibility for cancelling a trip, consider a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance upgrade. This upgrade will add about 50 percent to the cost of a travel insurance plan. If you splurge for this coverage, you can cancel your trip for any reason not listed on the base policy and receive partial reimbursement of your lost trip costs – usually 75 per cent reimbursement. You also generally must cancel the trip no less than 48 hours before departure in order to make a “cancel for any reason” claim.

Check the cancellation reasons covered by your base travel insurance plan. You may decide those reasons are perfectly adequate and that you don’t need to spend the money for a “cancel for any reason” upgrade.

Interrupted safaris

If you need to cut your safari trip short and return home, trip interruption insurance can reimburse you for expenses associated with travelling back to the US This can include transportation to the airport and a one-way economy airline ticket home. In addition, if you miss out on hotel stays and excursions, trip interruption can reimburse you for the non-refundable parts.

Check the policy for the list of reasons needed for a trip interruption claim. For example, if you receive word that your mother has been hospitalised with a severe medical condition, this is likely covered by your policy.

Delays in getting there

Because you probably have a stop-over flight on your way to Botswana or South Africa for your safari trip, travel delay coverage is a good idea and is generally included in comprehensive travel insurance plans.

It can cover extra costs due to a delay that’s covered by your travel insurance plan, such as severe weather, airline issues or a transportation strike. You can be reimbursed for expenses like meals, hotel stays and personal necessities that you have to buy until you catch up to your scheduled itinerary.

Making a plan for medical expenses

It’s important to plan for potential medical issues during safari travel. You could encounter wildlife, be exposed to an illness or become injured slipping on the rain-soaked Serengeti while watching the wildebeest migration. Your US health insurance plan might not cover you abroad, so it’s important to check with to see what level of global coverage you have. And senior travellers should know that Medicare usually doesn’t provide benefits outside of the US, so don’t count on it in Africa.

Medical expense insurance that is typically built-in to a travel insurance policy can cover medical bills for injury and illness.

“If a safari trip includes camping, exploring in a vehicle or on foot, or close exposure to wildlife, having medical coverage is recommended so any new illnesses or injuries are covered,” says Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners, a travel insurance company. “Imagine you are riding in a vehicle on your safari tour when you are bitten by an insect that gives you an allergic reaction. You may need to see a medical professional to know how to properly care for the reaction.”

Murchland notes that safaris allow you to explore on foot with a tour group to see wildlife up close. “In this case, there are risks of falling, breaking a bone or even getting harmed by one of the animals,” he says. “Whether you incur a minor or large-scale injury, you will want to be sure you have maximum coverage and access to assistance. Travel medical insurance provides assistance services in an emergency, including when a medical evacuation is needed.”

Travel medical insurance coverage limits generally range from US$50,000 (S$67,342) to US$500,000 (S$673,418) per person, depending on the policy, so be sure to choose a plan that will adequately cover potential pitfalls you may face.

Because of the remote nature of safaris, make sure your policy also offers emergency medical evacuation coverage. This can cover the cost to transport you to the nearest adequate medical facility, or even back home to the US if necessary.

Lost safari gear

Sometimes your baggage doesn’t reach your destination. You may have your required beige safari ensembles and other necessities like sunglasses, binoculars, hiking shoes and sun hats packed in a bag that has gone on its own travel adventure.

If your baggage is delayed or lost, a travel insurance policy can reimburse you for lost items, and even cover reimbursement for necessities you have to buy if you’re waiting for your luggage to arrive, such as a safari vest and hat.

“Coverage for your personal belongings is essential when travelling to a new and exotic location,” observes Murchland at Seven Corners. “This is especially important on a safari trip where it is necessary to have proper garments and items that keep you safe from insects, wildlife, sun damage and potential allergens. If you have packed beige or otherwise appropriate clothing required for your safari tour in a bag that has been lost, you will need to purchase these items.”

Claims under baggage loss coverage are generally paid at a depreciated value, so don’t expect reimbursement that pays for new designer luggage or the latest version of a lost iPhone. Also, check your policy for per-item limits and exclusions such as cash and expensive jewelry.

This story was first published on Robb Report USA