Trip Insurance

A few thoughts about trip insurance

I am a big fan of trip insurance, and its from a personal experience where myself and my employer were out thousands of dollars because we did not have a policy.

I was paid up and ready to go on a trip to the Galapagos Island. As a conservation biologist, these islands are on the short list of places to visit.  

Unfortuneately, I had an emergency gall bladder surgery on the eve of the trip and was unable to go.

No big deal, right?

Well….my employer nor I were afforded any sort of refund on the plane tickets, hotels, transportation, visas, food, etc., because we did not have a trip insurance policy to cover an unplanned cancellation.

Since then, I’ve always taken out a policy when I’ve travelled internationally, and, depending on the trip, domestically. I always take one out when I travel in a roadless or remote area where vehicle access is minimal or non-existent, like my recent trips to hike the Kekekabic & Border Route Trails.  

An Outfitters Perspective

Owning an outfitting business, we pre-sell many of our programs and services. We plan our staff, vehicles, and equipment based on advance reservations. We even combine groups to help lower the price for those travelling/participating together.

We release our employees schedules to them 2-3 weeks before they are scheduled to work. Our employees are depending on these opportunities to earn income. Their schedules are driven by advance reservations.  

We do understand that things happen. Injuries, family emergencies, job changes, etc., may cause you to cancel your trip. Our current policy has been if you notify us 14 or more days in advance, we glady give you a full refund. Less than 14 days, its been a sliding scale, and, we’ve even offered to credit your account if you cancel up to 48 hours before your program/service.

Another circumstance is customers and non-customers alike needing a non-emergency rescue from the trail. We even sold trip insurance for a measly $5 and we would come and get you off the trail “no questions asked”. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day we had someone on call 24/7 to retrieve hikers off the trail.

In the case of cancellation, we have expended funds based on the advance reservations and are depending on the revenue to fund business operations, including paying our employees. By cancelling and us refunding, we are now in a situation where we are losing money on a cancelled reservation.

In the case of a rescue, our “no questions asked” rescues are quite expensive as we are expending labor and gas at the drop of a hat. The cost of rescuing folks with policies far exceeded the revenue we took in.

We have been kicking around the idea of firming up our rescue policies and rates for customers and non-customers.

The way forward

In a world where trip insurance exists, we are no longer going to offer our own trip insurance. We are going to have a fixed rate for rescues and day-of reservations. We will provide information to our customers about trip insurance policies they can take out. If a situation arises, we can complete the rescue, bill them the appropriate amount, and the customer can submit a claim.

As for cancellations, we will either keep our 14 day cancellation policy or bump it out to 21 days.. However, less than 14 days, there are no refunds. Customers with trip cancellation insurance can submit a claim. This is a win-win as the customer will get back most/all of their fees and we still get paid and not be out the funds we’ve already expended preparing for our customers.

What is trip insurance?

For those who are unfamiliar with trip insurance, there are four basic kinds of policies:

Trip Cancellation insurance is insurance that will refund your non-refundable fees if you need to cancel a trip. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, program fees, etc. This would cover your program and shuttle fees. There are “cancel for any resason” policies out there.

Trip Interruption Insurance is insurance that will pay your costs in the case you need to end your vacation and pay for associated costs of getting out of where you are and home. This is what you’d take out to cover a non-emergency rescue.

Medical Evacuation Insurance is insurance that, in the case of a medical emergency, will pay above and beyond what your normal health insurance would to evacauate you off the trail and to a hospital.

Supplemental Medical Insurance is insurance that covers costs not normally covered by your medical insurance due to the nature of your activities. This is usually taken out for high risk activities like white water rafting, mountaineering, etc.

In 2019, we will include with every reservation a link to a preferred provider of Trip Insurance. We will make it clear during the reservation process and in confirmations the importance of trip insurance and our policies about cancellations and rescues, and their costs.

2019 Proposed rate sheet for rescues and on demand service

Pictured Rocks Trail Rescues

Trailspotters Customers $195

Non-Customers (including our competitor’s customers) $295

North Country Trail Rescues

Non-customers $295+$1 mile over 50 miles travelled

Trailspotters Customers $195+$1 mile over 50 miles travelled

Pictured Rocks Day of Shuttles/on demand

Trailspotters Members $125 up to 4 persons + $50 each additional person

Non-members  $195 minimum up to /4 people $50 Each additional person              

Pictured Rocks Day of Shuttles/on schedule

Members:  Daily per person  rate for that shuttle/time

Non-members: Daily per person rate / minimum $125


Shuttlebacks (Picking you up after your hike)
$200 deposit. If you actually make it to the trailhead on the date and time you tell us, we will refund the difference between the deposit and our normal rate. If you don’t make it at the time, date, and trailhead you tell us, you forfeit the deposit and will be subject to new fees if you choose to use our service. This includes those that move their pick up time/date/trailhead earlier or later.

Delorme rentals will no longer include trip rescue insurance. You must take out a policy if you rent one from us. DeLorme offers insurance with device use.

Need for change

In 2018, the number of rescues, cancellations, and on demand requests for service skyrocketed. This is something we cannot really plan for or budget. In previous years, we preformed these services mostly as a courtesy and the demand was low enough it really did not impact our bottom line. This past summer was a different story. We can no longer subsidize these services.

You’ll notice we are not offering day of/on demand North Country Trail service. North Country Trail shuttles involve quite a bit more resources and planning on our part, therefore, all reservations must be made at least 7 days in advance. We had hikers texting and calling us from the trail, while on their hike, trying to arrange rides for after their hike. Being shuttled back to your car rarely works out, and, waiting until you are on the trail to make a reservation has about a zero percent chance of working out for the hiker that cannot plan in advance.

We no longer give any refund of any kind for anyone scheduling a “shuttleback”, which is a shuttle after their hike. If you do not make your pre-scheduled time and location, you will forfeit all funds and pay any new fees. No matter how far in advance, no matter the reason. Get shuttled at the BEGINNING of your hike. Let us pick you up at your vehicle and then drop you off so you can hike back to your car, at your pace. Only ONE of about two dozen “shuttlebacks” were successful in 2018. Most quit before reaching their final destination and the rest were either late or early.

Leave no Trace principle #1 is “plan and prepare”. Make your logistics arrangements with us more than a month in advance and we usually offer some sort of discount or reward for doing so. Waiting until the day of you may be learning a hard lesson on why its important to prepare in advance.

Emergencies happen, we understand that. However, we should not be on the financial hook. That is why you take out insurance.

Tom Funke
President, Trailspotters