Whether you’re going trekking in Nepal, or simply travelling to a high altitude destination, it’s good to know if your travel medical insurance covers you for high altitude sickness.

How high altitude sickness affects travel

Altitude sickness is a serious condition. Even if you get mild altitude sickness, you might need emergency medical attention or even have to cut your trip short. Symptoms range from headache, nausea, fatigue (similar to a hangover) to breathlessness, confusion, clumsiness and drowsiness.

high altitude trekkers in group hiking up snowy ridge

The Hog’s Back by Shaylor licensed under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

Check out the Golden Rules of Altitude Sickness from altitude.org, and follow this simple advice: descend to a lower elevation immediately, and if needed seek medical care right away.

You don’t have to be a serious mountain climber to get altitude sickness.  Regular tourists experience unexpected altitude sickness at high elevation. I witnessed this myself in the French Alps. While ascending Chamonix’s famous Aiguille du Midi cable car, rising over 3,800m in 20 minutes, I felt faint and sick to my stomach. I couldn’t stay up top long. I wasn’t the only one; a woman fainted and toppled over next to me. Her children started crying and her husband panicked, yelling for help. They were escorted down to the village in the next gondola.

Chamonix cable car takes you to high altitudes in seconds
If you’re in Chamonix, France, don’t miss the incredible view from the Aiguille du Midi cable car. If you’re like me, you’ll feel the altitude right away!

It was the same when I drove from San Francisco (sea level) to Yosemite National Park (2,000-13,000 feet depending on where you are). You definitely feel higher altitude when you arrive, making a hike the first few days harder than usual.

If you’re travelling to a high altitude destination, make sure you take time to acclimatize (or ‘acclimate,’ as the Americans say) before any major physical activity. If you’re on a group tour of the Inca Trail to Maachu Pichu or trekking Kilimanjaro, you’ll likely hear many local tips to prevent altitude sickness like chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea (mate de coca in South America). Warning: coca tea is illegal in many countries, and its effectiveness for combatting altitude sickness hasn’t been proven!)

high altitude trekker camping a mountain hut

High Altitude Dwelling by Andrew E. Larsen licensed under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

Travel insurance for high altitude destinations

Two kinds of travel insurance plans will cover you for altitude sickness:

Emergency medical insurance

Emergency medical or travel medical insurance covers you for medical emergency expenses due to altitude sickness while on your trip. We offer travel insurance for backcountry skiers and other recreational high altitude activities! Along the same lines, if you have a medical emergency, we also cover helicopter air ambulance at altitude, and this article goes into more detail.

Trip interruption insurance

If you’re planning a trip to a high altitude destination where altitude sickness is common, it’s a good idea to get trip interruption insurance. Trip interruption reimburses prepaid costs if you or your travelling companions are forced to cut to the trip short or return earlier than expected, as well as additional out-of-pocket expenses that pop up due to the interruption. Remember: the trip needs to be interrupted for a medical reason, advised by a doctor for your coverage to kick in.

A TuGo altitude sickness story

Our customer, Clement L. was certainly glad he had both TuGo’s Emergency Medical Insurance and Trip Interruption Insurance when he went trekking in Patagonia, Argentina.

happy tugo customer purchased trip interruption insurance for altitude sickness
Clement and Charles Antoine, Aconcagua’s South Face, Argentina

While on his Patagonian trek, Clement started feeling very ill. Doctors told him to descend to a lower altitude immediately. Clement continued to suffer from altitude sickness, and was advised by doctors to return home, forcing him to cancel the remainder of his tour.

Thankfully he had purchased Trip Interruption: he made it home safely where he could start recovering immediately and we also reimbursed him for the portion of his tour that he couldn’t finish (these are referred to as “unused prepaid expenses” in the policy).

If Clement hadn’t bought Trip Interruption insurance, and only purchased Emergency Medical, his emergency medical insurance would only have covered him for the medical expenses and his early flight home (as advised by his doctor). Thanks to his Trip Interruption coverage he  got his money back for the rest of the trip too.

TuGo’s Trip Interruption and Emergency Medical Insurance have helped many travellers like Clement. He wrote to us saying “Keep up the good work.” Will do, Clement!

Clement’s claim amount: $7,103 (for reimbursement of unused, non-refundable pre-paid expenses (hotel, meals, tours, excursions, cost to return home early).

travel insurance to avoid ice climbing at high altitude

Climbers by Billy Gast licensed under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

Elevation limits for altitude sickness insurance

If you’re climbing to Everest Base camp or similar high altitude destinations, look for a policy that covers you for any elevation. TuGo travel insurance offers coverage to mountaineers at various altitudes. If you’re mountaineering 6,000 metres or under, you’ll need to purchase the Adventure Sports Optional coverage. If over 6,000 metres, you’ll need to purchase the Extreme Sports Optional coverage.

In fact, we cover many recreational trekkers, mountain climbers and alpinists summiting in the Himalayas, and we often help travellers with travel insurance claims in Kathmandu.

Where in the world have you felt the effects of altitude? What tips for altitude sickness can you share? Leave a comment below!

Happy high altitude travels,

Leah

leah-writer-tugo

Find related articles on travel