What if your circumstances change during your trip?

I’m a scuba diver. An avid scuba diver.

So when I’m anywhere tropical and I see that striped red dive flag flapping on the dock, I just can’t help myself. I need to know when the next dive boat leaves and if there’s room for me.

Actually, I’m more than an avid diver, I’m also an instructor. In a past life, I trained diving instructors on how to become instructors. Yeah, that serious.

But does my passion for being underwater line up with my travel insurance policy? Kind of. I have an annual policy through Allianz Travel Insurance. It covers scuba diving but it excludes “all extreme, high risk sports.”

Among the activities not covered:

  • Bodily contact sports
  • Skydiving
  • Hang gliding
  • Bungee jumping
  • Parachuting
  • Mountain climbing or any other high altitude activities
  • Caving
  • Heli-skiing, extreme skiing, or any skiing outside marked trails

Phew. Just thinking about all that adventure makes my pulse race.

This is the fourth installment of our buyer’s guide on travel insurance. We’ve already looked at the many types of trips — and whether they are covered by insurance — as well as the most common type of special circumstances. Yesterday, we also looked at what travel insurance doesn’t cover. But today, let’s focus on the circumstances that can change while you’re on your trip.

And let’s stay underwater for a few minutes. Diving is an interesting topic, one of the most common special circumstances you could face when you’re traveling. It is an inherently risky activity that some insurance policies cover, and some don’t. And coverage varies. One policy might cover all diving, while others would only cover you if you’re diving with a certified guide or instructor.

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But there are other circumstances that you could face on your trip that may make you wonder if you’re covered under your policy. Here are a few circumstances that generally are not covered by a standard travel insurance policy, even if your personal circumstances change while you’re away:

Mental health
If you have a nervous breakdown while you’re on the road, don’t try to file a claim. On a standard policy, mental health issues are excluded from coverage. And that’s true even if you had no mental health problem before your trip. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, neurosis or psychosis are simply not covered.

Military orders
If you’re active-duty or in the reserves, and your orders change, insurance normally won’t cover you. However, you may be able to secure a refund or a no-fee change from your airline if you can show your military orders.

Allianz may cover you for cancellation if you or a traveling companion serving in the U.S. Armed Forces are reassigned or have your personal leave revoked. There are exceptions, so read the fine print.

Nuclear reaction, radiation or radioactive contamination
If you’re planning a vacation in Fukushima or Chernobyl, this is good to know. Radiation isn’t covered.

An Ebola or avian flu outbreak
In fact, any epidemic or pandemic is off the menu, when it comes to most travel insurance policies — even if the outbreaks begin after your trip has commenced. It’s better to avoid places that are at risk for such outbreaks.

Bankruptcy of an airline, cruise line or tour operator
Some travel insurance doesn’t cover the financial default of a travel supplier (read the fine print). This is particularly true if they self-insure — in other words, if you buy cruise “protection” directly through your cruise line. If that same cruise line goes under, your money goes down with it, too.

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Allianz will cover you for trip cancellation if your tour operator, airline or cruise line ceases operations due to financial default. Specific requirements apply, so read the fine print.

Government travel prohibitions.
If the U.S. Department of State issues a warning before or during your vacation, it doesn’t matter. Chances are, your policy won’t cover it.

There are travel insurance workarounds, of course. You can buy a more expensive “cancel for any reason” policy that will cover any reason for cancellation (but it’s more expensive and you’ll only get a percentage of your nonrefundable deposit and expenses back).

Or you can look for a policy that will cover everything. For example, my fellow divers swear by the Divers Alert Network policies, which cover items unique to divers, such as the loss of sports equipment (like tanks, buoyancy control devices and fins). When it comes to travel insurance and your unique circumstances, it really pays to shop around.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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