They wanted an Overseas Adventure. Now they just want a refund

Overseas Adventure Travel gave them too much adventure

A Minnesota couple on an Overseas Adventure trip to Latin America got more than they bargained for when they requested a tour refund. Susan Sanger and her husband, Henry Solmer, abandoned a trip with the company in February when he became ill.

Then Sanger emailed the company to request partial reimbursement for the part of the trip they didn’t complete. She urged the company to revise its trip description, which she said was “significantly misleading and incomplete.” The 16-day “Route of the Maya” trip included stops in four countries and was described as “moderately easy.” When Overseas Adventure Travel didn’t respond to her email and failed to offer a tour refund, Sanger contacted our advocacy team.

Sanger’s experience should serve as a cautionary tale for people who enjoy adventure travel. Pay attention to information on the physical requirements for travelers. In this case, the description of this trip should have been a red flag for Sanger and her husband.

Is this Overseas Adventure trip really “moderately easy”?

Travelers should look past the sales pitch and evaluate for themselves how strenuous a trip might be based upon physical requirements provided by the travel company.

Consider some of the physical requirements listed by Overseas Adventure Travel for the Route of the Maya excursion:

  • Participants must walk at least three miles unassisted, stand for 30 minutes and participate in “6-9 hours of physical activities daily.”
  • Activities include a 4-mile walk with “steep slopes and steps” on Day 13 in Tikal.
  • Overseas Adventure Travel reserves the right to restrict participation or send travelers home, if their limitations impact the group’s experience.

The company indicated under a section called “Terrain” that travelers would encounter some “rugged paths and trails” on their journey.

These physical requirements suggest to us that this is not a tour many would describe as “moderately easy.”

The case for travel insurance

Sanger says she wouldn’t have joined the Overseas Adventure trip if it had “clearly described … physical challenges … participants would encounter.” In a letter to the company, she wrote she had “knee arthritis.” She indicated that condition limited her ability “to climb and descend stairs as quickly as some other people.”

Pro tip: When evaluating how strenuous a trip is, it always pays to read everything.

Reading through her paper trail, I wondered if Sanger had read the section on the physical requirements of this trip.

We don’t know why Sanger and her husband didn’t purchase travel insurance. When our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, asked her if she had the insurance, she admitted that they did not.

Sanger sought $7,000 in reimbursement for her Overseas Adventure trip. This figure included costs for unused hotel rooms, meals and their flights home.

Affordable trip insurance – or a tour refund?

The couple could have found an affordable travel insurance policy that would have covered both of them for a few hundred dollars. And since she mentioned that her husband had become briefly ill on a prior trip it would have been a good idea to invest in a good trip insurance policy in this instance.

Pro tip: Travel insurance is a no-brainer, especially if you’re older and enjoy an adventure that presents physical challenges. (Insurers typically charge more if the traveler has pre-existing conditions.)

For more information about the costs and benefits of travel insurance, readers can consult sites like Travelinsurance.com or Squaremouth.com, which allow you to compare policies.

My carrier offers three “trip interruption” plans, which provide 100 percent reimbursement for all nonrefundable, prepaid, unused trip payments. That includes payments when a trip is interrupted after departure because of covered “unforeseen circumstances,” including illness.

Michelle told Sanger she didn’t think Overseas Adventure Travel would issue a tour refund because of a medical problem. “That’s the type of thing travel insurance covers, and I would have no basis to request a refund from the company,” Michelle wrote in an email.  She pointed out that this request was basically asking for the benefits of a good trip insurance policy even though the couple didn’t buy one.

However, she suggested Sanger check her credit card for a “travel insurance policy” that might cover this event.

The other side of this Overseas Adventure trip issue

Michelle contacted Overseas Adventure Travel to discuss Sanger’s concern about the mislabeling of the adventure.

There appears to be some miscommunication about Overseas Adventure Travel’s response to Sanger’s complaint. While Sanger reports that no one responded to her, records indicate that OAT representatives reached out to her by email and phone in February. At that time, Overseas Adventure Travel declined her request for a tour refund.

Our OAT executive explained to Michelle:

I am so sorry that the Sangers could not complete their trip with us (Route of the Maya). Our records show that they left for home on Day 2 of the trip due to concerns around Mr. Sanger’s health.

As you accurately noted, our Route of the Maya trip is rated as moderately easy. We describe what that means in our catalog and website. I checked to see if we had received other traveler complaints regarding the trip’s designation, and we haven’t. Ms. Sanger’s concern seems to be that we require “participants to climb up to 1400 steps at archeological sites”, but we don’t require this. We bring travelers to archaeological sites, as indicated on the itinerary, but travelers decide for themselves what they want to do. They can walk around the site, ascend a few (or all) of the stairs, or take in the view from a seated position. There are always places to sit and rest. There’s also plenty of free time to explore the grounds at one’s own pace.

The bottom line on this Overseas Adventure trip

Overseas Adventure Travel isn’t going to offer a tour refund to Sanger and her husband. The tour’s “activity level” and “physical requirements” are detailed on the itinerary’s overview on the company’s website. But the Sangers’ experience should serve as a warning to others — get trip insurance before heading off on your adventure. Or be prepared to accept the financial consequences if things go wrong.

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