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If you get sick on a bus tour, can you get a refund?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

If you get sick on a bus tour, should the operator give you a refund — even if you completed the entire trip? Gay Hackney believes so.

She says that two fellow travelers aboard her bus appeared ill during a 13-day tour through Spain and Portugal. The father and son’s constant coughing irritated her, but the last straw came at the end of the trip when she woke up sick herself.

Now that she’s home, she wants to know if Trafalgar owes her a refund for this unpleasant bus tour. 

A bus tour filled to capacity

“51 people filled this bus– capacity is 52,” Hackney recalled. “The company assigned me a seat. This father and his 10-year-old son got completely sick. I had no choice but to sit next to them since the bus was full.”

And as the days went by, things did not improve.

In her request for help to our advocacy team, Hackney explained:

The son was hacking every few minutes for three days. I think he covered his mouth only some of the time. Then on the last day, I got a cold, and my cough started. I struggled to make it home from this unpleasant bus tour. Trafalgar shouldn’t have made the bus so crowded, then, I could have taken another seat. I would like a refund for the bus tour since I did not enjoy it because of these two.

A bus tour can be breeding grounds for illness

Bus tours by nature are crowded and can place you close to strangers for long periods of time. It is inevitable that some of these people may be annoying — or even worse, endanger your health.

But is it the responsibility of a bus tour company to ensure that all travelers are perfectly healthy?

I went to Trafalgar’s terms and conditions and read through the many pages.  I could find no health requirements for travelers except that: “Guests must ensure they are medically and physically able to travel.”

It appears that Trafalgar relies on passengers to self-report if they are unwell.

Since this document says that if a traveler is unfit to take the bus tour, they will be removed from the trip and will receive no refund, it’s unclear what the traveler’s motivation would be to report their illness.

Should an unpleasant bus tour lead to a refund?

In fact, in Hackney’s contract, Trafalgar advised that anyone suffering from “any form of illness” should make sure to bring enough medication for the entire length of the tour. But there’s no mention of what kind of illnesses should prevent you from taking the trip.

Hackney’s primary argument was that she had no choice in her seat assignment. She says that Trafalgar placed her in the seat beside this father and son. The overcrowded tour bus made it impossible to change seats and this led to her eventual illness. For these reasons, she believed that Trafalgar owed her a refund for this unpleasant bus tour that ended with her sickness.

Unfortunately, her tour contract does not support this assertion.

Bus tour contract mentions the risk of illness and injury.
The passenger contract for this bus tour explains there are risks and the company isn’t going to accept responsibility for those risks.

In multiple places, Trafalgar points out that there are inherent risks with participating in a bus tour. The company claims no responsibility for the illness or injury of a passenger unless Trafalgar’s negligence causes the condition.

I am not sure that placing the father and son coughing duo near Hackney would be considered negligence. After all, Hackney continued with the tour without making an official complaint for the entire 13 days.

And nowhere in the contract does it say that this bus tour will be operating at less than capacity. It’s unclear why Hackney believed that her bus should have been less crowded. Trafalgar, like all tour operators, is in business to make money — if there are 52 seats on the bus you can be sure that the company will fill those seats if at all possible.

The bottom line: no refund for this bus tour

In the end, there was no way to successfully mediate a refund for Hackney’s bus tour.

Traveling internationally can expose you to a multitude of germ possibilities. And although this father and son are the most obvious culprits, it’s impossible to pinpoint where Hackney picked up her illness. Her condition may have had nothing to do with the chosen suspects.

If you have a grievance during an organized tour, it’s critical to make it known at the time. This will give the company an opportunity to correct the situation or at the very least make a record of your complaint. Once your tour is over, it’s impossible for the company to properly investigate or remedy your issue.

We’re happy to hear that Hackney has recovered. I hope that her next vacation is free of coughing little boys who refuse to cover their mouths. But as anyone who travels knows — that can never be guaranteed.

How to reduce your chances of getting sick when you travel abroad

  • Choose less risky travel modes
    Remember, the closer you get to strangers whose health history and hygiene habits you don’t know, the riskier your trip will become. When choosing your mode of travel, keep this in mind. Research the company you intend to travel with and make sure they have implemented the most recent recommendations to reduce the risk of spreading illnesses.
  • Consider less dangerous destinations
    Again, reducing your exposure to large crowds is key. Choosing less populated destinations can be one way to lower your vulnerability to catching a bug from a stranger. Visit the U.S. State Department and read about your intended international destination and steer clear of locations with elevated health concerns. Also, check the Center for Disease control for the most up to date travel considerations and recommendations.
  • Carefully read the terms and conditions
    Before you book a bus tour or any other vacation, make sure you read all of the terms of the trip. In this case, Hackney hadn’t done that and was under the impression the bus would not be filled to capacity. It’s important to understand what you’re booking at the time you’re making the reservation. Reading through the entire contract might be tedious, but it also can save you from ending up on a 13-day tour with conditions you did not expect.
  • Purchase travel insurance
    A comprehensive travel insurance policy won’t protect you from getting sick internationally, but it will protect you from the financial repercussions. When selecting your policy make sure to read through the entire document to ensure that you’re purchasing something that meets your needs. You can use a site like InsureMyTrip to compare various policies across the travel insurance industry. Keep in mind, you typically have a 10-14 day “look-over” period after purchase before your travel insurance policy becomes nonrefundable. Use that time wisely and thoroughly review what you’ve purchased or you could end up with something that won’t protect you at all (See: Here’s how buying a travel insurance policy from a tour operator can be a $20,000 mistake).
  • Carry a travel sanitation kit
    No matter where your journeys take you, you’ll want to be prepared to keep your personal space clean. Consider making yourself a miniature sanitation kit that you can carry with you. Mine includes travel sizes of hand sanitizer, Lysol, disinfecting wipes, and liquid antibacterial soap — and don’t forget your vitamins! (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

Before you go: It’s not just bus travel that can turn bad, this traveler had a most disgusting train ride

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.
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I’m not sure why she thinks she’s due a refund; how can she even prove that the people she was sitting next to were sick? At this point it would be her word against theirs and what reason do they have to admit that they were traveling sick? If she was uncomfortable sitting next to them she should have said something when she first realized they were sick and if nothing was done she should have kept a record.


Her idea that the bus shouldn’t be filled is such a strange assertion from beginning to end.


On one hand, the tour operator definitely had potential to do better when allowing two actively sick passengers to continue on the tour given that it was primarily a bus tour and would nearly 100% get others sick.

On the other hand, this line
>It’s unclear why Hackney believed that her bus should have been less crowded.

combined with the travelers own:
>I did not enjoy it

leads me to believe this traveler was looking for a truly 5 star experience without having to pay for it, and is now looking to recoup some or all of the cost due to their own unwillingness to just book the kind of vacation they want (i.e. private driver & tour guide tour of Europe).


“Traveling internationally can expose you to a multitude of germ possibilities” Well, any travel does–regardless if you leave your country or not.

I spent many years flying into New York’s LGA airport while they were remodeling. This meant once I arrived, I joined others on a bus to go to the marine terminal so we could catch the correct rental car bus. On the return, reverse this process. I got a few respiratory illnesses; it was from these bus trips, the crowds at the airport, or fellow passengers on the planes–but I am guessing mainly the bus passengers were oversharing. And all these trips were domestic.

I recommend simple things to minimize getting sick: do not touch your mouth, nose, or eyes until you wash your hands. Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands (actually, many teachers have been doing this for years), try to look away if some coughs or sneezes near you, and if you tend to get sick easily, ensure you get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water, and consider taking vitamin C or other supplements your doctor recommends, and follow the cleaning techniques mentioned in the article. Also, get the flu shot annually.

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