16 December 2018
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Backpackers travel insurance

The term ‘backpacker’ refers to people who travel with their possessions literally on their backs. Backpacking is a popular option for many graduates, students and young people who seek adventure and who want to explore Europe, Australia, America or Asia. The time spent abroad on these trips can typically range from 3 to 18 months or several short multi trips.

Backpacker Travel Insurance is also known as Gap Year, Long Stay or Extended Stay travel insurance. It tends to focus more on medical essentials and less on personal possessions, primarily because backpackers usually travel light and therefore do not take a lot of possessions with them. 

Why backpackers travel insurance is important

Travelling comes with risks. Apart from all the usual perils, backpackers tend to stay in budget hotels, hostels or shared accommodation, all of which makes them more susceptible to theft and crime. For a small amount of money you will not only get cover but also peace of mind should the worst ever happen.

When looking to take out backpackers travel insurance always remember that the cheapest option is not always the best. You need to find a reputable company that will honour valid claims quickly and in full. Remember that policies can vary considerably between insurers so it’s advisable to spend time comparing what insurers have to offer. The market is very competitive and new companies specifically targeted at backpackers regularly come onto the scene.

What you see on this page is not intended to be an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts, but instead a starting point to help you understand everything you need to know about this niche subject.

How backpackers travel insurance is different from normal travel insurance

  • Policies permit a policy holder to travel extensively, from country to country.
  • You are covered for much longer, typically up to 18 months.
  • It covers many risky activities that other policies do not i.e. scuba diving, parachuting etc.
  • It is usually targeted at young people (mostly under the age 36 years).

Tips on taking out backpackers insurance

  • Try to take out cover with established or well known insurance providers.
  • Check the wording of any policy carefully - watch out for loop-holes and coverage black-spots.
  • Read the small print – find out what is covered and what is not.
  • Some things you want to do may be classified as "hazardous activities" and could require an additional charge. A good idea is to make a list of what you want to do (i.e. rock climbing) and then confirm with a prospective insurance provider that they will cover these activities.

Credit card insurance
You may get a certain amount of travel insurance cover from your credit card. However this tends to be very basic, and rarely covers you for everything. It’s always best to take out additional insurance that’s comprehensive and covers you for all the things you want to do. 

General questions to ask

  • Can you extend your cover in case you decide to stay longer, like a ‘pay as you go’ policy.
  • Are you allowed to make short trips back home, for instance for family events or the Christmas holidays.  
  • Is there a 24 hour English speaking helpline available for emergency assistance and travel advice.
  • Does the policy provide stopover cover.

Check your policy to see if you are covered for:

  • Medical expenditure
  • Personal accident (in the unfortunate event of death or permanent disability, your insurance company will pay out a certain amount of money).
  • Personal liability (in case you injure someone or damage their property and are then sued)
  • Repatriation costs
  • Paid or voluntary work (including manual labour).
  • Adventure sports.
  • Delayed departures.
  • Cancellations
  • Being stranded abroad.

Possessions that you policy should cover

  • Cash
  • Electronic items (like cameras)
  • Jewellery
  • Laptops
  • Passports

Backpackers insurance should cover you for activities such as

  • Archaeological digging
  • Archery
  • Bungee jumping
  • Canoeing
  • Cycling
  • Parasailing
  • Parachuting
  • Rambling
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Trekking
  • Water boarding
  • Yachting

If you intend to participate in these high-adrenalin activities you need to make sure you are covered before you embark on your journey.

Policy excess
This is the initial amount that you pay when you make a claim. You can choose what excess you pay if you need to make a claim. The higher your excess the cheaper your insurance can become, correspondingly if decide to waive your excess the cost of your policy will almost certainly be higher.

Insurance exclusions
It’s vital that you find out what you are NOT covered for. A good idea is to make a list of all the things you want to do then find out if you are covered by reading the policy document and terms and conditions or even calling the insurance company to ask them. If you are not covered then don’t panic as you can usually ‘bolt on’ extra activities for a small extra charge. 

Cancelling your insurance
Many policies have a 14 day ‘cooling off period’ which entitles you to cancel your policy if you change your mind.

Alcohol and drugs
Be aware that virtually all travel insurance policies are unlikely to cover you in the case of alcohol or drug related injury or damage.

Short trips back home
Some policies allow you one or two trips back to your home country. This gives people a chance to have a ‘break’ from their backpacking around the world. If they allow this then check:

  • How long you are allowed to stay home i.e. 7 or 14 days.

Medical cover
It’s generally recommended that backpackers take out a policy with £1 million of healthcare cover within the EU and £2 million when travelling outside of the EU. Also note that on some policies you may need to call the company first before accepting any medical assistance.

Reasons why you may be refused cover

  • Backpacker insurance is typically aimed at young people, if you are a bit older then you may be refused by some insurers. 
  • You have a pre existing medical condition.
  • If you are travelling to war zones or countries that your government has advised against visiting.

Honesty is the best policy
Never lie or be economical with the truth, always declare anything which you feel may affect the policy (i.e. existing health conditions), otherwise your policy may be invalid. It’s better to have an increased premium and pay a bit more rather than taking the risk of being uninsured. In the event of a claim insurance providers always try their hardest to limit the amount they pay out, don’t give them an excuse not to pay you at all.

European Health Insurance Card
If you are travelling through Europe then consider taking out a free card. It can give you access to medical treatment at reduced cost or sometimes free.

Vaccinations
Have the necessary vaccinations as early as possible. Remember that some jabs or medication needs to be taken over a period of a few days or even weeks. They can also have side effects which can make you feel unwell, the last thing you want is to start your journey whist your recovering from the after effects of any vaccines. 

Visas
Find out if you need one, and if you do then apply for it as soon as possible as they can take a few weeks to process.

Reporting a theft
Remember that an insurance companys will only pay out on a theft claim if the victim has reported it to the local police at the time it happened. They will require proof that you have done this, for instance a police report of reference number.

Copy all important paperwork
Take two photocopies of all your important paperwork like passports, insurance documents etc. Leave one copy with a family member or close friend and take the other copy with you. 

Emergency contact numbers
You should be given a 24 hours international emergency helpline that you can call just in case something bad happens or if you need to make a claim. Store this number in your phone, or better still send it as an email to yourself. For added security write it down and keep it in your wallet, basically keep it someplace where you can access it quickly.

GENERAL TIPS ON BACKPACKING

  • Be realistic when planning your trip, on your travels you can't go everywhere and do everything.
  • Think about the main places you really want to go to and the key things you’ve always wanted to do, put these at the top of any to do list.
  • Price up essentials like food, accommodation and travel.
  • Never carry large amounts of cash with you.


Related links
Gap year travel insurance
Study abroad insurance
Student travel insurance
University courses


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