A good backpacker travel insurance is essential whether you are planning to go on a short term trip or considering long term traveling.

This post is for all those travelers who are wondering whether they need a backpacker travel insurance. I could go straight to be point and just say that yes, you do. But I have an obsession for explaining myself. Hence, I have decided to break down all the reasons why you do need a backpacker insurance, even when your budget is limited.

You see, backpacking is a lot of fun. I have done my great deal of it. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I still do it, even when I could actually afford to travel a bit more comfortably. One thing hasn’t changed though. Whether I go backpacking or on a more comfortable trip, I always make sure to get a good backpacker travel insurance before stepping out the door.

Yet, I have noticed that there is a dangerous trend in the backpackers’ community. Following discussions in a bunch of Facebook backpackers’ groups I am a member of, I realized that many travelers seem to think that getting a good backpacking insurance isn’t necessary, and that you are not a real backpacker (but rather, an unsuccessful one) if you do.

They say that a backpacker insurance is too costly and likely to be a waste of money. They argue that in most countries they can get prescriptions (including antibiotics) at the pharmacy (let me not get into a discussion about why you should only take antibiotics if a physician prescribes them). They believe that if they are desperate they can go to the emergency room. And they comment that the odds of something happening are very low. They could not be more irresponsible. 

In this post, I explain what a backpacker travel insurance is for, and the reasons why you are better off getting one.

backpacker insurance

You never know when you may need a travel insurance

What Is A Backpacker Travel Insurance For?

I admit that the term backpacker travel insurance can be less than clear and that it can mean several different things.

Yet, a backpacker insurance is an essential item for a trip overseas, one you can’t really see until you have to use it. It’s not like an actual backpack that you stuff with your clothes; or like a pair of good hiking boots that you will wear every day on the trails. In fact, it’s the kind of thing you buy hoping you’ll never really need to use it.

It pretty much means hoping for good luck while at the same time knowing that, in the unlikely event something happens – whether you get robbed; you have a family emergency and need to fly home; you get sick and need to be hospitalized; or you have an accident while walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – you have a net of protection and don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars to get help.

Nowadays, many companies offer backpacker insurance, and I know for a fact that picking the right one is easier said than done. I think it took me weeks of research, questions and considerations before deciding which one to buy. SafetyWing is an excellent backpacking insurance, for example.

Whichever backpacker travel insurance cover you decide to get, make it a point to read and understand all the conditions of the policy before buying it. I suggest calling the company, browsing the site, and even enquiring with a reliable travel agent who, selling several insurance policies along with tour packages, is bound to be knowledgeable on the subject.

The main characteristics of a good backpacker insurance aren’t much different from those of a regular travel insurance. These are the things which – as a minimum – you should be looking for:

  • Medical insurance, and especially emergency medical and repatriation. This means that you will be covered for things such as accidents, and you will get hospital and doctors’ visits during your trip. It means that you can access a doctor if you break your leg, and even if that traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t go away on its own. Medical repatriation means that if there is no good hospital to assist you nearby, the insurance will cover the costs to transport you to a major one.
  • Personal accident. This means that in the unfortunate case you lose a limb or are left disabled or blind, your insurance will pay you a set amount.
  • Personal liability. This means that if, by accident, you cause injury to someone, or damage or cause loss to someone’s property, your backpacker insurance will cover the costs.
  • Baggage and property insurance. This means that your backpacker travel insurance will cover you in case of theft, loss or damage to your luggage (if the airline doesn’t deliver your backpack); and even loss or damage to any gear such as smartphone, laptops, cameras etc. One thing to be aware is that most insurance companies will put a limit to the number of items you can insure. If you travel with a lot of electronic gear (that’s the case for me!) you do need an insurance that covers more than one item.

One thing you likely won’t need is trip cancellation, which is a classic of most insurance policies but won’t be as relevant to a backpacking trip where you plan to move from one country to another. Trip cancellation usually refers to unexpected interruptions and sudden changes to your travel plans caused by factors such as flights being cancelled or other reasons that stop you from traveling.

Another thing you must absolutely consider is the kind of activities you plan on doing during our trip. For example, if you enjoy things such as hiking and adventure sports, you may have to pay a little extra for a sports travel insurance, or for a trekking insurance. If you plan on renting a car every now and then, you may want to get an insurance that also covers for “collision damage waiver excess.”

Finally, you want to make sure that your backpacker travel insurance has an emergency number that can be contacted 24/7.

Are There Things A Backpacker Travel Insurance Won’t Cover?

There certainly are. I have already explained that most insurances won’t cover things such as extreme sports – for those, you need to look for a specific plan. But there are other things you should not expect to be covered by your insurance. Here they are:

  • Incidents that are caused by the use of drugs and alcohol – if you really want to do drugs (personally, I have never had a fascination for them, but we’re all different I suppose), stay at home where you can be taken care of if anything happens. Similarly, don’t go around getting trashed with alcohol during your backpacking trips because incidents caused by abuse of alcohol won’t be covered.
  • Incidents that are caused by reckless driving – chances are that if you are driving you will  be covered by car insurance too. Make sure you do, because chances are your travel insurance won’t cover you for anything remotely dangerous you may have done while on the wheel.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions – if you have a chronic disease, for example, your insurance won’t cover you for that. The same goes for a condition you’ve had prior to stipulating your insurance.
  • Pregnancy – make sure to triple check this one with your insurance provider, as chances are that if you are pregnant you may have to pick a specific plan.
  • Stolen cash – unless you are on a more comprehensive plan, this isn’t generally included.
  • Visa issues – if you need to get a visa to enter a specific country but for whatever reason you are refused one and have to cancel your trip, chances are your insurance won’t cover you for that.
  • Civil unrest that doesn’t require evacuation – if your government hasn’t started procedures to evacuate its nationals visiting a country that’s going through civil unrest, your insurance won’t cover you for that.
  • Knowingly traveling to dangerous places – keep this in mind if you insist on visiting places where natural disasters have just occurred, or where a war has been going on. The reasons are pretty obvious, if I may add.
  • Breaking up – unless otherwise specified, if you decide to cancel a trip you were meant to take with your (now former) partner, your insurance won’t cover you for that.
  • Medical tourism – you can’t really claim things such as a nose job or even dentistry you got overseas on your backpacker travel insurance.

Now that I have clarified what backpacker insurance is and what it should cover and what it won’t cover, let me explain why you do need it.

Continue reading to find out why you need to get a good backpacker insurance.

backpacker travel insurance

Sometimes trips don’t go as planned – that’s what insurance is for

11 Reasons To Get A Good Backpacker Travel Insurance

You may get sick during your backpacking trip

I have yet to meet a backpacker that never got sick on the road. Sure enough, I got my good deal of food poisoning (in fact, I think I get food poisoning every time I am in Mexico), throat infections and the like, and each time I did I was glad that I could call my backpacker travel insurance to sort out a doctor’s appointment, get all the tests done, and get the necessary prescriptions.

You may need prescription medications

Would you go to a pharmacy in your home country and expect to get prescription medications without an actual prescription? Well, you wouldn’t really. So why would you do it while traveling? Don’t get me wrong – I have certainly tried my luck with this; and even very recently if I may add so.

During a recent trip to Argentina, I recognized that the symptoms I was having were those of a urinary infection. It was a Saturday evening, I was in Buenos Aires and I was getting ready to go out for a drink. I thought about popping into the nearest pharmacy and asking for some quick fix before getting back to business (aka drinking beer).

As soon as I asked the pharmacist to please give me the prescriptions (I thought) I needed, she asked me whether in Italy I can get them off the counter or if I’d need a prescription. She had a point!

I ended up having to call my insurance company, who sent me to the nearest hospital where a doctor examined me and prescribed the necessary medications. The insurance even located the nearest pharmacy for me – and all medical expenses were covered by it.

backpacker insurance

Not a pretty photo: the terrible wound I got in Jordan

You may injure yourself

If you enjoy hiking as much as I do, a good backpacker insurance company that covers for hiking, or even a sport or trekking insurance is necessary. While hiking isn’t dangerous per se, accidents while hiking may occur. I was hiking the Jordan Trail when I accidentally wounded myself going through some thick bushes, and sure enough I couldn’t apply stitches myself – good thing my insurance sent me to the nearest clinic for that.

Your precious laptop may get stolen

Or your camera, or smartphone. The point I am trying to make is that while not all backpackers carry a laptop or a camera, they all carry a smartphone or a tablet. Chances are that you may leave your tablet locked away in your room when you go out; but someone may snatch your phone out of your pocket – yes, even if it is zipped up! In fact, someone may even steal your locked away tablet.

Though you may have saved all your documents and photos in the cloud, what about the actual phone or laptop? A good insurance will cover for it and help you replace it.

Or you may be the one losing things

Moving from hostel to hostel, or better from country to country while backpacking means you will inevitably lose things. It is not the end of the world if you drop a sock, a headlamp or a book – they can be easily replaced.

But what if you lose your passport? Now, that is a nightmare! I only know too well: I forgot it in the photocopy machine at a random shop in Nicaragua right before crossing the border to Costa Rica. I was able to retrieve it then, but what if I hadn’t been? A good backpacker insurance usually includes passport loss coverage, which means that you will get help sorting out a new one.

backpacker travel insurance

Just in case – you do need a good insurance!

The airline may lose your backpack

You are just starting your trip. You check in your backpack, board your plane, and 12 hours later find yourself in a different continent. Pity your backpack didn’t make it there: the airline lost your luggage. It’s one of the most annoying things that can happen to travelers. Chances are that you will be getting your stuff in a day or two (or nine, as it happened to my sister once). But you will still need some clean clothes and toiletries to get by while you wait for your luggage to arrive. A good backpacker insurance will cover the costs of replacing your backpack and all the items in it.

You may want to join a guided trip

What? A backpacker going on a guided trip? Believe it or not, it does happen. Unless you can drive through the Sahara desert by yourself, or cross the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia alone, obviously.

Ok, back to being serious now. There are places you won’t be visiting independently, because it is simply too complicated. When you join a guided group trip, and even more so one that has a high level of adventurous activities, the operator will require to purchase a good travel insurance. That’s when your backpacker travel insurance will come in handy.

Or go to countries where it is required

Did you know that there are some countries that will deny you entry unless you don’t show proof of having a backpacker insurance? Make sure to double check whether you can enter the country (or countries) that you are planning to visit, and to get your insurance accordingly.

You may miss your flight

No matter how hard you try to leave nice and early for a flight, you may get stuck in traffic. I remember I was in the very civilized London once, and I left something like 4 hours in advance to get to the airport nice and early. Pity that there were power cuts along the rail line and I was stuck on the train, and by the time I made it to the airport I was unable to check in and board my flight. If this happens to you, your insurance may be able to cover the costs of the new flight you may need to purchase, and help you get a refund for the missed flight.

backpacking insurance

Most of all, remember to have fun during your trip

Just because it hasn’t happened yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t

One of the most frequently asked questions in backpacking groups across Facebook is whether you need proof of onward travel when traveling to Central America countries. I won’t hide this from you: I get annoyed at it every time.

You see, the simple answer to this question is that proof of onward travel is required by law, and you may or may not be asked for it. However, every time this question comes up, I also see comments by travelers saying they were never asked, or that they were asked but managed to get through the border somehow.

My point is always the same. Just because someone, or even everyone has been lucky and wasn’t asked, it doesn’t mean the law is not there and that there are no chances you’ll be the one who gets asked.

Why am I ranting about this, now? Because the exact same principle applies to backpacking insurance. Just because it’s never happened to you or anyone you know before, it doesn’t mean it never will.

The costs to benefits ratio is – actually – great

I know what most of you are thinking: why pay for something that you are hoping you will never use? Because to be fair, it is not that expensive, and once you think about the cover that even the most basic backpacker travel insurance will provide, then it’s not bad value at all. After all, it’s better to pay a policy that costs a mere $2 USD per day (yes, that cheap!) than having to pay thousands in case something happens. Your good luck costs just $2 USD. If you ask me, that’s totally worth it.

And if you don’t have that extra $2 USD per day, then maybe you shouldn’t be traveling altogether. Work for a little longer, save a little more and postpone your trip when you can make sure you can actually fully afford it in a more responsible, sensible manner – backpacker insurance included.

travel insurance

Planning on doing some adventure sports? You definitely need a good travel insurance

So, What’s A Good Backpacker Travel Insurance?

There are hundreds of good insurance companies out there. However, researching which policy is the best for a long term trip that involves visiting more than one foreign country; during which you may be off grid at times; during which you may be practicing adventure sports; while you will be carrying all sorts of gear such as cameras, laptop and other electronics – may take you weeks. And let’s face it, shopping for backpacker insurance isn’t exactly fun.

I like SafetyWing, a good insurance perfect for people who, like me, move around a lot, going from one country to another and hardly know their itinerary in advance, and carry their job with them.

SafetyWing is a very affordable insurance (it starts at $37 per 4 weeks). It is a fantastic combination between a great medical insurance for travelers, and a great old school travel insurance. At the moment, SafetyWing doesn’t cover electronics (so it’s better for those who don’t carry too many valuables with them) and extreme adventure sports – however, they are working on adding these two options in the next couple of months.

What I like about it is that it works like a subscription: you pick a start date and can cancel whenever you want. There is no maximum duration for your trip (so it’s perfect even if you don’t have a return date set) and you can set up monthly auto-renewal so that you can be sure your coverage won’t expire. And instead of paying it all at once for a year (if you are traveling that long) you just pay every month – so you don’t have to shell out a huge chunk of money all at once.

Another great advantage of SafetyWing is that it actually gives you some (limited) coverage in your home country. In my case, I still get free medical assistance in Italy by virtue of being still a resident (this is where I pay all my taxes!), but I know that in some countries like the US you need to have a health insurance, so this is very convenient.

The actual final monthly cost of SafetyWing depends on a number of factors – ie your age and the countries you will be visiting (it’s going to be more expensive if you plan to visit the US). Each quote is personal, so I recommend visiting SafetyWing website to get a quote for your personal backpacker travel insurance.

backpacker travel insurance

At times our trips don’t go so smoothly

What You Should Do After Buying Your Backpacker Travel Insurance

Once you finally got convinced and bought a good travel insurance, there are a few things you should do before you set off for the trip of a lifetime.

First of all, make a note of your policy number, your insurance emergency contact number and its e-mail. Download a copy of the policy: keep one for yourself, making sure it is easily accessible even if you don’t have internet; and share a copy with a family member or your best friend. Make sure to also keep a copy in the cloud – just in case!

Most year long policies have auto-renewals, so you don’t have to worry about it expiring. This is the same for SafetyWing, which you pay in monthly installments. If your backpacker insurance doesn’t renew automatically, set up a reminder a couple of weeks before it’s meant to expire.

Final Thoughts On Getting A Backpacker Travel Insurance

I suppose you get the idea of how important I think having a good backpacker insurance is. I’ve had to use my travel insurance a bunch of times, and it really helped me. What you need to understand is that life is unpredictable, and even when we want to be optimistic and keep a positive attitude, we can’t foresee the future.

I always hope that I won’t have to make use of my travel insurance, and I sincerely hope you don’t have to use it either. But in case it is necessary, I am glad I bought it. It helps me face unexpected emergencies, and it is a responsible thing to get as an adult.

Have you ever had to use your backpacker travel insurance? Let me know in the comments!

Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in cooperation with SafetyWing. The views provided remain my own.

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Read why you need travel insurance - via @clautavani