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 to get insurance for their trip. I could go straight to be point and just say that yes, you do. But I thought I’d instead break down all the reasons why you do, even when your budget is limited.
You see, backpacking is a lot of fun. I have done my great deal of it. But sure enough, whether I go backpacking or on a more comfortable trip, I always make sure to get a good insurance before stepping out the door.
Yet, I have noticed that there is a dangerous trend in the backpackers’ community, whereby many believe 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.
The reasoning is that a backpacker insurance is too costly and likely to be a waste of money; that in most countries prescriptions (including antibiotics) are easily available at the pharmacy; that if something happens you can just to the emergency room; and anyways the odds of something happening are very low.
This line of reasoning is simply irresponsible, if you ask me. So here I am explaining what a backpacker travel insurance is for, and the reasons why need it.
What Is A Backpacker Travel Insurance For?
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 an actual object, but 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, should something happen – 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 picking the right one is easier said than done. You need to research and questions before deciding which one to buy.
GOOD TO KNOW: I use SafetyWing and find it to be an excellent backpacking insurance.
TIP: 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.
What to look for in a travel insurance
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, EMERGENCY MEDICAL AND REPATRIATION – It covers you 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 costs of transferring you to a major one will be covered by the insurance.
PERSONAL ACCIDENT – In the unfortunate case you lose a limb or are left disabled or blind, your insurance will pay you a set amount.
PERSONAL LIABILITY – If, by accident, you cause injury to someone, or cause damage or loss to someone’s property, your backpacker insurance will cover the costs.
BAGGAGE AND PROPERTY INSURANCE – Your backpacker travel insurance will cover you in case of theft, loss or damage to your luggage (ie if the airline doesn’t deliver your backpack); and even loss or damage to any gear such as smartphone, laptop, camera etc. Keep in mind 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 you need an insurance that covers more than one item.
TRIP CANCELLATION – Usually unlikely for backpacking trips where you may move from one country to another, but a classic of insurance policies, it 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.
TIP: When purchasing your insurance, think about the kind of activities you plan on doing during our trip. For example, if you plan to do lots of 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.”
TIP: 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. As already said, 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 CAUSED BY USE OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL – If you really want to do drugs 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 trip because incidents caused by abuse of alcohol won’t be covered.
INCIDENTS CAUSED BY RECKLESS DRIVING – Chances are that if you are driving you will be covered by car insurance too. That’s a bonus, because your travel insurance won’t cover you for anything remotely dangerous you may have done while on the wheel.
PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS – Your insurance won’t cover you for chronic diseases or for conditions you had before buying the insurance.
PREGNANCY – 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 – You won’t be covered if you decide to travel to a place where a natural disaster has just occurred, or where war is raging. You can figure out why.
BREAKING UP – If you 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 claim things such as a nose job or even dentistry you got overseas on your backpacker travel insurance.
Now that you know what backpacker insurance is and what it will or will not cover let me explain why you need it.
12 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 (I get food poisoning every time I am in Mexico), throat infections and the like, and every time I am thankful for having a backpacker travel insurance to sort out a doctor’s appointment, get all the tests done, and 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? I bet you wouldn’t. So why would you do it while traveling? If you have a good insurance, you can call it and have a doctor’s appointment set up so that you can get prescription medications. The insurance will go above and beyond to locate the nearest pharmacy – and all medical expenses will be covered.
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 gear may get stolen
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 place to place 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! A good backpacker insurance usually includes passport loss coverage, which means that you will get help sorting out a new one.
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 your stuff will be delivered 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 meantime. 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
There are places you simply won’t be able to visit independently – think Salar de Uyuni, Antartica, etc. 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.
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Or go to countries where it is required
Did you know that there are some countries that will deny you entry unless you show proof of having 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. If that happens, 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.
In fact, your flight may get cancelled
… and airlines duck out when it happens. Airlines don’t refund tickets when flights are cancelled due to things such as natural disasters, strikes or terrorism attacks. Thankfully a good travel insurance helps sort things out.
GOOD TO KNOW: You can claim compensation for flight delay or cancellation. Various companies help travelers get their money back in case of a cancellation, and even in case of a delay, and it’s much much easier to go through them than dealing directly with the airline, having to spend hours on the phone or emailing back and forth to just obtain what is – quite simply – within your rights as a traveler.
Just because it hasn’t happened yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t
This is a simple enough principle to understand, yet some still struggle with it so you won’t mind if I share an example.
If your backpacking trip is taking you across Central America, you may wonder whether you need proof of onward travel when crossing borders. Some will say it is a legal requirement; others will tell you that although it is a legal requirement, nobody ever checks. The fact that checks are random and don’t happen frequently, however, doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’d check. I was asked to show proof of onward travel when I crossed from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, and from Costa Rica to Panama – and I was sure glad to have it.
The same principle applies to anything else when you travel: just because it’s never happened to you or anyone you know before, it doesn’t mean it never will. And that’s why you need to have a good insurance.
The costs to benefits ratio is – actually – great
Why pay for something that you are hoping you will never use? Because 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 a day – 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 fully afford it in a more responsible, sensible manner – backpacker insurance included.
So, Which One Is The Best Backpacker Travel Insurance?
There are hundreds of good insurance companies out there. However, researching which is best for your trip may take you weeks. And let’s face it, shopping for backpacker insurance isn’t exactly fun. I thought I’d outline the best backpacker insurance companies for your – so that you can make an informed decision.
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 $40 per 4 weeks). It is a combination between a great medical insurance for travelers, and an 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.
World Nomads is one of the most popular backpacker travel insurance companies, prized for its excellent customer service and for plans that are comprehensive for both long and short term travelers, and for the most adventurous ones. Activities such as hiking, kayaking and even adventure sports such as rafting, climbing and bungee jumping are included.
For the most classic travelers, World Nomads covers all the basics – emergency medical coverage, including dental expenses; trip cancellations; flight delays; baggage protection; emergency evacuation for medical or other purposes.
The starting price for a month’s policy is $126 USD – so $4 USD per day. Just slightly more expensive than SafetyWing.
This is one of the most budget friendly options in terms of travel insurance, so perfect if your budget is very limited – but it’s also suitable for business trips. It covers a bunch of activities – including more adventurous ones – and medical conditions; and cover a bunch of other classics classics such as flight delays, baggage loss, gear loss or theft and more.
They are one of the few companies that may cover you even in case of a pre-existing medical condition – so if that’s your case, make sure to check them out.
GOOD TO KNOW: To compare the prices and policies of up to 20 insurance companies, make sure to check out Insure My Trip. It’s perfect for older travelers too.
What You Should Do After Buying Your Insurance
Once you finally buy a good travel insurance, there are a few things you should do before you set off for the trip of a lifetime. Here is a quick overview:
- 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, easily accessible even if you don’t have internet; and share a copy with a family member or your best friend. Keep a copy in the cloud too – just in case!
- Set up a reminder a couple of weeks before your insurance is meant to expire – the good news is that most year long policies have auto-renewals, so you don’t have to worry about it expiring.
- Take photos of any expensive gear – make sure to also include the serial number; and store it in your cloud or Google Drive. Just in case you need to make a claim.
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, it’s good to have it. It helps me face unexpected emergencies, and it is a responsible thing to get as an adult.
Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in cooperation with SafetyWing. The views provided remain my own.