Planning your gap year is an exciting process, full of opportunity and wonder, and the last thing you want to do is think about anything going wrong. The problem is, you need to. It is essential that you spend at least a little bit of time ensuring that you have the right insurance cover for your backpacking trip just in case the worst does happen.
We’ve all heard them haven’t we? Those horror stories of backpackers suffering horrific accidents and not being covered by their insurance, or even worse those who never bought insurance in the first place and ended up with medical bills the size of a small mortgage, usually ending up with parents or loved ones selling a house to get them back home.
There have even been a sharp rise in go fund me campaigns in recent years where family members are forced to essentially beg strangers to pay for their loved ones medical bills, search and rescue or even repatriation in the worst cases. The usual response is ‘why didn’t they have had insurance?’
What is perhaps most worrying, is that most travellers heading off on their gap years think they are invincible. Many think that anything like that won’t happen to them.
The fact is it may very well not do, but what do you do if an emergency does happen when you are travelling abroad? Can you afford to replace all your gear if it gets lost, damaged or stolen? Do you know where to get qualified medical treatment if you become sick or injured? Can you afford the medical bills up front?
This Is Exactly Why Travel Insurance Is So Important.
I really don’t mean to sound alarmist, far from it. Travelling around the world is actually very safe with reasonable common sense precautions, and odds are you probably won’t need insurance at all. The chances are strongly in your favour that you will head off on your gap year, have an awesome time and come back safe and sound with a hundred amazing stories to tell.
After all, despite having a few near misses and scrapes on my own travels, including nearly drowning in Thailand, having an attempted (and bungled) mugging attempt against me in Colombia and even catching dengue fever in India, I’ve never once in fifteen years of travel had to claim on my travel insurance.
But that doesn’t mean I would ever set off on a trip without it.
Travel insurance is there for emergencies. It’s whole purpose is to be there for those ‘just in case’ moments, the moments that will probably never happen, but will be your worst nightmare if they do. Travel insurance is there to give you peace of mind, to let you enjoy your round the world adventure safe in the knowledge that you will be protected if the worst does happen.
Travel insurance is there to act as a safety net when you are at your lowest and most vulnerable.
Believe me, if the worst does happen and you find yourself in an emergency situation, those insurance premiums are an absolute pittance when compared to medical bills or repatriation costs that you could be faced with.
Depending on where you go and what you do on your gap year, it may even be that travel insurance is a basic prerequisite of travelling. Countries such as Cuba, the U.A.E, Turkey and others are making comprehensive travel insurance a mandatory part of obtaining certain visas, and the same is true for certain long term volunteering or work placement trips.
This is why it is absolutely essential that you get the right insurance.
Odds are that you won’t even need insurance, but you’ll be glad you have it if you do.
What Should You Look For With Good Travel Insurance?
- How long are you away for? Most policies cover general 2 week or 30 day holiday periods, but specific gap year and backpacker insurance policies understand the long term nomadic existence of backpackers and go beyond this, offering policies of a year or more, however long you need. So make sure you pick the right provider. You should also ensure that the policy you buy covers you for the entirety of your trip, not just part of it, or you risk not being covered if you need it.
- Cheap isn’t always best. No one likes handing over their hard earned cash for what feels like a piece of paper with the word ‘con’ written on it, I get that, and it may be very tempting to simply plump for the cheaper policy to save yourself a few quid. The problem is that policy will be cheaper for a reason and may not cover you for everything you need.
- Make sure your valuables are really covered. Many backpackers set off around the world now armed with a small fortune in gadgets. The latest smartphone, a fancy DSLR camera, a laptop or a tablet, or even both! All of these add up to a lot of money if you need to replace them, and you need to check that they are properly covered by your policy. Some policies exclude gadgets entirely in the small print, and expect you to get separate insurance for them, and don’t assume that the expensive cover you bought with your fancy new smartphone will cover you for mishaps abroad either. Other policies will sneakily reclassify gadgets as ‘valuables’ with a small limit, because they are high target items for thieves or more likely to be damaged. This means if you have a baggage cover of say £5000, and you think your fancy £2000 laptop is covered in that when it gets lost or stolen, you may find it classified as a valuable when you come to claim, and the maximum you can get for it is the ‘valuable’ allowance limit of £250. Read the small print carefully.
- Check the personal money and passport cover. Again, don’t assume this will be covered under baggage or a valuable policies and check that you are covered – and how much you are covered for – if you need to replace lost or stolen money and passports in a hurry.
- Make sure all your activities are covered. Many of the activities backpackers love to do on their gap years, hiking, diving, snorkeling, bungee jumping and a hundred other adventure activities, are often excluded on cheaper policies because they are essentially considered risky by the insurance providers. So if you only have a bog standard insurance and you are doing one of the activities that aren’t covered, then you won’t get a penny, even if your policy has medical insurance. The same goes if you want to do a period of work or volunteering, the activities you do then may not be covered either. It is really sneaky I know, but just make sure you check the fine print, think ahead, and get a policy that covers all the activities you are likely to do and you’ll be fine.
- Always check for specific exclusions. Even if you get good, adequate cover for every eventuality, it is still worth checking the fine print for any specific exclusions, often things that are considered too risky or pricey, as every insurance provider is different and one may decide to exclude any given item whilst another may not.
- Check you have enough medical cover. As a qualified nurse who has seen more than a few people fall foul of this, I cannot stress this enough, medical expenses are pricey. Very pricey. Especially when you factor in external things like search and rescue, long term care or repatriation. Remember that old joke at the beginning about needing a second mortgage to pay the medical bills? It isn’t a joke! Seriously! The average recommendation for full medical cover on your gap year is at least £2 Million. So don’t scrimp on this, make sure you are covered because you may well not need it, and I certainly hope you don’t, but you will be more than glad you have it if you do.
- Make sure any pre existing conditions are covered. Travelling with pre existing medical conditions is relatively doable, and certainly not as difficult as many people assume. It is important however that you declare everything when getting your insurance and make sure that your policy covers you for your specific condition. It may be more expensive and you may think you are saving a bit of money by not doing it, but your entire policy is void if you don’t and something happens, so it’s a false economy.
- Check the emergency cover. Not all policies have 24 hour emergency aid and assistance, but this can be an absolute lifesaver in a genuine emergency so it is worth considering getting a policy that has this as an option.
- Consider where you are travelling. It can be easy to hop from country to country when you are on a round the world trip and assume your policy will always cover you, but you have to be careful.If your government has issued a travel warning for that country, even if it is completely overblown and pointless, your policy may be void if you decide to go there anyway and something happens. It can also be worthwhile checking out a policy that has specific cover for acts of terrorism too.
This is far from a comprehensive list of things to look out for when choosing your insurance policy, but it should give you a good grounding in the essentials. Everyone is different at the end of the day, travels differently and wants to do different things on their travels. It is important that you read the fine print in your policy carefully and make sure that it fits you and your individual needs for your trip.
Remember, the odds are that you won’t even need insurance, but if the worst happens and you do need it, then you’ll be glad you have it.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
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What You Should Consider Before You Start Planning Your Gap Year.
It is so important, you are right. A friend of mine broke her leg after a moped crash in Thailand (with a few other – thankfully non serious – injuries), and if she didn’t have insurance which paid for everything the costs would have crippled her!
Sorry to hear about your friend Lara but glad to see her insurance saw her right.
I am honestly on the fence about this, it is so much money for something that you probably wont ever need!
I agree – and hope – that you will probably never need it Sara but at the end of the day it is a really small amount of money compared to medical or repatriation bills which can add up to the millions!
Like that old saying, if you can’t afford insurance you can’t afford to travel!
I honestly don’t know how people can travel without travel insurance, it genuinely winds me up. Just get it!
I know what you mean!
What travel insurance company would you recommend?
There are so many out there Charlie I would honestly just say do your research, see which one is right for you as an individual and your specific trip needs and go for that.
I have to admit I go on a lot of shorter trips and I don’t normally buy travel insurance but you are right we can never tell what might happen to us while we’re travelling, so yeah, I guess better safe than sorry! Great tips as always.
Thank you, hopefully the article has changed your mind a bit?
Travel insurance becomes more important the longer you travel since more things can go wrong just as it could back home.
You aren’t wrong!
Great advice Mike, I am a huge fan of your site and your books and love how you give such great, honest advice. As for travel insurance I never leave home without it.
Thank you Stephanie, I’m grateful for your support.
Did you ever need travel insurance when travelling?
Thankfully not yet, no. But I have come very close a few times!
Finding the right company is key. Worldnomads.com were awful! We used them for our RTW last year and they just weren’t helpful at all. Will never use them again.
Oh no, sorry you had a bad experience Abi, who do you use now?
Amazing post once again! I’ve always had travel insurance when travelling and thankfully have never had to use it, but I feel much safer having it!
Peace of mind is definitely priceless!
I have been travelling without health insurance since quite a while and I just stay healthy. I don’t need it.
Well I hope you don’t have any type of accident John, but if you have found a way to predict the future and say for certain you never will I’d love to learn how!
Absolutely agree, I very nearly had a close call once after choosing not to buy insurance (I wanted to save the money) and all I could think of afterwards was what if? Scary.
That’s just the thing Katherine, no one ever thinks they’ll need it, until they do. Glad it was only a close call for you at least!