Guide to backpacker insurance
- If backpacking choose a dedicated policy, not annual cover
- Check cover levels on essentials such as medical expenses, baggage and cancellation
- Look out for limits regarding age, length of trip, destinations visited, work, activities and UK return in the course of travel
Insurance policies for backpackers can cover you for a continuous length of time, usually between two and 18 months, and can offer terms and conditions tailored to the sort of adventure you embark upon.
If you enter Gocompare.com's travel insurance quotes process, the first question will ask you whether you're looking for cover for a single trip, an annual multi-trip policy, or a dedicated backpacker option.
It's important that you go for the backpacker insurance option as an annual policy is intended for a series of shorter holidays, meaning that you can take several breaks a year but none must be longer than a specified length of time such as 31 or 60 days.
"Backpacker or gap-year policies differ from standard annual travel policies as they will cover trips abroad longer than the standard 31 days," said Gocompare.com's Caroline Lloyd.
In our quotes process you'll be asked for your travel start date and the length of the trip, plus other basic details about destinations, the people needing cover and whether they have pre-existing medical conditions.
The results page will show you the options we can offer in an easy-to-use table that can be filtered by Defaqto star ratings, levels of medical cover, cancellation cover, baggage cover and excess liability.
When you see an option you like you can click through for more detailed information on the policy and, if you're happy, proceed to purchase.
Are all backpacker insurance policies the same?
Backpacker cover varies enormously and - as always with insurance - it's vital to read your terms and conditions. On 13 June, 2014, Gocompare.com analysed 202 extended travel insurance policies which had their details on the matrix of independent financial researcher Defaqto. Variations included:
- Maximum age limits ranging from 34 to 99
- Trip duration went from 31 days to two years
- Only 50% of policies allowed return to the UK during a gap year
- Not all policies covered adventure activities
- Working or volunteering abroad was not always covered
What's covered by backpackers' insurance?
In addition, it should also cover some of the activities commonly associated with backpacking, such as adventurous sports, perhaps including bungee jumping and white water rafting.
Look for cover to travel to a range of countries, with European and worldwide options available, and you can tailor your policy depending on whether you're travelling alone, in a pair, or in a group.
Get covered early
It's always best to be organised and get insurance well before the start of your trip, as this can cover you if you have to cancel. However, if you forget to buy insurance before you go, some insurers will be able to provide cover once your trip has started.
Things to look out for
In Gocompare.com's June 2014 study, 85% of policies set the minimum age at 18, although anything between 16 and 19 was possible.
Some policies have a maximum age limit which can be as young as 35, although many cover backpackers in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s. Be aware, however, that some policies for older travellers might have further clauses in place restricting age for specific activities such as winter sports.
Policy lengths varied from 31 days to two years and, while 57% of policies provided cover for trips lasting over a year, 31% only covered travellers for a year, and 12% covered journeys lasting 360 days or less.
Only 38% of the policies studied provided 'stop-over cover' for travellers who might want to take in a different area en route to their destination.
Half of the policies reviewed allowed return to the UK for a short time during travel - for example, for a family emergency, to attend a wedding, or just for some home comforts at Christmas. For the remainder, re-entering the UK would invalidate the policy.
Baggage and valuables
Policy limits for lost or stolen possessions varied considerably in the Gocompare.com study.
Total baggage cover ranged from £200 to £3,000, while 9% of policies didn't include cover for baggage at all. The amount payable for a single article ranged from £100 to £2,000, but most policies (80%) limited payouts to between £100 and £300.
For valuables such as watches, jewellery, cameras, computers, ebooks, spectacles, video, gaming and audio equipment, the majority of policies (67%) provided between £100 and £300 worth of cover, 17% provided between £350 and £1,000, and 15% didn't provide any cover at all.
If you're planning on doing some volunteer or paid working during your trip, you'll need to make sure your travel policy covers this
Caroline Lloyd, Gocompare.com
War zones and politically disturbed areas
You might not be covered to travel to countries which are war zones or are in a state of political unrest, so check carefully for exclusion clauses. "Travelling to countries or areas against Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice is a common exclusion," said Lloyd.
Depending on which countries you're travelling to, your insurance might be subject to you getting the relevant inoculations or taking tablets before you go.
"Make sure you follow advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office† and make sure you're fully up to date with vaccinations and visas for all the countries you are travelling to," said Lloyd.
"Choose one that covers all the destinations you want to visit, the length of time you wish to be away, as well as all the activities you want to undertake.
"Policy terms, conditions and exclusions vary from policy to policy, so it's important to take the time not only to read up on all the places you want to visit during your travels, but to go through the policy small print to make sure you don't do anything to invalidate your cover.
"For example, extended travel policies typically provide cover for a range of less risky sporting activities as standard.
"But, if you're after a more adrenaline-fuelled trip you'll probably need to upgrade your policy to ensure you're covered. Insurers also make a distinction between you taking part in a hazardous sport once and it being the main purpose of your holiday.
"Some policies may only cover activities such as a safari, hot air ballooning or scuba diving if it was organised from the UK. If you're planning on doing some volunteer or paid working during your trip, you'll need to make sure your travel policy covers this.
Don't expect to claim for stolen belongings or valuables which you left unattended on the beach while you went for a swim
"Terms and conditions on the nature of work you can undertake vary and manual work and work involving machinery are common exclusions - so it's always best to check the details.
"Other common policy exclusions include payouts for medical treatment as a result of a pre-existing condition you've failed to declare, or failing to have the correct passport or visas for the areas you're visiting.
"Insurers also expect you to take care of yourself and your possessions, so don't expect to claim for stolen belongings or valuables which you left unattended on the beach while you went for a swim, or for medical treatment for diseases which you forgot to get vaccinated against before you set off on your adventure.
"Once you've found the right policy for your trip, don't forget to take the paperwork with you. In case of emergency, it's also sensible to leave a photocopy of the policy with your family or friends."