Travel insurance for backpackers: What you need to know (2024)

Embarking on a backpacking adventure? Whether you’re taking a much-needed vacation or becoming a digital nomad, backpackers travel insurance can have your back. Medical insurance on its own often isn’t enough to protect you overseas, and you could find yourself in trouble if your equipment is lost or damaged while getting to your destination. Travel insurance for backpackers fills in these gaps and more, covering a range of issues that could potentially sour your trip.

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What is backpacker insurance?

Backpacker travel insurance is a type of insurance policy specifically designed to meet the needs of backpackers who travel for extended periods or to multiple countries. It provides coverage for a range of situations that could arise during long trips, such as medical emergencies, trip cancellations, lost or stolen belongings and more. Depending on the policy, it could cover trips lasting from a few days to a year or more.

Travel insurance often costs 4% to 10% of your trip’s total price. So if your backpacking adventure will run you $4,000, the total cost of insurance may be $160 to $400.

What is covered by travel insurance when backpacking?

Travel insurance typically covers a variety of situations to protect you financially while backpacking. For instance, it can kick in if:

  • You get sick or injured and need to visit a doctor.
  • You get hurt somewhere remote and need medical evacuation.
  • Your bags are lost, stolen or damaged and you need funds to replace essential items.
  • You need to cancel all or part of your trip for a covered reason and have nonrefundable costs.
  • Your travel plans are delayed and you want to get reimbursed for additional accommodations and meal expenses (a waiting period of six to 12 hours usually applies).

What’s not covered by travel insurance when backpacking?

Backpacking travel insurance typically doesn’t cover:

  • Preexisting medical conditions, unless stated in your policy
  • Routine visits to the doctor for preventative care
  • Incidents occurring under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Travel to countries or regions with a travel advisory or warning in place
  • High-risk activities not covered in your policy, like mountain climbing, camping, skydiving or extreme skiing
  • Losses due to war, epidemics or pandemics (although some insurers will provide coverage for losses related to COVID-19)
  • Losses due to unattended items
  • Fully refundable expenses
  • Claims without proper documentation
  • Incidents not promptly reported

Types of travel insurance for backpackers

Every backpackers travel insurance policy is different. Some plans only provide a few coverages while others are more comprehensive and can include several different types of coverage.

Travel medical insurance

Many domestic health care plans don’t cover you internationally. So the moment you leave the US, you could be on the hook for any medical bills you incur. Travel medical insurance protects you in case of medical emergencies abroad. It covers things like doctor visits, hospital stays, medications and sometimes dental care related to an unexpected injury or illness. So if you get sick or break a bone, you’re not left facing huge medical bills in a foreign country on your own.

Medical evacuation insurance

Say you’re hiking in the Dolomites and slide down a rock face and fracture your foot. Medical evacuation insurance can help cover the cost of getting you to a medical facility and, if needed, back home. Evacuations can be extremely expensive without insurance, often costing $20,000 to $200,000 or more. But with travel insurance, you’ll have help paying for things like airlifts, ambulance services and repatriation of remains. Evacuation coverage limits can often range from $50,000 to over $1 million.

Trip cancellation insurance

Trip cancellation insurance reimburses you if you must cancel your backpacking trip before you leave due to a covered reason. Usually, covered reasons include an unexpected illness, unforeseen natural disaster, call for jury duty or a family emergency.

If you file a claim, trip cancellation insurance will reimburse you for any nonrefundable expenses you’ve already paid for, like hotels, flights and group tours. You often won’t get reimbursed if you cancel due to something avoidable, like a work commitment or because you’ve been detained by customs.

  • Did you know? Some travel insurance companies offer an add-on called cancel for any reason (CFAR) coverage, which will reimburse you for a percentage of your trip — usually 50% or 75% of your nonrefundable trip costs — if you cancel for a reason not covered by your policy.

Trip interruption insurance

Trip interruption insurance works a lot like trip cancellation insurance, except it kicks in once your trip begins. So if you need to cut your backpacking trip short due to a covered reason, such as a medical emergency, family illness or death or a natural disaster, it will reimburse you for any nonrefundable expense you’ve prepaid for but didn’t use.

Backpacking gear insurance

Travel insurance plans usually come with baggage coverage, which will reimburse you if your items are lost, stolen or damaged during your travels. This includes things like your bags, backpacking gear, camping equipment, tech and passport. However, if you leave your items unattended, such as leaving your campsite to go hiking, you may not have coverage for losses that occur while you’re away.

Baggage insurance can also cover delays. So if the airline loses your backpack, your travel insurance can give you money to purchase necessary items in the meantime — after any applicable waiting period passes, which can range from six hours to 24 hours.

Do I need backpacker travel insurance?

Travel insurance is highly recommended for backpackers. If you can’t decide if you need it, consider the potential risks.

How much money would you lose if you needed to go to the emergency room during your trip, had to cancel or cut your trip short or lost some of your gear? How much money would you have on hand to cover these expenses?

Travel insurance is relatively inexpensive, costing just 4% to 10% of your total trip cost. If the peace of mind of having it outweighs the potential money you’d lose, it’s a worthwhile thing to get.

What to look for in backpacker travel insurance

There are a few key factors to look for when shopping around for backpacker travel insurance:

  • Medical coverage: Find out if you’ll have any coverage under your health insurance while backpacking. If not, review the limits and exclusions under your travel policy so you understand how this works.
  • Trip cancellation and interruption: Check which cancellation and interruption reasons are valid under the policy.
  • Personal belongings: Make sure there’s enough coverage if you lose your gear or it’s stolen or damaged. Also, see if you have any coverage under your homeowners insurance or renters insurance — keep in mind that your deductible will apply to any claims you file.
  • Adventure activities: If you’re planning adventurous activities, make sure they’re covered under the travel insurance plan you’re considering. Many companies offer add-ons for high-risk activities and sports.
  • Excluded destinations: If you’ll be hitting several locations while backpacking, confirm that your travel policy will cover them all.
  • Other exclusions: Understand what isn’t covered to avoid surprises, especially if you plan on participating in high-risk activities while you’re out adventuring like climbing, free diving or caving. Some insurers may even consider camping as high risk.
  • Claims process: Familiarize yourself with the claims process and any required documentation you’ll need. Put the phone number for the insurer’s customer service line or claims department in your phone so you have it if you need it.

It can also be helpful to choose a travel insurance company with round-the-clock customer support. “Check if your policy is accompanied by a 24/7 support team,” said Lauren Gumport, vice president of communications and brand at Faye Travel Insurance. “This is a huge added bonus if you need an extra level of companionship if things go wrong.”

Is backpacking travel insurance worth it?

Backpacker travel insurance provides a safety net for a range of unforeseen events that could otherwise be financially and logistically devastating. “It’s almost always worth it, especially when traveling out of the country since your domestic health insurance typically does not follow you abroad,” said Angela Borden, a product strategist at travel insurance firm Seven Corners.

From medical emergencies to trip cancellations and lost gear, the right insurance can save you from significant out-of-pocket expenses. Given the relatively low cost compared to the potential risk of mishaps, investing in a policy can be a wise decision.

However, if you’re still worried about costs, there are plenty of cheap travel insurance plans to consider. “The reason these plans are less expensive is because the coverage focuses on the most essential and basic benefits and may not include higher limits or other options found in more expensive plans,” said Borden.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

You’ll often file a claim by calling your insurer or submitting a form inside your account portal. If you’re not sure of the first step, call your insurance company and explain your situation. Once you know where to file your form, collect all relevant documents (like medical reports, police reports, receipts or proof of ownership).

You’ll likely need this information too: your policy number, travel dates and incident dates. Remember to submit your claim within the timeframe stated in your policy. Otherwise, you may not get reimbursed.

Most travel insurance companies offer single-trip travel insurance and multi-trip travel insurance plans, so you can choose the one that best fits your needs. Multi-trip plans typically cover you for a set period, like a year. During that time, you can travel as much as you want and get reimbursed up to your annual policy limits. However, you may be limited on how long each trip can be.

You usually have to purchase an add-on for adventure activities or sports. “Because these travel insurance plans are designed to be especially budget-conscious, they rarely include this coverage automatically,” said Borden.

Still, they’re worth considering because you might be surprised at what counts as adventurous. “For example, camping or riding a motor scooter can be considered an adventure activity, along with other things you might be more likely to expect like bungee jumping and caving,” Borden said.

Backpacker insurance can provide coverage for anywhere from a few days to a year or longer. Check with your travel insurance company to find out the maximum duration of coverage it offers and what you need to do if you want to extend your trip.

Travel insurance for backpackers: What you need to know (2024)
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