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What is the Best Backpacker Travel Insurance for a Gap Year?

It’s something you buy and hope to never have to use but travel insurance should strongly be considered for anyone taking a gap year, career break or time out abroad. Travel insurance can seem like a bit of a minefield with all the different policy types, rules, exceptions and small print.

So to make things easier we’ve created this simple guide to explain what your policy means, things to look out for, pitfalls to avoid and the different travel insurance types on offer.

Sky Diving over the Alps

Do I Really Need Travel Insurance for my Backpacking Trip or Gap Year

The decision to get travel insurance shouldn’t be an afterthought. Once you have your flight booked, you have a date set and can book a policy.

There’s the mindset that travel insurance is money you are just giving away. It just seemed like an added expense when I bought mine but when I had my surfing accident I was sure glad I had travel insurance!

Just to give you an idea, the ambulance call out was $341 plus you pay per kilometre the ambulance has travelled, not to mention the CT scan I had and the $90 a pop physiotherapy sessions that I had for weeks after.

Now my treatment wasn’t extortionate but imagine if it had been worse? Could your family afford to pay for a private air ambulance and a nurse to accompany you to fly you home. I know my family doesn’t have 100k lying around.

Backpackers Travel Insurance Basics

Cancellation  Anything can happen so you’ll need this if you need to cancel your trip or if you need to cut your trip short if a relative falls ill for example. Just remember to check what their definition of what “close” relative means.

Delay – You could be compensated if your flight is delayed for more than 12 hours, or sometimes more than 24 hours depending on the policy. Get a written confirmation from your airline of the delay to make sure your claim goes smoothly. Keep receipts of things you’ve had to buy too!

Baggage  Don’t underestimate how much your bag is worth. Adding all your belongings up, including the bag itself, and you have yourself a small fortune. Just remember that valuable items or electrical goods can have limits and you’ll need to have receipts for them.

Personal liability – It’s fair enough being covered if you hurt yourself but what if you accidentally hurt someone else or damage something? You’ll need personal liability in case you get sued!  A cool £1m+ cover ought to do it.

Medical coverage – This is a big one because healthcare abroad, especially in the USA, can be really expensive. A medical evacuation could cost you a cool 250,000. Take this one seriously people. Just remember that the highest travel medical insurance payout was in the region of £2m so do you really need 10?

Backpacker Travel Insurance Pitfalls & Things To Consider

There are a long line of travellers who have missed out on payouts because they didn’t understand their insurance or quite frankly, didn’t bother to read it. Here are some things you should look out for:

Excess – Simply put if your excess is £100 and you make a claim for £300, the insurer will reimburse you £200. Sounds simple enough right? Now imagine your day bag is stolen with your passport, camera and wallet or purse. Is there an one excess for the whole claim or for each individual item? Yes, you’ll need to check this.

Safety – You may have winter sports coverage but if you failed to adhere to safety procedures whilst using a ski lift or if you aren’t wearing a helmet, you insurer may not pay.

Working Holiday – If you’re planning on working abroad, you might not be covered. Fruit picking might be your plan but it could class as manual labour and be excluded from your policy. This can be the case for both paid and voluntary work so check your policy.

Pre-existing medical conditions – Usually these will not be covered. Play it safe and disclose any pre-existing medical conditions that you may have. You might have to pay extra to have it included in your policy but this is better than trying to hide it and a payout being refused later.

Health of others – If a family member is ill and you decide to cut your trip short and fly home, the insurer can refuse to payout if you did not disclose that they were already ill. If you believe cutting your trip short is a real possibility, you should disclose it to your insurance provider.

Airline bankruptcy – Travel insurance usually doesn’t include this type of cover but it is possible to get scheduled airline failure insurance. Consider buying this as an add-on if you’re uncertain about the airlines you might be using.

Paperwork – Keep all copies of report, receipts and anything they give you. In most cases, insurance companies will want to see original documents and won’t accept copies. When you submit your claim, remember to send it recorded delivery!

Policy start date – Most people take out a policy and have it start on the day that they leave. What happens if you cancel your trip before that day? Your policy hasn’t technically started yet so you may not be covered. Check with your insurance provider whether this would be the case with your own insurance.

Diligence – Remember you need to be on it with reporting a robbery or theft. Sometimes you may have to report the incident to the police within a certain time frame. You also must remember to get a police report otherwise you won’t be able to make a claim.

You’ve also got to remember that an insurer can refuse your claim if you didn’t take the appropriate amount of care with your possessions. Leaving your iPad on your dorm bed isn’t going to cut it.

Items bought after you start – These won’t be included in your cover. If you buy say a new camera while you are away, be sure to contact your provider and have it added on to your policy. As always, keep the receipt.

Being under the influence – Most policies will have an exclusion clause that states you will be unable to make a claim if you have had excessive alcohol intake. Remember that.

Safe to travel – If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a travel warning on a country, the chances are your policy might not cover you. If you plan on going somewhere like this, be sure to check with your insurer before purchasing to make sure you will be covered.

Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

The UK has healthcare agreements with non European Economic Area (EEA) countries which means that if you’re from one participating country and travel to another, you can get free or subsidised public healthcare.

Countries include; Anguila, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Falkland Islands, Georgia, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Jersey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montserrat, New Zealand, Russa, St Helena, Serbia and Montenegro, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, Turks and Caicos Islands, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

EU Citizen? Get a European Health Insurance Card

The good news about this card is that it’s free and the better news is that it allows you the same treatment as the resident of the country you are visiting. You should bare in mind that treatment quality can vary across the EU.

In a lot of countries treatment will be free but you may have to pay a patient contribution which you might be able to claim back when you return to the UK.

Just remember that the EHIC card is not a replacement for travel insurance when you are travelling Europe. For example, the card will in no way help with repatriation (getting you back home) if you are seriously injured. As we’ve pointed out, medical transport can be expensive!

The EHIC card is completely free and you can get yours from or you can call the dedicated NHS line on 0845 606 2030. Please note that this isn’t a free number. Finally, just remember that this card expires every five years so be sure to renew!

Gap Year Travel Insurance & Backpacker Travel Insurance

We won’t recommend you a particular insurance because everyone travels in a different way and has different requirements.

To aid you in finding your perfect insurance, we’ve pulled together all of the providers that cater for gap year and backpacking travellers.

Our final piece of advice is to remember that the cheapest insurance is not always the best. Remember to check for what adventure sports activities are included, the excess amounts, the single item limit for your electrical goods and all of the other stuff we mentioned above. It seems like a lot but do it once, do it right and then you can get on and enjoy your trip!

You must always read the terms and conditions of the policy wording and description of coverage before you purchase any travel insurance to make sure it is right for you! 

1. World Nomads Travel Insurance 

If you are looking for travel insurance while you see the world during a gap year (or at other times of your life), World Nomads offers travel insurance coverage in 140 countries. Designed by travelers for travelers, their policies could fit your needs perfectly.

Main coverage areas include medical treatment for sudden illness or injury, emergency medical evacuation to reach a treatment facility (and/or return home), trip cancellation due to serious illness, injury or natural disaster, and stolen or damaged gear and luggage. Other benefits are available depending on where you are traveling and level of policy you choose.

Since the point of travel insurance is to be able to use it, World Nomads has created a claims process that will not frustrate you and will pay your claim as quickly as possible. You can make a claim while still on your trip or after you return home – whatever works better for you. World Nomads does much for clients than just provide insurance policies.

They have also produced travel guides, language guides for your phone and much more. World Nomads is trusted by well-known brands such as National Geographic Adventure and Lonely Planet, so you know they’re one of the best of the best in the world of travel insurance.

Click here to get a quote from World Nomads.

Click here to read our in depth World Nomads Travel Insurance Review.


2. Columbus Direct Backpacker Travel Insurance

Columbus Direct has been a leading specialist provider of travel insurance more than 25 years. The company has served more than 15 million customers worldwide with their award-winning products and services focused on insuring people who love to pursue their dreams by traveling.

The company comes highly recommended by those who have used it – more than 95 percent say they would have no problem recommending Columbus Direct to their friends and family.

The company’s Backpacker Travel Insurance policy could work well for gap year students depending on your needs. Coverage includes 24-hour medical assistance and medical expenses up to $1.5 million, whether that is inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Trip cancellation is also covered, as is the loss, theft of or damage to your luggage and personal belongings. More than 150 sports and activities are also covered at no extra charge.

If you are in search of award-winning travel insurance backed by decades of experience, Columbus Direct could provide exactly what you need. They know just how to evaluate clients to provide the perfect amount of coverage, even when clients don’t know what they need.

Even their claims process is built to run as smoothly as possible to minimize further difficulties for you.

Click here to get a quote from Columbus Direct.

Click here to read our in depth Columbus Direct Backpacker Travel Insurance Review.

3. JS Insurance Backpackers Travel Insurance

JS Insurance brings more than 15 years of experience to the table, and during that time, they have effectively served more than half a million customers with effective policies that have kept clients traveling time after time.

JS Insurance focuses on providing a personal touch to clients while maximizing the use of online technology to meet needs as quickly as possible. Their coverage can take effect immediately, but they don’t pressure you to buy – they simply provide the best information and let you take action.

Travel insurance products from JS Insurance include single trip insurance, annual travel insurance for those who travel frequently, and longstay/backpackers insurance.

Clients who choose the backpacker policy are instantly covered for 24-hour emergency medical assistance, holiday abandonment, and loss of passport and other travel documents.

JS Insurance provides coverage for all areas where you are traveling, so you don’t have to continually call to add countries to your policy. Their coverage also includes a laundry list of activities and sports you can partake in while you are traveling.

Click here to get a quote from JS Insurance.

Click here to read our in depth JS Insurance Backpackers Travel Insurance Review.

4. Downunder Insurance (DU Insure)

Designed for residents of Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain, DUInsure focuses as a company on two important aspects: fantastic customer service and travel insurance at prices you can afford. Coverage is available as soon as you can get a quote from their website, so your policy will be in full effect before you leave on your next grand adventure.

DUInsure’s gap year coverage works especially well for backpacking trips, but can be used by all types of travellers. Coverage includes accidents and medical emergencies, lost, stolen or delayed luggage, lost passports and money, additional travel and lodging costs, trip cancellation or interruption, missed flights and more than 60 sports and activities.

Coverage extends anywhere in the world, so you don’t have to worry about boundaries or limitations when you travel. DU Insure’s coverage also allows you up to two visits home during your travel period with no break in coverage.

Emergency assistance can provide immediate help 24 hours a day if you are sick or injured while on your trip. This help is available 365 days a year and gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your back is covered no matter what happens during your adventures.

Click here to get a quote from DUInsure.

Click here to read our in depth DUInsure Travel Insurance Review.

Other Travel Insurance Providers



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Saturday 3rd of January 2015

Wow I hadn't thought of all of these things. It's not something you hope that will ever become necessary but it's good to know and important to have.

Thank you for sharing.



Friday 18th of July 2014

I use World Nomads. Never had a problem when I had to claim for my camera.


Wednesday 16th of July 2014

Will American express cover other things?

How To Protect Your iPad, Kindle or Tablet On Your Gap Year Travels

Thursday 5th of June 2014

[…] you should already have gap year travel insurance but the other thing to check is whether your device will actually be covered. Look for the section […]


Wednesday 15th of January 2014

American Express has a good health insurance plan that offers full coverage for emergency medical treatments with low deductibles for just $10/month (when bought as a 12 month plan).

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