Travel Insurance

Purchasing travel insurance can be one of the most confusing areas of planning a trip, and when you are on a tight budget and would rather spend your bucks on booze or souvenirs, can be easy to pass on.  But, not purchasing travel insurance when backpacking can be a huge mistake and in my experience, most backpackers suggest you get at least medical insurance.

Let’s talk about one common misconception first.  Travel insurance is not just for people who do not have insurance at home.  The insurance that you have through your job or family, with the little card you show your doctor and everything, usually does not cover you once you are out of the country.  Check with your main insurance providers to confirm this.  After all, there are always exceptions.  Credit cards will also sometimes include baggage and theft insurance.  This is ideal if you do not want trip cancellation or additional insurance.

Now that we have cleared that up, I have purchased travel insurance on most of my trips, usually anytime I am gone for over a week and if I am doing some kind of crazy sport while there, I make sure to have adventure coverage.  I have listed out some guidelines that I find are pretty standard and that are tailored to backpackers instead of the typical tourist.

  • Medical Insurance – at least $50,000.  This is to cover any illness or injuries, and sometimes dental issues, that you come across during your trip.
  • Emergency Evacuation – at least $100,000.  This covers any transportation you may need in the case of a medical emergency or death, whether to take you to the nearest hospital or lift you out of a remote area where you were injured.
  • Security Evacuation – this covers any emergency evacuation not related to medical, such as political uprisings. I haven’t seen this in a lot of packages, but is a good idea to get if you are going to a region that is at risk for political unrest, such as South America or the Middle East.
  • Baggage Insurance – at least $500.  This covers any lost or stolen personal property.  Sometimes lost or stolen passport and credit cards can be covered by this, but you must read the exclusions of your policy to be sure. For backpackers, this typically can be lower because usually there isn’t anything too valuable in your pack, other than some smelly clothes. If you are carrying anything more valuable, like a laptop, then you may want a minimum of $1,000.
  • Trip Cancellation – This should equal the cost of your trip that will be paid for and nonrefundable by the time you depart like airfare, hostels booked, or any tours you’ve booked in advance.  If going to Central America, you will want weather coverage. Strikes or emergency evacuations can happen in some unstable countries, preventing entry.  And if you lose your job, something I recently experienced, then you can be reimbursed without worry. Sometimes a “cancel for any reason” policy is available, but you will want to read all the circumstances to make sure the ones that apply to you are covered.
  • Adventure package – If you plan on doing any extreme sports, like skiing, surfing, ziplining and more, I always recommend getting adventure coverage.  Without it, the medical and evacuation coverage do not apply if  you are in an extreme sport related accident. This is not available through all policies, but most companies usually have an adventure option or upgrade.  Check the exclusions of your policy to see if the sports you plan on doing will be covered.

Now that you know what to look for, I already researched some of the more popular  plans and providers, some which I have used myself, and did my own comparison to get a feel which plans offer the best coverage at the most affordable price.  I checked out 10 different policies with 8 different providers for this comparison, all which are well-known and receive good ratings.  To get a sense of the price of each plan I used different trip length measurements. Keep in mind, these are just estimates , and depending on where you live or your trip cost, you may get a higher or lower quote.  Below are the results of my little experiment.

Typical Costs (Premium):

A trip 2 weeks long – can be as low as $50 and up to $75 depending on your trip costs
A trip 5 weeks long – about $60-150
A trip 2 months long – about $150-200
A trip 6 months long – cheapest I found was $300-400. Larger insurance companies not targeting backpackers were around $1000. I would not pay that much.
A trip 12 months long – should be around $1000. If you call the companies directly, you will probably get a better quote than online.

Best Travel Insurance Plans for less than 1 or 2 months of travel:

  • Travel Guard – Adventure – This plan has a little lower medical coverage, at $25,000, but offers excellent evacuation coverage and more.  Adventure coverage is excellent and easy to understand.
  • Travelex – Travel Select – This plan has an upgrade available for adventure sports, and has excellent coverage, with a slightly lower baggage theft and trip delay coverage than the other plans if that is important to you.
  • Travelex – Travel Lite – Similar to the Travel Select plan, but has lower emergency evacuation coverage ($250,000 instead of $500,000) and does not includes an adventure package, which generally makes this plan cheaper.
  • Travel Insured International – Worldwide Trip Protector – This trip includes an adventure package option, but is limited to 180 days max trip time. This plan as some of the highest coverage amounts in all standard areas.

Each of these plans are through well-known, large insurance companies, and offer very competitive pricing.  However, when the trip length creeps upward to 2 months, the premiums start to become outrageously pricey compared to other backpacker plans, mainly because these aren’t tailored to a backpacker audience, and there isn’t such great demand for longer trips.

Best Travel Insurance Plans for more than 2 months of travel:

  • World Nomads – World Nomads is the travel insurance company that is referred by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and many other companies.  It targets backpackers, and offers the highest medical coverage of all the plans and is the only one that offers Security Evacuation Coverage. Since it targets backpackers, you don’t end up paying for unnecessary frills like cruise ship cancellation or missed connection insurance.   There are two options, the Standard and the Explorer.  The Explorer covers most extreme sports, but check the exclusions in the Standard plans because it does cover some more common sports without having to purchase the Explorer.  The other great thing about this plan is that you can process claims online.  World Nomads understands that backpackers are on the go, often for long periods of time and usually can’t wait until they get back to be reimbursed for their medical expenses.  This is a great perk to have and you probably won’t find it in any other plan.  These plans also don’t require as much information about your trip when you are filling it out.  The prices don’t fluctuate according to age or your trip cost, so there are less variables.  The only downside is that the plans listed above will usually be cheaper than the World Nomad ones for a shorter trip. However, their longer trip prices can’t be beat!

One other tool you can use to make sure you pick the best policy is an insurance comparison tool.  One of the best ones out there is  This will give you a side by side view of several policies very quickly.  The only downside is some of the policies that I have listed aren’t available for comparison.

Now that you have an idea of which insurance policy is for you, before you sign up for anything, there are some other tips that you should know:

  • If possible, it is best to continue your medical coverage from back home while you are away.  Why?  The pre-existing condition clauses that most domestic insurance policies have. If you get injured in another country and need to continue treatment when you get home, you may be denied due to this clause.
  • When should you purchase?  As close to your first payment for your trip as possible.  When a policy requires an initial trip deposit date, this means the first payment you made towards your trip, usually a plane ticket. Trip cancellation sometimes only applies if you purchased your insurance plan within 10-15 days of your initial deposit.  Better to be safe than sorry.
  • Calculating trip cost was one of the more confusing areas of travel insurance for me.  Most websites say trip costs are all nonrefundable and prepaid parts of the trip.  This does not mean the total cost you plan on spending on the trip, only the parts that you would not be able to get your money back in the event that your entire trip was cancelled.  Typical items are: nonrefundable plane tickets, deposits on any hostel or hotel rooms, non-refundable train tickets.  If you do not know at the time you are booking the insurance, you can always purchase and adjust the amount as you go, or round-up to an estimate you are comfortable with.  As backpackers don’t book too much in advance and prefer to travel with looser itineraries, this amount usually isn’t that large.
  • When filling out a trip cost, it is best to not put $0 coverage, as tempting as it may be.  The trip cost is usually for the trip cancellation and trip interruption policies, and if you aren’t concerned about those things, than a medical only plan may be a better, and cheaper, option for you.


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