Getting travel insurance to go backpacking is highly advisable. While many trips are trouble-free and hopefully yours will fall into that category, there are a large number of situations where insurance can come in very useful. We’ll highlight some of those below, before answering some common questions that travellers have about travel insurance and specifically backpacker travel insurance.
Do you need insurance when backpacking?
Situations where having Travel Insurance can be vital
Getting Sick Abroad
Getting ill in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language and where medical standards perhaps don’t quite match those in your own country is bad enough. Not being able to pay for your treatment is more like a disaster. In many countries medical fees for high quality treatment are extortionate and if you don’t have the funds, you simply won’t get treated unless your situation is critical (in which case you risk running up huge debts).
Accidents can happen whether you’re home or abroad. However they are more likely on an active backpacking trip that may involve several adrenaline-pumping activities, particularly if you plan on doing potentially risky activities such as tubing in Laos.
Very occasionally, accidents can leave travellers needing emergency, and in very rare cases, life-saving treatment. Without proper travel insurance you can end up with extreme medical bills that might take years to fully pay off if you’re uninsured.
Having proper cover and proof of that can also quickly speed up the process of getting treated. The last thing you need, if you are unfortunate enough to get injured abroad, is delays while you fiddle around with paperwork and discussions over how you’re going to pay for your treatment.
The worst of the pandemic is hopefully behind us, but you may still encounter problems and restrictions related to Covid-19 on your travels, while the risk of catching it is also still present pretty much anywhere in the world.
As of 2023, it’s less likely you’ll be forced into quarantine or encounter severe disruption as a result of the pandemic but it’s worth checking any travel insurance package for what is and isn’t covered in this case. Treatment for Covid-19 should be covered like any other medical problem by most travel insurance providers, assuming you contract the virus after you have started travelling as pre-existing medical conditions are very rarely covered.
Travel insurance that covers Covid-19 can help you not only pay for treatment if your case is severe, but may also cover the cost of accommodation if you’re forced into quarantine. It won’t pay for any mandatory quarantines as a result of entering a new country, although these situations are relatively rare now.
Petty theft is often a big problem in popular travel destinations and cities all over the world. As a traveller you are an attractive target for thieves. By applying common sense and looking after your belongings you can significantly decrease the chances of being the victim of a theft. That said, if the worst should happen, you can usually at least recover the value of your stolen belongings providing your insurance package covers theft.
That may extend to other situations like somebody in your hostel stealing money or valuables. These incidents do happen, so always use lockers if you’re staying in hostel dorms and be careful not to leave your valuables unattended.
Even some of the cheap backpacker travel insurance options that are more centred on medical insurance, typically cover you in the event that your airline loses your checked luggage. This can be a very serious problem for backpackers given they typically travel with only one bag so any delays while you wait for your bags to finally show up are problematic, particularly if you’re quickly planning on moving on to a new destination.
Backpacker Travel Insurance FAQs
What’s the difference between backpacking and travel insurance?
Backpacker insurance differs from regular travel insurance in a number of ways. Firstly, regular travel insurance packages may only offer cover for a few weeks abroad, an insufficient amount of time for a long backpacking trip in India for example.
There are also some big differences in terms of the amount of cover. Backpacker packages and longer term independent travel insurance options like Heymondo may include the chance to cover more adventure sports and activities such as rafting and bungee-jumping when compared to regular travel or holiday insurance. However it does depend on the company and level of cover you opt for, so be sure to check the full terms when you purchase travel insurance.
Is travel insurance mandatory for travelling abroad?
In most cases, you do not need travel insurance to go abroad. You almost certainly won’t be asked for it when boarding a flight or leaving your own country and typically it’s not a requirement to enter a new country.
However there are a few countries where travel insurance is an official entry requirement. Truth be told, even in many of those places, you may not be asked for proof of travel insurance when entering, particularly if you fall into the visa-free category. However it’s not really worth the risk trying to enter those places without travel insurance as you could potentially be sent back to where you came from.
The countries that require travel insurance are not interested in whether or not your belongings are safe, they just want to know that you can afford to pay for healthcare if you need it. Therefore basic travel medical insurance with Covid-19 cover will usually suffice, such as SafetyWing’s affordable nomad insurance.
Is it ok not to have insurance?
While it is rarely mandatory to need travel insurance to go abroad, it’s hard to think of a situation where it’s not highly advisable for a combination of the reasons that have been outlined already.
In theory, yes you can go abroad, potentially for several weeks or months in many countries without travel insurance, and return home safely without any drama. However that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Travel insurance is all about risk management and there are many affordable options that will offer you the peace of mind to know you’ve got cover should something go wrong on your trip.
Why do young, healthy people need insurance?
Given backpackers and independent travellers are often young adults in good health, many assume there is no real danger of them getting seriously sick or requiring medical treatment abroad. That’s a big myth given you may be exposed to a range of tropical diseases that your body has never encountered before. You’re also obviously not immune to common accidents like a broken bone that require more extensive treatment.
In addition, the medical part of travel insurance is only part of the deal. Things like lost possessions, missed connections and outright flight cancellation can affect travellers of any age. Indeed, inexperienced young backpackers are if anything more likely to be victims of theft, particularly if you’re frequently staying in cheaper, less secure backpacker hostels and other types of budget accommodation.
When is the best time to book travel insurance?
Booking travel insurance is actually a relatively simple process, best done before you leave home, although some companies also allow you to purchase it while already on the road. Many travel companies advise you to book travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and/or initial accommodation as you’ll likely benefit from their cancellation cover in the event that anything gets cancelled.
In which situations might my travel insurance not cover me?
Even if you purchase one of the most expensive and extensive backpacking insurance packages, there will still be situations where you are not covered and this is something really important to bear in mind.
These situations include being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Your insurer may be within their rights to refuse payment in the case of incidents or accidents that happen as a result of that. There are also many “high-risk” activities and adventure sports, particularly winter sports, that may not be covered by your insurance package. These should be detailed in the full terms and conditions.
Many travel insurance companies also somewhat deceptively describe their packages as “worldwide”. While that does mean you can travel to most countries, many insurance providers will not cover you if you travel to countries or regions that your government advises against travel to, for reasons such as wars, internal conflicts or other perceived higher risks. British travellers can view the current UK government foreign travel advice pages here. We also have a separate post looking at the best backpacker insurance for UK travellers.
In addition, travelling to the US and Canada can sometimes incur an extra premium which may not be covered by standard global insurance packages.
In no circumstances should having travel insurance be viewed as an excuse to take undue risks and looking after yourself and your belongings is still the most important thing when it comes to having a safe trip.
Is premium travel insurance worth it?
Premium travel insurance can cost considerably more than regular travel insurance packages, but may be a worthwhile purchase if you intend to do a lot of riskier activities or are travelling to more dangerous places.
An example might be of somebody planning a trip that largely revolves around hiking in the Himalayas where the chances of injuries or health issues are higher, and where medical transfers and costs for proper treatment may be high. Likewise an inexperienced, young traveller setting off on a solo trip around Brazil may be a situation where purchasing more extensive cover may be a good option.
This look at whether you need travel insurance when backpacking was published in June 2023.