How can I get the right backpacker travel insurance policy for me?

Published 08 June 2018   |   Updated 18 May 2021

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You've finally saved enough money to fulfil your dream of backpacking through the Australian outback, or perhaps you're taking a year out to discover new corners of the globe before studying at university. So, what are the essentials you need to check off your list before jetting off on your overseas adventure?

You've decided which countries you are going to visit, sorted out your passport and visas and have taken all the necessary vaccinations, but have you prepared for the unfortunate scenario of something going wrong whilst you're diving in the Great Barrier Reef or trekking in Machu Picchu?

We know that dealing with backpacker insurance is hardly the most exciting part of planning your trip, but it really is worth considering and could save you a great deal of hassle and stress (not to mention money!) should you find yourself in a sticky situation overseas.

In this guide we explain how to bag the right backpacker insurance policy for you, how backpacker insurance works and what to watch out for when you buy.

What is backpacker insurance?

Backpacker insurance is designed to cover you when travelling on a gap year or trips of a longer duration, usually between one and eighteen months.

Why do I need a specific backpacker policy...isn't a regular travel insurance policy enough?

A basic single trip policy will only cover travel up to a certain number of days and it may restrict the countries you can visit. Alternatively, a standard annual trip policy will usually only provide cover for a series of shorter holidays, rather than one long trip. So, depending on the nature of your trip, you may be wise to choose a backpacker policy, for instance, if you are planning a trip spanning several months and multiple countries.

What does backpacker insurance cover?

Backpacker insurance usually covers the same things you would expect from a standard annual trip policy, such as personal liability and medical expenses, and many backpacker policies also include sports and adventure activities and cover for working abroad. You still need to check the small print to make sure the activity or work you are undertaking is covered, and you may be wise to purchase your backpacker policy as soon as you have booked your flights to safeguard yourself if you can no longer go on your trip, your airline goes bust or cancels your flight.

Is purchasing backpacker insurance worth the cost?

It may be tempting to forgo backpacker insurance, especially if you are travelling the world on a budget, but seeing as a gap year or backpacking trip typically involves taking part in riskier activities than you would do at home, it makes sense to protect yourself should any accidents happen. After all, with the average cost of overseas emergency medical treatment increasing to £1,368 in 2018 this far outweighs the £38 average cost of a backpacker insurance policy.

Things to consider

It's important that you understand your policy fully as there are things that may not be covered under your policy and there are also circumstances that may invalidate your claim.

Return to the UK

Chances are, you will want to return home to the UK at some point during your trip, perhaps for Christmas or a family occasion. Not all policies will cover return trips to the UK so make sure you read the small print to check if yours does.

Trip duration

Insurance policies can vary regarding the length of time they will cover for your trip; duration can vary from one to eighteen months, so double check your policy details to ensure you are covered for the entire length of your trip.

Location, location, location

When you enter the quotes process, one of the first questions you will be asked is 'where are you travelling?' The price of your insurance policy is likely to differ depending on which countries you are visiting due to, for example, variations in medical costs in different countries.

Watch out for any exclusions. Some European policies do not cover Spain, or may charge you extra for cover in this country due to the high cost of medical treatment often seen in the popular holiday destination. If your trip includes visits to multiple countries, make sure your policy covers all of them.

As a final note, a backpacker insurance policy will not usually protect you if you are travelling to a country that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office deems unsafe. If you are unsure, check the FCO website.

Extreme or winter sports

We know that backpackers tend to be a little more adventurous than most holidaymakers, so if you are planning on partaking in potentially dangerous sports such as bungee jumping, white-water rafting, skiing or other winter sports, make sure your policy includes cover for this.


Your insurer is unlikely to fork out for your medical treatment for an illness that could have been avoided with the correct vaccine. Check with your health professional at least 8 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website.

Medical conditions

If you have a known medical condition and don't declare it to your insurance provider, you may find yourself without cover should you fall ill or have an accident while you are away, as standard travel insurance policies generally exclude pre-existing medical conditions.

The simplest way to avoid this happening is to buy a policy which covers pre-existing medical conditions. You need to tell your insurer about any illness, disease or injury you have, recent or historic. This can include things such as asthma, diabetes or heart conditions. This kind of policy could cover your medical expenses and the costs of having to fly home (if necessary) should you become ill during your trip.

Baggage and valuables

Your backpacker policy should cover you for lost, stolen or damaged property while you're travelling, although the amount covered and the excess can vary greatly depending on the provider. If you leave your valuables unattended, however, you probably won't be covered by your insurer.

We know that backpacking often involves staying in hostels or sleeping on overnight coach trips, and this can leave you vulnerable to theft, as there may not be a secure place to store your possessions. Unfortunately, any valuables left unsecure are unlikely to be covered by insurance provider, so take precautions wherever possible and don't leave any valuables on show.


The excess is the amount you must pay in contribution towards towards any claim you may make. It's quite common for cheaper policies to have higher excesses and you could be getting inadequate cover in key areas such as medical, baggage and personal item cover. Try not to be swayed by the cheapest option as it may not be the most suitable for your needs, look beyond the price and check what the policy actually covers.

Alcohol or drug related injury

If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol that impair your judgment, your insurance provider may argue that you are not able to take appropriate care of yourself, and therefore any accident incurred could not be considered unforeseen, and your policy may be invalidated.

What is considered to be 'excessive' consumption of alcohol can vary from one provider to the next, so check your policy documents to check their stance on this.

Insurance providers don't expect you to avoid alcohol entirely on your trip but be sensible and don't go overboard, or your drinks overseas could turn out to be a lot more expensive than you anticipated.

How can I compare backpacker insurance policies?

Whether you go ahead and purchase a backpacker policy really is up to you, as there is no legal obligation for you to do so. But ask yourself if you could afford to stump up a hefty bill should you fall ill or suffer an injury on your trip of a lifetime. If the answer is no, you may be wise to purchase a backpacker insurance policy.

If you'd like to go ahead and compare backpacker insurance policies, you can do so here.


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