Backpacker and long-stay insurance goes by a variety of names, which can include:
- Gap Year
- Extended Stay
- Career Break
- Volunteer & Work Abroad
Essentially, it is a special type of cover that is specifically aimed at anyone who will be travelling for long periods of time, and who may be visiting a number of different countries in the same trip.
A huge number of providers now cater specifically to students, especially those travelling on their gap year, and offer very discounted rates for single travellers. Insurers concentrating on student insurance may also cover studying abroad, volunteer programs and school trips overseas. One of the main providers for this category is STA Travel.
When choosing a policy, you will usually be asked whether you are travelling to the following areas:
- Australia & New Zealand
- Worldwide (excluding the US and Canada)
- Worldwide (including the US and Canada)
Variations of these four standards can sometimes be found depending on the particular preferences of the policy provider.
Age is a key consideration when choosing to take out backpacker insurance, as many of the companies will only offer it to those aged up to 35 or 40 years old. However, it is worth looking around as some companies, such as Go Travel, provide the same cover for anyone aged 18-65.
Some companies will instead offer a slightly more expensive cover for older travellers. For example, Ace Insurance offers a ‘Traveller Plus’ policy for those aged 45-55.
Length of trip
The main benefit of backpacker insurance is the length of time that it covers. Most policies will insure the individual from anywhere between 3 and 18 months, although some will only go up to a maximum of 12 months. In contrast, many ‘single-trip’ policies will only cover up to 90 days or less.
Long-term travel is often associated with travelling on a budget. As such, many backpacker policies allow different levels of customisation, such as excluding ‘Money and Personal Effects’ cover or paying a lower premium for a higher excess.
However, such decisions should be weighed up in response to the type of travelling involved. If staying in youth hostels or communal areas, this could increase the risk of theft and therefore make cover more necessary.
Backpacking is often associated with trying out a range of exciting and sometimes dangerous activities, such as bungee jumping and sky diving, and many policies cater for a number of these.
However, it is essential to check exactly what is covered before purchasing any insurance, as you may have to pay a higher premium for a particular sport or activity.
Specific rules also apply to winter sports, and cover is usually supplied as an added extra. If going skiing or snowboarding, make sure that you will be covered for these activities.
Certain countries will be considered off the map when it comes to insurance companies. These are usually those mentioned by the Foreign Office as not suitable for travel, so if you are likely to visit a potentially hostile country then check the guidelines of the insurance company before you go.
Off the beaten track
Backpacking is all about adventure, and the temptation is there to go off the beaten track.
However, if you plan on going to a remote area then look out for ‘Search & Rescue’ cover on your insurance policy. It is by no means guaranteed, with many companies only paying for your treatment once you are in a hospital bed.
Some policies such as Ace Insurance may include a separate cover for ‘Search & Rescue’, whereas others will include it in the cost of emergency medical care, but you may be liable for these costs under certain policies, so always check before you go wondering.
As backpacking is often a fairly flexible activity, preparations should be made for the possibility of staying on the road for longer. Always check how easy it will be to increase the length of the policy should you need to, before you leave.
Things to watch out for
Cheaper covers may be more tempting to the budget-conscious traveller, but they could make up for this by charging a higher excess.
Cheaper insurances could also include less cover for specific events, so always go for something that covers every eventuality, rather than just going for a policy because it is cheap.
Working and volunteering abroad
Budget-conscious travellers will often combine travelling with work as a means to stay on the road for longer. If this is the case, then be sure to check that your policy comes with work cover on top of the other benefits that it offers. There are not many insurance providers who will cover for working abroad and volunteer work, but there are some, and many will tailor your policy to cover you if you declare your intentions to them before you go. JS Insurance will cover you as long as you are not working with machinery or tools.
Whoever you decide to go with, make sure you tell them of your intentions to work before you leave. It is better to find out before you go whether you are covered for problems related to working and volunteering abroad, than to wait until you have to make a claim, and find out you would have been if you had told them!
If you are going away with an organisation, they may be able to recommend a good provider, as they will have worked with them before.
Lower your risk
When backpacking, everything you will need for your entire stay is with you. Most youth hostels have shared rooms and may not have the highest level of security available. Remember to keep all essential items (passports, travel documents) with you at all times and to keep copies of all important documents separate from the originals and in a safe place.
As a young person either travelling alone or in a group you are at a higher than usual risk of mugging while away, especially if you are travelling to remote areas. Make sure your policy covers that eventuality and never carry all of your cash with you if you can avoid it.
Check every policy carefully and be sure of your itinerary before you leave so you are covered for every eventuality. If you feel it is likely you may decide to ski or go scuba diving (or even take up golf) for part of your trip make sure you have adequate cover before you leave.