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The Best Travel Insurance for Backpackers

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach, Brazil

Having the best travel insurance behind you during your travels is a safety net you can't afford to pass up.

Imagine this: you’ve just landed at a foreign airport far from home.

Next, you have to rush to your connecting flight.

You’re in a hurry, but in the corner of your eye, you see that your connecting flight has been delayed.

You feel relieved as you no longer have to run, but as you near the gate, you realize this slight delay will make it nearly impossible to catch the following flight to your final destination.

You start to fret. You’re in a foreign country, and you're going to miss a flight. The only option is to pay for a new one.

A tight budget was already weighing on you, and the thought of this extra burden will make your original plans nearly impossible.

Suddenly, the entire feel of your trip has changed.

But what if there was a way you could have prevented this unexpected problem?

Worldwide travel insurance, like many things on your pre-travel checklist, is necessary.

It’s one of those things you hope you never need, but when you do, it can be a vacation-saver.

What is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance and health insurance are two different things.

Travel insurance is your protection against unfortunate circumstances that arise while traveling, specifically.

Whereas health insurance typically covers you at home for emergency and non-emergency medical treatment, travel insurance covers emergency and non-emergency medical expenses away from home.

Plus, travel insurance covers additional travel-specific expenses that can result from theft, flight delays, and trip cancellations.

Why Travel Insurance is Important 

Go Backpacking's Community Manager, Adam, shares a story:

I’ve traveled without travel insurance before, and it has come back to bite me when I should’ve expected it.

An unforeseen (but preventable) food-borne sickness bit me on my first week in Thailand.

Without a clue of what it was, I rushed myself to the private hospital in Bangkok (which I didn’t know was private) where I was treated to a bill exceeding my budget by a long-shot.

Since then, I have begun to travel smarter (with insurance), and I’ve been able to capitalize on its advantages with a few canceled flights which have saved my wallet and my trip.

In one instance on a long-haul flight from Paris to Johannesburg, my flight was delayed 12 hours.

I had made a few friends at the gate prior to it being delayed.

I didn’t mind the half-day delay because I had nowhere else to be and it gave me a better chance at sleeping on the plane.

I was given a lounge pass and later told that I could probably file for reimbursement.

To my surprise, my travel insurance covered the cost of the flight and one night in a hotel. It was a blessing for someone not in a hurry.

Adam's not the only one to have experienced misfortunes with and without travel insurance.

Given enough trips taken and time spent traveling, these kinds of unfortunate circumstances can and will happen to you, so you may as well prepare for them.

Where to Begin

First, find out if your regular health insurance includes international coverage.

Call your health insurance company and ask if your policy covers you while you are traveling, whether it's a different part of your country or internationally.

If yes, make sure to ask what exactly is covered.

In the United States, for example, many health insurance plans will only cover emergency care outside of the country, leaving you paying the cost of anything short of a trip to the emergency room.

You'll also want to ask about the worst case scenario, an injury or illness so severe it requires evacuation via special air ambulance to your home country. This level of medical care can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.

If you get travel insurance for no other reason, get it to cover in you a worst case scenario. The kind that could bankrupt you or your family, and necessitate a GoFund me campaign from friends.

Don't allow your lack of planning to become your family and friends' financial burden.

Medical coverage is the most important aspect of travel insurance, but it’s not the only advantage included.

Travel insurance will also, in some cases, cover stolen property, booking cancellations, and emergency evacuation.

When to Get Travel Insurance

For most people, finding the best travel insurance is something to take care of months in advance of your trip.

It’s nothing you want to be dealing with the week you leave as your stress level may already be through the roof.

A nice convenience is the ability to schedule your travel insurance to begin on your departure date.

This allows you to check it off your to-do list well in advance of leaving home. It'll be a relief to handle it as soon as possible.

However, if you are the type to procrastinate or are still on the fence about travel insurance, you can book the day you leave and get coverage.

So, it’s flexible. With World Nomads, you can even book during your travels if you initially want to take the risk of traveling without it and later change your mind.

The Cost of Travel Insurance

The cost of your travel insurance policy will depend on several variables.

Your quote will depend heavily on how old you are, your home country, where you are going, and how long you'll be gone.

Some companies are more flexible than others when sending quotes.

We'll outline what you need to know depending on the type of traveler you are below.

Find the Best Travel Insurance For You

Whether you’re looking for single trip travel insurance, long term travel insurance, expat travel insurance, or any other type — there’s something out there for everyone.

Insurance is a for-profit industry, so the companies make a variety of options available to serve every kind of traveler.

If you don’t see the type of coverage you are looking for on a company’s website, you can generally call to speak with a specialist who will work with you to tailor a policy to fit your needs.

The important thing to do is acknowledge what type of traveler you are and what kind of trip you are taking before settling in and doing research. There's a policy for everyone.

Through our experience, we have determined there are certain companies that work best for different types of travel, and we’ve taken the liberty to lay them out for you below:

Best Travel Insurance for Backpackers: World Nomads

Best Travel Insurance for Digital Nomads: SafetyWing

Best Travel Insurance for Gear Coverage: Clements

Best Travel Insurance for Existing Medical Conditions: Allianz Travel **

Best Long-Term Medical Insurance for Expats: International Medical Group (IMG)

** Only on certain policies and medical conditions. Confirm with an insurance agent before purchasing.

Which Travel Insurance is Best?

Through and through, no matter what kind of traveler you are, but especially for backpackers, we have determined that World Nomads is the best bang for your buck. They give you the most coverage at a reasonable price.

Since 2002, World Nomads has supplied travelers with the best policies tailored to backpackers like us.

They are a trusted company and generally the most popular in the budget travel community because of their low rates, flexibility to apply while still traveling, and excellent customer support.

The majority of travelers will be able to find a suitable policy with just a few clicks on their site.

Adam has been using World Nomads for most of his years as a traveler and has had to utilize their coverage on several occasions.

Although all insurance claims processing can be a hassle, World Nomads is relatively straight-forward, making it easier on their customers.

Values to Look For When Choosing Your Policy

Based on a three-week trip to Europe

  • Low deductibles (based on your budget)
  • High medical coverage ($100,000 on average)
  • Repatriation coverage
  • Cancellation coverage ($2,000 or more)
  • Lost/stolen property coverage ($1,000 on average)

What Will Your Policy Not Cover

  • Treatment of pre-existing conditions
  • Most extreme sports injuries
  • Change of plans (due to personal reasons)
  • Alcohol/drug related losses
  • Frequent flier rewards losses
  • Unideal weather condition cancellation (personal choice)

How Do I Find the Cheapest Policy for Me?

If you want to find the cheapest, full-coverage policy, it will take some diligent research.

Shop around, play with each company’s quoting tools.

Most websites are very user-friendly and don’t take much effort or time to be quoted.

It's okay to be frugal in what you need of an insurance policy.

If you’re certain you won’t be partaking in any extreme sports while on vacation, look for a policy that doesn’t charge you extra for that kind of coverage.

Do you need $10,000 worth of property protection or will $500 of protection suffice?

Make sure you are considering your situation and what you need.

Don’t overpay for protection that will never do you any good, but don’t talk yourself out of coverage you might need.

Confusing Terminology, Explained

Part of everyone's frustration researching insurance is the often confusing terminology used by the industry.

What is a deductible?

If you’re still on your parent’s health insurance plan, chances are, you’re not familiar with deductibles, yet, it is a critical term to understand when choosing the best travel insurance policy.

A deductible is the amount of money you will be responsible for paying at the time of your care before your travel insurance policy will start to pay for the remaining treatment.

In other words, your travel insurance reimbursement takes effect only after you've paid the amount of your deductible out of your pocket.

So let’s say your deductible for medical treatment is $500. If you have to endure a small operation costing $700 total, you will still be responsible for the first $500 and your insurance will cover the remaining $200.

That may seem unfair until you realize medical bills can easily reach tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Think of worst case scenarios, and insure yourself accordingly.

This is important to consider while researching different insurance company policies. Make sure your deductible is of reasonable value, based on your best judgment.

What is a rider? 

Another term worthy of explanation is a “rider.”

A rider is an extension to a policy, which often adds additional coverage and terms.

For example, if you’re an adrenaline junkie, then adding a sports rider to your policy may be a good idea.

This will cost you more, but it will add additional benefits in areas of the coverage that you’re more at risk.

Book the Right Travel Insurance for You Today

Travel insurance is always a burden until it becomes a lifesaver.

For only a few dollars a day (or less), it can end up saving your trip and your wallet from serious debt.

Trust us; you don’t want to end up in debt from medical bills because you skipped buying travel insurance.

P.S. – All of the companies mentioned here are ones we've used ourselves.

If you found this article helpful and plan to buy a World Nomads policy, please consider buying it after clicking one of the links in this article.

We'll earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, which will be used to pay our writers.

If you have any questions, we’d love to help. Email [email protected] or find us on social media.

Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Dave Lee