7 Travel Insurance Tips for Backpackers

5 July 2013
7 Travel Insurance Tips for Backpackers
Travel Insurance Tips for Backpackers

We all know that travel disasters can happen to anyone, and we won’t bore you with the horror stories that backpacker travelers have shared with us, but you should know that backpackers face a few risks that other travelers don’t. Therefore, the travel insurance needs of backpackers is a little different than the typical traveler.

Here are 7 important travel insurance tips for backpackers to keep safe and healthy while on the road.

1. Have the coverage you need without a lot of extra expense

Here is the travel insurance coverage that is most useful to your typical backpacking traveler:

  • Medical expense coverage – for emergency medical care in case of a sudden illness or injury on your trip (as in you find yourself in a hospital in Argentina after a fall off a hiking trail)
  • Baggage coverage – to replace your backpack and the personal items in it if they’re stolen, lost, or destroyed (as in your backpack falls off the top of the bus and you don’t find out until you arrive in Tanzania)
  • Trip interruption coverage – to reimburse you for the unexpected airfare, lodging and transportation costs associated with returning home due to an emergency (as in your younger sister is very ill and you’re needed there)
  • Passport/credit card coverage – to reimburse you for unauthorized charges on your credit cards, the fee to replace a lost or stolen passport, and emergency cash advances if you suddenly need money (as in after someone steals from your bag while you’re asleep)
  • Emergency evacuation coverage – to coordinate and pay for medically necessary evacuations and even return you to your trip or home after your recovery (as in you nearly drowned on a rafting trip and have a serious head injury)

This is the essential travel insurance coverage necessary to cover a backpacking trip.

2. Adjust your travel medical kit accordingly

Depending on where you will be backpacking, you’ll need to update your travel medical kit accordingly. After all, a backpacking trip through the Amazon rainforest is very different than a backpacking trip along the Appalachian trail. Of course, it’s a balancing act to keep things as light as possible and still have what you need when you have:

  • a painful blister and need moleskin
  • stomach cramping and sporadic diarrhea
  • an uncomfortable headache that won’t stop
  • an open wound that’s started to ooze colorful fluids
  • a cut that needs a bandage and a little antibiotic

Any experienced backpacker knows to review the risks for where they’ll be traveling and plan ahead. Lots of mosquitos? You’ll need insect repellent with 30-50% DEET and mosquito netting to sleep under, for example.

See What’s in your travel medical kit for a starting list and adjust your kit according to your trip.

3. Always be identifiable on your backpacking trip

Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group, it’s important to always be identifiable. The reasons for this are more than a little creepy:

  • Ensuring your body is returned to your family if you die
  • Ensuring your medical treatment if you’re unconscious

… but it’s even more important for backpacker travelers who often don’t check into hotels (no record of who you are) and are often in remote areas.

To that end, it’s important to be a little redundant about this bit, i.e., have copies of your identification: the identification page of your passport, your driver’s license, passport card, etc. Also, have your basic medical information in a few places: in your pack, in your money belt, and in your traveling companion’s pack as well. This includes your travel insurance proof of coverage.

4. Account for the activities on your backpacking trip

If you’re the adventurous type, then you may be participating in activities that are excluded from your travel insurance plan. Many travel insurance plans limit their coverage to exclude activities like:

  • hang gliding
  • diving
  • skiing
  • mountaineering
  • bungee jumping
  • rock climbing

These are just a few of the activities that can invalidate your travel insurance. We’ll give you an example:

You’re in Malaysia and meet some folks who are going diving for the day. You join them and cut your foot badly. You’re taken to the hospital where they contact your travel insurance company who declines to pay your hospital bill because of the exclusion in your plan. You’re going to have to pay that hospital bill out of pocket – a fact that could significantly cut into your budget for this trip.

When you’re researching plans and comparing travel insurance quotes, be sure to review the exclusions so you know whether to add the adventure coverage upgrade. Every plan is different – some exclude skiing and others allow it, for example – so take the time to be sure so you’re not left holding a medical bill you thought would be covered.

5. Understand the exclusions

All insurance plans have exclusions and travel insurance is no different. In addition to the exclusion for adventure activities already discussed, you should be aware that the coverage you need in your backpack travel insurance will have additional exclusions like these:

Most of the exclusions above can be overcome by buying your travel insurance plan early and/or purchasing the necessary waiver or upgrade so don’t let these issues discourage you.

6. Compare quotes to get your backpacker travel insurance

Most backpackers are not interested in the extra expense of trip cancellation coverage (primarily because they don’t have a lot invested in their trip before they go), but think about the situations that could force you to cancel your trip. A sick parent, a natural disaster, a terror attack – all of these are valid reasons for canceling your trip if they affect you.

If your primary pre-trip expense is airfare and you can’t afford to lose that cash, you have two options:

  • Get an airline ticket protection plan (pretty cheap coverage)
  • Get a package plan (one that includes the other cover you need)

Otherwise, you can focus your travel insurance plan research and get a plan without trip cancellation. The great thing about using our travel insurance comparison tool is that you can select options to filter the coverage for what you’re looking for, read the plan’s coverage documents, and compare plans side-by-side.

7. Last tip … store your insurance docs digitally or in plastic

You’ll want to be able to read that information in an emergency, so you have to keep them dry. Put your travel documents on a flash drive or store them in the cloud if you’ll have reliable access to the Internet.

Many backpackers like the assurance of having a printed copy and if you do, slide those documents into a plastic zipper bag, squeeze out any extra air and slide it in the bottom of your pack.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.