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Why you need Backpackers travel insurance

Some links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through my links I may make a small commission at no extra charge to you. See my disclaimer.

The great thing about being a British citizen, is we have always been able to get free healthcare when needed. We Brits can appreciate how lucky that makes us compared to some countries with either inaccessible or very expensive healthcare.

Now, because our healthcare has always been free, the first time people travel alone they sometimes don’t even think about backpackers travel insurance.

This is quite common for new travellers and often slips people’s minds. The sad truth is if you don’t experience a negative situation while on holiday, you probably wouldn’t see a benefit, right? But insurance is there for peace of mind in case something happens, and you never know when it could.

Now, I wouldn’t dare to travel without it!

Let me show you why.

If you ever need to contact emergency services or stay connected during a trip it’s helpful if you have a working SIM card with local network and data connection. One brand I like due to convenience is Airalo eSIMS which can be ordered and downloaded directly to your device.


I am in no way an expert on travel insurance. I am simply a person who travels a lot, works in the travel industry and has done my fair share of research on different insurances that suit my needs. Every trip and every person requires a tailored insurance plan that suits them. Make sure to do some research on the plan you need based on the activities you plan to do before making any purchases.

Basic mock up of a backpackers travel insurance first page document

What is travel insurance?

In simple terms, travel insurance is something you purchase to protect yourself in case something goes wrong while you are abroad.

Generally speaking, travel insurance is used to help backpackers and travellers in an emergency and gives them peace of mind that they can get help if there is a problem without costing them thousands of pounds. It can be used to cover multiple features such as:

  • Medical Care – anything associated with your injury or health.
  • Repatriation – an accessible or sometimes specialised way to get you home after a serious injury.
  • Lost Baggage – this sometimes includes stolen items or bags that go missing during the trip and transit.
  • Delayed transportation – if the airline or bus is delayed you can often be compensated.
  • Cancellations – if someone else cancels your ticket (airline, transport, accommodation, tours etc).

Did you know: The USA has the highest medical bills in the world?

If you are undecided about where to travel in your gap year, visiting the USA and paying for adequate insurance will mean you’re spending more money to be protected.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t go but be prepared for your insurance policy to be much higher if heading to North America.

Backpackers’ insurance companies for UK citizens

Depending on the level of insurance or length of the trip would depend on what insurance is most suitable. If you are embarking on a working holiday visa or a long-stay trip, then you will need an appropriate insurance plan to cover you for the full duration.

  • Many UK travel insurers only cover people for up to 1 year.

When I was looking for insurance for my Canadian working holiday, I could only find one British company that had a plan long enough to cover 2 whole years. So if you are expecting to go for a long time, make sure you double-check the length available.

Three of my favourite brands for backpackers’ travel insurance are:

For my international (non-UK citizen) readers, Safety Wing and World Nomads are both useful for many other countries’ citizens around the world.

statistics from 2021 of why backpackers travel insurance is necessary
Statistics from multiple UK travel agencies on British travellers in 2021

Why is backpackers travel insurance important?

Generally speaking, many backpackers are travelling for more than just a couple of weeks. This means you need a “long stay” policy which is often restricted to specific insurers.

If you are abroad, you probably want to do things you may not do at home. Maybe you want to go kayaking, snorkelling, or hiking up difficult terrain, or maybe you are in a location that requires vaccinations for insect bites or diseases that you don’t have in your home country.

The last thing you want to happen is to get injured on your trip and then (assuming you’re not in a critical way) spend hundreds or even thousands of your hard-earned money on paying medical bills having the added stress of needing to pay through the roof for an already stressful and scary situation.

Heading overseas for a working holiday or a long trip? Consider using Wise to transfer your money with low fees. I have been using them since 2015 and highly recommend them. You can use my link: Transfer money using Wise.

Will you work on your gap year?

Did you know British citizens are eligible to work in multiple countries between ages 18 and 31? With Australia and New Zealand being raised to the age of 35 soon.

Not only does backpackers travel insurance cover you for a longer period without expiring, but it can often cover you for working overseas.

Whether you choose to do some volunteering or are making money during a working holiday visa, you’ll need to make sure you are covered.

If you get injured while at work and don’t have a policy that covers you for working, then you could be disqualified from making a claim. If you are disqualified then you won’t get any financial aid, which could leave you out of pocket.

Check out the advantages and disadvantages of working abroad & disadvantages of a gap year to prepare yourself before you head overseas. If you need to book your gap year adventure, head over to my travel resources page for some of my favourite brands, plus I have a post on how to plan a trip abroad for the first time!

graphic of statistics of natural disasters in 2021

Disasters out of our control

Now, what if you are a careful and sensible traveller? Avoiding substances that might impair your judgement or behaviours? I’ll be honest, many of the things that could happen overseas could happen in your hometown too.

But when you’re at home you often know where to turn and have a health system in place. When you’re outside of your home territory it gets a bit more complicated. This is why backpackers and other holidaymakers’ should always opt for travel insurance before they leave for their holiday.

Disclaimer: I am not making this list to frighten anybody but to give an idea of what potential risks there are around the world.

You may still run into difficulties while abroad that are caused by complete strangers or natural events. Let’s take a look at different outcomes so you’re better prepared.

Caused by people
  • You could have your items stolen by a pickpocket.
  • Perhaps you get caught in the middle of a rowdy bar fight.
  • A drunk driver might hit you with their vehicle and cause you severe injury.
  • Someone in your group could be attacked by a predator.
Caused by nature
  • Your holiday resort might get hit by a hurricane or major storm which can cause damage and flooding.
  • You could be directly affected by summer bush or forest fires.
  • There could be a volcanic eruption near the place you’re staying.
  • Maybe you’re on the coast when an earthquake takes place, this creates tsunami risk.
  • Your ski resort could get hit by an avalanche and people would need to evacuate.
Other issues
  • Your airline might go bankrupt midway through your trip.
  • You might face significant delays with your transport meaning you miss connections and activities.
  • Parts of your trip might be cancelled by the operator.

pile of papers and books including a backpackers travel insurance document
a pile of papers and books including a backpacker travel insurance document

Insurance when I was a travel agent

When I worked as a travel agent in Vancouver, Canada, my main task was to book travel for my customers. It was also a part of my daily routine to ask all customers if they require travel insurance for their trip.

If customers said yes, great! I would walk through the options available to them. If they said no, I would legally have to get them to sign a waiver stating they have refused insurance.

This now, legal document, would be photocopied so that both the customer and myself could keep a copy for reference. This is because many customers will try to dispute it if they need to make a claim without insurance.

Now, although we have to ask people if they require insurance, we could not force people. We could only explain to them the risks and the decision is theirs.

An example of USA medical coverage costs

I once had a family of three travelling to the USA for a week. Two parties purchased the $11cad insurance each. The third-party insisted they didn’t need it. Fast forward to day 5 of their trip, I receive a phone call.

They were asking for my help because the person who refused insurance, had a few (alcoholic) drinks, drove a quad bike, crashed then shattered his femur, and pelvis and broke 2 ribs.

I was shocked. I also felt terrible because there was nothing I could do.

This customer had refused travel insurance so all I could do was offer assistance to try and get them home as soon as possible, but could not get them financial help with an insurance claim since he wasn’t insured.

This made the customer very upset because their medical bills were already at over $60,000usd for surgeries and going up by almost $7,000 for every day he was kept as an inpatient. The hospital would not allow them to leave until it was paid.

If they had just paid the $11 insurance, it would have been covered – at least 3/4 of it anyway.

pile of scrabble letters spelling out "are you covered"

Other types of Insurance

Contents/Personal Insurance

There are other types of insurance that you might have some coverage under. By checking your existing plans and policies, you are in a better position on the trip.

If you have home contents insurance, for example, you might have some of your belongings (luggage) covered up to a maximum amount of money. Generally speaking, this wouldn’t cover you for medical bills but at least some of your lost items could be replaced.

Check with your home contents policy what they cover before heading overseas.

Credit cards for backpackers insurance

There are SO many different types of credit cards in the UK. Many of these have extra benefits, but these can vary from card to card. One thing many credit cards have is some medical insurance coverage for travel, but this is not a standard guarantee.

Many cards that cover you for medical care do not actually cover the cost of ambulances abroad – something that you would need to pay for out of pocket should you need one.

This is always worth checking because if you choose not to get insurance because you have your credit card coverage, it’s much safer to know what exactly you will be covered for before something happens.

Pro tip: Check before you leave on your trip what you are covered for on your credit card if anything. Never just assume.

Before you embark on your next trip, check all the terms and conditions of your UK credit card. This way you can prevent yourself from being overinsured, and also make sure you are insured for everything you might need without any gaps in the policy. It’s better safe than sorry!

chalk board with "get well soon" written 3 times - a discussion on backpackers travel insurance

My own claims

Although I grew up with free healthcare in the United Kingdom, my mum was a firm believer in only going to the Dr if you are really sick.

This was a habit that stuck with me into adulthood and I would often leave myself too long before getting checked out.

This usually resulted in getting a stern telling off by the Dr that I have an “unnecessarily progressed” injury or illness due to waiting too long. Ailments probably would have been very quick to fix had I visited sooner.

With that in mind, and to give you an idea of costs, here are a few examples of times I had to claim insurance myself:

Country Claim Details What I had to pay forCost LocalCost UK
Greece – Aug 2013 Severe Allergic reaction Steroid Injection, Antihistamines & Medical Certificate200 EUR£170
Canada – Nov 2017Kidney infectionDr visit, Lab test & Antibiotics 205 CAD£120
Canada – Nov 2017Impacted wisdom toothDental visit, X rays & Antibiotics273 CAD£161

The two claims I made in Canada in 2017 actually happened in the same week! The Dr believes because I didn’t get seen quickly enough, my immune system was already weak. That made me the perfect breeding ground for another sickness – gross.

As you can see, $500 out of pocket in the same week was a lot to fork out. I’m grateful I was able to get that back on my insurance within just a few days! For that trip, I was using True Traveller and their IEC 2-year plan.

Final thoughts on Backpackers travel insurance

Whether you are just travelling continuously on your long trip or working and staying put somewhere for a while, it is 100% worth paying for. It’s not worth jeopardising the rest of your journey if you have to pay out of pocket for emergencies and run out of money.

I like the saying:

“If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”

.. and I completely live by that phrase.

Check out my three recommended brands above & start preparing for your gap year. It’ll be so worth it!

Need help planning your trip?

Check out how to plan a trip abroad & see my travel resources for more.

WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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