What does my backpacker travel insurance really cover?

David Woodfield By David Woodfield

Many cheap backpacker insurance policies don't provide enough cover for the things backpackers care about the most. In this article, we look at independent reviews to identify the top candidates for the title "Best Backpacker Insurance 2015", and then go into detail about what to look out for when choosing a backpacker insurance policy for your trip.

Top 10 Backpacker Insurance

  1. Alpha Travel Insurance - Zero XS Long Stay
  2. American Express - Gap Cover
  3. Flexicover - Gap Year Gold
  4. Insure & Go - Black
  5. Columbus Direct - Globetrotter
  6. Post Office - Backpacker Travel Insurance
  7. Direct Line - Discoverer
  8. TopDog Insurance - Backpacker
  9. The AA - Backpacker Travel Insurance
  10. Endsleigh - Gap Comprehensive

To come up with this Top 10, we combined the Defaqto Gap Year Travel Insurance star ratings with the score Fairer Finance gave each insurance company for Customer Happiness, Complaints, Trust, and Transparency. We also looked at Which's latest review of recommended travel insurance providers (in May 2015), and incorporated the scores they had given each company. Finally, we looked at the percentage of visitors to each company's website who bought a travel insurance policy, as a proxy for the price and the straightforwardness of the buying experience. The idea of doing this was to take into account the features of each policy, the experience of each website, and the record and reputation of each insurance company in dealing with claims.

The top policies won't necessarily be the cheapest - but bear in mind that with travel insurance "you get what you pay for".

Why is backpacker travel insurance important?

You could be carrying several thousand pounds on you every time you step out your front door without even realising it. An iPhone or a Macbook, a digital camera and lenses or perhaps your favourite jewellery - it all adds up.

Things get different when you leave the front door for months of travelling light. You're far more conscious of what you're taking - your pack becomes a haven of the necessary, the cheap and the robust - the worry is of course that the useful things you want to take are often expensive or fragile and a question hovers; “Is it going to get stolen or trashed?”

It’s a question of risk – should you take something and risk losing or damaging it? Having good backpacker travel insurance can make all the difference, as the risks seem worthwhile if you know you’re protected when things go wrong. That said, you may be less protected than you think, so, before you make the call on the contents of your pack, check the article below, where we illustrate just how careful you need to be.

What does my backpacking travel insurance really cover?

Before we get down to some examples, it’s worth repeating the standard moan of the insurance industry – please, please remember that cheap backpacker insurance is not necessarily the best backpacker insurance. Bear that in mind as you consider the items below.

  1. Must.... have.... Wifi!!

    We can’t go anywhere without it. We’re willing to bet that you can’t either. No one wants to be sat using the 1995 computer that occupies the internet café next to your Thai hostel, so it’s tempting to take your smartphone or, if you’re of the blogging persuasion, laptop. After all, my insurance has a “£2,000 baggage” limit, which is enough for both let alone just one, right?


  2. Laptops or smart phone are within your baggage limit, but since they are desirable items that thieves target, they are classified by most insurers as ‘valuables’. If you read the small print, you’ll find a ‘valuables’ limit in your backpacking insurance policy which is much less than the £2000 baggage cover you have.

    For example, in Endsleigh Insurance's popular gap year policy, the essentials level of cover gives you £2000 but a valuables limit of only £250. You can’t claim more than this for ‘valuables’ so if your £1000 MacBook Air goes missing, you ain’t getting the full value back.

  3. Yeah this is the time I was in Laos, just hanging with the locals – nice pic huh?

    Some form of camera has to go with you for all those cool photos you’ll take and show to just about everyone you meet for the next five years. If you’re taking something separate to the camera in your smartphone, you want to be careful that it is covered too. You know a half-decent SLR can cost about £600 so once again that's under the baggage limit and will be fine.

    Incorrect!Yep, you’ve probably cottoned on now but cameras and other photographic equipment (like lenses) are covered as ‘valuables’ too. At this point, you might be losing faith and thinking that insurance isn't worthwhile at all - a good tip is that valuable items such as your camera or phone could be covered on a home insurance policy - many providers will let you extend your home cover to include cover for your possessions whilst out of the house, including abroad.

    You could also get specific camera travel insurance at a discounted rate, by joining our Camera Cover for Travel group. Remember that travel insurance covers more than just your baggage - it covers cancellation and most importantly it covers medical claims too.

  4. That thing makes me look like a total…

    Look, money belts do look stupid, we agree, but they are the safest way to keep your cash. You might be packing a wadge of notes for the convenience, especially in countries where cards just aren't accepted. After all, your baggage is covered to that £2000 limit, so a money belt with a £1000 in it is gonna be fine.

    Nope!Cash and passports are usually covered by a separate limit, similar to the ‘valuables’ one. It’s cunningly called the ‘Cash and Passport limit’ - for example Top Dog Insurance's Gold cover specifies £2000 of baggage cover, but £500 for personal money and passport.

    In addition, TopDog, like others, make a further distinction. The good news is that "Personal Money" for them means cash, pre-paid cards, traveller's cheques, even event and travel tickets. However they specify a further £200 limit for pure cash only (bank notes). So if, like us, you had you pack ransacked in Thailand, all the cash stolen but everything else left in place, you might find you are only covered to £200 rather than the £2000 you expected. Make sure you know your cash / passport limit and carry the right amount accordingly.

  5. Catchin’ some rays, lookin’ good

    You’ve got a choice between those plastic sunnies that came free with your last holiday mag and your pair of designer glasses that actually look good. It’s a no-brainer – the designer pair are coming with you and at £75, they are pricey but they are cheap in the world of insurance so they’ll be covered.

    Maybe!Some insurers don’t separate out sunglasses but some do on account of the fact that they are fragile and easily broken or misplaced.

    For example, Columbus Direct Travel Insurance's Globetrotter policy has a specific £50 limit on sunglasses so with that policy you might want to take a cheaper pair. With items worth this kind of amount, it’s also worth checking the excess on your policy as they may be under it and so the insurer will expect you to cover the costs if they go missing or get broken.

  6. Taking my….fine china?!

    Some insurers have some odd exclusions in addition to some more obvious ones – Explorer Travel Insurance (which you can get a discount for through our backpacker travel insurance group) exclude any damage to fine china. So there you go – don’t pack Grandma’s favourite dinner set.

If you're thinking about travelling to an unstable country, you might want to read our guide to travel insurance with terrorism cover and for dangerous areas.

So how do I get the best backpacking insurance then?

We’ve given some examples above as it’s a case of working your way through these issues when choosing your policy. That means:

  • Check the valuables limits so you know your cover for gadgets, jewellery, etc.
  • Ensure you consider the cash and passport limits to protect the notes you will take.
  • Read the policy documentation for specific exclusions like sunglasses… or china!

Backpacker Insurance Reviews

Finally, we've written in-depth articles on a number of the best known providers of Backpacker Travel Insurance:

Do contact us through the Backpacker Travel Insurance forum if there are other companies you'd particularly like us to review.

More like this:

Best Travel Insurance 2016

Check out our list of the 10 best travel insurance companies and learn more about holiday cover

  • by David Woodfield