What does my backpacker travel insurance really cover?

David Woodfield By David Woodfield

We've ranked the best backpacker travel insurance policies of 2016 to help you compare companies. We also look the important parts of insurance you need to know about and explain why cheap policies do not always offer good levels of cover.

Best Backpacker Insurance

  1. Flexicover - Gap Year Gold
  2. InsureandGo - Black
  3. Holidaysafe - Backpacker & Longstay Platinum
  4. American Express - Gap Cover
  5. Virgin Money - Backpacker Black or Gold
  6. Post Office - Backpacker Travel Insurance
  7. Direct Line - Discoverer
  8. The AA - Backpacker Travel Insurance
  9. Columbus Direct - Globetrotter
  10. TopDog Insurance - Backpacker
  11. Alpha Travel Insurance - Zero XS Long Stay

We created the top 11 using an independent financial review service that rates how comprehensive a policy is; the score Fairer Finance gave each insurance company for customer happiness, complaints, trust, and transparency; the latest travel insurance ratings on Which; customer ratings from independent review sites such as Trustpilot; and whether the company has won any awards.

The best backpacker insurance policies won't necessarily be the cheapest - but with travel insurance "you get what you pay for". The list should give you an impartial ranking of insurers that have an excellent level of cover and offer good customer service.

Why is backpacker travel insurance important?

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

Many of these items may make it into your bag when you set off on a backpacker trip, along with wads of foreign currency. If any of these possessions are lost, stolen or damaged while you're travelling, having good backpacker insurance can make all the difference. It means you can set out on a trip with peace of mind and make a successful claim if anything does go wrong.

Some people buy insurance and assume they're covered without looking at the policy wording. Check the article below, where we illustrate just how careful you need to be.

Another key feature of backpacker insurance is its medical cover. British travellers often overlook these cover levels because we're used to getting free treatment on the NHS but in other countries, even those with low costs of living, medical care can cost thousands of pounds. And some hospitals may not offer you treatment unless they know you can pay for it.

We looked at the cheapest and most expensive places to get injured if you're a backpacker and the results may surprise you.

As well as offering guides to insurance, Bought By Many also has groups for people with similar insurance needs where our members can get exclusive discounts. Check out our group for backpacker travel insurance where you can get a 10% discount on cover.

What does my backpacking travel insurance really cover?

Travel insurance policies often look similar but subtle differences in wording can have a big impact on what you're covered for. Unfortunately, the only way to be 100% sure what your backpacker insurance covers is to spend a bit of time reading the policy document. However, we've highlighted a few things that are worth checking.

And please remember that cheap backpacker insurance is not necessarily the best backpacker insurance.

  1. My laptop is definitely covered by my baggage limit...

    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, your insurance says it has a “£2,000 baggage” limit, which is enough for both let alone just one, right?

    Wrong!

    Laptops and phones 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 your backpacker baggage cover has a separate ‘valuables’ or 'single-item' limit, which is much less than the £2,000 total baggage cover.

    For example, in Endsleigh's popular Essential gap year policy, the baggage cover gives you £2,000 but there is a valuables limit of only £250. You can’t claim more than this for ‘valuables’ so if your £1,000 MacBook Air goes missing, you ain’t getting the full value back.

  2. But my expensive camera must be covered by backpacker insurance?

    Many people take a decent camera while travelling so they can capture high-quality photos of unique landscapes and amazing people. But a half-decent digital SLR can cost about £600 so you'll want to make sure it is covered by your insurance.

    Unsurprisingly, people often assume the £2,000 baggage limit should cover it.

    Incorrect!

    Yep, you’ve probably cottoned on now but cameras and other photographic equipment (like lenses) are often classed as ‘valuables’. At this point, you might be losing faith and thinking that insurance isn't worthwhile at all but 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 while out of the house, including abroad.

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

  3. What about my foreign currency?

    Money belts do look stupid, but they are one of the safest way to keep your cash. You might be packing a roll of notes for the convenience, especially in countries where cards aren't widely accepted, and you'd expect £1,000 of cash to be covered by insurance.

    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 £2,000 of baggage cover, but £500 for personal money and passport.

    In addition, TopDog, like others, makes 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 £2,000 you expected. Make sure you know your cash and passport limit and carry the right amount accordingly.

    Some of the best backpacker travel insurance policies may have higher limits than cheaper rivals, so their policy documents can help you compare cover before you buy.

  4. How about sunglasses, they don't cost too much?

    You’ve got a choice between the plastic sunnies that came free with your last holiday mag and a 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 sunglasses but some do becausethey are fragile and easily broken or misplaced.

    For example, Columbus Direct Travel Insurance's Globetrotter policy has a £50 limit on sunglasses, so with that policy you might want to take a cheaper pair. With less valuable items it’s also worth checking the excess on your policy because they may be under it and so the insurer will expect you to cover the costs if they go missing or get broken. If you lose a £120 pair of Ray-Bans but the excess is £100, you'll only get £20 for your claim.

  5. Taking my….fine china?!

    Some insurers have some odd exclusions – Explorer Travel Insurance (which you can get a discount for through our backpacker travel insurance group) excludes 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?

To get the best backpacker insurance for your needs you'll need to:

  • 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