• 39% of extended trip travel insurance products provide policies tailored to backpackers
  • Watch out for unusual exclusions on sports and activities
  • Find comprehensive cover: one in ten policies only provide cover for valuables of £400 or more

Thousandsof travellers will set off around the globe this month as the season of gap years begins. However, the more intrepid the trip, the more critical it is to take out comprehensive insurance. The good news is that 39% of extended trip travel insurance products provide policies tailored to backpackers, all of which offer cover for a minimum of 12 months without the need to take out insurance for every country you visit. But take care, as many of these policies come with unexpected terms and conditions.

So whether bungee-jumping in New Zealand or scuba-diving in Thailand, comparethemarket.com has some tips on how to ensure backpackers are fully protected by their policy when taking the trip of a lifetime:

Check the minimum and maximum time limits: The majority of backpacker policies (52%) provide cover for one trip taken over a maximum of around 18 months, however almost one in three (30%) limit travel to 365 days. In the event that you have to fly back for an emergency or special occasion, such as a wedding, nearly three quarters (74%) allow a brief return to the UK as standard, but such policies may have limits on the time you can stay at home.

Choose the maximum medical cover: In case of an emergency it is important to have the most comprehensive medical cover available. Cheaper policies may look attractive but often have higher excesses, meaning you could be left significantly out of pocket should you fall ill abroad. 82% of backpacker’s insurance policies cover medical expenses of £3million or more and all policies offer repatriation services and emergency assistance. Make sure you get all recommended vaccinations and medication ahead of your trip or you could end up invalidating your insurance if you contract a tropical disease overseas.

Avoid the travel logistics nightmare: The rush to catch a flight is a common occurrence on a gap year. However, very few policies provide cover for missed flights or stopover times: 59% do not cover travellers stopping over in countries outside of the geographical location selected, 45% do not cover missed travel connections and 38% will not pay out for missed departures. Even if your policy does cover missed flights, make sure you get confirmation from the appropriate authority for the reason you missed your flight and length of the delay in order to pursue your claim.

Protect against natural disaster: If you are travelling to countries where the chance of volcanic eruption, earthquakes, floods or landslides is high, it is vital that your insurance policy covers any potential disruption. Nearly half of backpacker insurance policies (47%) offer no cover for departure delay due to natural disaster, however just over a third (35%) offer cover of £1,000 or more. If you are travelling to high risk areas it is worth ensuring your policy offers comprehensive cover in case extreme weather events affect your journey.  

Steer clear of danger zones: In general, backpacker policies cover travel in Europe or worldwide, either including or excluding the USA. However, it is worth checking if travel is restricted in specific countries, for example war zones or areas of political unrest. Many policies’ terms and conditions are likely to clarify that they do not cover you in areas where the Foreign Office has advised against all travel.

Take extra care when trying out risky sports: Many travellers use their backpacking trip to try out unusual hobbies or sports. Activities such as banana boating, sky-diving, shark diving and swimming with dolphins are considered high risk by many insurers, but the majority of policies (91%) include an option to cover additional sports as standard. Read your policy carefully to find out if you must alert your provider of your intention to undertake these activities before you go abroad, and remember that you may not be covered under the personal accident or liability sections of the policy.

Don’t end up out of pocket: Even if your policy provides baggage insurance, not all providers will include cover for electronic items such as smart phones under this section. It is a good idea to check what your policy defines as a “valuable” object to check expensive items are fully insured; 52%of policies only cover valuables worth up to £250 but a high quality SLR camera can be worth over £1,000. Only one in 10 policies offer cover for valuables of £400 or more so it is worth checking if these items can be protected separately under a home insurance policy.

Prepare for a trip cut short: It is advisable to purchase your backpacker policy well in advance of your trip so you are protected if you can’t go on holiday due to unforeseeable circumstances. Cancellation cover pays for any prepaid travel or accommodation expenses if you have to cancel or cut your trip short. As year-long holidays are expensive it is worth checking the limits on your policy as only 18% cover the cost of cancellation of £5000 or more.

Gemma Sonfield, head of travel for comparethemarket.com, said:

“Insurance may not be the first thing you think of when planning the trip of a lifetime, but it is important to arrange comprehensive cover and ensure you are protected in every country you visit. Travellers might assume that they are covered under an annual policy, but a holiday over 30 days often requires additional protection and policies can vary in terms of excesses, exclusions and premiums.  Insurance for your gap year is particularly crucial as you are travelling for longer periods of time so it’s worth shopping around to find the policy most suited to your trip. Remember: if you are unsure of any detail in the policy wording, double check with your provider to make sure you don’t accidentally invalidate your cover.”

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The Institute of Inertia is a network of experts and academics led by The University of Sheffield’s Dr. Thomas Webb, a specialist in consumer behaviour.

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