All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. – Martin Buber
Do you need backpacking travel insurance for a “regular” trip abroad? Yes. Don’t let the photo of the snake lead you wrong. The chances of an injury as exciting as a snake bite are very low. Even Bear Grylls has trouble getting those.
Mosquitoes are actually the most dangerous creature on earth, but you have a much greater chance of being injured in a vehicle accident while traveling. Thailand has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world. Tuk-tuks don’t have seatbelts, and you’ll inevitably end up driving or on the back of a motorbike at some point.
Get It or Skip It?
During my travels over 12 years, I met a lot of backpackers who opted to go without backpacking travel insurance. I even skipped it myself a couple of times on short trips when funds were low. But having met travelers who were saved from various disasters — injuries and theft/loss — I decided to never travel without insurance again.
Weird stuff happens on the road. In China, I even met a traveler whose ferry had sank! Everyone was rescued, but they lost everything. His travel insurance came to the rescue, and he was even able to continue his trip after gearing up again. People without coverage were just screwed and had to go home.
You probably won’t be sitting in the TV room at the hostel for your entire trip, so you’ll inevitably have more exposure to risks than usual. Even crossing the street in some frenetic cities is riskier than the average mountaineering summit. Regular travelers need some sort of coverage; your health and future ability to travel are at stake.
What to Know About Not Getting Covered
With all the other start-up costs of getting on the road (e.g., recommended vaccinations, flights, etc), the temptation to forgo travel insurance can be great.
If you are seriously injured or worse, it could cost you or your family over US $100,000 to evacuate you back to your home country. If a fall on some adventure yields you incapacitated, you’ll have to fly home with a medical escort. Those aren’t cheap.
Once you are brought home, your travel insurance stops and your regular health insurance takes over. If in the U.S. or another country where health care is considered a luxury, the hospital bill won’t be pretty. If you quit your job to make travel dreams come true, then consider at least a high-deductible policy for emergencies.
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Good Reasons to Get Covered
- More travelers get injured in simple bus accidents than in extreme sports such as rock climbing.
- The #1 cause of fatalities and injuries to Americans while traveling is automobile accidents. That won’t be a surprise if you have ever seen the way drivers behave in places such as Beijing, Cairo, or India.
- Many policies will cover your backpack if it is lost or stolen. You could potentially get possessions such as your laptop and camera replaced.
- Many policies have trip cancellation coverage in the event that you have to postpone your trip for some reason (e.g., a family member becomes ill).
- Backpacker travel insurance is typically a lot cheaper than health insurance! The peace of mind of knowing someone has your back is wonderful.
- You will not be spending most of your time watching TV or sitting in an office. While traveling, you will be more exposed to adventure, increasing the chance for minor injuries.
- Problems aren’t always catastrophic. You may need to fix small, unexpected things picked up while traveling. Walking barefooted, as my travelmate in Laos did, you can collect annoyances such as this cutaneous larva migrans parasite that slowly ate her foot for weeks.
Choosing a Travel Insurance Policy
- Make sure the company provides coverage for any adventures you think you want to do. Some activities such as whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and trekking may be excluded in regular plans.
- If you are going to Nepal or places with serious mountains, check to see that there are no elevation restrictions in the policy wording.
- Driving motorbikes is rarely covered by travel insurance, but some companies do.
- Some companies allow you to extend coverage instantly online in case you decide to stay longer. This is very useful if you spontaneously decide to extend your trip!
Which Is Best for Backpackers?
I personally prefer SafetyWing — they are the best for backpackers and have a solid reputation. I will vouch for them, and I use them myself.
Other insurance companies are staffed with rich old bankers, not travelers. They may or may not have your back when it’s time for them to pay up. SafetyWing is priced like a monthly subscription — and quite affordable.
They aren’t the cheapest, but they do have the best reputation in the digital nomad travel community.
All budget travelers are hardwired to save money in any way possible. I’m willing to walk 30 minutes to a restaurant that has pad thai for 50 cents cheaper. But don’t skimp and cut corners when your health and safety are on the line.
Click below to get a quick quote (and find language guides and other useful resources).
SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance
You can also use the quote widget below to get an instant quote based on just a few factors (e.g., age, country of origin, etc).
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