Here’s the thing: I am a walking disaster. I am clumsy, forgetful, scatterbrained, and generally prone to mishaps. But up until a few years ago, I had never purchased travel insurance in my life. I’d never even heard of it.
Now, I refuse to travel without it.
What changed? Well, here’s the short version: one disastrous year-long backpacking trip and several filed claims. (The long version includes a faked death, a BMW stuck inside of a medieval castle somewhere in the French countryside, and a shot in the butt – here’s the full story of our year-long honeymoon.)
As a full-time (accident-prone) travel blogger, I am now well versed in the benefits of travel insurance and advise absolutely every traveler to strongly consider purchasing it. But is travel insurance really worth the money? Many a frugal, penny-pinching backpacker (ahem: us) has opted to save money by eating free breakfasts and cooking pasta in hostel kitchens for months on end – but travel insurance is NOT an area you should consider skipping to save cash!
We’ve created this travel insurance guide to help you decide whether you should buy travel insurance for your next backpacking trip (yes). In this post, you’ll find a review of the best two backpacking travel insurance providers, a rundown of when travel insurance isn’t necessary, and a complete guide to exactly how travel insurance works when you do actually need to use it (we have a lot of experience in that department, unfortunately).
But before we begin, I want to make one thing very clear: we are frequent travelers & backpackers – NOT travel insurance experts. We don’t sell travel insurance, we can’t answer technical questions about what specific things are covered or not covered, and we can’t help you with your travel insurance claims. We’re just here to provide advice based on our experience and research that we hope will help you make an informed decision about whether you should buy travel insurance before your next trip!
Before you make a purchase, we highly recommend doing a little extra research and diving into the documentation available on your chosen travel insurance provider’s website. We hope that our travel insurance tips will help you know where to go and what to look for to help with that decision-making process!
Wish you could quit your job & travel?
Listen: it’s time to stop dreaming and start planning. My best-selling book, How to Quit Your Job & Travel, is a practical, step-by-step guide to one of the most exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying things you’ll ever do.
You’ll learn how to tackle each of the challenges of long-term travel, from finances to fear to returning to reality – and all the nitty-gritty logistics along the way. Ready to get started?
Psst: Looking for more travel tips? Take a look at some of our other posts:
- Travel Safety Guide
- How to Plan a Trip
- The 43 Travel Essentials We Bring on Every Trip
- How to Be a More Responsible Tourist
Who are the best travel insurance providers?
When it comes to evaluating the best travel insurance providers, I’m looking for a few crucial things. In addition to being legit, well-funded, non-shady businesses, I also have a mental checklist in mind:
- Must cover the basics. At a bare minimum, any halfway decent travel insurance policy should cover unexpected medical expenses while traveling, lost & stolen luggage, trip cancellation & interruption, and emergency evacuation or repatriation. If that’s not all included in a policy, I wouldn’t book it.
- Clear, transparent information about what is & isn’t covered. Surprises: great for keeping a marriage exciting, terrible for travel insurance. The last thing I want is to find out that a once-in-a-lifetime experience isn’t covered – after I already booked it. I’m seeking clear, easy answers to the question “what’s covered?” and I don’t want to have to look hard to find it.
- Easy-to-find pricing information available online. I don’t want to have to call and talk to someone to get a quote. I’m a millennial. I hate talking to people on the phone. I don’t want someone to “sell” me on their services. Just put the whole thing online so I can evaluate it in the comfort of my own home, quietly and anti-socially.
- Reviews & positive experiences from other travelers. I don’t even book a hostel or visit a restaurant if there aren’t enough positive reviews, much less a travel insurance policy! If a quick Google search or Facebook post finds more negative feedback about a travel insurance provider than positive, I’m out. That said: angry customers are typically more vocal than delighted ones, so I do try to balance out my research and keep that in mind.
The two travel insurance providers I recommend meet all of the above criteria and are a fantastic fit for us as adventurous, frequent travelers (who often find themselves in a pickle). They’re hands-down the best options for backpacker travel insurance, but they offer slightly different benefits.
Before we dive into the details, here’s a quick summary:
- World Nomads: One of the OG backpacking insurance providers. Covers a wide range of adventure activities, and take care of several claims during our year-long honeymoon. Easy to use and offers solid, backpacker-friendly coverage.
- SafetyWing: A newer travel insurance company created for digital nomads and frequent/long-term travelers. The most affordable option for backpacking travel insurance for both short trips and annual plans, with plans starting at under $2/day. Covers COVID-19 more comprehensively than most plans, including quarantine.
SafetyWing Travel Insurance
- Verdict: The best travel insurance for backpackers, nomads, frequent & long-term travelers, and immigrants/ex-pats.
As someone who travels for a living, I’ve definitely had that “oh no” moment of realizing that I forgot to book travel insurance because I scheduled my trip last-minute or back-to-back with another trip. It’s a terrifying feeling to realize you might not be covered if something goes wrong! An annual plan lets you pay monthly for ongoing travel insurance, so you never have to worry about it.
SafetyWing is sort of the cool new travel insurance kid on the block, created as a scrappy Silicon Valley startup that fills a gaping need for location-independent travelers and digital nomads. It’s also the best travel insurance option for frequent travelers, because they offer long-term annual travel insurance plans as well as trip-specific travel insurance policies.
If you’re a digital nomad or just travel frequently, SafetyWing was created with you in mind.
And with plans starting at just $40 per month, SafetyWing coverage offers the easiest to use and most affordable travel insurance plan I’ve ever seen.
Unlike most travel insurance policies, you don’t even need a home address or a list of destinations to purchase insurance with SafetyWing – ideal for “going where the wind blows” long-term travelers and nomads. Honestly, this kind of travel insurance would have been the PERFECT service for us during our year-long honeymoon (but it didn’t exist yet)!
As someone who spends almost as much time traveling as I do at home, it’s the perfect option for a set-it-and-forget-it travel insurance provider.
Because, honestly, forgetting to book travel insurance until the last minute – like, while at the airport – has now burned me SEVERAL times. It would be so helpful to know that no matter what comes up or how often I’m traveling, I’m covered thanks to my annual plan – which I can cancel anytime, say, if the entire world goes on lockdown.
SafetyWing’s Nomad Travel Insurance plan is a comprehensive travel medical insurance for frequent travelers or digital nomads who have basic health insurance coverage in their home country but need coverage abroad while traveling. This is the policy that most backpackers and travlers will need.
Here are a few things to know about SafetyWing’s Nomad Travel Insurance:
- Coverage ranges from 5 days to 1 year: You can book coverage for a short, specific time range – or you can cover yourself for a month at a time until your trip end date (or indefinitely) with an auto-renewing subscription payment. If you’re not sure how long you’ll be traveling or you plan to be gone for at least a few months, this is the easiest and most affordable option for travel insurance by far. It’s also a great “Set it and forget it” option for frequent travelers.
- Many travel adventures are covered: There’s a long, easy-to-find list on SafetyWing’s website with a list of what travel adventures are and aren’t covered, and it’s wonderfully comprehensive. They even cover moped & scooter accidents (as long as you’re not like, racing or drunk driving). That said, do check first, because there are a few surprises (for instance, snowmobiling and parasailing aren’t covered activities).
- COVID & Quarantine coverage: SafetyWing is one of the few travel insurance providers to offer COVID-19 quarantine coverage. You’ll recieve $50/day for up. to10 days if you test positive for COVID while traveling and have a 28-day or longer plan. We’ve heard horror stories of friends abroad stuck quaranting in pricey accomodations because they came down with a breakout case, so this coverage is incredibly important until the pandemic is officially over.
- Visits to your home country are (partially) covered: Every 90 days, you can use your medical coverage for a limited time in your home country. But there is a limit: If you stay in your home country longer than 30 days (15 for USA), your coverage is void until you leave. The coverage resumes once you are out of the country again. We recommend using your regular old health insurance to cover you while you’re at home.
- Young children are included: You can include up to 2 kids under age 10 per family with no additional cost. Kids are about as accident-prone as I am (maybe even more) so that’s a HUGE benefit!
- 3 countries are excluded: As far as comprehensive international travel insurance goes, SafetyWing covers travel anywhere in the world – with the exception of Cuba, Iran, and North Korea (y’all, please don’t go to North Korea). It’s all in their FAQ.
- You don’t have to buy a plan before your trip: Score one for procrastinators! I’m notorious for realizing I forgot to buy travel insurance until the absolute last minute, but in this case, you can buy it at any point – even during your trip. That’s another benefit of a travel insurance policy tailor-made for nomads and frequent travelers!
If you travel frequently, are a digital nomad/living abroad, or find yourself forgetting to book travel insurance until the absolute last minute, SafetyWing is an excellent choice!
And because it’s incredibly affordable, it’s perfect for backpacker travel insurance or an annual travel insurance plan. SafetyWing starts at $40/month, or just $7.15 for 5 days. Penny-pinching, frugal backpackers: that’s less than the $2/day we save by only eating hostel breakfasts!
Psst: SafetyWing also offers Remote Health, a fully comprehensive international travel health insurance policy for full-time travelers, as well as people who stay primarily in one place abroad, like remote workers or immigrants/expats. This plan is more like typical healthcare, covering everything from cancer treatment to birth along with travel-specific needs like evacuation and repatriation. You can even add in dental and standard screening coverage!
To see how much it would cost to insure your next trip, head over to their website or get a quote using the widget below:
World Nomads Travel Insurance
- Verdict: The best travel insurance for adventurous international travelers & backpackers from the US who take a few short trips a year.
World Nomads has been our travel insurance of choice for years and has taken care of us many times. It’s the perfect companion to a big trip, especially if you’re only taking one or two trips per year.
We love how easy it is to book a policy – you won’t need to calculate anything like you do for some travel insurance providers, and it takes just a few minutes to get your quote and book everything online (and no, you don’t need to provide your phone number or talk to an annoying agent to buy a policy).
We’re also fans of how comprehensive the medical & dental coverage is, especially when it comes to adventure travel activities. And unlike many travel insurance providers, there are no exclusions for “home country” coverage – you’ll be covered so long as you’re at least 100 miles away from your home.
Another benefit: World Nomads has a (slightly) more flexible policy than most concerning pre-existing conditions. Although you won’t be covered for most expenses incurred because of a preexisting medical condition, you’ll still be covered for emergency evacuation and, ahem, repatriation of remains.
That said, a pre-existing condition is defined as a condition that existed within 90 days of the coverage effective date – meaning if you saw a doctor for a cold 2 weeks before your trip, you might not be covered if it flares up again during your trip.
Here are a few more highlights:
- Comprehensive adventure sports coverage: World Nomads covers quite a few more adventure sports than most providers, particularly in their Explorer plan. You’ll be covered for everything from bungee jumping to sky diving! We typically opt for the Explorer plan on most of our backpacking trips.
- Comprehensive travel accident coverage: World Nomads covers a wide variety of travel mishaps, including stolen passports or tech gear, lost and delayed baggage, trip cancellation, emergency medical/dental assistance and transportation, repatriation, and more.
- Non-Medical Evacuation: Need to make a quick escape? If there’s an (eligible) natural disaster or civil or political unrest, or if you’re just like, kicked out of a country (and it’s not because you did something super dumb and irresponsible), World Nomads policies provide non-medical evacuation coverage and will help cover your transportation expenses to get back home.
- 24/7 Emergency Assistance team: This is really helpful when sh*t is going down and you need someone to help talk you off a (theoretical) ledge. If you’re sick and in need of help, the World Nomads team can help with locating medical facilities and monitoring your care throughout the emergency. Which is actually really sweet and comforting, in my experience.
If you’re an adventurous traveler or backpacker taking a short few trips per year, World Nomads is an excellent choice for backpacking travel insurance that we’ve had fantastic experiences with.
Note: Unfortunately, at this time World Nomads is covering a limited range of countries in the EU.
To see how much your next trip would cost to insure, get a quote using the widget below or head over to the World Nomads website.
How much does travel insurance cost?
Let’s break down pricing between the two best backpacking travel insurance providers we recommend.
SafetyWing starts at $40/month, or just $7.15 for 5 days (!!!!). That price increases depending on age and whether your travels include the US, but isn’t affected by which countries you’ll be visiting.
In the event that you file a claim, you may be on the hook for a $250 deductible – depending on the type of claim. Maximum coverage is up to $250k.
Honestly, this is a freakin’ steal for travel insurance and it is well, WELL worth it. If price is a primary concern when it comes to whether you should purchase travel insurance, I’d definitely recommend purchasing a SafetyWing travel insurance policy for your next trip. SafetyWing is an excellent budget travel insurance option.
World Nomads offers two plans, Standard and Explorer. The explorer plan offers more coverage – and a wider range of adventure activities – and is more expensive.
It’s difficult to provide a cost estimate here, because World Nomads insurance varies by your destination, your dates, your home country, and your age. You’ll need to use their online quote calculator to get an accurate cost estimate.
That said, I did a few test quotes using my own information and some made-up trips, and pricing appeared to range from about $70 (Standard) or $110 (Explorer) for a 1-week trip. Also, you are not on the hook for a deductible.
When we booked a year-long plan to cover our honeymoon, it was about $1,500 (all of which we ended up getting back in filed claims). In comparison, SafetyWing would have cost us $481 for the full year.
In terms of cost, SafetyWing is the clear winner!
How does travel insurance work?
Let’s talk about what happens when something actually does go wrong. After many successful claims (and a few unsuccessful attempts, which we’ll just say was the cost of learning how travel insurance works), here are my tips for filing a successful travel insurance claim:
- Get your travel insurance provider involved ASAP
When an issue arises, you should contact your insurance provider right away. As soon as there’s an issue, get them involved, whether it’s to let them know that your luggage is lost so you can cash in your luggage replacement benefit, or to ask them where you can find the nearest doctor.
When you get in contact with your insurance provider, you can ask for their help. They can assist with everything from finding a doctor, getting you a new place to sleep, or locating a local police station. There’s someone on staff whose job it is to help you in your time of need. You can usually call a hotline or send an email and receive prompt assistance back.
This is crucial when you’re in over your head and need someone to help you navigate a stressful situation, but it also means there’s a paper trail on their end that they can follow to show that you made every effort to get help and follow the proper procedures.
It also means that they’ll know who to contact in case you forget the name of the clinic or hospital you visited because they’re the ones who recommended it!
- Travel Insurance Tip: As soon as you purchase your travel insurance, take note of the contact information and your policy number and save it somewhere easy-to-find later, like in your trip itinerary document. Share it with your loved ones back home, too, in case they need to help coordinate help for you. In case you didn’t, you can usually find the contact number on their website. SafetWing has contact details in their FAQ and WorldNomads has this whole page full of contact information.
For instance, when we had to delay our flights home from Costa Rica due to my ear infection, I asked World Nomads to find me a doctor in 2 separate locations. They were involved the entire time, checking in on me and making sure I was OK as I spent several extra days recovering before I was cleared to fly.
When it came time to reimburse us for my clinic visit, medication, hospital stay, extra hotel nights, canceled tours and rebooked flights – yup, all from one little ear infection – I had no problems. I had plenty of documentation from the hospital, including contact information just in case World Nomads needed to call and verify anything.
- Document Everything
Each insurance provider is different, but my general advice is the same for all scenarios: document everything.
Your task is to convince your travel insurance provider that you have taken every reasonable precaution to avoid needing their help. You’ll want to make that as crystal clear as possible.
Save everything that will help you with this task: every receipt, every email, every communication, every call, every doctor’s visit, every purchase, everything. Screenshot it, scan it, take a picture of it, save it, and throw it all in with your claim.
This sounds easier than you’d think: in the midst of a crisis, the last thing on your mind is paperwork. But it is so incredibly helpful to document ASAP rather than try to go back and trace your steps later!
- You may need to pay up-front and request reimbursement later.
For most travel insurance claims, you’ll be on the hook for paying upfront for any expenses incurred, even if they’re covered. The claim filing process will be how you’ll get reimbursed for those expenses, and it may take months for everything to get processed and a check to arrive.
This up-front cost throws off a lot of people and, while it’s definitely not ideal, I think it’s still a lot better than being out all that money and NOT getting reimbursed!
That said, in some cases, a medical provider may not charge you upfront. According to World Nomads, “it depends on what’s happened to you and the treatment required. Payment may be advanced to the hospital to secure admission. In other cases, such as at a local physician’s office or urgent care, you may have to pay upfront and submit a claim after treatment is complete. It also depends on what is covered by your primary insurance (but don’t worry, we’ll contact them if you are admitted to the hospital or require help).”
According to SafetyWing, for hospitals and doctors in their (small) network – which you can access and search for once you’ve purchased a plan – direct billing is sometimes an option. But in general, you should be prepared to pay upfront.
During my Costa Rican ear infection disaster, I wasn’t charged upfront. Instead, I gave the hospital contact details for World Nomads for payment and the hospital sent them the bill.
About 6 later, World Nomads sent me the money to pay the doctor I visited (with several concerned phone calls from the hospital in Costa Rica in between). Once the check arrived in my mailbox, I deposited it and then immediately paid the Costa Rica hospital. A little unorthodox, sure, but everyone got paid eventually and I wasn’t out any money out-of-pocket.
Should I Buy Travel Insurance?
In case you’re not entirely sure whether you actually need travel insurance, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to help you decide.
What happens if I don’t buy travel insurance?
Let’s take a trip into my anxious brain, which is forever working on fun and exciting worst-case scenarios. Let’s imagine that you’re off having a fantastic, fun time somewhere amazing, like Bali or Nepal or Colombia or wherever (you wild and crazy jet-setter, you!).
You’re being completely safe and taking absolutely all the right precautions: you’re not going out alone at night, you’re only drinking bottled water, you said no to the guy on the street who offered you “cheap headache medicine,” and so on and so forth.
But then, something beyond your controls happens, despite all of those precautions: you twist your ankle, you get food poisoning, you come down with an ear infection after swimming, you run your scooter into a tree in a monkey forest … you know, things that could happen to anybody, probably.
Without travel insurance, those scenarios look a little like this: you try to figure out how to get yourself to a doctor, but you aren’t really sure where to find one. Thankfully, your incident happened somewhere that you actually have internet or phone service (wow, that was incredibly lucky).
You find yourself googling “doctor” and “clinic” in the local language, but everything on Google Maps and TripAdvisor looks like it might be closed… or for animals only, maybe?
Then you realize you’re not even sure if your health insurance covers a doctor in a foreign country. You struggle through crappy WiFi trying to log into your healthcare provider’s website (what the heck is your password again?!). It would be easier to just call their helpline, but it’s 3am back home and you really need help, like, now.
You know what? Screw it. You hop in a random taxi – if there’s one nearby – and ask your driver to take you to the nearest doctor (aren’t you glad you wasted an hour Googling the local word for doctor??) You’re taken to somewhere that wasn’t even on Google Maps and you just have to trust that this taxi driver knows more about local healthcare providers than an algorithm and a 10-year old forum discussion on TripAdvisor, Reddit, or the Rick Steves website (oh my gosh, how much time did you waste searching for local doctors instead of getting help!?!)
Let’s also imagine another complication: say, you’re diagnosed with an ear infection, but your flight leaves tomorrow. You’ll have to extend your stay until the medication clears it up. You’ll be paying for the additional hotel nights, the rescheduling fee for your flights, AND all of your treatment and medication. Yikes. (Also: this is exactly what happened to me in Costa Rica on our honeymoon.)
Or maybe there’s a freak blizzard which cancels your flight, causing you to miss a night or two of your vacation – costing you your hotel fee, plus whatever tours or activities you had booked. Maybe it happens in the middle of your trip, so you also have to pay for a hotel for the night in the city you’re now stranded in (incidentally, this is the story of our trip to Canada last winter.)
Or maybe your phone gets snatched out of your hand, or your luggage goes missing for the first several days of your trip (both of which happened to us on a field trip to Colombia with 17 high school students.)
Or maybe it’s not even something that happens to you: maybe something happens to somebody back home, and you need to hop on a plane right away. Like when my beloved 95-year-old grandfather was put on hospice (don’t worry: he’s fine, and it’s actually a really ridiculous story.) You’re on the hook for not only a pricey last-minute flight change, but all the non-refundable or already paid-for hotels, tours, and transportation fees you’ll no longer be using.
I realize I’m now just listing off all the times I’ve ended up thanking my lucky stars that we booked travel insurance. But hopefully, our horrific luck helps illuminate something: it’s INCREDIBLY possible, and frankly VERY LIKELY, that something will go wrong while traveling.
After all, much of the appeal and excitement of travel is leaving your comfort zone to venture, as one of my favorite Disney Queens would say, into the unknown. Honestly, it would be more surprising if everything went as planned!
But without travel insurance, you might find yourself in a scary, stressful, confusing, and very expensive situation.
And honestly, we’ve been lucky: none of our incidents thus far have been life-threatening. We’ve never needed to be airlifted to a hospital, sent back home for intensive care, or any of the other, much more serious things that travel insurance covers.
When it comes down to it: if you can afford to travel, you can’t afford NOT to buy travel insurance.
Could you already have travel insurance coverage?
There’s a chance that you might not need to purchase additional travel insurance if you’re already covered for common issues while traveling, like medical problems or trip cancellation. Here’s where to look to see if you might already be covered.
- Health Insurance Coverage
Check with your healthcare provider to see whether you’ll be covered for medical treatment while traveling, especially internationally. And don’t forget about dental and eye coverage, too.
- Credit Card Benefits
Credit cards targeted to frequent travelers – including the Chase Sapphire Card, which is our favorite travel credit card – often offer some travel insurance benefits, such as trip cancellation & interruption, and even primary insurance that covers rental cars both at home & abroad.
If you booked your trip with a card that includes these travel benefits, you’re covered!
These are fantastic benefits, but take note: they do not include any medical coverage.
- Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance
Did you know that your renter’s insurance policy might cover you if your phone or camera gets damaged or stolen, whether at home or while traveling? It’s true!
It’s called “off-premise protection,” and it essentially extends your disaster coverage to all of your belongings, including outside of your home, up to a certain amount. It’s included in many standard home or rental insurance policies – check your policy for details. (We don’t need to tell you that you need renter’s or home insurance, right???)
Do you really need travel insurance for EVERY trip?
I’m going to be honest: I don’t buy travel insurance for every trip. I tend to buy it only for international backpacking trips, and I typically roll the dice on domestic travel.
But it’s important to note that I’m still not going totally uninsured: my health insurance covers me throughout my home country, and my travel credit cards cover most run-of-the-mill travel-related emergencies, like trip cancellation or interruption.
So my irresponsible choice is actually still fairly safe – I’m still not taking a very big risk.
That said: if the anxiety-inducing scenario above doesn’t generate a deep-seated fear in you, and you want to roll the dice on an international trip – which I highly discourage doing – there are ways to help yourself if you do get sick while traveling.
You can contact the country’s U.S. Embassy for a list of local doctors and medical facilities, or search a list of English-speaking foreign doctors in the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers for the price of a voluntary donation (the organization is a non-profit).
However, you’ll be stuck footing the bill for taking your chances.
What does travel insurance cover?
Although all travel insurance providers are different and their coverage varies, the following is a fairly standard list of what most (decent) policies should cover.
- Medical & Dental Coverage: This is one of the biggest benefits of travel insurance. If you get sick or injured while traveling, travel insurance will cover you to get the care you need. A good policy typically includes just about everything: hospitals, doctors, medication, and even evacuation or an air-lift if you injure yourself somewhere remote or can’t get yourself to the hospital.
- Trip Cancellation or Interruption: If you need to cancel your trip for a covered reason, or cut your trip short, you’ll be covered for all non-refundable expenses. But be sure to familiarize yourself with covered reason: things like sudden illness or a death in the family are covered, things like having a lot of work to do, your boss guilt-tripping you, or wanting to stay home and save money are not. If you’re still on the fence about your trip, some providers offer “cancel for any reason” or “cancel for work” policies.
- Theft & Lost Items: If your belongings get stolen or lost while traveling, most travel insurance policies will help you replace them up to a certain amount. This typically doesn’t cover expensive gear, so if you’re toting around a bunch of expensive camera equipment or technical gear, you might want to buy a seperate policy to cover them.
- Lost, Damaged or Delayed Baggage: This policy typically covers the cost to replace lost or damaged luggage, as well as all the stuff in your bags. There’s usually a fairly restrictive limit, though, so we recommend carrying valuables or electronics in your carry-on just to be safe.
- Weather-Related Delays: If you’ve ever experienced a cancelled or delayed flight due to weather, you probably already found out that most airlines won’t help you out (which is my least favorite airline policy, second only to ridiculous baggage size restrictions). But with travel insurance, you’ll typically be covered for everything from a place to stay to missed reservations to rescheduling fees.
- Unexpected Company Bankruptcies: This is certainly less likely than a lot of the other issues on this list, but it does happen. If you’ve booked a tour, flight, cruise, etc and the company you paid for it suddenly goes under, you could be left high and dry – unless you have travel insurance, of course.
- Death: It’s not exactly fun to think about, but travel insurance will help get you – or, uhhh, whatever’s left of you – back home to your family to make arrangements.
We can’t stress enough that you should do your own due diligence to confirm what your policy does and does not cover. Like, all that paperwork they send you? Read it! It will definitely be worth your time.
What does travel insurance NOT cover?
Again, although all travel insurance providers are different and their coverage varies, the following is a fairly standard list of what most policies WON’T cover.
- “Fear” of Issues While Traveling
If you’re afraid that something might affect your trip, but it hasn’t actually affected anything yet, you likely won’t be covered.
We encountered this last year when we wanted to cancel a trip to France because the country-wide strikes had shut down transportation country-wide and we’d started seeing news articles about the protests turning violent and requiring riot police to help keep order.
But being nervous isn’t a covered issue. We weren’t covered unless our travel plans were directly affected – plus, we’d purchased our travel insurance policy after the strikes began, which rendered our coverage ineligible (whoops, we procrastinated).
However, when our train tickets started getting canceled due to the strike, we were able to get some help from our credit card provider and ended up canceling the trip. (Only to go into quarantine two months later and regret canceling what would have been our last international trip for a very long time… but that’s definitely on us.)
- Poor Decision-Making
Chances are if you made a poor decision and took an unnecessary risk, you won’t be covered by your travel insurance provider.
So no, you can’t go drive that scooter home drunk in the middle of the night or take illegal drugs just because “you’re on vacation, YOLO.”
- Pre-Existing Perils
This is a term I just made up, but much like pre-existing medical conditions, I define a pre-existing peril as any issue that existed before you booked your travel insurance.
Something like a travel alert that you didn’t see until the day before your flight, a country-wide strike that began 2 weeks before you bought your travel insurance (which happened to us in France), or a global pandemic that started before you booked those super cheap plane tickets.
You have no way to prove that you didn’t know about it before you booked your trip, so, unfortunately, you probably won’t be covered.
That said: if you book your travel insurance the same day as you book your plane ticket, and you did a bare minimum amount of research before booking your trip, you’ll probably be covered for most issues like this!
- Routine Medical Care
No: you can’t schedule a check-up or procedure internationally and then get your travel insurance to cover it. Travel medical and dental insurance only covers emergencies – preventative care and other routine medical needs are not included. (Although we do recommend one unique travel insurance policy below that comes pretty close to ordinary health insurance…)
- Damage to Expensive Equipment
If you travel with pricey electronic equipment, camera gear, or other specialty equipment, chances are the limits of most travel policies won’t extend to cover your needs. You’ll likely want to look into a specialty policy that will cover the gear you need.
I wish I had a recommendation for a policy like that, but I’m actually long overdue on this myself! Drop us a comment if you have any suggestions.
What to research before purchasing travel insurance
Certain scenarios that can affect your travels are somewhat of a gray area, and you should do thorough research before booking any policy if you’re concerned that a clause may exclude you from coverage.
- Adventure Travel
Many travel insurance providers refuse to cover medical issues resulting from unusually risky “adventure travel” activities.
Well, sure: that makes sense. Why should, say, an extreme snowboarder or habitual skydiver get the same kind of coverage as a traveler like, say, my mom, who once tripped over a rock in Hawaii and broke her little toe? (And yes: that WOULD be where I inherited my clumsy gene.)
Unfortunately, it gets a little tricky in the small print. Certain travel insurance providers have, er, a VERY conservative approach to what’s considered “extreme.” And a lot of those “extreme” adventure sports are exactly the kinds of thing backpackers love to do.
For instance: one well-known travel insurance provider (which starts with an A and ends in a Z) won’t cover any snorkeling-related injuries.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a generally terrified and anxious person, and I consider snorkeling to be a relaxing, enjoyable, low-risk activity. I would never have thought to double-check if snorkeling was covered as an “adventure sport.”
And to make things worse, it’s not immediately clear what activities are and aren’t covered by this – and, in fact, most – insurance providers. I did a bunch of research while writing this post and could not find a list on most provider’s websites!
Thankfully, both of the travel insurance providers that I do recommend in this post, SafetyWing and World Nomads, not only cover a very broad range of adventure activities but specifically list the activities covered on their site, so that you can keep them in mind when planning your trip.
- Global Pandemics
I assumed, like many, that when the entire world shut down in early 2020 because of you-know-what, that canceling 3-weeks worth of international travel would be covered. Borders were shut, flights were shutting down right and left; clearly this was a covered situation, right?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t – many travel insurance providers specifically exclude pandemics or endemics. And even though I had purchased travel insurance through World Nomads – which does NOT have exclusions for pandemics or endemics – I still found myself begging for a refund from the airlines themselves, because I was not diagnosed with anything myself… even though my flights had been canceled and my state was under shelter-in-place orders.
To be honest, it broke our hearts a bit: we’ve relied on World Nomads to help us out for the past several years and have filed multiple claims with them, and they’ve taken care of us many times. In fact, it was this surprise that ultimately led us to discover SafetyWing and inspired us to create this post.
But if we’re still being surprised by hidden clauses, and we’ve been regularly using travel insurance for years, how much more confusing must this process be for an infrequent traveler?
Long story short, if you do plan on traveling and you’re concerned about a pandemic – which, given recent events, I think most of us probably are – I would definitely research how your travel insurance provider approaches this clause before booking.
- Pre- Existing Medical Conditions
Before you write this off and think “aha, I’m super healthy, I don’t have any pre-existing conditions,” think again! Have you been treated within the past 2 years for anything that might pop up and rear its ugly head again in a way that could affect your trip?
If so, you might actually have a pre-existing condition you didn’t even think of as a pre-existing condition.
SafetyWing, for instance, excludes any “condition for which medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment (includes receiving services and supplies, consultations, diagnostic tests or prescription medicines) was recommended or received during the 2 years immediately preceding the certificate effective date.”
Bottom line: if you have a recurring or even occasional condition that may affect your trip, be sure to research this clause before booking.
Personally, I do have a pre-existing condition that is unlikely to affect my trip but is still something for me to be aware of. Although it hasn’t come up yet, before leaving on my first major trip I requested a signed note from my doctor stating that I was entirely healthy for the activities I had planned and giving the go-ahead for travel.
I don’t know if that would help me out in the event of a claim, but it was an easy ask – especially because I printed it out and brought it to my appointment – and I figure it certainly can’t hurt.
- War & Acts of Terrorism
While one of the policies we recommend in this post explicitly does cover terrorist acts, many travel insurance policies do not. You’ll want to research this policy if you’re planning to travel to a place with political unrest or where a terrorist act or mass shooting is likely – although frankly, these days it’s hard to know.
Either way, you’ll only be covered if you bought your policy before war or a terrorist incident occurs. Otherwise, it’s a “pre-existing peril” (again: a term I made up).
I hope that this travel insurance guide helped
convince you open your eyes to the benefits (and limitations) of travel insurance. After all, my job is to help you travel safely & responsibly! (Again: my job is “travel blogger,” not “in the travel insurance business,” just to be very clear.)
Do you have firsthand experience with filing claims or using travel insurance? Do you have recommendations for other providers, or experiences that will help travelers looking to purchase travel insurance?Leave us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more stories about our many travel mishaps? Take a look at some of our other posts (or listen to our podcast):
- Our Disastrous Year-Long Honeymoon
- Things Nobody Tells You About Long Term Travel
- Things Nobody Tells You About Quitting Your Job to Travel
Psst: Did you find this post informative? Save it for later on Pinterest!
Disclaimer: This post was originally created in partnership with SafetyWing. All opinions, experiences, suggestions, worst-case scenarios, travel disasters, bad jokes, and recommendations are my own, and I conducted all research for this post independently. Please note that we choose and vet our partners carefully, and we never partner with any brand we wouldn’t use ourselves or that doesn’t align with our values. In addition, Practical Wanderlust has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Practical Wanderlust and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
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