This comprehensive guide to backpacker travel insurance will help you understand what benefits and exclusions you should consider and make an informed decision on the best travel insurance policy for your backpacking adventure.
If you have any questions about travel insurance, you’ll find the answers here.
Table of Contents
- What type of backpacker are you?
- Will I be able to get cover with backpackers travel insurance?
- What benefits should I consider in a travel insurance policy?
- When backpackers travel insurance may be void
- Top 10 travel tips for backpackers
- Backpacker travel insurance FAQs
- Why is travel insurance an important part of a backpacking holiday?
- How will travel insurance help me in an emergency?
- What countries does travel insurance cover for backpacking trips?
- Am I covered for my items in shared backpacker accommodation and hostels?
- Am I covered for Couchsurfing and AirBnB?
- Does travel insurance cover me for special events like running with the bulls?
- Will I be covered by the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?
- Am I covered for volunteering?
- How can I save money on buying travel insurance?
- What do I do in an emergency?
What type of backpacker are you?
Whether you’re a first time backpacker heading to Southeast Asia or a backpacking veteran who’s lived out of a bag for years, it’s important to recognise the value of travel insurance.
Backpacking travel insurance may provide cover if you are:
Going on a working holiday
You have a working holiday visa so you can do some work in Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe or elsewhere to supplement your travel and experience living and working overseas.
You have secured a student visa to complete education and also work part time to support yourself.
Travelling for the snow season
Many Australians head off to Canada, Japan, Europe and the United States each year and work in or near snow resorts for the season to take advantage of easy access to the slopes.
Taking a gap year
Travelling for a year with an open-ended plan? Or are you going on that epic Euro trip before university, TAFE or work? You’ll be one of many young Australian travellers going on their dream holiday and looking for the right travel insurance to cover your trip.
Travelling during study breaks
An impromptu trip to Southeast Asia or that long-awaited trip to South America? There’s a backpackers travel insurance that can suit your budget.
You might be doing conservation work, building a school or teaching English. Whatever kind of volunteering work you’ll be doing, travel insurance is important to organise before you catch your flight.
Will I be able to get cover with backpackers travel insurance?
Not everyone will be eligible for every travel insurance policy available. Various insurers have different exclusions which may alter the level of cover you receive, or exclude you from cover completely.
However, by checking the Product Disclosure Statement and comparing a few policies you’ll generally be able to find one that meets your requirements.
Some of the most relevant travel insurance exclusions to backpackers include:
Exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions
It’s in your best interest to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions you have when you purchase a policy. You may find some travel insurers exclude cover just for the pre-existing condition, or exclude you from medical cover completely.
For example, you may not have cover if you’ve been hospitalised for the condition recently, if you have a combination of pre-existing medical conditions, or take certain medications.
On the other hand, some travel insurers may automatically cover a set list of pre-existing medical conditions.
Always check with your travel insurer if you're unsure whether your pre-existing medical conditions are covered, and read the Product Disclosure Statement carefully to decide on the cover that best suits your needs.
Adventure activities exclusions
Similar to pre-existing medical conditions, some adventure activities may be automatically covered and others will not. Some travel insurers may offer you the option to add cover for more adventurous activities by paying a little more on your premium. This is based on the risk associated with doing the activity.
Remember there may be particular exclusions and limits to cover for certain activities, so always double check with your travel insurance provider.
Travel insurance may not provide you with cover if you ignore official advice and decide to travel to dangerous destinations. This is determined by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who issue up-to-date travel warnings on the Smartraveller website.
Always check to ensure your destination is considered safe by the Australian Government. Your travel insurer is unlikely to provide you with any cover if your destination is listed as 'Do not travel' or 'Reconsider your need to travel'.
If you do decide to travel to these regions, be aware that you do so at your own risk and against the government’s advice.
For more information about the Smartraveller advisories, see our in our Travel Warnings guide.
What benefits should I consider in a travel insurance policy?
Every policy and travel insurance company will have different benefits and exclusions. Remember to always read the insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for the full policy benefits and conditions before you make a decision.
Here are some key benefits to consider when comparing policies for your backpacking trip:
Overseas Emergency Medical and Hospital Expenses
This benefit may include something as small as a doctor’s consultation fee if you feel unwell and need a prescription for antibiotics, or for more expensive emergency situations such as hospitalisation for broken bones after an accident.
You may also be covered for emergency medical evacuation and repatriation home to Australia under medical supervision if it is required.
Did you know you can benefit from having a travel insurance policy before you even leave home? If you're in a car accident and become injured, or get sick unexpectedly and a doctor advises you not to travel, you will likely have to cancel your trip altogether.
Cancellation cover starts as soon as you purchase a policy, and means you may be able to claim for your lost deposits or cancellation fees if you have to cancel your trip.
If you’re going to the slopes to ski or snowboard, make sure to add on cover for those activities. Snow cover may also provide insurance for your equipment and pre-booked ski passes.
Similarly, if you’re doing any adventure sports or activities, ensure you can have cover for these under your travel insurance policy. Otherwise if you get hurt you'll have to foot the medical bills.
Luggage and Personal Effects
How would it feel to lose that new camera, your laptop or your phone overseas? While the loss would be terrible, knowing you can make a travel insurance claim for these items can at least improve the situation.
Travel Delay Expenses
This benefit provides cover for additional meals and accommodation should your journey be delayed due to circumstances outside of your control for longer than 12 hours.
Luggage and Personal Effects Delay Expenses
Imagine the airline losing or misdirecting your checked-in backpack! Hopefully you’ve packed an extra pair of clothes in your carry-on! This benefit allows you to claim for the purchase of essential items to tie you over until you’re reunited with your backpack.
Replacing a lost or stolen passport can be expensive and cause frustrating delays. Your travel insurance policy may provide cover for the cost of replacement travel documents as well as extra accommodation and meal expenses while you wait out the delay.
This benefit can provide cover for your reasonable additional travel and accommodation expenses if your holiday is disrupted due to situations that are out of your control, such as if your scheduled transport is cancelled or delayed due to a natural disaster.
Rental Vehicle Excess Insurance
A road trip with friends can take an expensive turn if you have an accident. Rental vehicle excess cover allows you to claim for the excess you would have to pay the rental company if your hired car is damaged.
Remember that you would still need to purchase rental vehicle insurance with the car hire company. Rental vehicle insurance excess cover would provide cover for the rental vehicle ‘excess’ only.
Loss of Income Insurance
You may be entitled to receive a weekly financial benefit paid by your travel insurer if you are unable to work due to an injury or illness sustained during your backpacking holiday.
Personal Liability Insurance
Your travel insurance policy may also include Personal Liability Insurance.
Should a claim be made against you for the death or injury of a person, or the physical loss or damage to property, travel insurance may be able to assist in the payment of compensation and legal expenses.
Accidental Death Insurance
A death benefit can be paid to your estate if you become injured during your backpacking adventure holiday and die within 12 months, or if you’re travelling and your transport sinks, crashes or disappears and you’re presumed dead and your body isn’t found within 12 months.
When backpackers travel insurance may be void
There are a number of situations your travel insurance will most likely not provide you with cover.
These may include:
If you were breaking the law
This includes breaking local traffic laws, driving a car or riding a moped or motorcycle without the proper licence, taking illicit drugs or under the influence of alcohol.
If you were intoxicated
Your travel insurer may decline your claim on the basis of you acting irresponsibly if you had consumed an excessive amount of alcohol or illegal drugs which contributed to your emergency situation.
Especially risky events
Thinking of running with the bulls in Pamplona? Risky special events such as these are often excluded on the basis that you are acting irresponsibly by intentionally putting yourself in harm's way.
If your policy doesn’t cover the right region
For example, if you travel to Europe but only have a policy which provides cover for the Asia region, you would not have cover for any emergencies experienced while in Europe. Similarly, unless you have purchased a travel insurance policy which includes cruise cover, you wouldn't have cover for any claims that occur on a cruise ship.
If you’re doing an excluded activity, or one you didn’t add cover for
Some activities are not automatically covered by travel insurance, including snow activities such as skiing and snowboarding and more adventurous activities such as trekking to 6,000 metres and scuba diving to 30 metres. Without specific cover for these activities, you’ll be responsible for the cost of any medical expenses you incur while doing the activity.
If you leave your personal items unsupervised on the beach while you go for a swim or to the bathroom, they probably won’t be covered by travel insurance if they’re stolen.
Similarly if you forget your personal items in a taxi or leave something behind in your hotel room after checking out, it’s unlikely to be covered.
Sexually transmitted infections
Most travel insurers exclude cover for any medical expenses or claims related to a sexually transmitted infection or disease.
Regular medical check-ups
Regular medical check-ups, prescription medications and vaccines are not considered medical emergencies and most likely won’t be covered by your travel insurance.
Top 10 travel tips for backpackers
- Go for a health check-up and get your vaccinations early
- Register your trip itinerary with DFAT
- Stay up-to-date with travel alerts on Smartraveller
- Apply for all necessary tourist visas
- Make both digital and hard copies of all your travel documents and paperwork
- Share your travel itinerary with family and close friends
- Make a list of emergency contact numbers
- Take your student card for discounts at attractions in various destinations
- Consider taking a pre-loaded travel debit card
- Read up about the most common travel scams at your destination
- Consider purchasing a slash-proof bag and locks to keep your belongings safe
- Remember that the risk of infection from unsterilized tattoo equipment is significantly higher in some destinations such as Indonesia and Thailand
- Avoid direct contact with animals such as monkeys and dogs due to risks of infectious diseases like rabies
- Take your own first aid medical pack
- Only use popular and well researched tour companies and taxi service providers
Check out our Backpacker Health and Safety Guide for more information on how to stay healthy and safe on your backpacking journey, plus plenty more tips, tricks and advice!
Backpacker travel insurance frequently asked questions
Why is travel insurance an important part of a backpacking holiday?
There are a variety of emergency situations you can run into while on a backpacking holiday.
For example, you might:
- Become unexpectedly sick or injured and require a doctor’s consultation, hospitalisation or at worst, emergency medical repatriation and hospitalisation.
- Become a victim of theft and lose that new camera or GoPro you purchased for the trip.
- Have to cancel your backpacking holiday completely due to an unexpected sickness, injury or a death in the family.
- Injure yourself overseas while skiing or snowboarding.
- Find yourself stranded at the airport after your flights are unexpectedly delayed due to bad weather or a natural disaster, preventing you from returning home as planned.
In these types of emergencies, travel insurance may be able to provide cover for related expenses as well as connect you with a 24 hour emergency assistance team.
The cost of travel insurance for backpackers is incomparable to the thousands of dollars you might otherwise have to pay for emergency hospitalisation expenses, medical evacuation or repatriation, replacing lost or stolen luggage or cancellation costs.
As Smartraveller says: if you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel.
How will travel insurance help me in an emergency?
Travel insurance is an essential resource for backpackers, and may provide a range of benefits to help you in an emergency situation.
For example, your travel insurer can:
- Assess and manage your medical care overseas.
- Provide assistance with alternative travel and accommodation, including organising your flights home.
- Direct you to the nearest embassy or consulate.
- Provide access interpreters in non-English speaking hospitals.
- Act as a guarantor for the payment of hospital expenses and medical bills.
- Relay messages to your family or employer.
- Coordinate emergency medical evacuation and repatriation home.
- Organise for a registered nurse or family member to accompany you on emergency flights home.
- Provide advice and direction to ensure you are safe and to mitigate the financial impact of an emergency.
When you travel with travel insurance, emergency assistance is just a phone call away.
What countries does travel insurance cover for backpacking trips?
Travel insurance can cover you to visit popular backpacking destinations including:
- South America
- The United Kingdom
- The Pacific Islands
- The United States
Whether you’re planning your own solo trip or booking an organised group tour through a company such as Contiki or Shoestring, you can purchase travel insurance to cover your for potential emergencies on your travels.
Am I covered for my items in shared backpacker accommodation and hostels?
Travel insurance can cover expenses related to lost or stolen items during your trip. Just make sure to keep your belongings within your line of sight or stored securely in hostel lockers.
Am I covered for Couchsurfing and AirBnB?
Yes, travel insurance will still cover you for loss or theft, medical emergencies, personal liability, and cancellations if you decide to book your accommodation through one of these sites.
As with staying in a backpacker's hostel or other types of shared accommodation, make sure to always keep your personal belongings within your line of sight or stored securely in a locked compartment.
Check your Product Disclosure Statement for the full terms and conditions of cover.
Does travel insurance cover me for special events like running with the bulls?
The annual running of the bulls event in Pamplona is not covered by most travel insurance companies due to its extremely high risk factor. If you choose to participate in the Bull Run, you do so at your own risk!
Will I be covered by the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?
Australian travellers with a valid Medicare card are eligible for emergency medical care under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement in the following countries:
- New Zealand
- The United Kingdom
- The Republic of Ireland
- The Netherlands
Visit the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement website for more information about what the program covers.
Am I covered for volunteering?
Yes, travel insurance covers many volunteering activities. However, make sure you check with your travel insurer if the activities you’re planning on doing are covered under their policies and if there are any exclusions.
If you're planning to do more risky volunteer work like conservation and working with animals, you may need to purchase additional cover for these activities.
How can I save money on buying travel insurance?
A good way to spend less on travel insurance is to look for a policy that covers you for the things you really need cover for, like medical cover or cover for your belongings, and not for things you don’t need like rental vehicle excess if you’re not planning to drive a car.
However, don’t make the mistake of foregoing essential features in your travel insurance just to save a few dollars upfront.
For more information on how you can save money when buying travel insurance, check out the Top 20 Ways To Save With Travel Insurance.
What do I do in an emergency?
1) Seek assistance immediately
Whether you need medical assistance from a doctor or hospital, consular assistance, or reporting a theft to police or your hostel management, make sure you do so right away.
2) Contact your travel insurance as soon as possible
They will be able to assess your situation, provide you with guidance and organise assistance for you if required.
3) Gather as much documentation as possible
Your travel insurer’s emergency assistance team will also be able to tell you what kind of documentation you may need for a claim. It’s much easier to get a report or statement in person immediately after the incident than chasing it up days, weeks or even months later.