When planning a round the world trip, or any backpacking journey for that matter, the option to spend extra money for travel insurance can be off putting. When you think about it, maybe the money you could save can gain an extra month travelling somewhere which is very tempting indeed.

I have been asked over the years wether it is worth it to get travel insurance or not, so I am going to give you a personal story from my own backpacking experiences since 1997, to give you an idea.

Starting out on my first trip in 1997 I had the usual thought processes of many backpackers:

]What to pack?

Where to go?

How much money do I need?

How long do I go for?

The question of travel insurance came up as well, and erring on the side of caution, decided to take it. It was relatively cheap insurance I got back then, so it wasn’t much of a problem money wise.

Fast forward to 2006, and I can say that up to then I always took out insurance, but the question in my mind was starting to get more strong as I had never had to use travel insurance.

Do I really need travel insurance?

Spending all that money I could have used for further travels, I had almost come to a conclusion in my mind that after the current coverage expired, I would stop taking out insurance.

Then something big happened that changed everything.

Personal Health Story

It happened early in 2007 in Kerala, India. I was on a beach enjoying the sun going down and then BOOM!

I don’t really talk about what happened to me much, but I want to show people the absolute importance of why I believe that you should get travel insurance.

I basically have a blood clot in my brain that I have had since birth, but wasn’t even aware off its existence until that day in Kerala. Kochi to be exact. It was then at the age of 31 that the blood clot burst, spilling blood over part of my brain, causing me to go limp and collapse to the floor, have a stroke, and waking up with amnesia.

I don’t want to go into all the details, but needless to say this was extremely serious. Spending over 10 days in hospitals in India, having various brain and blood tests carried out, and then being flown back to the U.K. first class with a private doctor, would have cost a lot of money by myself.

Thankfully the travel insurance covered every single cost of the treatment I had in India and being flown to the U.K.

Speaking with a neurologist in the U.K., I was told I would have to adjust my life around my condition. Unfortunately the clot is in an awkward part of my brain to operate on it, so as off present I am still stuck with the bloody thing. Pun intended!

Needless to say that these days, just like in the past, I always take travel insurance.

Here’s the full story on my health condition.

Theft While Travelling

Onto a different aspect of insurance other than health, having your things stolen.

While travelling in Columbia in 2011 around 8 at night in the capital Bogota I was mugged.

I had just gotten off the bus transit system and was walking on a relatively busy street, heading only a few hundred metres to reach a taxi to take me the last stretch to my hostel. Suddenly I was jumped from three different directions by several men. They threw me against the wall behind, and instantly I had a knife to my throat and another to my chest. They got everything I had, even my damn sunglasses!

Let me give you some advice. If anything like this happens to you, just let them take what they want, like I did. Your life and health are not worth some money and a passport. I have heard  many stories about people in these situations who decided to fight back, and ended up stabbed, some even dead. It’s not worth it.

The mugging lead to the annoyance off having to get an emergency passport sorted out. I had a secret money belt, not the kind you strap around yourself and hide below your trousers, but an actual belt with a zip on the inside where you can hide money and a photocopy of your passport.

Showing the copy of the passport helped speed up the process, which is why I always recommend hiding a copy of your passport somewhere.

This time around the travel insurance saved the day again, covering all the losses, including getting the passport sorted out. The losses paid, easily was way more than what I had paid for insurance.

My advice is that you do need travel insurance, especially backpacking as backpackers can easily find themselves in more adventurous situations which adds more risk.

I hear people these days saying that they never take out insurance because they have never needed it. Or people who have taken insurance, like me back in 2006, started to question if they really need it.

The problem is that mentality. You never know when something bad will come your way, hopefully it never does, but be prepared for the worst.

What travel insurance to take?

With so many different companies and policies, it can be hard to choose.

The two main ones I have used recently are as follows (I have no affiliate links with these companies).

ColumbusDirect has decent coverage for ok prices. I haven’t had to use them for any claims yet (thankfully!), but they get great reviews for their service, so I trust them to be good.

The second is WorldNomads  I can say that I, and from what I have read many others, have had a good experience using them for coverage. This is the company that covered me in India for my health.

Different countries will have their own insurance providers, so internet search for reviews of the best travel insurers where you are. Many insurers will need you to start in your country of origin in order for the insurance to be valid, while others will not.

You may even get cheap travel insurance covered as part of a work medical plan, or a health insurance plan you are paying at home. Always check that first before doing anything else.

The best insurance for backpackers is generally the one specifically designed for backpackers (no surprise there). You will see that advertised on most sites as backpacker coverage. There are so many variables in the coverage provided.

Do you need extra insurance (costing more money) for more expensive items such as a laptop?

Do you need more insurance for certain adventure sports?

Then there are region specific insurance. If just travelling around Europe, you could get a coverage for just that part of the world, which will be cheaper than worldwide coverage, for example.

The most important thing is to make sure you are with a reputable company that has good reviews, and to always read the small print in your policy. That last point is very important, as if you have an accident white water rafting, for example, and your insurer doesn’t cover that particular sport, you will not be covered.

Also check the excess, that’s what you will have to pay before the insurer starts covering you.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition like myself, you should notify your insurer about this before buying a policy. They will charge you a premium (more money) if you want your medical condition to be covered. Some give you the option not to be covered for pre-existing conditions, but if something happens medically relating to your condition, you will not be covered.

Take Travel Insurance For Backpacking

Hopefully this gives you a rough idea on the sometimes confusing world of insurance. If you have any  questions send me a message through the contact page and I will try and help.

In the meantime if you don’t have insurance and are travelling then I highly recommend taking some. It may cost you money, but in the unfortunate case of you getting into trouble you will be very happy you got some.

I personally use WorldNomads insurance these days and highly recommend them. You can check and book insurance with them using the form below.




Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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