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The #1 Backpacking Must-Pack: Travel Insurance for Backpackers

Backpacking is a special kind of trip. You need a special kind of travel insurance.

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Water treatment, elevation gains, weather forecasts, heavy gear and logistics. For some, this list might call to mind disaster preparedness or military training. For others, it’s just a list of things to take into consideration when they’re planning a long trek or a dream vacation—backpacking through the islands of the Philippines or the chilly peaks of Patagonia.

Backpackers are a special breed of traveler. Some seek cheap places to explore, others are interested in solo travel, some want stunning views and others are going for an extreme physical challenge. They have one thing in common, though: They all need travel insurance that takes the risks of their “adventurous activity”—and their necessary gear—into account.

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There’s “the usual” travel insurance….

Whether it’s a senior on a cruise or a young adventurer off to see the world, every international traveler should have a comprehensive travel insurance plan—one that provides financial protection for flight delays, trip cancellation/interruption, and lost/stolen baggage—as well as travel medical insurance and medical evacuation coverage.

According to travel expert Matt Kepness (How to Travel the World on $50 a Day): “Travel insurance is what will provide you with medical coverage when you get sick or injured, reimburse you when your camera breaks, your flight is canceled, a family member dies and you have to come home, if you lose a bag, or something is stolen… I’ve seen it help so many—and so many others regret being cheap and not getting it! For only a few dollars a day, it’s a no-brainer.”

…And then there’s backpacking travel insurance

Like all travelers, backpackers need to take into consideration their specific needs when selecting a plan. “Backpacker insurance,” offered by a variety of insurers, covers scenarios common to backpackers: it can cover longer terms than the usual “vacation” (up to 18 months), and take into account the fact that the insured may take on employment in between jaunts—paid or volunteer, odd jobs and manual labor. It can also cover the kind of sports and adventures engaged in on the trail or on side excursions.

Natural “hazards” for backpackers

As any backpacking enthusiast will tell you, there’s something liberating about traveling the world with all of your possessions on your back—and part of that appeal is traveling places others don’t often venture.

That said, backpackers need to be sure the destination and activities they’re planning align with their travel insurance policy.

• Check with the U.S. State Department to be sure there are no Warnings or Alerts for your destination. (Trek Effects’ “25 Awesome and Cheap Backpacking Destinations Across the World” includes several that were listed as recently as 2017, including Colombia, Turkey, Cuba and the Philippines.)

• Basic adventure sports are usually OK, but you’ll want to check exactly what activities would be covered by your medical travel insurance. Zip lining, bungee jumping, and scuba diving may not be on the list. Also good to know: All bets are off—coverage wise—if an injury is sustained while under the influences of drugs or alcohol.

The bottom line

Insurance, in general, isn’t always something that young, healthy and adventurous people think about. But travel insurance, especially for backpackers—can be a lifesaver, a time saver and a money saver. Here are a few last words of advice.

• For yourself: Get a plan with a high coverage limit on medical expenses. “The worst thing you can do is go cheap and get a policy with a $20,000 coverage limit, break a leg, and reach that limit before they are done taking care of you. Don’t be cheap with your health. Get minimum coverage of $100,000.” —NomadicMatt.com

• For your stuff: Don’t assume your phone or laptop is covered by a $2,000 coverage. If your policy has a separate “single-item” limit for valuables, you may get far less than you need to replace it. You may want to consider supplemental coverage.

• Be sure that the insurance you buy covers your needs to your satisfaction. While it’s impossible to anticipate everything that could go wrong, focus instead on what you want to do and where you plan to do it—and make sure that those activities and places are not excluded by the policy. Reading the fine print is rarely fun, but when it comes to travel insurance, it’s really necessary to ensure you’re getting the protection you need—and can help save hassles and disappointment down the line.

Are you an experienced backpacker? Have you ever been relieved that you had travel insurance—or hosed because you hadn’t? If you have any smart tips or insights on travel insurance for backpackers, feel free to share your insights  in the comments section below.

For all things travel-related, go to AAA.com/Travel.

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