A Guide to Gap Year Insurance

When you’re already spending a considerable amount of money on your gap year trip, you’ll probably find yourself asking the question “Do I really need travel insurance?” It can be oh-so-tempting to skip the travel insurance on your gap year – after all, that premium could pay for a jet-boating trip, a jungle trek or simply another few nights partying, right? We can’t deny that’s true but there are a few thousand backpackers every year who thought that way and wished they hadn’t. At best this bunch of disgruntled folk have found themselves mildly to seriously inconvenienced; at worst they have found themselves facing bills of thousands of pounds or perhaps seriously sick and stranded in a foreign country. For example, did you know that if you break your leg while holidaying in the US the basic bill hovers around the £6000 mark? Or that flying you back home to the UK from Europe after a serious accident would amount to at least £12,000? To most people that’s serious money and far beyond any amount they have just lying around.

Wherever else you choose to cut corners for your gap year expenses don’t let it be here. Hopefully it is something you will never need but if you do you’ll be congratulating yourself forever afterwards on your smart choice. Don’t forget – yes, travel insurance is put there to compensate for losses or come to your aid financially when you would otherwise be liable for huge medical or legal costs, but it is also there to be a helping hand at moments of extreme crisis. When you have been robbed, when you are sick, when you find yourself suddenly having to dash home unexpectedly you will be very very glad that you can contact professionals who can practically and emotionally support you.

Once-upon-a-time hunting down the long term backpacking insurance bargains was like looking for a needle in a haystack but gap years, career breaks and something outside the normal two week holiday are now common and so too are the companies who can provide you with the necessary insurance. The specialist and specifically-titled backpacker policies tend to allow for the fact that the person in question is likely to be taking part in all kinds of unusual activities such as surfing, bungee jumping, scuba diving and so forth but sometimes you may have to pay a little extra to have such ‘risks’ covered. Make sure your policy covers you for the activity types you know or think might be part of your trip.

The Basics


If you need to cancel your trip before it has even started you’ll receive part or full compensation for the costs you have incurred such as your airfare.

Possible small print exceptions – Most policies only pay out for anything occurring after its start/cover date. If this is the day you were originally due to fly it won’t be much good if that’s still three weeks away when you cancel the trip. Check what you are covered for and if necessary take out the policy from the day you book your airfare.

Curtailment of trip

Curtailment means having to come home early – perhaps because there is some sudden emergency at home or you are unable to see out your trip to its planned end for a serious reason.

Possible small print exceptionsIf you are called home because a relative is very sick or dying you may be asked to prove this illness or medical condition was not evident when you first left. If you can’t the policy may not pay out.


Delayed flight events typically fall into the inconvenient rather than costly category but most policies will offer some compensation for this, starting from delays of 12 hours (sometimes much more) and accrue from there.

Lost or Delayed Baggage

This happens rather more commonly than you might expect. Typically it is because your bag is winging its way to New York as you’re boarding a plane to Sydney for example. You’ll get your bag…eventually…but in the meantime you’ll have had to buy all sorts of things to get by. Airlines have some responsibility to compensate where baggage has been lost but they too have their small print and what you’ll receive is unlikely to cover even the most basic of replacements.

Possible small print exceptionsSome policies have overall limits on replacement of personal items and almost all have a single item limit. This means you may not be able to claim for the full cost of all you’ve lost or any more expensive possessions.

Personal Possessions

This includes cameras, gadgets, phones, clothes, jewellery, money, passport, backpack and everything else that belongs to you and covers for eventualities in which the items are stolen, lost or damaged.

Possible small print exceptionsThere are quite a few pitfalls with regard to claiming personal possession replacements.

  • As already discussed under lost baggage there is almost always some overall limit and/or single item limit.
  • If an item is stolen you will be expected to report it to the local police, usually within a certain time frame, and have a hard copy of the police report as evidence. In some countries trying to get a police report without paying out considerably for the privilege is the trickiest bit.
  • You have to show you have taken reasonable care of your items. For example, if you popped to the bar and left your iphone on the table it’s unlikely an insurance policy will pay out when you come back and find it has disappeared.

Legal Expenses 

This is cover for any time you find yourself in need of the services of a local legal representative.

Possible small print exceptions – Almost without exception your policy is unlikely to pay out if you find yourself in hot water for alcohol or drugs related issues.

Medical & Personal Liability Cover

Although everything discussed so far can see you well and truly inconvenienced and even seriously out of pocket without the correct cover, there is nothing which has the potential for financial and personal disaster to quite the extent that the big two can.

Personal Liability

Should you accidentally cause damage or injury to some-one else or their property you can face bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds without the cover of insurance. Typically cover for this category starts around the 1 million mark.

Medical Costs

We have already mentioned how a relatively small injury can end up costing thousands of pounds in certain countries and where this subject is concerned horror stories abound.

You may think you are invincible or have no intention of doing anything risky but travelling long term in strange environments can present all sorts of risks you hadn’t even considered. For example, the tiniest of scratches on your foot in the tropics can quickly become infected and ulcerate within a short space of time. The extreme consequence of this is amputation. Dramatic? Yes, but it can and has happened where the person in question has not been able to pay for medical repatriation home. Big figures float around on this one but typically speaking European destinations need around 1 million pounds cover and elsewhere in the world 2 million pounds.

Possible small print exceptions – If you have any kind of pre-existing medical condition make sure your insurance company is aware of this or your whole policy might be invalid and just a waste of money. Most conditions can be covered although sometimes you may have to pay a slightly higher price.

Other Medical Arrangements

There are a number of countries which have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK which includes such diverse places as Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Croatia and Barbados. This means you may be able to get free or subsidised health care in these countries but this typically only applies if you receive public health care and not higher standard private treatment.

If you are a European citizen you can pick up a ‘European Health Insurance Card’ (EHIC) for free and this will entitle you to the same cost medical treatment as a resident of the country in question. Bear in mind this may NOT mean free treatment although it can help reduce costs considerably.

It is also very important to understand that an EHIC in no way replaces the need for travel insurance. It may help keep the costs down for relatively minor problems but it won’t cover the costs of flying you home with medical supervision in serious cases nor cover any aspect of your insurance other than the medical element. You can obtain an EHIC online through www.ehic.org.uk

Other things to Consider

Excess – Most policies have them but they vary considerably between companies and depending on which section of your policy you are claiming under. Basically, if your policy says it has a £100 excess for personal possessions it means you will have to pay the first £100 towards any replacements. Typically speaking, the higher the excess you are prepared to pay the lower the overall cost of the policy.

Working holiday – Being in possession of adequate health insurance is often a condition of a working holiday visa. However, some policies have specific exclusions if you intend to undertake any work so be sure to find out exactly what you are covered for here. If your intention is to take part in unpaid work the same applies – for insurance purposes paid work and voluntary work are often not distinguished between.

Exemptions – Check, check and check again any exemptions relating to your policy – some of these can hide themselves away a little. If there is something you particularly want covered the best course of action is to talk this through with your insurance company to find out what, if any, exemptions apply.

Personal responsibility – Without exception all insurance policies assume some responsibility of due care with regard to personal safety. So for example, if you decide to hire a scooter and head off into the mountains in shorts and t-shirt without wearing a helmet, your insurance company may well decide you haven’t taken due care and may not pay out should you injure yourself.

Drugs and alcohol – If your trip hits a hitch of any kind while you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol it is unlikely any insurance policy will cough up.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice – If the FCO advises against travel to a certain country or area and you decide to go anyway your insurance policy may be totally invalid. Check with your insurance company in these instances.

If the Worst Should Happen…

If any incident occurs which will lead to the need for making a claim make sure you keep every bit of paperwork – receipts, tickets, reports etc – even vaguely relevant and in its original form rather than copies. The more you have to back up any claim the higher the chances of a successful pay out. As soon as you’ve decided upon and bought a policy print off a couple of hard copies – one for you to travel with and one to give to a close relative or friend for safe keeping. Keep a digital copy in your documents or email folders too because if all your gear gets stolen the hard copy might go with it. Likewise, put any emergency numbers or 24 hour helpline numbers into your phone, tablet, laptop etc and again make sure some-one back home knows these details too.

The Final Word…You Get What You Pay For, Usually

Tapping your details into the boxes of a few instant quote insurance websites will quickly show you the HUGE variation in the cost of travel insurance. It can be incredibly tempting to sign up for whichever is cheapest but a closer inspection could reveal this ‘bargain’ comes with a huge excess and all sorts of exemptions, exclusions and clauses which make the policy virtually useless to you. That said, you may carefully compare a policy costing £100 to a policy for £200 and only be able to find a difference in tiny areas which really don’t concern you, in which case go cheaper.

The bottom line is you will have to do some work, research and careful reading here to be sure you are paying for and getting exactly what you need. Let’s hope you never have to be glad you did.

Here are a few travel insurance companies you might want to check out…