The initial plan for this post was to research all of the different travel insurance options out on the market for budget backpackers and round the world travelers. And I did all of the research. It took me ages. And I had planned to compare and contrast key travel insurance companies. Which I do below. But my overall conclusion is that World Nomads is a fantastic option for budget and RTW travel.
After sussing out all of the negative and positive reviews on other backpacking and travel sites, it’s pretty clear that the while every single insurance company has some negative reviews, there are many success stories for World Nomads and their support staff. That said, different trips call for different travel needs, so below I’ll break down why I picked World Nomads for my one-year RTW, but also why I have used IMG patriot for some trips as well — I’ll explain which type of trip worked for each of the different insurance companies that I use. I’ve been on the road more than nine years, so there are circumstances (like living in a spot long-term and traveling with children) where it made sense to use a different policy.
UPDATE: This post was last updated in October 2017 to reflect experiences from recent travels. The short of it, World Nomads is still my go-to and I used it for my Africa trip in 2014 and am used it this year while backpacking Vietnam.
World Nomads’ Credibility?
When I first left on my RTW, I was unsure of any companies and had to look for outside verification from others to know what’s best. World Nomads has a lot of credibility in the market:
- It’s the travel insurance recommended by Lonely Planet.
- They are actually a brand that secures the policy for you — that’s how they can insure people from 150 countries.
- I used it for 90% of my more than nine years on the road. I only switched when traveling with on four separate long-term trips with my nieces and nephews — and I know a lot of the travel writing community also uses World Nomads.
- Reviews.com lists it as a Top Four budget travel insurance option — and they’ve seen a lot of policies.
I also looked through this beginners guide to travel insurance and checked it against my options, settling on WN as a strong contender.
Adventure Activities Covered
Before I left on my own RTW trip I made a list of all of the crazy and wild adventure activities that I wanted to participate in while traveling — then I used the site’s A-Z List of Adventure Activities to find out if they were covered in a World Nomads policy; each and every one was. While not all of yours may be covered, the complete list is comprehensive, online, and broken down by country. This is an important step! I really wanted to know that rock-climbing in Laos was covered just as fully as snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. On my RTW trip, I was very active and adventurous, so I like how easy it is to verify on their check-list if an activity is covered.
Covering the Important Things (and smaller things too)
A World Nomads policy provides levels of coverage for five key areas: overseas medical care, medical evacuation (Medevac), baggage claims, theft on some belongings and electronics (read the policy details!), trip cancellation coverage, and more. The company also has a Travel Safety Alerts subscription service.
Making Insurance Claims Online
A huge selling point for me was the fact that all of the process can be done online; the internet is ubiquitous and I loved knowing that all of the information I needed was laid out for me on the World Nomads site. And since I thoroughly read through my policy before I bought it, I sent the support team an email asking for clarification (those policies can get confusing!); they emailed me back within a day with a detailed answer. In addition to buying a policy online, you can extend your insurance policy indefinitely or even buy one when you’re already traveling. This is becoming a feature across many travel insurances, but WN has one of the slickest interfaces.
Cautions, Warnings, and Read Your Policy
You can find terrible reviews online for all insurance companies. There are some circumstances where the traveler just didn’t fit within the policy wording and they weren’t covered. That’s so tough. It is very, very important that you read the requirements for making a claim if something goes wrong on your trip. Keep these things in mind:
- Document all of your valuables. If you want to make a claim, you’ll need to prove you bought it (receipts) and that it was there with you (take a photo of all valuables before you leave, and that it was stolen (a police report). Each step here is so, so important. Many negative reviews I read online are people who didn’t have a copy of the police report, or couldn’t generate ownership proof. Read your policy and understand exactly what they require to make a claim.
- Document your illness. Call your insurance company as soon as you are ill; they will help you find the best providers in the region — plus it states in your policy that you have to do that, so when buying a policy, you agree to allow them to help you choose a provider and be involved in the process. If you don’t they might not cover it. Also, keep your paperwork! There will be a lot of back and fourths as you make the claim and the more information you have the better.
- Follow the law. One sticky situation for backpackers is the rampant use of motorbikes in Asia. If you are not licensed to drive the vehicle in your own country, then you are not covered in an accident. This is a huge loop-hole. And it sucks. But double check things like this before you assume that if you’re in an accident on a windy Thai road that you’ll be covered if something serious happens. (See note below for more information).
- Read your policy. Seriously. It’s dry and boring. It will take at least an hour. But read it, highlight areas you didn’t know and really understand what they are covering and what they are not. And if you’re unsure, email or call them! They do always answer questions before, during, and after you’re their client.
- Read this information on common things not covered. From pre-existing conditions to extreme sports, there are a few things you’re just not getting in a general travel policy.
What to Know: Travel Insurance & Riding a Motorbike
In addition to the small comment above about insurance coverage for licensed motorcycle drivers only, an ALA reader left this note in the comments, and it nicely explains why it’s so important to 1) know what you’re covered for 2) take steps to ensure you meet the requirements for insurance reimbursements (have receipts, police reports, etc):
From Matt of Great Distances: “For anyone who’s curious about motorbiking, the rule is this: If you’re going to pilot a motorbike in Asia (or really anywhere in the world), you need a motorcycle license in your home country as well as an international drivers license with motorcycle certification (this requires a prior motorcycle license, at least in the U.S.). Without these things, your travel insurance will NOT cover you whatsoever should you get in a wreck or injure yourself or others while on a motorbike. And people wreck and hurt themselves ALL the time, especially when they haven’t had proper safety training and find themselves wearing clothing that provides no projection from motorbike mishaps.”
Want other options?
In October 2011, I left the U.S. with my 11-year old niece and we traveled together throughout Asia. Traveling with her left me with a unique challenge for travel insurance. I wanted a lot of protections if something happened to me and she needed to a new guardian flown overseas, so I went to the researching drawing board. I settled on a family plan at IMG Patriot that had great rates, coverage that worked for both of us, and I generally liked their online system. With my niece in tow, I knew I wouldn’t be doing some of the more adventurous activities, so I didn’t mind switching to IMG. However, now that I am back to solo travels, I am back with World Nomads. If you are in the UK or Europe, my friends wrote a good insurance guide here that has other options solely for Brits and Europeans.
Other thoughts for researching companies:
- Don’t buy “travel protection,” this term is a sneaky way for unlicensed companies to offer travel insurance — it’s likely not valid, so move along.
- Only buy from your travel agent if he/she is low-pressure and offers you several choices. If it’s a high-pressure situation they are likely receiving hefty commissions to sell you what could be an inferior product.
- Take your time, research, read the policies and ask every question you want answered before you buy.
- Ask if the insurance is primary or secondary insurance. And verify if the insurance requires that you hold primary. Primary usually refers to medical and homeowners insurance and some travel policies only allow you to purchase secondary insurance if you have a primary policy. For those who don’t carry health insurance, this would present a problem. Secondary means that you must file an insurance claim with your primary policy first. But some travel insurance policies will allow you to purchase them without having a primary policy in place. World Nomads will cover you on the road without requiring you to file first with your health insurance company back home. If you need to maintain U.S. coverage to meet the requirements of the ACA (ObamaCare), then you either must keep your policy back home and buy a travel policy, or you can look at some of the more expensive plans that offer primary care coverage in the U.S., and will meet the requirements of the ACA. I just bought a plan for 2018 with IMG Global because I am in the process of securing a European residency visa, and I will need travel coverage and U.S. health insurance, too. If you are backpacking and will be gone for a long time, World Nomads is a good option to thoroughly cover all of the possible adventure activities (expat policies like IMG Global aren’t meant for incredibly adventurous vacations).
- I also carry separate gear insurance to protect my laptop, smartphone, and gear. I use Clements, and go into that a bit more on the long-term travel resources planning page.
With my nephews traveling in 2015, and then while hiking the Camino in Spain in July 2017 with another niece, I bought IMG Patriot policies to cover our short-ish trips (one was three weeks and the other was six weeks). While I looked into other options once again, when I needed a family plan with some coverage of adventure activities (unfortunately not scuba), I went with IMG again. After dropping my niece stateside in summer 2017, however, I booked a World Nomads policy to cover me for some epic hiking through Kyrgyzstan. After more than nine years of travel, I plan/hope to move to Europe in 2018, at which point my more tame expat policy should serve me in good stead. 🙂