When you’re planning for long-term world travel, you have a dizzying number of options to review when it comes to picking the right travel insurance. After twelve years on the road, I still believe World Nomads is the best travel insurance for backpackers, adventurous travelers, and long-term travelers.
My initial research back in 2008 was thorough, and I found negative and positive reviews for every company in existence. It’s clear that the while every single travel insurance company has some negative reviews, World Nomads has a preponderance of success stories, and positive notes about its support staff. Plus, I’ve used this company for more than a decade, so this is a first-hand account and no one paid me to recommend them—my hard-earned money bought a policy on every trip.
And since every insurance company has sneaky loopholes in place to ensure you were following the rules, I share specific advice on what you will need to successfully make a claim if something happens while you’re traveling.
Below I’ll review why I bought a World Nomads insurance policy for most of my travels these past 11 years, but also why I used IMG Patriot at times. I’ll explain which types of world travels work for the two different travel insurance companies (hint, I used IMG when I needed an expat health insurance policy, and when I had a niece traveling with me). I’ll also help you decide if travel travel insurance is worth it (Hint: Travel insurance provides essential protection for long-term or adventurous backpacking trips).
Why World Nomads is Good Travel Insurance
When I first left on my round the world trip in 2008, I looked for outside verification from others to know what’s best in the confusing insurance landscape (and one rife with fraud). World Nomads has a lot of credibility in the market. It’s also an inclusive travel insurance, meaning it covers a broad range of people (up to 70). It also includes the adventurous activities common on long-term trips and while backpacking.
For this reason, major tour and travel companies use World Nomads as their default travel insurance. Twelve years ago, I was a backpacker (and it’s the top rated travel insurance for that type of travel), but over the years I realized it worked for long-term travels of any style.
Let’s review why World Nomads is a good travel insurance option:
- It’s the travel insurance recommended by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and Rough Guides—three names you can trust in travel. If Lonely Planet says it’s great for backpackers, then it’s a fair bet you should start your research looking at what a World Nomads policy offers. I first found World Nomads reviewed by long-term travelers in the forums, and nearly all of them noted that it was trusted by these top brands.
- World Nomads is actually a brand that secures the policy for you—that’s how it can insure people from 150 countries.
- It truly had the best coverage during my 10+ years of long-travel, and with competitive prices. I spent my first year as a pure backpacker, and from there out needed travel insurance that could cope with me traveling for nonstop for a decade. Anything else I threw its way—booking while already traveling, adventure sports, more than six uninterrupted months on the road—World Nomads bested the competitors.
- It’s a socially-conscious company that still has majorly competitive prices—a total win in my book. The company’s social good programs and sustainable company ethos is stronger than any other travel insurance out there.
And really, I cannot stress enough that World Nomads is among the most affordable companies for what you get in return. You have a nice balance of deductibles meets coverage meets activities. Backpackers and long-term travelers need the flexibility and security of knowing they won’t go bankrupt if something happens on the road. It’s why I can unequivocally say that World Nomads is best for backpackers and long-term travelers.
In addition to buying a policy online, you can extend your insurance policy indefinitely or even buy one when you’re already traveling, and World Nomads slick interface makes it easy to take care of business and get back to traveling—a good travel insurance lets you travel without the worry, that’s the entire point!
What’s Covered by World Nomads (And What’s Not)?
The coverage on your travel insurance policy is the most important part—so this is where it’s vital you take time to understand exactly what buying travel insurance can get you on a trip. It’s everyday protection for you, for your luggage, and also in the event of BIG issues with a capital B (think catastrophic weather event, traumatic injury, etc).
Let’s review the five key coverage areas on any World Nomads policy:
- Overseas medical care
- Medical evacuation (Medevac)
- Baggage claims
- Theft on some belongings and electronics (read the policy details!)
- Trip cancellation coverage
Beyond these five areas that any good travel insurance policy must have, these are a few other things that are bonuses and also included—at least to some extent. Coverage on these areas depends on your country of residence:
Once you know what is covered by World Nomads, it comes down to the extent of coverage. You should not sign up for a policy that skimps in any of these areas. But some coverage does really depend on your trip, especially when we get into limits.
Wait, Can I Do That?! Adventure Activity Coverage
Before I left on my world travels, 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 World Nomads’ A-Z List of Adventure Activities to check they were covered in a policy. Each and every activity I hoped to experience was on the list of what’s covered.
While not all of your activities may be covered—there are some things general travel insurance will just not cover—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 scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
On my first long-term backpacking trip, I was active and adventurous, and it was dead-simple to verify on World Nomads‘ checklist if an activity was covered. Note that what World Nomads covers for each policy is clearly outlined online—it’s easy to check before you do the activity; that’s imperative! You don’t want to be waiting for an email from your insurance company while the boat leaves on your planned scuba diving adventure. With other policies (like the expat insurance I use with IMG), adding any adventure sports requires paying for an additional rider, and the coverage is not as robust.
World Nomads‘ coverage was designed by a world traveler—a Aussie named Simon Monk who wanted to demystify the entire travel insurance process. That’s why the policies seem single-handedly designed for long-term travelers and backpackers—they are! Rather than being left to choose your own coverage limits, the policies are designed to give you maximum protection for the type of things most travelers face on the road.
Only some travel insurance policies offer adventure sports riders (and even basic outdoor travel activities may fall under that!). Review the activities carefully—be positive that you’re selecting one that covers everything you have planned.
Is World Nomads Travel Health Insurance?
There are no insurance companies that by default offer health insurance as a part of their travel policies. Now, medical health emergencies are covered—that’s a key reason you’re buying the policy, but note that this is not the same as health coverage like regular doctor visits.
Generally, for World Nomads and really any travel insurance you might consider, when you review the fine details you realize that treatment is not designed to mimic health insurance. That’s why, written into the policy, your travel insurance will end either once you step foot on home soil, or within a week or two.
|Covered Health Emergencies||Not Covered by Travel Insurance|
|Hospitalization||If you’ve taken drugs or alcohol|
|Day surgery and outpatient treatment||Minor rashes/non-emergencies|
|Visits to registered medical practitioners||Reckless behavior|
|Prescribed medicines||Non-emergency treatment that can wait until you return home|
|Ambulances||Certain pre-existing medical conditions|
|Extra expenses to get you home, if medically necessary||Ongoing treatment at home|
Making Travel Insurance Claims Online
Most insurance companies now allow you to file your claims online. A seamless system is a huge must for long-term travelers and backpackers especially because you can’t wait until the end of your trip to sort it all out—you’re going to have to file your insurance claim on the road.
For World Nomads, you can process all of your claims online, and there are no caps on the length of time you can be insured. This is not the case with all travel insurance policies. Some max out at three months and a few still don’t have an entirely online claims process.
For most insurance companies, if it’s a medical emergency and you have time, you are obligated to contact them and let it go through their authorized providers—that speeds up the process. Either way, I found the online claims process easy and the company offers 24 hour helplines for immediate assistance, as well as helplines for figuring out the sometimes bureaucratic process of filing a travel insurance claim.
WARNING: Travel Insurance Coverage When 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 exactly what your insurance covers.
2. take steps to ensure you meet the requirements for insurance claims 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 driver’s 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.”
TL;DR: World Nomads Coverage Review Recap
- World Nomads has made my life easier as a digital nomad living on the road for 10+ years by offering an entirely online process.
- The adventure sports coverage is included in World Nomads policies by default, meaning there’s no chance you overlooked a crucial coverage step in the select-it-yourself policies.
- World Nomads is the best insurance for long-term travelers. It’s during my solo backpacking trips that I’ve used World Nomads to the best success.
- You are only covered for those things you are legally allowed to do—no drugs or drunk driving, and no driving without the proper license.
- IMG is the best travel insurance anyone visiting the U.S. as a non-resident—this is where World Nomads coverage has some gaps for many international travelers (because the U.S. healthcare system is so whack, citizens of most aren’t offered the type of full coverage I believe essential to long-term travels in the U.S.).
Essential Travel Insurance Tips
Travel insurance is the single best way to protect yourself against the unknown facing you on the road. During my more than a decade of travel, I’ve had dysentery, giardia, scabies, strep throat, and a host of health issues. Travel sickness is a part of long-term travel. Although I’ve never had major catastrophic health problems, nor been robbed of any key gear, I would never take the risk of backpacking the world without emergency help available. Travel insurance companies have a huge network of providers, and once you activate them, they negotiate (often in the local language) with those providing your help or care. That’s a huge relief when things are going south.
You can find terrible reviews online for all travel insurance companies. There are some circumstances where the traveler just didn’t fit within the policy wording and they weren’t covered. That’s tough. It is imperative that you read the requirements for making a claim if something goes wrong on your trip.
When reviewing any travel insurance policies, here are key cautions and warnings to heed:
- Document your valuables. To make a claim, you must prove you bought it (receipts), that it was with you (take a photo of all valuables before you leave), and that it was stolen (a police report). Each step here is vital. Many negative travel insurance reviews are from 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! When buying a policy, you agree that they will choose a provider and be involved in the process—this is true for selecting hospital care, medevac providers, and more. If you don’t do this, they may not cover your bills. Also, keep your paperwork! There will be a lot of back and forths as you make the claim—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 loophole. And it sucks. But double check things like this before you assume that if you’re in an accident on a winding 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, understand what they are covering, and highlight anything that isn’t clear. If you’re unsure, email or call them! They answer questions before, during, and after you’re their client. There is also extensive Q&A in the comments below as other travelers and I hash out the fine print.
- Understand what’s not covered. From pre-existing conditions to extreme sports, there are a few things you’re just not guaranteed in a general travel policy. But, every travel insurance company is different. The high-end Select plan from TravelEx covers pre-existing conditions, so if that’s a huge factor for you, then the significantly higher cost might be worth it. But if you’re a backpacker planning a long-term trip that will include adventure sports, then you should instead look for policies from World Nomads that are designed to meet that need. If you’re a family planning to travel the world for a year, and you will do adventurous things, World Nomads might still work—they have family plans—but also look to an IMG policy with the sports rider (you must add the sports rider, truly).
- Understand the target market of your future insurance company. This helps you understand if they are providing the breadth of coverage generally needed by someone of your age, health, and style of travel.
FAQ About World Nomads & Travel Insurance
After more than ten years on the road, I moved to Europe in early 2018, at which point my more tame expat policy is serving me in good stead, but I still use World Nomads when I leave Europe for adventurous trips. :)
Check World Nomads plans and prices to see if it’s a good fit for your travel situation.
Disclosure: While all of the information in this post is correct to my knowledge, do your own research and verify all aspects of your travel insurance. I cannot be held responsible for your use of any of the information provided.
*Please note that I make a small commission—at no additional cost to you—on purchases you make through a select few product links. This keeps A Little Adrift an ad-free community and never affects my recommendations.