My initial plan was to review many different travel insurance options on the market for backpackers and world travelers, giving a broad overview. I did the research—it took ages. And instead of many, here’s a concise look at the two travel insurance companies that will work for almost any type of trip. My overall conclusion is that World Nomads* is the best travel insurance for backpackers.
After sussing out the negative and positive reviews on other sites, it’s pretty clear that the while every single travel insurance company has some negative reviews, there are many success stories for World Nomads and its support staff. And I have used them for more than 10 years and I still love their coverage.
That said, different trips call for different travel needs!
It would be disingenuous for my World Nomads review to not cover when it might not be the right fit for your planned trip.
Below I’ll review why I bought a World Nomads policy for most of my travels, but also why I’ve used IMG Patriot for some trips as well. I’ll explain which type of trip worked for the two different travel insurance companies (hint, it’s when I traveled with my nieces and nephews). I’ll also help you decide if World Nomads is worth it. I think it is. In fact, I think travel insurance provides essential protection. Let’s take a deeper dive.
UPDATE: This post was last updated in January 2019 to reflect experiences from recent travels. The short of it: World Nomads is still my go-to and I paid for plans on my trips to Kyrgyzstan and Russia in 2018, even though I also have an expat policy to cover me in my home-base of Barcelona, Spain. ~Shannon
World Nomads Review: Why This Travel Insurance Works for Backpackers
When I first left on my round the world trip, 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 top-rated by several huge brands and it’s an inclusive travel insurance, meaning it covers a broad range of people (up to 70), and activities. For this reason, major tour and travel companies use World Nomads as their default travel insurance. Ten years ago, I was a backpacker(and it’s the top rated for that type of travel), but over the years I realized it worked for anything I needed. Here’s why I picked World Nomads after reviewing what it offered and comparing it to other options:
- 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.
- 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 for 90% of my 10+ years of travel. During that time, I switched to IMG only when traveling on four separate long-term trips with my nieces and nephews—that’s when I needed a good family plan instead and less adventure coverage. For anything else I threw its way—booking while already traveling, adventure sports, more than six months on the road—it bested the competitors.
- The company has a great social giving component, and a socially conscious company that still has majorly competitive prices is a total win in my book.
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 to them while traveling. It’s why I can unequivocally say that World Nomads is best for most backpackers and long-term travelers.
What’s Covered by World Nomads Insurance? (And What’s Not)
The coverage on your policy is the most important part—so this is where it’s vital you really 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, injury, etc).
World Nomads policies provide 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
There’s more (like it covers repatriation of remains . . . which is not fun to think about, but necessary), but that’s the core of what any basic travel insurance covers. The extent of coverage then comes into play—you should not sign up for a policy that skimps in any of these areas.
But there are some areas where it really depends on your trip if you need a travel insurance that has detailed out a certain type of coverage, and other things where it just makes all the difference in the world for convenience. Let’s dive in.
Wait, Can I Do That?! World Nomads 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 site’s A-Z List of Adventure Activities to find out if they were covered in a World Nomads 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 snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.
On my yearlong trip, I was very active and adventurous, and it was dead-simple to verify on World Nomads‘ checklist if an activity was covered (note, it’s online and 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).
When you’re researching various travel insurance policies, not all of companies offer adventure sports riders (and even basic outdoor travel activities may fall under that!). Be positive that you’re selecting one that covers everything you have planned. Note that IMG does not inherently cover adventure sports, but has an optional rider you can add to some policies—when I traveled with my young nieces and nephews we didn’t need the rider, however, because of the fairly low-key trips we had planned.
Making Travel Insurance Claims Online
A huge selling point for World Nomads was the fact that 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 have no online claims process. For long-term travelers, you simply have to be able to file your claims from the road.
The fact is, World Nomads is the best insurance for long-term travelers.
It’s great for many other types of travelers and trips too, but hands down this company has made the made my life easier as a digital nomad living on the road for 10 years.
I needed the convenience, the flexibility. The internet is now easy to find in every corner of the world (too easy, in fact!) and all of the information I need is always laid out for me on World Nomads‘ website 24/7. 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. Although this is becoming a feature across some other insurances, World Nomads has one of the slickest interfaces.
Why You MUST 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.
When reviewing any travel insurance policies, here are key cautions and warnings to heed.:
- 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 loophole. 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 answer questions before, during, and after you’re their client.
- 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 one-year trip that will include adventure sports, then you should instead look for policies from World Nomads that are designed to meet that need. Understand the target market of your future insurance company to understand if they are providing the breadth of coverage generally needed by someone of your age, health, and style of travel.
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 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.”
Need other options? Consider IMG Patriot Travel Insurance.
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 the online system. With my niece in tow, I knew I wouldn’t do some of the more adventurous activities, so I didn’t mind switching from World Nomads to IMG. Also, some IMG plans include free coverage for kids—that makes a big money difference on a long-term trip! However, when I returned to my solo travels, I went back to World Nomads. If you’re 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 while you’re researching travel insurance 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.
- For Americans, 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 bought an expat plan for 2018 with IMG Global because I secured a European residency visa—I will need this expat travel coverage, but it won’t cover me in the U.S., so I need to either keep my U.S. health insurance, or buy a separate plan when I return home.
- If you’re 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).
- If you are volunteering abroad, this post outlines the specific aspects you should consider when buying volunteer travel insurance.
- 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. The Clements policies last a year and they are very affordable—worth securing if you have a camera, smartphone, and laptop on your trip!
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 insurance policy to cover me for epic trekking through the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan. 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. :)
Disclosure: While all of the information in this post is correct to my knowledge, I encourage you to 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 also 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.