Travel without a hitch

Even `gap year' backpackers need the right insurance cover, says Paul Slade
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The Independent Online
WITH A-LEVEL results safely out of the way, many young people will be planning to leave that exam stress far behind and backpack their way around the world for a few months before resuming their studies.

Mum and Dad are likely to insist on some travel insurance to cover the youngsters against illness, accidents or other emergencies. But annual travel policies, designed for mainstream holidaymakers, are useless for trips like this, because they impose a maximum duration of 31 days per trip. Standard single-trip policies can be extended to cover longer stays abroad, but this is an expensive option.

Robert Smith, of travel insurance advisers DCT explains: "Typically, single-trip policies are rated with a duration band of the first 31 days. After that, you pay for an additional week for every week you're away. If you add that up for six, or even 12 months, it starts to get very expensive indeed."

Marc Dubin, one of The Rough Guides authors, adds: "Be wary of the bog- standard high-street policies, because they simply won't be long enough. You have to go to a specialist company which will quote you a premium per year, with no restriction on how much of that time you're away. That will allow you to travel for 365 days of the year, which has to be made clear at the outset."

The premiums for plans like these vary dramatically, however. Some world- wide backpackers' policies charge as little as pounds 199, others go to well over pounds 400 (see table, left).

You can save money on specialist policies by eliminating the type of cover which backpackers, most of whom travel on the cheap, are unlikely ever to need. There is little point in buying a policy which will pay out several thousand pounds if flights should have to be cancelled.

Helen Dwyer is a director with Primary Direct, an insurer which specialises in travel policies. She explains: "Backpackers are going to pay between pounds 500 and pounds 1,000 for their ticket out. They don't need the pounds 4,000 worth of cancellation cover that you might need if you're going on a two-week fly-drive to Florida."

Ms Dwyer also stresses how cover against loss or theft of property can be pared down. "Most younger travellers aren't taking a lot anyway," she says. "They're taking a backpack with minimal clothes. On any travel insurance policy, there's a single article limit. So, even if they were lucky enough to have things like expensive cameras, those would be excluded anyway."

Much more important are elements such as medical cover (Which? magazine recommends at least pounds 1m worth of cover for Europe and pounds 2m for the US), and personal liability cover to pay out if your actions should lead to injury to someone else, or damage to their property.

Both these elements of your policy might come into play if you are tempted to try out any dangerous sports while abroad.

Check each policy to see just which sports are covered before deciding which company's cover is right for you.

Mr Dubin suggests that you also check the small print to see how much help the policy might be if you should find yourself stranded abroad. He says: "What sort of repatriation facilities are available? Will you or your family have to provide the money up-front? Will the consul have to intervene, or will the company just get on with it and do it?"

Most policies will cover your trip home if you face a medical emergency or a member of the family at home has died. But simply running out of money will not be covered, as this is considered to be a result of your own negligence.