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How to choose the right Backpacker Travel Insurance for South East Asia

Travelling without insurance is plain stupid, here's our tips on choosing the right cover.

Posted on February 18, 2014 by  in EditorialsFeatured Articles // 0 Comments

Our guide to travel insurance for backpacking

Travelling to China or South East Asia, you’d be forgiven to think that healthcare costs aren’t that much compared to the west (especially the states).  You’d be right in thinking that, simple things like seeing a doctor for a stomach bug, getting medicines for aches & pains, rashes and mosquito bites.  Most medical care in Asia is cheap, even by UK standards! When Americans travel to Asia, they must have a field day!

But, there are certain costs associated with falling ill or getting into accidents that you will need Long Stay Travel Insurance for.  For example, if you get into a serious accident in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) or even Vietnam.  The likelihood is you’re going to want treatment in Bangkok, which is the closest city in SE Asia with western standard medical facilities and care. That immediate care you seek is a long way away and cutting your tour / holiday / travels short may have financial repercussions which can be covered with a basic travel insurance plan.

If you got into a serious incident, then your going to need an Air Ambulance, which costs tens of thousands of dollars per hour.  That’s when you seriously will be glad to have taken out insurance before leaving.

Tales of the road, examples of why we needed Travel Insurance:

Our moped accident on Koh Phangan, Thailand:

Darryl in Koh Phangan after moped accident

An example when we used our travel insurance was when we stayed in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Yes that is where the Full Moon party is, but that’s NOT where we got our injuries.  Everyone visiting the island hires a moped / motorbike because, it’s a large island where taxi’s are infrequent and expensive.

We took a trip up into the hills to find a way down to a small little beach we had read about.  It had been raining the previous few days non-stop.  When I started going down a muddy hill, I felt the brakes seize up.  Within a few seconds both of us came straight off the moped and onto the unpaved road.  It was horrendous, and we were miles away from any medical centre.

Having an accident on a moped in Thailand

We had to get back on the bike and drive into town, where there are limited hospital / clinics available to tourists.  Because of the fact the island is.. an island off another island.. The price for being fixed up in a private clinic and the medicine, came to hundreds of £ pounds.  Of which we could not have afforded to be without medium-term.  Luckily our insurance covered us and the damages that were sustained on the bike.  That was lucky, because in Koh Phangan, the island is run by the mafia, and the people renting out mopeds to westerners will charge you 400 percent mark-up on any small damages you have made to the bikes (even a small scratch).  Our’s wasn’t in the best condition, so that was all covered by our insurance provider.

Our flight home from Bangkok got cancelled, with just 5 hours notice..

We had booked a flight home months in advance through Norwegian Air.  It was an indirect flight from Bangkok to Stockholm on the new Boeing Dreamliner.  I really wanted to try flying on one of these planes, especially as Norwegian Air had an offer on, that made the flight just over £300 per person (then £50 extra to get from Stockholm to London Gatwick).

In hindsight, I should have reviewed the really negative reviews about Norwegian before booking with them.  In fact, if I had listened to Cristabel then we would have flown with Ukraine Air instead and had no issues.

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is meant to be a great new plane, with a more pleasant environment, more room and bigger windows.  However most of the planes are still having problems with various things.  Which has resulted in carriers like Norwegian at one point taking their planes out of the sky for up to a month for servicing and repairs.

We woke up on the morning of our flight early.  Cristabel checked it’s status and saw the flight was simply cancelled.  How can this be we said?   So what were our options.. We just wanted to get back home in time for Christmas with our families..

The only option for us was to fly out on more expensive direct flight with British Airways a little later that day.  That meant shelling out over £600 each on top of what we had already paid Norwegian Air.  Luckily I had a credit card and so booking it wasn’t a problem.  However with travel insurance, this meant we could claim for the expenses incurred and the extra we had to pay out to fly home with BA.

How to choose the right Travel Insurance for backpacking worldwide

  1. Think about where you are likely to be travelling in the world

    • Travel Insurance worldwide varies.  For example if you plan to travel around the world, taking in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Australasia, USA, Canada and South America will cost you the most by far.
    • If you plan to just visit Europe / UK, you will find that travel insurance one of the cheapest policies because there is basic state health cover in most of Europe, meaning lower potential costs to insurers.
    • Travelling to South East Asia / China?  That is again one of the cheapest insurance policies you can take out.
    • The USA / Canada being a part of your trip will certainly add to your overall premium because healthcare costs in the states are so vastly high compared to anywhere else in the world, so for the insurer, there is a bigger risk.
  2. What activities are you going to do whilst on the road?

    • If you are travelling to Australia / New Zealand and plan on sky diving, bungee jumping, bridge swinging, white water rafting, etc..  Then this means you will more than likely need to pay extra for those activities on your premium.Backpacking in Thailand activities
    • In South East Asia you may do Mountain trekking, Elephant trekking, rock climbing, water sports, scuba diving, hiring a moped on the islands and these things will again all push up your premium.  Make sure you don’t shy away from paying the extra for these activities though.. Buying an insurance package that is useless for activities that have a higher likelihood of accidents then you are taking the risk of being out-of-pocket.
  3. How much do you want to be covered for stolen money, passports, possessions?

    • All travel insurance providers are different.  Usually the cheapest providers will offer limited coverage for the loss of money.  However, you need to weigh up the likelihood of the worst case scenario happening to you.  As long as you take adequate protections whilst on the road, the likelihood of theft is very very low in many parts of the world (China, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam and Europe as examples).  Regarding loss of passports and possessions, our list of providers at the bottom all cover these things.
  4. How much excess do you mind paying if you need to make a claim?

    • If you accept a higher excess amount on your claims, then you can get a much cheaper travel insurance premium.  However, then you may be less likely to claim for small damages / problems occurring.  If your excess is £250 per claim, then your not likely to claim on any damages / injuries below this amount.  The maximum excess you should consider is £100 per claim.
  5. Personal liability / medical emergency cover

    • The personal liability cover will help you out in (hopefully rare) cases in which you are liable for an accident, dispute, injury, loss of income, etc..  It will also be there in case you ended up in court over a dispute.  Although the likelihood of you needing the amount that the cover provides is slim, if you end up accidentally causing an injury to someone in, say, the USA.  Your going to be hit with lawyer fees and potentially huge personal injury claims.
    • Medical emergency cover will sort out any health problems you may get into whilst on the road.  For example, if you had a medical emergency in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, at the top of Mount Kinabulu or just being in countries such as Myanmar, Laos, Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam.. You are going to want the option available to be airlifted out to a country such as Thailand to get immediate treatment.

I hope those points will help you with choosing the right travel insurance for backpacking around the world.  Because we are from the UK, we have a good idea on how much travel insurance should cost British Backpackers.  For other nationalities, make sure you shop around and compare the fine prints on every travel insurance policy.  There are some ways in which they will catch you out and you may end up with a useless travel insurance policy.

Below is our pick of the top insurance providers for people based in the UK and looking to travel worldwide.  Our example quotes are based solely on travel worldwide, but excluding any stopovers / trips to the US & Canada.  You can view each of the insurers via the provided links at the bottom and compare yourself.

Comparison of travel insurance providers in 2014 (UK Insurance Providers Only):

12 months backpacker (long-stay) travel insurance prices for a couple:

Alpha Travel Navigator Travel Go Walkabout Travel Direct Line
Quote Details 2 x Travellers
Worldwide (exc. USA)
1 Year (1/3/2014 – 28/2/2015)
Claim excess amount £100 from £75 – £100 £75 £75
Insurance available for Worldwide inc. USA? Yes Yes Yes Yes
Basic activities included? Yes Yes Yes Yes
Personal liability cover £1,000,000 £1,000,000 £1,000,000 £2,000,000
Medical emergency cover £10,000,000 £5,000,000 £1,000,000 £10,000,000
Total cost, per person





How much per day? 36p* £1* 45p* 53p*
Website Click Here Click Here Click Here Click Here
Notes Excess can be increased to £250, making premium cheaper, price above includes Activity pack 2 (£63) which includes Elephant Trekking.  Quote comes automatically with limited cover for travel / stop-overs in USA. Included Activity Pack 2 with Elephant Trekking cover and other activities.  Longstay cover available which includes £5,000,000 emergency medical cover + £2,000,000 personal liability cover. Quote includes personal money cover (up to £500) and Travel Accommodation cover (up to £5,000)

* Please note, quotes were generated in February 2014 for 2 people travelling together.  Quotes were correct at time of writing.  Costs of insurance will be higher per person for single travellers.  Additional cover is available from all providers.  Worldwide (including US, Canada, Mexico) cover is available from all providers for an additional premium fee.

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