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The ultimate Backpacker insurance guide

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Every backpacker will have stories to tell and advice to give about their travels! When it comes to travel tips, everyone has their own preferences, and there can be a lot of good ideas to choose from!

The tips listed here should give you a helping hand with your planning, covering everything from what to sort before you travel, to personal safety precautions, to protecting your worldly goods, possessions and money! Follow them, and you can get into your traveling life knowing you’ve catered for most eventualities, which will leave you organised, relaxed and ready to enjoy your exciting new adventures.

1. Buy a Return Ticket
If you booked a return ticket alongside your outward flight, that’s fine! But if not, you’ll need to make sure your money does not run out – or you won’t be able to afford the trip home! Aside from giving peace of mind, buying a return ticket often works out a lot cheaper, because advance booking can give cheaper deals. When travelling, you will also need to have a return date for your insurance.

2. Travel Insurance
Before you go, it’s very important that you take out travel insurance; likely for a long duration, and which covers you for everything you’ll want to do. A specified backpacker policy will normally offer all the cover you need for your trip, but it is worth checking. If you intend to try adventurous activities or sports such as scuba diving, parascending, hiking, or even camel or elephant riding – you will need to check you are covered for these activities before you travel, as you may need to upgrade to a slightly more comprehensive cover.

Before purchasing, check the list of activities on the policy wording to make sure your likely holiday pursuits will be covered.
Purchase your travel insurance before you depart from the UK otherwise your policy won’t be valid. Validity also requires that you return home to the UK when your travels are finished.
Keep your insurance policy schedule, or a copy of it with you at all times so you have it to hand should an emergency. Most hospitals will ask for your cover details before they treat you. If you are injured or in need of treatment, you will need to ring the 24 hour emergency assistance line and they will be able to help you sort out medical care. If you are seriously ill and unable to carry on with your trip, your insurance company will arrange for you to be repatriated back to the UK – if that is covered in your policy. It really is worth reading through your travel policy before you travel so you are aware of what is, and what is not covered.
3. Vaccinations
Before you travel, usually 6 weeks ahead of time, it is wise to check if you need any immunisations with your GP’s surgery. Your doctor will know what vaccinations are appropriate for the reasons you plan to visit, and the activities you plan to do. They will also check the dates for jabs you may have had in case you need any boosters. Do this in good time before your travel date as you may need to begin a course of malaria tablets before you go, or may need the certification of immunisation to cross through immigration.

4. Keep copies of documents
Bring copies of all your important travel documents (including your passport) with you, and keep then separate to the originals. This way you will have a copy in case they get lost or stolen. You can scan copies to your mobile phone too, or email them to yourself. This way you will have additional accessible copies, via the cloud or through a quick visit to an internet cafe. Lastly, you should leave copies of your passport and other documents with friends or family at home as a back-up. They can always email or mail them to you if necessary.

5. Wear a Money Belt
Keep your passport, tickets, bank cards & cash, in a money-belt under your clothes and don’t show it when taking out money. Keep a very small amount of cash in your pockets (ones that have fastenings) so that you don’t have to ‘reveal’ your belt. If you don’t have access to a safe, keep your cash and belt under your pillow when you sleep, or in your sleeping bag.

You should always separate your money and keep it in different locations. A lot of travellers have secret pockets sewn into their underwear for safe keeping of cash – an ingenious deterrent to pick-pockets. Splitting up cash also means you won’t loose everything, should someone find your stash. Be careful when using an ATM and be aware of pickpockets – remember that some of the very best can be children.

6. Travel Light. Carry Little Cash & No Valuables
Experienced backpackers leave the bulk of their cash in the bank, and leave their valuables at home.
Only bring the essentials you need and don’t take anything you can’t replace.
Spread your cash across 2 or 3 bank accounts and take multiple debit or credit cards in case one card malfunctions and refuses to dispense cash, is not accepted at your destination, or is lost or stolen.
Don’t keep all your cards together in one place.
Sleep with your money belt on or keep it close by in a safe or sleeping bag where it can’t be stolen.
Get a pacsafe. These are steel wire nets that cover your backpack and have a chain and padlock to secure it to something.
7. Personal Safety
Be aware of personal safety at all times. Try not to be a target for thieves e.g. be discreet with an expensive camera hanging round your neck, and keep an eye on your belongings. Try not to stand out from the crowd or draw attention to yourself if possible!

Don’t leave your bag, mobile, camera, or iPad unattended while you go and buy drinks or food. Even when you’re sightseeing, there may be opportunist thieves waiting. Tourist sites are theft hotspots. Get yourself used to being vigilant at all times especially in crowded areas. Be aware in areas where local income is low, as thieves will be more likely to operate in these places.

Typically when you’re away, relaxing and having fun, a few drinks are a common sight! However try not to get so drunk that you have no control over what happens to you, it’s best to stay alert in unfamiliar places.

Always be mindful of local scams, theft or worse. People approaching you to distract you in some way, helping to prop you up if you stumble, and unlicensed taxis are all common threats. Keep in touch with family and friends throughout your trip so they know you are safe, and arrange a time that you will be back with people in your dorm.

8. Local Knowledge
Before your trip, find out all about the places you are visiting to get knowledge on the culture, the best places to visit, learn about any typical local scams, and to secure some general local knowledge. This will give you a head start on your arrival, and allow you to better understand the culture. You will meet a lot of fellow travellers who will be able to give you some great ideas for places to see or tips they have already found. Always respect the culture of the country you are visiting. For example certain countries will require you to dress modestly in places of worship, or may have different and very strict rules on drinking.

9. Avoid Hitch-hiking
Though you may think hitch-hiking will make your money go further, you don’t know anything about your potential free driver who may see you as a wealthy target, so this is a very risky activity. If you were at home you would probably not take a lift with a stranger for safety reasons, so don’t do it abroad. Public transport is a far safer mode of travel. Remember that there is safety in numbers.

10. Personal Hygiene
With the need to travel light you will need to take just the minimum of luxury and comfort items in your backpack, and every traveler has their own preference! In addition to a small medical kit, basic ablution items that you should bring with you include:

Dental floss
Alcohol gel-based hand sanitizer
Cotton bandanna or wash cloth
Wet-wipes/baby wipes
Biodegradable soap
Absorbent pack towel
Toilet paper in its own plastic bag
Happy travelling – have fun, make new friends and travel safe!


Contrary to popular belief there’s more to backpacking than grabbing a bag, jumping on a plane and going! Snippets of knowledge about how to pack, what to pack, where to go and what to do are invaluable. So whether you’re planning a trip or on the road already, these everyday answers could make your global adventures much easier and more memorable.

Backpack or wheelie bag?
While purist backpackers argue that round-the-world trips require a ‘real’ backpack, a soft, light-weight, wheeled bag – perhaps with a zip off day pack – will makes life much easier. Save your energy (and your back) for the big adventures and glide through airports, bus stops, train stations and hostels with a backpack with wheels!

Travel light
Pack as light as possible when it comes to clothes. You can always wash whatever you need, or pick up extras more cheaply whilst you’re away. Why not try the local fashions? This can also apply to wash bag essentials. You can probably pick up shampoos, soaps and shower gels at some point, so you won’t need to bring a heavy year’s supply with you.

>It’s easy to become paranoid about keeping belongings safe when everything you own and need is in one bag. Yet having lots of complicated locks and security on your pack can draw unwanted attention; don’t go overboard. A simple combination padlock is perfect for use in a hostel locker.

If you want to secure any zips on your bag for an overnight train journey but don’t want to attract attention, you could always use plastic cable ties. Just make sure you have your Swiss-army knife to hand when you next need to open your bag up. Of course keep any valuables on you personally, and under lock. We’re not saying don’t use padlocks – they’re a backpacking must! Just don’t make yourself stand out too much.

Over-night trains and buses
Overnight transport can save days in your schedule! Overnight trains, busses, boats, even flights are also a great way to try and save a bit of money on accommodation as you’ll be sleeping on-board. Travelling with extra budget to spend elsewhere? A backpacking dream!

Get some local knowledge
The best meals/ beaches/ nights out are usually down to the recommendation of a local. Guidebooks are often right too, but nothing beats a good tip. Look for the spots where the locals go to find some of the best dinners, parties and shops. If you’ve just arrived at a hostel or hotel in a new town it’s always worth asking at the reception or front desk where they recommend as this can save you from wandering around tired, hungry and looking lost – a dangerous combination which will make you an easy tourist target to potential pickpockets.

Finding great places to eat can be tricky and expensive if you’re not sure where to look. If your accommodation has a kitchen you can use local markets, as cooking yourself will be cheaper than shopping at a supermarket or corner shop. In lots of countries however it can work out to be much the same price to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at a local restaurant or café. This is because in many places locals won’t cook at home, and instead eat on the go.

Hunt for the places that are busiest with locals as this usually means the food is good, cheap and won’t have been sitting around for too long. Try and avoid salads, as these are a frequent cause of traveller’s tummy. Similarly try to eat fruit with a skin you can peel off, such as bananas or mangos.

One of the more common backpacking health problems around the world is ‘traveller’s tummy’. This happens to most people at some point whilst backpacking and can be caused by many different things such as eating something that doesn’t agree with you or not being used to the local water. Be careful when brushing teeth, choosing drinks with ice, and eating fruits or vegetables to avoid stomach upset. If you do become ill, rehydration powders are essential for replenishing lost body salts and sugars, and can make the difference between getting back on your feet in a few days, or having to visit the local doctor or hospital due to severe dehydration.

No matter where you go or what you want to do, a little preparation, wisdom and a few small things can perfect your trip and make it unforgettable.


Andy Cresco

Andy Cresco

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