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A gap year usually refers to a time period when high school graduates take a year off to travel the world before going to college. However, it’s not just for the young'uns anymore. A sabbatical to recover from work burnout, a faith-based mission trip or a language learning opportunity all can be reasons to take a gap year as an adult.
No matter how old you are, if you’re planning to spend a prolonged period of time traveling, it’s a good idea to look at your options for gap year travel insurance.
What is gap year travel insurance?
Gap year travel insurance covers you when you leave your home country. Most gap year travelers don’t return home until their trip has ended, so a single-trip policy is usually the best option. (Multi-trip or annual policies typically cover those who take several shorter trips and return home throughout the year.)
These policies usually last for up to 180 days, but can sometimes be renewed if you’ll be traveling for longer. Gap year insurance plans also provide coverage for visits to multiple countries during your time away, so you’re not limited to just one destination.
» Learn more: What to know before buying travel insurance
What does gap year insurance cover?
As is the case with regular travel insurance, the coverage depends on the specific policy you buy. That said, gap year insurance typically provides the following coverage:
Emergency medical insurance.
Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation.
Trip cancellation and interruption.
If you’re planning to be gone for several months to a year, your bags probably contain a lot of stuff — and you likely have some pricey gadgets, too. So, if the airline loses your checked luggage or your camera is stolen, you can make a claim with your gap year insurance.
Keep in mind that reimbursements for electronics have limits, and you need to show a receipt for the item if you make a claim.
» Learn more: The guide to baggage insurance
Emergency medical insurance
This is probably the most important kind of coverage you can get for yourself. Whether you get injured abroad, need medication or end up hospitalized, emergency medical coverage can save you from paying for medical care in a foreign country.
After the bills pile up, you’ll be thankful you had medical coverage.
Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation
If something goes really wrong with your health and you need to be evacuated to a medical facility in your home country or, God forbid, you die and your remains need to be transported back home, emergency medical evacuation and repatriation coverage will cover the expenses associated with the transport costs.
Trip cancellation and interruption
Unless you have a crystal ball, you never know what’s going to happen during your trip. Trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage applies when a natural disaster strikes, a family member gets sick or dies or when you’re hospitalized before a trip begins.
It can help you recoup some of the costs associated with canceling your trip entirely or returning home unexpectedly.
If your flight is delayed or you miss a connection and have to stay overnight, you’re covered against reasonable expenses, such as meals or accommodation. To be eligible, the delay needs to be more than a specific period of time — usually six to twelve hours, depending on the policy.
» Learn more: How to book a flight that (likely) won’t get canceled
Gap year travel insurance has a lot of exceptions when it comes to coverage. Read policies carefully to determine what is covered and what isn’t.
Although it’s not an exhaustive list, here are some common exclusions to be aware of:
Adventure activities. Adventure sports, like scuba diving, snowmobiling or bungee jumping, usually aren’t covered. You have to add an adventure pack or a sports rider to an existing policy to be covered if something goes wrong. These types of add-ons are not available via every provider.
Being under the influence. Pretty much all gap year policies exclude coverage for accidents that happen when you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Keep that in mind when you decide to go cliff jumping after one too many shots of whisky.
Countries deemed unsafe for travel. If you’re extra-adventurous and trips to more stable countries aren’t doing it for you, kudos to you, but remember that a trip to an active war zone isn’t going to be covered by a gap year plan.
Pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, certain pre-existing medical conditions aren’t covered by most gap year plans.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may still be able to get coverage for it, you’ll just have to purchase a separate plan.
How much is gap year travel insurance?
The price of travel insurance will depend on where you’re traveling, what you want covered and your age.
Let’s take a look at a couple of plans from World Nomads, its coverage limits and costs. In the example below, the insurance is for an 18-year-old traveling to Europe for 180 days.
For this traveler, there are two options available: the Standard plan and the Explorer plan. While the Standard plan comes to $499, the Explorer plan costs $716.
Cost for 180 days
Emergency accident and sickness medical expense
Repatriation of remains
Non-medical emergency transportation
Baggage and personal effects
Baggage delay (outward journey only)
Rental car damage
Accidental death and dismemberment
As you can see, for an extra $217, the World Nomads Explorer plan covers rental car damage and has higher limits for many items than the Standard plan.
At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can decide how much coverage you need.
Recommended gap year travel insurance companies
There are a lot of travel insurance companies out there, and you should do your research to determine which one best meets your needs for your gap year plans.
If you need a place to start, here are three of the best gap year travel insurance companies that NerdWallet recommends for travel insurance:
Not only do World Nomads plans include typical things like emergency medical coverage, trip cancellation and baggage protection, they also also allow you to extend your coverage from anywhere in the world mid-trip, so you can keep your plans flexible.
The company also includes coverage for many adventure activities that aren’t often covered by other plans, like shark cage diving, hang gliding and ice climbing.
There are several plans available from Seven Corners for gap year travelers. The company offers protection for up to 180 days for most U.S. residents and covers nearly every country in the world.
These plans offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage, emergency medical and accident insurance and baggage protection. They also protect travelers who incur costs due to contracting Covid-19 or have to unexpectedly quarantine.
This company offers a variety of travel insurance plans, so you can choose the exact amount of coverage you need. Whether you’re looking for minimal coverage at a lower cost or want to pay extra for a robust medical package, IMG has you covered.
If you’re considering gap year insurance
First of all, good job. You get a gold star for being a responsible traveler. Second, take a look at the policy terms, compare the costs and decide what’s right for your gap year trip. There’s a lot of fine print, so pull out your magnifying glass and start reading.
Should your plans go awry while you’re out there on the road, you’ll be glad you’ve put the time into it.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card