ITIJ 196, May 2017
Travelling with a baby or young children on a gap year poses many challenges, not least finding the right insurance cover. Could this growing demographic be better served by insurers? Lucie Wood investigates.
Turn anywhere and you’ll see a story on a family heading off for a year of adventure around the world. The children are usually pre-school or in primary school, the mum and dad are having a mid-life crisis – everyone, it seems, is taking a year out from school, from work (unless it’s the portable kind as many increasingly are), from the daily grind, and are blogging about it. Some have even written a book detailing their experiences, dos and don’ts and tips for success. Few actually answer the question of how on earth did you finance it, and few talk about the nitty gritty of insurance cover for the family on an extended global trip. It’s perhaps no wonder that insurers are playing catch-up in catering for this new and burgeoning customer base.
few talk about the nitty gritty of insurance cover for the family on an extended global trip
Karen Edwards made headlines in the UK’s national press last year when she and her partner Shaun rented out their London home and used Karen’s 10-month maternity leave as an opportunity to travel to Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia. When they left, their baby Esmé was just 10 weeks old. However, finding one travel insurance policy to cover them all for a year proved to be a headache.
“I’ve worked as a repatriation nurse so I was very keen to have a good medical policy as part of the travel insurance,” explains Edwards, who writes the blog Travel Mad Mum. “It was challenging to find a policy to fit all three of us – Esmé was young and my husband has type I diabetes, which a lot of insurers wouldn’t cover. In the end, we had three or four differ
ent policies to cover us for the entire time. Then there were restrictions about not being away from home for more than 30 days, which made it very challenging.”
there is nothing yet tailor-made for a family on a gap year
Edwards recalls one period of their trip when they were in New Zealand, when she wasn’t covered or entitled to care in the country but her husband (as a NZ national) and daughter were. “However, if either of them needed to be repatriated home to London they wouldn’t have been covered,” she says. “Then, when we left we had to get more policies without a fixed address and we had to get a separate one for Shaun because the policy we had didn’t cover a medical condition. It was a mission!”
The search for coverage
Florian Fehr, head of product management at Europäische Reiseversicherung AG in Germany, admits that while the AG Group can offer a range of products, including an annual travel insurance with medical, cancellation and luggage insurance, there is nothing yet tailor-made for a family on a gap year: “For the moment, we don’t have a real customised product for a family travelling abroad for a one-year period. The limitation of the duration of the stay would, for the moment, be the most challenging issue.”
Type ‘family gap year insurance’ into Google and the overwhelming majority of results are policies catering for young backpackers. The ‘gap’ here is a tailored product for families on a year out who, ironically, may be more security conscious and risk averse than young backpackers.
The ‘gap’ here is a tailored product for families on a year out who … may be more security conscious and risk averse than young backpackers
So, what might this tailored family product look like? Martin Clark, a traveller from the UK who took a gap year with his wife and two children that turned into two years and a total of 79,000 miles, found that quotes pre-trip for his insurance varied from as little as £600 a year to over £2,000. On the family’s blog, he listed his insurance ‘must-haves’ as ‘confidence in insurer (someone with a brand to protect rather than a company you had never heard of)’; ‘repatriation to the UK if in medical need’; ‘24/7 help line’; ‘most adventurous activities covered’; ‘and a sensible price’. He also listed ‘nice-to-haves’ such as ‘volunteering covered’; ‘longer than 12 months as 14 months was our likely minimum (three school terms plus two summer holidays)’; ‘£2,000-plus of baggage cover’; ‘USA stop overs’; and ‘low excess’.
Sue Crowley, author of the book Road School, which recounts the experience she had of travelling globally and home-schooling her children, agrees that getting the right travel insurance policy was a concern: “We’re seasoned travellers and we’ve lived overseas but not having travel insurance was never an option. You absolutely need that peace of mind and when you’re travelling with your children, you can’t take risks. In particular, you need to look in detail at medical insurance.”
Edwards was very conscious of her baby’s health and made sure she had several vaccinations before she left the UK and more in New Zealand.
She is currently expecting another baby and all being well would like to do another big trip. “We’re not going to New Zealand this time so we won’t have that luxury of having [vaccinations] where the baby is entitled to [them],” she explains. “I’m currently talking to people online in different countries about where we can get the vaccinations. I don’t want to get that side of it wrong.”
But even with meticulous planning and the right insurance, as any parent knows, children can be at risk of unforeseen events. Sophie Phillips, brand manager at Alphatravelinsurance.com, says that anyone travelling abroad must take into consideration their destination and health: “In some areas, it might not be wise to travel with a young child because local medical facilities may not be capable of handling a serious illness or injury to a young infant or small child. The same consideration would have to be made for someone travelling with a serious medical condition. The local climate may also exacerbate certain medical conditions or have an adverse effect on a young child. Even something as simple as an infected mosquito bite could be fatal if the local medical facilities are inadequate.”
Gapyear.com, a website offering gap year advice, says that primary school age children (aged four to 11) are probably the easiest to travel with, will be better able to remember and enjoy the experience than babies, and have fewer connections to peer and social groups than teenagers. “A year out with children of primary school age is probably the easiest in terms of travelling long haul or going to strange new countries,” it advises. “They will be able to really enjoy and remember their experiences, to learn new skills, try new food and become more confident.”
even with meticulous planning and the right insurance … children can be at risk of unforeseen events
However, children are more complicated to travel with than babies because of the little matter of school. Under Section 7 of the 1966 Education Act in the UK, parents are obliged to ensure that their children receive adequate schooling, although home schooling is increasing in popularity in the UK and in the US (although laws vary from state to state).
“What seems to be happening is that there are more parents like us who have work that isn’t sensitive to location,” says Crowley. “There are more people commuting to work across countries, you are getting more people working overseas on a short or long-term basis. The law in the UK is that you have to give your children full-time education from the age of five. How you do that is up to you.”
Edwards agrees that the family gap years trend will only keep growing – she has had a huge response from other young families or parents-to-be who would like to do the same thing. “I had an email from a woman who said that their husband has wanted to have a baby for ages, but she didn’t because she didn’t want to give up travelling,” she says. “Now she’s realised she can do both.”
Crowley thinks that escaping the daily slog of work and school is an attractive proposition for many families: “I hear more and more people saying that it’s something they are thinking about doing since I published the book. People say I’m thinking quite seriously about doing this. I think it helps that the world is much more globalised.”
Both say that there is a huge gap in the market in terms of insurance. “I think that gap years for families are going to snowball,” says Edwards. “I get emails from people all the time asking me what they need to do, how to do it, and so on. I’ve had big conversations with people about travel insurance, travel health and vaccinations.”
Phillips says Alphatravelinsurance.com may consider updating its underwriting to accommodate this new type of travel customer. “We are constantly working with our underwriters to review our products and rating mechanisms to ensure that we can offer the best terms possible to our customers,” she says; while Florian Fehr of Europäische Reiseversicherung AG tells ITIJ that his company is ‘fully aware of this new interesting target group and will monitor the market very carefully’. ⬛