Taking a year out to travel and see the world – a ‘Gap Year’ – has become more popular with young people around the globe in recent times. Students might decide to volunteer for a non-profit organisation or work abroad for a while. Travel insurers have adapted to the demand and often offer specific cover for these kinds of trips.
Gap years are unpredictable, and travellers often end up going to a destination spontaneously that wasn’t in their original travel plans. When gap year travellers choose their policy, they’ll most likely be asked to select a group of destinations to have the flexibility to travel to any that are included.
“Flexibility is going to be very important so you can adapt your travel insurance needs to the activities and locations that come your way,” a Spokesperson from Navigator Insurance said. “You might not be planning on doing that skydive when you leave the UK, but after six months experience doing extreme sports around the world, it could become a more enticing prospect. Your policy needs to reflect the need for that flexibility as things can change a lot in a year.”
Even those who are planning on getting a gap year job abroad and staying in the same location need to research their destination thoroughly for the risks and activities they are likely to encounter, and how that affects their travel insurance policy. The nature of their job might also have a significant effect on which policy they should choose, and the costs associated – for example, a teacher’s travel insurance policy will differ greatly from someone who is going to be a scuba diving instructor for a year.
Working will affect policy
Working during a gap year, whether it is paid or volunteering, will have implications on insurance cover. All manual work should be referred and agreed beforehand, as heavy manual labour cannot be covered, and many types of lighter manual work will incur additional costs and conditions.
“When it comes to gap years, we know that the average gap year traveller does far more than simply travel from one place to another,” said a spokesperson from insurer Outbacker. “That's why our policies include cover for a variety of work as standard, including admin, bar, clerical, and retail jobs abroad. A wide range of sports and adventure activities are also covered by your gap year insurance policy, from windsurfing to bungee jumping.”
True Traveller insurance explains how they adapted their cover for gap year travellers. “Our clients told us what’s important is good medical cover, but they also said they didn’t see the point paying for baggage cover when the contents of their backpacks really weren’t worth that much. Likewise, why have cancellation insurance if you’re not booking hostels and rooms in advance? We agreed, and designed our policies especially for gap year travellers, making sure you have the cover you need, but keeping prices low at the same time.”
Some of the benefits of True Traveller Insurance include medical and repatriation cover up to £10 million, cover for up to 18 months and free home visits. The policy can be taken out until the age of 65, to include so-called ‘career-gappers’.
“It also covers 92 activities as standard, including trekking to [altitudes of] 3,000m, with just a small supplement payable if you want to trek the Inca Trail or work when you’re away,” True Travellers adds. “And if you’re sitting in an internet café in Hanoi and you realise your insurance is about to expire, you can extend your policy as well. And if you’re already abroad and don’t have any insurance at all, we’ll still cover you – as long as you’re normally resident in the UK or an EEA country.”
Covid-19 changed the way gap year travellers travel
With Covid-19 forcing young people to be stuck at home, a lot of young travellers are now even keener to travel the world after borders have reopened in a lot of countries. Robin Ingle, CEO of Global Special Risk, explains: “Up until 2019, many students and exchange groups started moving away from traditional destinations to focus on non-governmental organisation (NGO) work in the developing world. Many also started working in the gig economy. The travel and tourism industries were in the past the main job market for gap year work abroad travellers.
“Then in 2020, the pandemic hit and changed the world. Travel was restricted, destinations closed borders and many gap workers returned home. In 2021, the idea of going on gap year travel or working abroad was hard to do and impossible in some areas like China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – destinations where borders did not reopen so easily to foreign travel. This has changed in 2022, Gap Holidays and Work Abroad are slowly coming back – but it will take a few years to return to 2019 levels.”
Digital products more popular post-Covid
Ingle adds that gap year products have also started to market more services. These include virtual telemedicine, virtual mental health, security information and applications like the company’s travelnavigator.io, which provide real time, localised information to assist a traveller with robust contextual information, medical links, emergency assistance (chat, email and phone), warning and full duty of care/risk management services.
“One thing to note is that healthcare and access to health services is now a very important part of a young person’s demand and is a key interest for them,” he says. “This is not like it was before Covid, when they thought that health was less important and trip cancellation and services more important. They want insured benefits, but countries are also now demanding insurance products to cover the traveller and work abroad traveller.”
Data collection is important, according to Ingle, as using digital products, e-claims, and telemedicine allows companies to understand the movement of policyholders, the type of issues they face, and the problems that they encounter. Ingle says that this information is then used then to enhance, modify, and add to current products to increase customer satisfaction and safety.
“We have our own medical underwriting digital system, designed by our health technology company NovusHealth.com. Young people have fewer issues to worry about, so many companies also do blanket statements that they will not cover unstable medical conditions or do simple underwriting asking five to eight questions only to determine risk.”
With this change in travel habits, travel insurers have had to adapt to a different demand. “So how has gap year travel insurance changed?” Ingle asks. “Travel insurance products have evolved into a hybrid of short-term travel product and a long-term expatriate plan. Prices are low because of the younger population of the insured but consider that they may be working and are living in another country for a year or more.”