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Travel Insurance

photo LEFT: If you can't afford to lose what you've paid for a European trip, spend a little more on travel insurance. 

When our youngest son was three years old, he punctured his cheek with a stick in Seyđisfjörđur, Iceland less than an hour before our ship, the M/f Norröna, sailed for the Faroe Islands and Denmark. We managed to get him patched up before the ship's departure, but it was a close call--and if we'd missed that crowded once-a-week ferry, there's no telling when we might have been able to book passage for ourselves and the Danish rental car that we'd left in the Faroes--or how many thousands of dollars we'd have lost through changes in our travel plans.

On another trip, our daughter came down with a horrible stomach and intestinal virus several hours before our scheduled return from Denmark to England. There was no way she could have made the 45-minute drive from Ribe to the Danish port of Esbjerg without vomiting all over the interior of our rented Volvo. Fortunately, a local clinic was able to control her symptoms in time for us to catch our DFDS Seaways ferry, but it was a close call.

More recently, in 2006, I was hospitalized in Rome for 18 days after a freak accident with a camera bag. (See article.) If I'd been in a place where I couldn't have received adequate medical care, the cost of air evacuation might have been in the tens of thousands of dollars--unless I'd had MedjetAssist, which I didn't then but do now.

Our family has had other near misses over the years, and our experiences have taught me one thing: If you can't afford a last-minute change of plans, travel insurance is a worthwhile investment.

What insurance covers

Travel policies typically include any or all of the following coverages:

Trip cancellation and interruption. If an emergency occurs right before or during your trip, this coverage will pay for losses from non-refundable airline tickets, cruise and tour deposits, etc.

Trip delays. If you miss a flight, get sick in transit, etc., the insurance company pays your extra hotel and travel expenses.

Medical expenses. When you're hit with a hospital, doctor, or dental bill overseas, the insurance company will pay instead of making you pay cash and seek reimbursement from your medical insurer back home.

Emergency medical transportation. If you have a coronary or break your neck on the North Cape of Norway, the insurance company will pay for ambulances, medevac flights, etc. In many cases, it will also pay for your flight home. (I signed up with MedJetAssist after my scary experience in Italy.)

Lost or damaged baggage. The insurance company pays the actual value of your missing bags or items (unlike airlines, which have limited liability). In most cases, the company will also pay for "essential items" (such as underwear and toiletries) purchased while waiting for delayed baggage to arrive.

Also, some--but not all--policies cover:

Default by a travel provider. If your travel agent, tour packager, or airline goes bankrupt and you can't get your money back, the insurance company will provide a refund.

Terrorism or civil unrest. If you're unable or afraid to visit a country where bombing, rioting, etc. has occurred, the insurer will refund the cost of your trip cancellation. (At least one company stopped issuing such coverage in the wake of the September, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., so check policy terms before you buy. For more information, see our article on "Travel Insurance Revisited: Terrorism and Supplier Default.")

Next page: Special coverages, Web links


In this article:

Also see:

"Best of the Web"
- Forbes and The Washington Post


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