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, 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.")
Two other types of insurance coverage are worth knowing about:
Car insurance. If you rent a car in Europe, liability insurance will be included, but you may be responsible for collision damage or theft unless you buy a collision damage waiver (CDW) and car theft insurance (LDW). Some credit-card companies offer such coverage as a free perk, but not all do--and the insurance many not apply to all countries. To be safe, you can purchase coverage from the rental firm or--less expensively--from a company that specializes in travel insurance. See our Rental Car Insurance article for details.
Homeowner's insurance. Your standard homeowner's policy may cover some losses when you're traveling, but coverage on items like jewelry may be limited, and business equipment (such as laptop computers) may be excluded. Check with your insurance agent before taking valuables with you on a trip.
Tip: Be aware that all policies aren't the same, and coverage may be subject to limitations: e.g., pandemics, "acts of God," or even the policyholder's preganancy. Christopher Elliott's "This is what travel insurance covers--and what it doesn't cover" is worth reading. (See link below).
Where to buy trip insurance:
The sites below are geared to American travelers. If you're traveling from another country, a Web search should provide any number of localized search results.
Related articles at Europe for Visitors:
Travel Insurance Revisited:
Terrorism and Supplier Default
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