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Do You Really Need to Buy Travel Insurance?

By Julia Hammond
Read time: 5 minutes

We embark on our travels with optimism, but even the best-laid plans can occasionally go awry. Travel insurance is the best way to make sure that you are covered for the unexpected, but it can be expensive. In particular, seniors or travelers with pre-existing medical conditions, can find it tricky to source an affordable policy. As such, it might be tempting not to take out travel insurance in order to save money. Wondering if you really need to buy travel insurance? We weigh the pros and cons and offer tips for buying travel insurance on your next getaway.

What Are the Main Benefits of Travel Insurance?

Overwater villas in Bora Bora
Photo credit: bl0ndie/ Shutterstock

Perhaps the greatest benefit of travel insurance is peace of mind on a vacation. On most basic trip cancellation travel insurance policies, you’re covered for events such as canceled trips, flight delays, lost baggage, or damaged personal items. More comprehensive options cover things like necessary emergency medical treatment abroad, medical evacuation, and accidental death. 

If you’ve been traveling for a while and never had to make a claim on your travel insurance, you might be tempted to save the cost of the premium. But if things go wrong, the costs incurred can soon rack up. Unforeseen medical treatment is perhaps the biggest bill you potentially face while traveling. Even if you receive emergency treatment after an accident, you may need to be transported to another hospital. The cost of medical evacuation services varies considerably, depending on distance and the level of medical care required, but can run over $50,000 internationally. And many regular health insurance plans don’t cover that cost. 

When You Probably Don’t Need It

Aerial view of Niagara Falls
Photo credit: CHENG FENG CHIANG/ iStock

When planning your travels, it’s a good idea to consider the worst-case scenario. If you’re traveling within the U.S. and your domestic flight is canceled, you might simply be able to toss your luggage in the car and drive to your destination instead. And it’s helpful to know your rights as a traveler in case of delays and cancellations — in these cases, the airline is almost always responsible for putting you on the next available flight. Yet, if a delayed international flight might cause you to miss an expensive cruise or a prepaid international guided tour, chances are you’d feel differently — and find yourself considerably out of pocket. 

Instead of buying basic trip cancelation travel insurance, you can also look for other options that will help increase your flexibility for a potentially lower cost. For example, you could book a refundable airfare (or one without change fees) or hotel rate that would offer similar peace of mind. When considering comprehensive travel insurance, remember that most health insurance policies will cover reasonable medical costs, even abroad, but if you have a more serious issue, there’s a risk it won’t be covered.

Watch Out for Common Exclusions

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Photo credit: Olezzo/ iStock

Like standard health insurance plans, travel insurance policies vary widely in the amount and scope of coverage they provide, and any pre-existing medical conditions need to be declared. Most standard travel insurance policies won’t cover adventurous sports ,unless you increase your premium — something to think about before signing up for activities like zip lining, rock climbing, white water rafting, or horseback riding while on vacation. However, some providers also class activities such as hiking or cycling in that category, so you might need to upgrade your policy to ensure you’re covered. 

Additionally, specialized travel policies can give you the option to tailor your cover to the destination for different circumstances, such as cancelation in the event of a natural disaster or for costs incurred if you contract illnesses such as coronavirus. It’s a way of achieving peace of mind, leaving you free to enjoy your vacation without worrying about what might go wrong.

Are You Covered in Some Other Way While Traveling?

Traveler kneeling on floor and packing suitcase at home
Photo credit: Pekic/ iStock

Before you purchase a travel insurance policy, check that you’re not already covered in some other way. For instance, your existing home insurance policy might already cover lost valuables such as portable electronic devices while you’re traveling. Some credit cards offer travel insurance and other travel protection perks as part of their benefits. You might also be covered in many circumstances through your pre-existing health plan through work, which sometimes covers an employee’s leisure travel as well as business trips. If you think that might be the case, dig out the policy and check the small print, as deductibles vary widely. 

Check Government Advice

Woman with back to camera holding umbrella and looking at Tower Bridge in London, England
Photo credit: Ziga Plahutar/ iStock

The Department of State recommends U.S. citizens buy travel insurance for overseas travel, offering a reminder on their website that “the U.S. government does not provide insurance for U.S. citizens overseas. We do not pay medical bills or unexpected costs.” Some countries may require you to have adequate insurance as a condition of entry. If you require a Schengen visa, for instance, it stipulates that insurance to the value of at least 30,000 euros for medical treatment is mandatory. However, rules and requirements change frequently, so plan to keep abreast of the current situation.

How to Save on the Cost of Travel Insurance

Couple with luggage cart outside of airport
Photo credit: YakobchukOlena/ iStock

Travel insurance policies can be expensive, and the average cost of plans varies considerably. However, the good news is that there are ways of saving money without compromising on coverage. An annual policy could work out to be a better value than single-trip insurance if you’re a frequent traveler. Shop around using comparison sites to compare what you get for your money and tailor your policy so that you don’t pay for what you don’t need. For instance, you could choose to reduce the amount of baggage coverage if you usually travel light or ditch coverage for electronic items already covered on your home insurance policy. 

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