What is travel insurance?

A beginner’s guide to travel insurance

Your flight is booked, your hotel is confirmed, your passport is at the ready — but are you prepared for things to go wrong? Travel insurance provides you with peace of mind by protecting you from most of the potential emergencies you might encounter while traveling.

In the most basic sense, having a travel insurance plan means you can get reimbursed for many unforeseen events or expenses that may come up — be they medical, logistical, or related to your personal safety or lost baggage. Travel insurance companies provide coverage so you can sit back — or put the pedal to the metal, if that’s more your thing — and enjoy the trip you’ve spent so long planning.

Travel insurance is provided by a company of your choosing, and is usually purchased before you leave for your trip. You can buy single trip policies or multi trip annual policies depending on your plans. Most companies offer pre-packaged policies with standardized coverage for a trip.

But companies like battleface allow you to customize a tailor-made insurance policy depending on your needs, destination, and sense of adventure. When you make a successful claim, you’ll receive a refund for your out-of-pocket costs. Some benefits, such as emergency medical evacuation, may be paid for up front.

Everyone travels differently, and thus the level of coverage you and perhaps even your family member’s needs will differ depending on the trip. Factors like length of trip, destination, and what you plan to do while you’re there all come into play.

For example, the backpacker embarking on a budget, months-long trek will need vastly different coverage than the retirees heading for a week of rest and relaxation at a poolside villa. Just as a photojournalist embarking on an assignment to a rarely-visited country will require different coverage than a straightforward business trip to a major urban hub.

Age and any pre-existing medical conditions can also influence the amount and type of coverage you may need for a trip. So can participation in any adventure sports or extreme endurance activities — like climbing, snowboarding, or scuba diving — or visiting a remote destination, such as trekking in Nepal. If your trip falls out of the norm, then it’s likely a pre-packaged, off-the-shelf policy will not meet your needs.

No matter what, most trips and destinations — even ones you’ve perhaps visited many times before — require coverage of some sort. Part of the work of figuring out what kind of travel insurance policy you might need is being aware of the potential risks posed by your trip.

So remember, the more unusual, off-the-beaten track, and adventurous things you plan to do, the more you’ll want to scale up your coverage in case of an emergency. Make sure you do extra due diligence to see what your policy may cover if you’re taking on extra risk.

Once you have selected a policy and purchased insurance, be sure to take your policy number and the emergency assistance telephone number with you on your trip alongside all your other essential travel documents. You’ll need these should you need to get help when you’re traveling.

After all, travel insurance isn’t much use if you’re not able to use it when you need it most.

What does travel insurance cover?

It’s a fact of travel that when things go wrong, they tend to go very wrong. The moment you think “I really need travel insurance!” is often way too late. As such, you’ll want to have trip insurance that prepares you for most potential emergencies long before those events ever arise. And hopefully, they never will.

As a rule of thumb, when you’re choosing a travel insurance policy, you should prepare for the absolute worst, rather than hope for the best. The benefits provided by travel insurance broadly fall under three categories:

  1. financial reimbursement
  2. travel medical insurance
  3. 24-hour assistance.

Financial Reimbursement

The category of financial reimbursement includes common occurrences like trip cancellation, trip interruption, baggage loss, missed connection, or trip delay. Sometimes, your non-refundable trip never even happens due to events out of your control. Or it can be pushed a few months later due to a natural disaster, emergency, or civil unrest in your destination of choice. Or perhaps you have to spend a few extra nights in an airport hotel due to a weather-related delay.

You can avoid wasting the majority of your investment and upfront costs — and not to mention unnecessary levels of stress — if you purchase travel insurance that will reimburse you for many of the costs or expenses associated with trip cancellation or trip delay. Buying such a policy as soon as possible after booking your trip will protect your initial trip deposit in case cancellation occurs well in advance of your departure.

If you or a family member have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you understand how to get protection for trip cancellation or trip interruption due to those conditions. Usually you’ll need to purchase the policy within a certain time frame in order to receive coverage for those conditions.

Also consider Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, which is offered by many providers. Just like the name says, you can truly cancel for any reason, even a bad hair day. As with coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, you generally need to purchase CFAR coverage within a set time frame. Also be aware that if you don’t cancel for one of the “standard” covered reasons, CFAR may only pay a percentage of your insured trip cost.

Travel Medical Insurance

The most vital aspect of a comprehensive travel insurance policy is emergency medical coverage. As soon as you leave your country of residence, your ability to access affordable medical care changes significantly and medical expenses can quickly add up.

Remember, there is no guarantee that your usual health insurance coverage will be valid abroad, and even if it is, it may be very difficult to make a successful claim on it. You want to make sure that in the event you end up sick or injured, you won’t be left with a huge medical bill after receiving treatment. This is especially important if you’re over 60 or traveling with a medical condition that puts you at higher risk.

Even if you’re young, fit, and healthy, however, receiving treatment for common mishaps like road accidents or a broken leg can be financially prohibitive abroad without travel medical insurance. Put simply, your health and safety is never something you want to take a chance on — and that’s especially true when traveling far from home.

Emergency medical evacuation is a valuable component of any travel insurance package, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Most people don’t realize how expensive medical transportation can be — an air ambulance can easily cost $100,000 or more. Emergency evacuation coverage will generally pay that cost up front, and help coordinate your care (see next section). If you don’t have that coverage, your family and friends may be scrambling to try to raise funds to get you to an acceptable medical facility or find a way to get you back home.

Serious sickness or injury while traveling can happen to anyone, regardless of health or age. So it’s important to prepare for the worst, as unpleasant as it is to think about. This includes accidental death and dismemberment coverage, which is also generally included in this category.

24 Hour Assistance Services

When the worst happens, you want to have an assurance that you can quickly reach a competent travel assistance expert who will coordinate your medical care anywhere in the world. Then, that person will make necessary arrangements to get you to an adequate medical facility for treatment, or even coordinate an evacuation to your home country with a proper medical escort. This is absolutely essential.

In addition, crime happens everywhere — and that means it can happen while you’re traveling, too. Not only will you want to be covered in cases of theft and robbery of your personal belongings, you’ll also want a travel insurance plan that can help you access the right authorities or relevant assistance in such a situation. That support can also help you replace your vital travel documents should you need to.

While you should always seek help from local authorities first, nearly every travel insurance company provides a 24-hour global assistance helpline so you can seek expert help in emergencies such as these. These assistance services can run the gamut from simple requests — such as travel advice or helping with alternate travel arrangements — to more complex, serious situations, such as an injury or illness which requires coordination with local medical professionals, including medical evacuation.

Add-on Coverage

What if you’re renting a car on your vacation? The insurance offered by the car rental company can be very expensive, but many travel insurance plans offer rental car coverage that will pay for loss or damage to the rental car. If you have rental car coverage, you won’t need to make a claim with your own auto insurance company, which could raise your rates.

In addition, more people today are traveling with their pets, especially on drive vacations. Some travel insurance companies offer pet insurance, including pet medical coverage and reimbursement for expenses to return your pet home in case you get sick or injured on the trip.

Travel insurance: an essential part of any trip

If you’re lucky, you’ll never need to make a claim on your travel insurance. But if you travel far and wide enough, it’s likely you may need to make use of travel protection at least once during your adventures.

Researching travel insurance policies isn’t something to relegate to a frantic search at the gate right before you board your flight. It’s worth taking some time to compare, do research, read the fine print, and make sure that you’ve got the amount and type of coverage you need.

All in all, the process of buying travel insurance shouldn’t deter you from a trip by making you fixate on everything that could go wrong. On the contrary, it should make you feel confident that you’ve prepared for every eventuality and that you know exactly where to reach assistance services if things don’t go to plan. From there, you can focus on having a great trip — wherever you may end up.

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