Travel on the safe side

Travel and trip insurance: when to buy it, what it does and does not cover, and where to get it

The Ospedale Civile in Venice
If you have to get sick, wouldn't you want your hospital to look like the Ospedale Civile in Venice, converted from a 15th century monastery? (For the record, I got excellent care in there.)
I have never insured a trip in my life—and I travel a lot. Only once has this come back to haunt me, and I'll get to that in a minute.

Travel insurance can cover a variety of things: trip cancellation, lost luggage, medical costs, emergency evacuation, and other travel mishaps.

How much does travel insurance cost?

Insurance packages can cost as little as $40 to $60 per person and is based on age; they usually run 5% to 10% of the total value of your vacation for folks aged 30 or 35 to 60.

Shopping for trip insurance

The quickest, easiest, and most economical way to find travel insurance is to use the comparison shopping sites:

You put in your trip details, it quickly shows you a side-by-side analysis of how much a policy would cost at each of 16 major travel insurers such as Travel Guard ( and World Nomads (

Should you buy trip insurance?

Medical evacuation and assistance insurance

If all you want is the assurance you would be able to get home quickly in the event of a medical emergency, consider signing up for medical evacuation insurance.

These programs are really intended more for travel to the developing world, where medical establishments may not be quite up to par. However, some people like the comfort of knowing they can get out of Dodge quickly from anywhere with any medical problem or medical emergency (like the time my brother-in-law needed to come home from Paris for surgery following an accident—don't worry, he's fine).

There are several outfits providing medical evacuation insurance starting under $100. Peruse them all; pick the one that best suits your travel needs:


Well, that's up to you and your level of comfort with where you've spent your vacation money. If you do, there are a few things you need to know:

That time I coulda used insurance

So, when was that one time I really could have used trip insurance? A planned trip with my parents to China in spring 2003...right at the height of the SARS epidemic.

We didn't ever think we would catch SARS, a minor epidemic that was blown way out of proportion by the media, but by the final week before the date when we had to decided whether or not to change our plane tickets, China had finally started taking SARS seriously and was shutting down restaurant, museums, and other public places, so we figured our trip itself might be spoiled. So we cancelled our China plans.

Now, NorthWest Airlines wouldn't simply refund the tickets, rather they only gave us a chance to rebook them elsewhere, so it only made sense to fly somewhere expensive as we wouldn't get any difference refunded to us.

My parents ended up taking a trip to Japan, and had a great time. Frances and I used our tickets to go to Bangkok later that year, but had to pay about $150 in fare difference each, plus the consolidator who had booked the original China tickets—and through whom the airline's policy forced us to continue working—charged us a $50 change fee, even though NorthWest's policy was to waive the fee.

Also, we had had a China expert who owned a small agency helping us plan the trip and making hotel bookings and such. Well, he died just a few months later (the stress from having a business devoted to China travel couldn't have helped), so we never got our $300-per-person deposits back.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.