Traveling to another state, or even to a foreign country, means experiencing a new culture, meeting new people, and making memories that can last a lifetime.
It can also mean visiting a hospital in a place where you don’t have any type of medical coverage or being stranded at an airport without your luggage.
This is why some travelers opt to buy travel insurance before taking trips. In fact, more than 33 million people typically purchase this type of insurance every year.
There are five main areas of coverage that fall under the umbrella of “travel insurance.” Here are the categories, which you may or may not be able to get in one package:
- Trip cancellation or interruption insurance
- Flight insurance
- Evacuation coverage
- Medical coverage
- Baggage insurance
So, the question becomes: do you really need travel insurance?
Many people are pressured to buy travel insurance when booking trips through travel agencies, as agents typically get a commission when they sell a policy. However, this coverage isn’t one-size-fits-all, and the added expense isn’t always warranted.
The truth is that your need for coverage will depend on a few factors. Things like your age, your health, and your family responsibilities could make insurance a very smart option.
Whether or not you need to purchase coverage ultimately comes down to how much you have to lose if something unexpected happens while you’re traveling or before you leave for a trip.
Situations Where Travel Insurance Is Helpful
There are a few instances where it would be wise to seriously consider purchasing a travel coverage policy.
Travel insurance could be beneficial if you’re traveling to a country with political unrest. This is because you won’t be on the hook for expenses if you’re forced to leave early due to a political situation, or if you need to cancel your trip ahead of time due to a terrorist attack.
Likelihood of Cancellation/Interruption
Travel insurance is also worth paying for if you have personal obligations, work-related responsibilities, or health issues that could make it necessary to cancel your trip at the last minute. Trip insurance is the only thing that makes it possible for people with certain personal or professional lifestyles to plan trips without fear of losing thousands of dollars due to last-minute cancellations.
While emergencies can come up for anyone, there are some for whom unexpected situations arise frequently. If you’re one of those folks, a policy may very well be worth the expense.
Of course, medical coverage is another big reason why travelers opt to purchase coverage. However, your regular insurance company may actually cover you already while you travel. Be sure to reach out to your insurer far in advance of your trip to see if you’ll be covered when visiting a specific destination. Then you’ll know if you even need temporary medical insurance while traveling.
You should also inquire about any exclusions or prerequisites for care that are in place. It’s not a bad idea to at least purchase a small supplemental policy while traveling if you have a specific condition that could require a visit to a doctor or hospital.
It’s important to note that Medicare will not cover you when you travel outside of the country.
Why You Might Not Need Travel Insurance
There are a few individuals for whom travel insurance isn’t necessarily warranted (though you may still want to consider it…. just in case!).
Younger travelers with generally good health more than likely won’t need travel insurance. Of course, unexpected illnesses could spring up at any time. You are always rolling the dice a bit when forgoing travel insurance. But if you’re healthy, it may be worth the gamble.
Those With Flexible Careers or the Retired
Buying cancellation or interruption insurance might not be warranted if you don’t have obligations that are likely to pop up. For instance, if you’re a freelance employee, small business owner, or have already retired, there’s not much of a chance that some situation at your job will force you to cancel your trip.
One unfortunate fact is that having travel insurance doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be covered in the situations that you think you’ll have coverage.
For instance, some insurance companies that offer travel coverage will void policies if you’re traveling to an at-risk country. This is particularly true if it’s a country for which a travel warning has been issued by the State Department.
In addition, the medical insurance or evacuation insurance you purchase may not cover you if you were participating in a risky activity at the time of an accident. These include popular adventure activities than many plan to participate in while on vacation, such as bungee jumping, scuba diving, mountain climbing, or ziplining.
Learn More: 8 Ways to Stretch Your Vacation Dollar
So, if you’re purchasing travel health coverage for that scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, you should thoroughly check the policy first. You definitely want to make sure that you’re not just throwing money away!
The Cheapest Way to Get Travel Insurance
Some credit cards actually provide free trip insurance if you make payments with your card when booking your plans. Cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and the Citi Prestige® card offer thousands of dollars in coverage to traveling cardholders.
Of course, your reason for canceling a trip will have to be considered “acceptable” by the standards of the particular policy being offered, if you want to receive reimbursement.
Some acceptable cancellation reasons would include illnesses or emergency situations outside of your personal control. In addition, you would typically be covered if the hotel or airline you booked reservations with suddenly went out of business before your trip happened.
Should You Purchase Travel Insurance Before Your Next Trip?
Don’t let the date on the calendar get too close to your departure date before making a decision about insurance. You typically want to purchase your policy within a few days of making the first payment on your trip, to avoid missing any important cutoff dates.
Here are the most important questions to ask yourself before you finalize your decision:
- Can I afford to lose money on a canceled trip?
- Am I at risk for a medical event while traveling?
- Is there a chance I may need to cancel my trip?
- Am I traveling to a place with political instability?
There’s a good chance that you need to purchase travel insurance if you answered positively to any of these questions.
You may actually be able to skip purchasing insurance if you have a credit card that offers coverage for free to cardholders. Be sure to check the policies and coverage involved. And be sure remember that while some companies simply require you to pay for part of your trip with that credit card in order to receive travel coverage, others require you to pay for the entire flight/hotel/travel expense on the card.
People who travel often can save a lot of money by simply paying the annual fee for a credit card that provides coverage, instead of purchasing policies every time they travel.
Related: How to Travel On a Budget
Have you ever wished you had purchased travel coverage, when an unexpected situation arose? Or have you bought a policy in the past and been glad you did? We want to hear about your experiences!
Updated March 21, 2018 and originally published July 6, 2017.