Travel Insurance: An Essential Guide for All Travelers

This guide to travel insurance will make sure that you have the best travel experience possible. Travel insurance covers trip cancellation, whether by you or the airline, missed or delayed connections, illness or injury, natural disasters, terrorism, baggage or passport loss, or emergency services. Start shopping for travel insurance now with our guide below.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Travel is fun. It is about seeing new things and experiencing new locations, foods, and cultures as well as learning more about the world around us. But travel can also bring a host of difficulties from airport delays to unexpected costs, lost luggage, and trip cancellations.

One of the best ways to protect your trip and make sure that you have the best travel experience possible is with travel insurance. This type of insurance, which can cover an array of travel mishaps and inconveniences, is a quick and inexpensive way to give you peace of mind during your vacation.


The US Travel Insurance Association notes that illness and natural disasters can derail travel for an astonishing 1 in 6 American travelers, but that only 22% of those impacted will have travel insurance.

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Why You Need Travel Insurance

There are many risks, just like there are many rewards, associated with travel. There are many reasons to purchase travel insurance, including trip cancellation, whether by you or any vendors you are using for travel, and missed or delayed connections, illness or injury, natural disasters, terrorism, baggage or passport loss, or the need for emergency services.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also point out that illness can happen anywhere and that when traveling the quality, availability, and cost of medical care can vary widely. Whether you have travel insurance or not, consult the CDC’s information on traveling with underlying illnesses and purchasing travel insurance.

What Travel Insurance Covers

Travel insurance covers many things, but it is important to know exactly what your policy covers. Yale notes that there are 5 basic things covered by travel insurance: trip cancellation, medical emergencies abroad, emergency evacuations, lost or delayed bags and flights, and 24/7 phone assistance worldwide.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation also notes that for people with medical conditions, travel insurance can be invaluable, as it can not only cover medical issues but also lost or stolen baggage, which is something that is crucial for those traveling with medical devices or essential medical equipment.

What Travel Insurance Doesn’t Cover

It’s also important to understand what your travel insurance doesn’t cover. For example, many travel insurance policies do not cover mental illness, according to NPR. Also, travel insurance may not cover medical help or assistance from an existing medical condition or disability, as noted by Mobility International USA.

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Travel Insurance Provided by Your Credit Card

Credit cards are a great way to pay for trips, especially if you pay them off and avoid paying interest. Sometimes you can earn miles that you can use on future trips, it’s easier to dispute any unauthorized or fraudulent charges, and there are many other perks that can make travel easier. notes that some cards may even have travel insurance as a free perk for using them!

The Minnesota Department of Commerce also points out that reviewing your credit card perks, as well as your homeowner’s and other insurance policies, is a great way to avoid buying unnecessary insurance and covering yourself twice if not needed.

Types of Travel Insurance

According to the Insurance Information Institute, there are 4 major types of travel insurance. Trip cancellation insurance covers you if your trip is cancelled due to cancellations on the vendor’s end, if you are unable to travel due to illness or death, or if a family member becomes seriously ill or passes away. Baggage or personal effects coverage, emergency medical assistance, and accidental death are other types of coverage. One policy may cover all or some of these types, notes the US Passports and International Travel department.

Selecting the Best Plan and Coverage Options for You

There are many travel insurance plans and types of coverage available. This can be great, but it can also be overwhelming. Consumer Reports notes that there are several questions to ask before purchasing travel insurance, such as do you already have existing coverage and the value of your belongings versus the cost of insurance.

AARP also recommends examining what your needs are as well as looking for any existing coverages and discount programs. They also note that shopping around for insurance is a great way to find the best, most affordable coverage.

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Saving Money on Travel Insurance

Smart About Money gives a list of savings tips for travelers, including a discussion about travel insurance, and the Ohio Department of Insurance notes that knowing your current coverage, as well as examining each policy closely, can save you money.


  • Examine any existing coverage, including insurance included with your credit card
  • Look for discounts – including discount programs you may already be enrolled in
  • Decide how much coverage you need
  • Be aware of travel warnings and conditions before purchasing travel insurance
  • Shop various agencies for the best prices

Avoiding Common Loopholes and Exclusions

There are many loopholes and exclusions in travel insurance policies, just like in any insurance policy. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance recently noted that some travel agencies are requiring consumers to opt-out of insurance, rather than adding it, placing an undue burden on travelers who do not want travel insurance.

Just About Travel also notes that travel insurance fraud, both on the part of insurance agencies and consumers making fraudulent claims, is a major pitfall to avoid, especially when shopping for policies.

Common Travel Insurance Questions

There are many questions about travel insurance. It’s not an insurance that is purchased for the long-term, generally, and it isn’t as familiar to most people as car, health, life, or home insurance. Adventure Cycling Association notes that you should evaluate your trip and the risks, as well as the type of activity you are participating in, in order to see if you need travel insurance.

Once you’ve decided to purchase travel insurance, it’s important to ask what your policy covers, who can purchase it, what the limits are, and what type of activity you’ll be doing, as well as who exactly is covered.

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Post Purchase Tips

Now that you’ve purchased travel insurance, there are a few post purchase steps you should take. First, you should always check flights for delays or cancellations. The San Diego International Airport, for example, has a nearly real-time list of flights that covers several days in advance.

You should also make sure to catalog your belongings that you are taking with you – taking photos of all of your belongings and saving them to a program like Dropbox, Google Photos, or iPhotos can save you time and money later if your phone or bag is stolen or lost. You could also take a photo of your insurance card and save it to the cloud, ensuring you always have access to your policy number.

These quick, last-minute steps can make sure that you have all the information you need to travel safely and confidently, and to assure that you are prepared if you do need to make a claim.

How to File a Travel Insurance Claim

Filing a claim is generally easy, with many ways of doing so. If you have travel insurance through a credit card, contacting the card company is the best way to file a claim. You will need your policy number, the date of loss, the amount that was paid by you (for retroactive claims), and what type of claim you’re making, according to Princeton, in order to file a claim. You can also call your insurance company for more information.

Student Travel Insurance

One group who may want to consider getting travel insurance is students. While many students are still covered under their parents’ health insurance plans, many of those plans don’t cover international travel, and students traveling abroad may need extra insurance.

The University of California-Berkeley notes that students should have coverage on all trips, especially abroad, and Louisiana State University notes that whether traveling as a group or as an individual (two types of travel students regularly engage in) students should have travel insurance.

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Potential Risks and Considerations

Students traveling abroad should consider several things when purchasing travel insurance. First, according to University of North Carolina, some destinations require additional written agreements and documentation, so being aware of those requirements ahead of time can save time and effort.

Second, Oregon State University notes that while study-abroad experiences are important, they can also pose risks such as illness or unsafe travel conditions. To mitigate those risks, it is important to plan ahead and have all travel information before applying for travel insurance.

Additional Resources

Purchasing travel insurance can be confusing, but it is important to explore all of your options and make sure you’re getting the best coverage for your trip. Here are some additional resources for a great, fun, and exciting trip:

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