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Got travel plans? Don’t forget to pack a good insurance policy

Travel insurance is not something most travelers want to think about when planning their trip of a lifetime. Who wants to imagine all the things that could possibly go wrong?accidents and illness? Natural disasters? Lost baggage? Pretending “nothing will happen to me,” however, could result in shelling out loads of money if you encounter unexpected trouble while on vacation. For example, imagine the cost of being helicoptered off of a remote mountain after you break your leg while hiking. By taking a couple minutes to determine your risk and then buying an appropriate insurance plan, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you have a safety net wherever you go.

Why do I need travel insurance?

First, a lot of students (and their parents) are not aware that most U.S. health insurance plans are not going to cover them overseas. Just because your parents might have Blue Cross at home doesn?t mean a hospital in the U.K. is going to care. You don?t walk around uninsured here, so why wouldn?t you make certain that you?re covered out of the country?

Second, terrorism was not a big concern in the past, but now it is an issue that all travelers must consider. Most insurance companies have added terrorism clauses to their policies, covering part or all of your expenses should you have to cancel or delay a trip as a result of terrorism. If you purchase an insurance plan within two weeks of booking your travel, you will be covered in the event that a terrorist attack occurs in your departure or destination city 30 days prior to your scheduled travel.

What exactly does travel insurance cover?

Comprehensive plans generally cover the following: trip cancellation, delay, or interruption; medical and accident protection; accidental death or dismemberment; repatriation of remains; emergency evacuation; and lost baggage or delayed baggage.

The three things most people are concerned about are trip cancellation, medical and accident assistance, and baggage.

Trip cancellation coverage means that if you have to cancel your travel plans (such as flights or tours), any penalties you pay upon canceling will be refunded once you submit a claim to the insurance company. Of course, there are limits?you can?t just wake up on the day you?re supposed to fly and decide you don?t feel like going. The insurance applies when events that are out of your control prevent you from traveling, such as if you or a family member falls seriously ill, or if a natural disaster occurs in your area. Read all the fine print to find out exactly which situations are covered.

Medical and accident coverage are fairly straightforward?if you get sick or have an accident overseas, your medical fees will be paid. However, not all policies cover all medical treatments (such as self-inflicted injuries or accidents as a result of participation in dangerous sports), and there is a limit to the amount an insurance company will pay overall. As with trip cancellation insurance, read the policy’s fine print to find out what is covered and how much the company will pay out.

Another important thing to note is that, under most policies, you will have to pay for medical treatment up front. You will then be reimbursed once you submit a claim to the insurance company. Credit cards can be a lifesaver because you won?t have to worry about spending all of your travel money. The exception would be if you?re involved in a major accident and can?t afford to pay the hospital bill immediately (either by cash, credit card, or other means). In this case, you’d contact the insurance company and they’d arrange for emergency payment so that you can receive the necessary treatment.

Baggage coverage means that if personal items or bags are lost, stolen, or delayed the insurance company will pay for some or all of the items’ worth. Again, different plans have different levels of coverage. However, there is a clause about not covering expensive electronics in almost every plan I?ve ever seen. Generally there is a limit of paying out no more than $500 on things like cameras, watches, computers, etc. If you?re packing loads of expensive electronics (and if you?re backpacking, why would you?), be sure to take out an additional insurance plan for them.

With so many plans out there, how do you know which one to choose?

Your best bet is to head to your nearest student travel agency. They can help you go over the different plans and decide what?s right for you. For example, STA (800-781-4040) offers two types of plans?one for domestic and one for international travel. The domestic plan only covers things like trip cancellation and lost baggage or documents. The international plan, however, is comprehensive. Both plans are based on length of travel, with premiums going up to 13 months. The international plan starts at $43 for trips lasting up to eight days and ranges up to $720 for 13 months of coverage.

Travel CUTS (800-592-2887) also has a similar insurance plan based on length of your trip (up to a year)?but they do not distinguish between domestic or international travel?you?ll get comprehensive coverage no matter where you?re headed. Plans start at $39 for trips up to seven days.

StudentUniverse has links on its website to a variety of plans. Some allow you to choose only medical coverage and others are comprehensive. There is also a plan designed specifically for students who are under 26 years of age and traveling for a maximum of 30 days. The charge for this plan is three percent of your total trip cost.

Prices vary between agencies and plans, so take the time to check them all out and make sure you?re getting exactly what you need. Also, some plans have deductibles, meaning that you’re required to pay part of your bill for medical or dental care before the insurance kicks in. For example, if your policy has a $500 medical deductible and you get hurt on your trip, you’ll have to cover the first $500 of the hospital bill before the insurance company will pay the rest. The plans sold by STA and Travel CUTS do not have deductibles, but other companies’ policies may, so be sure to ask.

C?mon, seriously, nothing?s going to happen to me, why even bother?

Learn from my experience. As a travel agent, I extolled the benefits of travel insurance on a daily basis, but I never actually purchased insurance for my own trips. On my last major trip to Australia, however, I gave into parental pressures and said, “Fine, fine, I?ll buy some insurance if you?ll stop bugging me.” My second day in Sydney found me exploring not the Sydney Opera House, but the insides of various Australian hospitals after developing inflammation of the lungs. My medical bills totaled almost $800. Had I not bought the plan and had to pay out of my own pocket, I would have no doubt needed to cut my trip short due to lack of funds. Apparently, parents do know best.

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