Travel insurance: Preserve your vacation investment

In January I was scheduled to travel away from my home in cold, dark Anchorage to the warm, bright beaches of the Turks and Caicos. It was a sanctuary vacation I had been looking forward to for months, and I gleefully packed swimsuits and sandals in anticipation. I also managed to ignore a nagging tickle in the back of my throat, assuring myself that it would certainly go away in the tropical air.

A week later I was bedridden with the worst virus I had ever experienced. Feverish, unable to swallow, eat or talk, I went to the doctor, who took one look at me and said I would be crazy to climb aboard an airplane, even if it was to the Caribbean. "Unfit to fly," was what she said, actually, and wrote a letter for me to send along to the airlines and resort.

"I assume a travel expert like you purchased insurance, right?" she asked.

Travel insurance policies can protect you, or those in your party, in the case of an emergency while you are traveling, yes. But they also can protect you in the event of a thing called "trip interruption," as was my case. It's expensive to travel out of Alaska, as most of us know. Additionally, as individuals grow older, there is a greater chance for trips to be canceled or altered for medical reasons.

If your voyage was cancelled unexpectedly, would you easily accept the financial loss of cost for air, boat or auto expenses? If a medical issue arose with someone in your party, and he or she needed an evacuation from your destination, could you cover that cost? Unpredictable expenses are inevitable while traveling, but major costs related to health or safety can quickly add up and deplete a bank account.

Making the choice to purchase travel insurance should be determined by the nature of your trip, its cost, who you'll be with. A well-vetted policy will cover what you need at a price that fits budget, so careful investigation well in advance of departure dates is imperative.

Insurance is also not a "one-size-fits-all" solution. Depending on your individual circumstances and the type of trip you're taking - for business or pleasure; adventure; or relaxation - travelers may need a specific type of coverage or have special concerns to address. Older travelers also need to be honest about capabilities, medical needs and access to care, should it be necessary.

It is important to compare travel insurance plans, as many are offered that cover a wide range of needs for an equally-diverse population of people. I like the Travel Insurance Review, a clearinghouse of sorts that not only provides a comparison tool for plans, it also has an easy-to-follow "cheat sheet" for new policy buyers.

Before you click on the website, however, here are the basic offerings surrounding travel insurance:


Comprehensive travel insurance plans offer the most benefits of all plan types, making the best broad-based protection for your trip investment. Comprehensive plans can be used for both pleasure and business travel, which make them a great deal for just about anyone. The plans provide trip cancellation, but also can apply coverage for trip interruption, lost or damaged baggage, medical or dental needs, emergency evacuation, 24-hour traveler assistance and accidental death benefits. Note: These benefits are very common for comprehensive travel insurance plans, but they can vary, so ask when checking out each plan. Cruise insurance is also covered with a comprehensive plan, and additions include a "Cancel For Any Reason" (CFAR) clause.


A medical travel insurance plan offers specific, defined coverage for an individual traveling abroad (out of the United States). These plans are only available to travelers who are leaving their home country and require medical insurance that will fill any gaps in their primary health insurance coverage. It is highly recommended that travelers considering medical travel insurance contact their primary insurance agency before signing any policy to determine the level of medical coverage you will receive while traveling abroad. If you are primarily concerned about emergency medical care when you are outside of your home country, a travel medical plan could be the best answer for you.


An emergency medical evacuation plan provides transport assistance in the event that you become seriously ill or injured while traveling. Generally, these plans provide emergency medical evacuation to the nearest appropriate care facility if the assistance company and the physician feel you'd be better suited at a different facility, like a small emergency room not equipped to care for your particular illness or injury. Some emergency medical evacuation plans allow policy holders to stipulate the hospital to which they would like to be transported, so it pays to exercise due diligence prior to purchasing a policy. This "hospital of choice" benefit and the availability ranges by plan. Some plans include this benefit, but others allow it to be added-and some do not have it available at all. Most plans also include coverage for repatriation of mortal remains.

Special considerations for over-50 travelers

As I found out in January, the older we get, the more medical coverage in general weighs on our minds. There are several ways that you can be sure to be covered for emergency medical care while traveling, including on a cruise. When you purchase a comprehensive plan, it will include some amount of emergency medical coverage. This coverage usually acts secondary to your primary health care, filling the gaps of coverage.

If you are concerned about a pre-existing medical condition limiting the amount of medical coverage you may be eligible for, purchase your travel insurance plan as early as possible. Many comprehensive plans offer pre-existing condition waivers which allow coverage for medical care needed due to pre-existing conditions, as long as you are eligible. However, one of the eligibility requirements is purchasing a plan within a set number of days after making your initial trip payment.

How did I make out? Fortunately, I had purchased comprehensive insurance, since I had never traveled alone to this part of the world. I submitted my paperwork after filing a claim with Allianz Global Assistance and was very satisfied with the outcome. I was lucky as the outcome could have been very different if I hadn't taken an hour out of my day to start the travel insurance ball rolling.

Erin Kirkland is an Anchorage-based freelance writer covering travel and tourism issues.