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Do you need travel insurance?

Make sure you are covered if you lose your wallet while traveling.

Question: I'm planning to surprise my family with a cruise for Christmas and have been offered travel insurance. Is it important to purchase travel insurance?

Answer: The two main reasons that people buy travel insurance are to protect their trip investment if an emergency causes them to cancel and emergency evacuation if a life-threatening illness or death occurs while traveling.

If you and your family members are relatively healthy and you think that the odds of canceling your trip are slim, you might decide to forego this insurance. On the other hand, if you or someone traveling with you has a chronic illness or if a relative's health problem might cause you to cancel, this insurance could cover your financial loss.

When you purchase travel insurance, you are generally offered a bundle of benefits including trip cancellation, trip interruption, emergency evacuation, accident and medical expenses, luggage delay and loss and emergency cash assistance. Rather than buying the entire package, ask about specific coverage that is important to you. For example, you may be buying duplicate coverage for health problems. Check your own insurance policy to determine how it would cover medical treatment while you are traveling.

Travel insurance is highly competitive, so don't buy the first policy offered. The cost of insurance depends on a number of factors including the cost of your trip, the length of time you'll be traveling, your age and overall health and type of trip you'll be taking. Do some comparison shopping on the Internet or telephone before making your purchase. Plan to make your decision within a week of booking your trip. Most companies will waive pre-existing health conditions if you purchase the travel insurance within a stated number of days after you book your trip.

For trip cancellation coverage, you'll want to know if the policy will cover you if a) the tour company cancels, b) someone in your family gets sick or dies, c) bad weather prevents you from traveling, d) you have jury duty, e) you experience a natural disaster at home, and/or f) a loss of job occurs.

One of the best ways to compare insurance prices and coverage is to start with insurance offered to professional groups. For example, if you are 1) between the ages of 12 and 25, 2) a student enrolled in a program leading to a diploma or degree, or 3) a teacher or faculty member at an accredited institution, you are eligible to apply for an international identity card that will give you travel insurance coverage and a number of other benefits for $22.

Frommer's Web site suggests a number of travel insurers such as Access America (800-284-8300), Travel Guard International (800-826-1300) and Travelex Insurance Services (800-228-9792).

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