The ocean breeze fills your nose as the sun begins to turn you tanner – could this vacation be any sweeter? But suddenly, clouds block out the rays and a thunderous bolt of lightning sends you scurrying to gather up your towel and island drinks amidst drenching rain and pounding waves. The next thing you hear: The island has been evacuated due to an oncoming storm.

Your vacation is ruined! It's a good thing you bought travel insurance ... or is it? Did you get hurricane coverage? Or did you skip that extra $20 amendment? Don't let a simple oversight destroy your vacation. In this article, we'll show you why you should increase your policies before you take your vacation, along with which coverage you should avoid.

Tutorial: Introduction To Insurance

Even the Best Laid Plans Can Go Awry

Travel insurance provides a way to anticipate the unexpected. It can help you protect against a myriad of events, including weather-related issues, baggage loss, airline delays and cancellations, accidents or illness, and much more. There are policies available to cover every eventuality, including missing your tee time on the golf course. Some policies even give you the option to cancel your trip for any reason at all.

In addition to protecting you against losing the money that you spent on your trip, you can find policies that provide medical coverage. Medical expenses can be a particularly important part of travel insurance coverage, as many health insurance providers do not provide services if you're outside of your country of origin. Is My Health Insurance Good Abroad? can give you the details.

Ensuring You're Insured

Nobody wants to think about the worst-case scenario when planning a trip, but there are a whole host of reasons why you might need some protection. Tropical storms, such as hurricanes, come immediately to mind. Destinations in hurricane-prone areas may offer their own guarantees, ranging from money-back offers to credit for a return trip. Travel agencies that book a lot of trips to these areas may also offer some type of coverage, as do cruise ships. (Read Insider Tips for Saving on Cruises for insight into an economical way to travel in style.)

Floods, fires and other natural disasters either at home or at your intended destination may also prevent you from making your trip. Less severe, but also disruptive, is the prospect of a rainy weekend at the beach, a broken-down car or traffic on the way to the airport that makes you miss you plane. Personal injury, the need to attend a funeral, an unexpected job interview or the illness of a travel companion could also cause you to cancel. Terrorist activity, even in popular European destinations, could also force you to change your travel plans.

Check Your Existing Coverage

Before you shell out the equivalent of 5% to 8% of the cost of your trip for insurance, be sure to check if you have existing coverage from other sources. Hotels and cruise lines may offer at least some assistance with the cost of your accommodations. Travel agencies may cover even more. If you used a credit card to pay for your trip, the credit card company (particularly if you used a gold or equivalently ranked card – see The Best Credit Cards for Travel Insurance) may even provide similar insurance at no extra cost. Your homeowners or renter's insurance policy may also cover lost luggage. (To read more about this type of insurance, read Insurance Tips for Homeowners and Insurance 101 for Renters.)

An existing life insurance policy should already cover you in the event of death, and it may cover serious health issues as well. (To learn how to read your current policy, see Understanding Your Insurance Contract and Exploring Advanced Insurance Contract Fundamentals.)

Shop Around

Your existing coverage may not pay if you miss a flight and need to change airlines and book new tickets. Likewise, the cost of a hotel room may not be covered if you are stuck at the airport. Rental cars are another potential cost if you need to find an alternate way home or to your destination. Think through your trip carefully and put together a list of items you would like to have just in case something doesn't work out as planned.

To get the coverage that you need, you can contact your travel agent or shop online. Whatever you do, buy from a reputable insurer that offers round-the-clock assistance. That internet bargain may not be such a great deal if you are stuck in the path of an approaching storm and don't have anyone to call for help. You'll also want to compare prices to make sure you aren't overpaying. The most convenient source of insurance may not always be the best priced.

Just as there are policies available to cover nearly every eventuality, there are pages and pages of fine print that include provisions, such as how quickly you must file a claim and how close to your destination a particular storm must hit in order for your policy to pay the claim. Make sure that you read all of the information the insurer provides. You want to know exactly what is covered, what isn't covered, how to file a claim and what happens if the trip is canceled. Some policies reimburse all of your costs, others have a cap on the amount they will pay or pay only a percentage of your expenses. Certain policies don't reimburse you, but do provide a travel voucher that can be used at a later date. (To find out which policies you can avoid, read 15 Insurance Policies You Don't Need.)

The Bottom Line

Plenty of people take trips every year without encountering any difficulty at all. While the added expense of vacation insurance may not be worth the money if you are taking an inexpensive trip or have booked at the last minute and leave in just a few days, the peace of mind that it offers may be just the ticket you are looking for if you have just booked the trip of a lifetime or if your departure date is months in the future.

For more insight on how to minimize your risks while on vacation, read Travel Tips for Keeping You and Your Money Safe.

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