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Summer travel insurance tips: How to stay protected

Summer travel insurance tips

Hitting the road this summer? You're not alone. Statistics Brain reported that U.S. residents make about 657 million long-distance trips each year from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with these vacationers traveling an average of 284 miles each way to reach their destinations.

And while you might have packed the sunscreen, reserved your hotel rooms and bought that new bathing suit, have you also reviewed your insurance to make sure that you'll be protected this summer travel season?

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Plenty of companies, including the one that provides you with your rental car, offer travel insurance to reimburse you if your flight is canceled, you get sick while vacationing abroad or if someone sideswipes your rental car. The question is whether you need this extra protection.

The good news for your travel budget? Usually, you will not. Most travelers will find that their existing health, auto and even homeowners insurance will provide them with all the protection they need, whether they're taking a trip one state over or across the globe.

Here are some key insurance tips to keep in mind while you're traveling this year.

Summer travel insurance tips: What to do, and what not to do

You probably don't need emergency medical insurance: The thought of getting sick while traveling to another country can be frightening. But that doesn't mean that you should buy emergency medical insurance before your big trip. That's because your existing health insurance will probably cover your medical expenses even if you get sick in another country. 

But check first: There are some exceptions, though. If your insurance provider won't cover you once you leave the country, then you will need to purchase emergency medical insurance for your trip. And if you're on Medicare or Medicaid? Emergency medical insurance is a smart buy. Medicare doesn't cover you outside the United States at all. Medicare is little better; you might be able to get coverage in Canada and Mexico, but only in certain situations. Our best advice? Call your insurer before you leave to make sure that you are covered when you exit the country. 

Trip-cancellation insurance might make sense: What if your airline carrier goes out of business a week before your trip? What if you get seriously ill and have to cancel your hotel reservation three days before you're due to check in? Trip-cancellation insurance can help. This insurance will reimburse you for hotel reservations and airline tickets if your trip is cancelled or delayed.

But not if you're traveling on the cheap: But trip-cancellation insurance might not be worth it if you haven't spent a lot of money upfront before your trip. Say you got a bargain on your airline tickets and you're only paying $99 each way. And maybe you've only reserved one night in a hotel room for another $100. That's probably not enough upfront costs to justify investing in trip-cancellation insurance.

You probably don't need accidental death insurance: You can buy insurance that provides your survivors with a sizable payout should you die on your trip. But if you have existing life insurance, this is probably a waste of money. Your life insurance policy should make a payout to your listed beneficiaries should you die while traveling. Again, make sure to call your insurance provider before you leave to make sure.

You might already have protection for lost baggage insurance: There's always that tension at the baggage carousel: Will my luggage actually show up? Lost baggage insurance is supposed to ease that tension, and you can usually purchase it from your airline directly — where it is usually known as excess valuation insurance — or as part of a larger travel insurance package. With this insurance, you'll receive a payout, usually about $500, for every lost piece of luggage. But you might not need this insurance. Many credit-card providers offer reimbursement for lost luggage depending on the type of card you have. Visa Signature cards, for example, will reimburse you for your checked luggage. Be sure, though, to check for limitations. For Visa Signature cards, for example, you must also purchase your entire ticket with your credit card. Your homeowners insurance also might reimburse you for items you lose when the airlines misplace your luggage. Check with your credit-card or insurance provider before you leave.

You can always file a claim: Even if you don't have lost baggage insurance, your airline is responsible for compensating you if it loses your luggage. If this happens, you'll first need to file a claim. Just be aware that you probably won't receive as much of a payout as you think you deserve. Airlines will factor in the depreciation of your missing items and adjust their payout accordingly. Of course, lost baggage insurance should provide you with an extra financial payout if you invest in it.

If you pack lightly, you can avoid any worries over lost baggage insurance: You also won't need to purchase additional lost baggage insurance if you pack only inexpensive items, such as clothing, in the suitcases you are checking. If you have costly tablets, cameras and electronics, take them as carry-on items. This way, you won't have to worry about replacing them if they are lost or damaged.

Car rental insurance is almost always a bad move: When you pick up your rental car, the agent behind the counter will ask if you want to purchase insurance. Say "no." Your existing auto insurance will almost certainly cover you when you're motoring around in your rental. Most credit cards also insure you when you're renting a car. Just make sure to pay for your entire rental with your card and to refuse any insurance offered by the rental car agency. Again, it's smart to call both your credit-card provider and auto insurer to verify that you don't need any supplemental insurance.

Unless you're traveling for business: There is a big exception: If you are renting a car for business use, your auto insurance policy won't cover you. If you also don't get any coverage from your credit-card provider, investing in rental insurance might be a smart move.

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