ADVERTISEMENT

I'm where no one wants to be on vacation -- the emergency room.

I scratched my cornea -- painful, but not life-threatening, though it certainly managed to derail my plans. While my family heads off the next day, I have no recourse but to lie quiet with a patch over my eye, oblivious to the gorgeous mountain view in Vail, Colo.

But at least the incident hasn't derailed my budget, thanks to travel insurance. I hate to tell you this wasn't the first time I found myself in the ER on a vacation where travel insurance more than paid for itself (travel insurance typically costs 4 percent to 8 percent of the trip) in out-of-pocket expenses.

You might think travel insurance is for those taking a cruise or an exotic vacation, but according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, a growing number of families agree with me. Some 120 million people have insured themselves against travel-related loss -- up 35 percent in recent years.

I've come to believe it is a good investment when you travel with your family -- and that includes your college and high school kids heading off on spring break with their friends. Some policies cover children and teens free. (Check out the Travel Guard Gold policy, www.travelguard.com, and those from www.AccessAmerica.com.)

Many credit cards and homeowner's policies don't cover everything you might need and health insurance plans may not provide direct payment to foreign hospitals. (In my case, the Colorado hospital billed the travel insurance company directly.) They may also have deductibles and won't cover the cost of emergency medical transportation (travel insurance paid for an ambulance after a ski injury). Many travel insurance policies don't require deductibles.

Whatever policy you buy, just make sure to read the fine print, says Linda Kundell, a spokesman for the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (www.ustia.org). "People need to be aware of what is covered and what is not covered," she said. For example, if you have paid for a cruise, can you cancel for any reason? Are you covered if you get in an accident with the rental car? Are you covered if your baggage is delayed (typically it has to be delayed 24 hours). Are the kids covered free? (It may be one child per insured adult.) Are you covered for meals if your flight is delayed? Are you covered if bad weather delays you? Are you covered in the case of a natural disaster? Review the policy carefully before you purchase.

"The odds that something will complicate or possibly derail a family trip has become the norm rather than the exception," observes Jim Grace, CEO of www.insuremytrip.com, the leading consumer-oriented website that enables you to compare policies from around the world.

But how do you choose the right policy? Grace explains, the most popular travel insurance is a Package Policy that offers broad protection, including coverage for trip cancellation, interruption, lost baggage and most important, medical and emergency evacuation that could run you thousands of dollars. The $40 to $80 you'd spend to insure a $1,000 trip would seem like small potatoes if you face an emergency.

If your high school and college kids will be traveling, check out policies like those from www.worldnomads.com that are focused on the independent and adventurous traveler and are flexible enough to allow changes when their plans do. These policies can be less expensive in part because they are offered totally online and focus on the key aspects of the coverage travelers need, rather than "items we feel are not relevant to our travelers," said Christopher Noble, World Nomads' general manager.

Hopefully, you won't need to file a claim. In that case, you've just paid for peace of mind. And that's worth a lot.