No one in their right mind would take a vacation this summer without a little protection. And I’m not talking about sunscreen, either. 

“With the uncertainties of COVID for summer travel, a comprehensive trip insurance policy is a must,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage

Travel protection such as insurance or a medical membership used to be optional for travelers. But post-pandemic, it’s pretty much mandatory. In some cases, it’s literally a requirement. Many European countries require health insurance coverage for your visit, and more are doing so every day.

Increased demand for travel protection

“We’re seeing increased excitement for travel paired with an increased demand for travel insurance,” says Karisa Cernera, senior manager of travel services at Redpoint Travel Protection. The Redpoint team has been staying on top of insurance requirements, which are changing by the minute. They’re complicated.

“We recommend that clients review official government websites at their travel destination for the most up-to-date entry requirements,” she adds. “Many destinations are now requiring travelers to purchase travel insurance which protects against COVID-19 related losses and medical needs.”

In fact, there’s a list of things your travel protection absolutely must have this summer. If you’re booking a vacation soon, you need to know what they are, say experts. 

So how do you fail to protect your summer vacation? By not reading your insurance policy carefully. By ignoring the “free look” provisions that let you get a refund if you have second thoughts about a policy. By ignoring COVID-19 and other medical expenses and assuming that travel insurance is all you need. And by being clueless about what’s not covered.

By the way, I know a thing or two about protection. I run a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers, and we get a lot of travel complaints. In more than half of those cases, having insurance or a medical evacuation membership could have helped avoid the problem.

Here’s what travelers want this summer

A new survey of summer travelers conducted by World Nomads conducted suggests most people are concerned with having to call off their trip because of another COVID-19 surge:

  • 43% of respondents considered trip cancellation the most important component of travel insurance
  • 31% said emergency medical and dental coverage was essential.
  • 27% wanted COVID-19 coverage. 

“The data shows that the potential risks of COVID-19 still dictate the travel mindset,” says World Nomads spokeswoman Lisa Cheng. 

People are paying attention. At Texas A&M University, officials stopped just short of requiring their study abroad program participants to buy insurance. 

“We aren’t requiring students purchase additional insurance,” says Holly Hudson, executive director of the education abroad program at Texas A&M University. “However, all students are strongly encouraged to purchase additional insurance that will cover their expenses in the case that their flight or program is canceled or if they are recalled to the U.S. because of COVID-19.”

You never know what might happen this summer

Summer travel can be unpredictable in other ways, say experts. “The summer months also bring varying weather conditions, storm warnings, and hurricane season,” notes Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners. “If you are traveling to a destination that may be particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, stay alert and research how your travel insurance plan may ease the stress of potential dangers with disaster coverage.”

Read the fine print on your insurance policy (then read it again)

That’s the advice of John Thomas, an associate professor of hospitality law at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. “The key legal term in a travel insurance policy is force majeure or, in plain English, conditions beyond the control of the air carrier or cruise line, railroad or hotel,” he explains. “The specific conditions should be listed and should include flight interruptions due to: natural disasters, insurrection, labor strikes, bridge or highway closures, pandemic illness outbreaks at origin or destination and government restrictions on travel or business.”

Problem is, many travelers don’t review the fine print — so they don’t know what is and isn’t covered. Professor Thomas says good travel insurance should also provide for reimbursement to travelers despite any offer for a credit for future travel by the airline or cruise line, railroad or hotel. 

Take a free look before you commit

Little-known fact: Some policies let you try before you buy. “Look for travel insurance policies that offer a free-look period and use that time to read your policy, so you understand what it covers and doesn’t cover,” says Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Travel. (Their policies allow for a 15-day period before it becomes nonrefundable.) What if you don’t like the policy? “You can purchase a new product or cancel your policy for a full refund,” says Durazo.

Does your insurance cover COVID-19?

It should, says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing at Travelex. “Even with COVID-19 cases declining, there is still a risk of contracting the virus before or during your trip. You will want to ensure that your travel insurance plan covers COVID-19 like any other illness,” she says.

But what does that mean? If you, a traveling companion, family member or business partner, fall ill before or during your trip, you may be eligible for trip cancellation, trip interruption, emergency medical or medical evacuation coverage. 

“Some travel insurance providers consider COVID-19 a known event which means you may not be eligible for coverage,” Buggy warns.

Protect your summer trip by covering medical expenses

“Every travel insurance policy right now should include accommodations for medical needs,” says Ravi Parikh, CEO of RoverPass, a campground booking website.”It’s important to be prepared for the worst-case situation: a positive COVID-19 test while traveling. Before signing onto any policy, you should read it carefully and or reach out to the provider to ensure this is one of the provisions.”

RoverPass recently partnered with Generali Global Assistance to offer access to its network of medical care providers to people who use its booking service while traveling. Parikh says he thinks companies in the travel industry must do their part to ensure their clients’ safety while preventing the spread of COVID.

You may need more than travel insurance

Most travelers are interested in protecting their trip investment if they have to cancel, says Laura Heidt, the insurance desk manager at Brownell Travel. Instead of future credit vouchers from suppliers, insurance offers money back. But you may need more, she notes.

“Additional medical transport coverage makes sure that if you do get sick, or injured while traveling you can be moved to a hospital at home for treatment and recovery,” she says. “A medical transport membership like Medjet can get you moved to a hospital at home.”

Here’s the thing: Most people think of medical transportation as being exclusively for international trips. Not so, says Heidt. “It can be just as inconvenient, for you and your family, for someone to be stuck in a hospital just a few states away as it is to be stuck halfway around the world,” she adds.

What if you have to evacuate?

“While traditional travel insurance might offer coverage for incidents like terrorism, pandemic, or natural disaster, it may not include the costs of specialized travel assistance services used to help you escape danger or evacuate if something goes wrong during your trip,” says Stephen Dalton, a spokesman for FocusPoint International’s CAP Plan.

Evacuation membership plans offer an extra layer of protection. If something goes wrong on your trip, they offer access to experienced, multilingual travel specialists. These pros can coordinate in-country emergency response and assistance services, including evacuation.

Is everything covered? I mean everything

Travelers should make sure all of their expenses are insured, says Sherry Sutton, vice president of marketing at Travel Insured International. That includes transportation, accommodations, and any tours. One major mistake inexperienced travelers make is failing to insure everything.

“Purchase a travel insurance plan with trip cancellation coverage, and insure their full, non-refundable trip cost,” she says. “It’s recommended that you thoroughly review all the covered cancellation reasons. Canceling for a covered reason can reimburse up to 100% of your insured trip cost.”

By the way, if you think you may need to cancel for a reason that’s not covered, ask about a “cancel for any reason” policy. While it’s a little more expensive (10% to 12% of your overall trip cost), you can cancel for any reason and get a refund of between 50% and 75%.

Also, understand what’s not covered

“While it is important to understand what is covered in your policy, it is equally important to understand what is not covered,” says Joey Levy, a travel advisor with Embark Beyond. “Most standard travel insurance policies do not cover fear of a pandemic, which includes things such as border closures or government travel restrictions. The only way to avoid that? A “cancel for any reason” policy.

And now you know how to protect your summer vacation. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen.