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Dear Reader,

Consumers spend more than $1.3 billion per year on travel insurance, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. That’s a lot.

I think much of it is a waste.

As with credit-card rewards programs, the number of travel insurance providers, benefits, fees, and limitations could make any traveler’s head spin. To further confuse matters is a clashing chorus of voices — some singing the praises of travel insurance, others (like me) decrying its uselessness.

I will say, however, that there are some times when travel insurance does make sense. In today’s issue and tomorrow’s report, I’ll outline them for you.

When Travel Insurance Makes Sense

** Do you have aging parents whose uncertain health might cause a trip interruption?
** Do you have young children who could become ill right before your vacation begins?
** What are the odds of a second heart attack occurring on your 50th-anniversary holiday cruise?
** What happens if your sky-diving adventure — in an isolated region of India — goes awry?
** Would an accident abroad put you and your family in a serious financial bind?

These are all basic questions you should ask yourself when you’re deciding if travel insurance makes sense for you.
Consider: How expensive is your trip? How much is non-refundable? How remote is your destination? Are your activities highly risky?

My beef with travel insurance isn’t that I think it’s entirely unnecessary. (I travel enough to know that things do go wrong.) My problem with it is three-fold —

  1. It’s expensive.
  2. There are so many types of policies to choose from, it’s nearly impossible to know if you’ve chosen the best one.
  3. The many exclusions defined in the policies’ vast blocks of fine print ensure that the inconveniences you’re most likely to encounter won’t be covered.

I’ve been scared into travel insurance many times. But on the two insured trips when airlines lost my luggage… the three insured trips when my flight was delayed so long I missed my connection… and the one insured trip when my flight was canceled and I had to buy another ticket on another airline to make it out of the city before a big storm hit, my travel insurance didn’t cover a thing.

They get you with exclusions about weather delays (usually not covered), natural disasters (again, not covered), and time (sometimes your luggage has to be missing for 48 hours before you can file a claim). It doesn’t matter if your work conference starts the next morning and you’re forced to go shopping because all you have to wear are the jeans you slept in on the plane.

All that said, let me take a few minutes here to clarify for you the various “classes” of travel insurance so you can judge when, in fact, each could make sense —

Classes of Travel Insurance

1.    Trip-cancellation insurance. This reimburses you for non-refundable parts of a trip when it is canceled or cut short.

WHEN TO BUY IT: If your trip is expensive and non-refundable, or you answered yes to any of the questions up above, trip-cancellation insurance might be worthwhile.

WHEN TO AVOID IT: If you’re taking a quick trip away for the weekend, or if the majority of your expenses on a trip are refundable (hotel, flight, tours, etc.), then trip-cancellation insurance probably isn’t worth it.

BEWARE: If you buy trip-cancellation insurance through your trip provider, the firm may only offer a partial refund or, instead, credit towards your next vacation. Also, keep in mind that you’ll only be reimbursed for the non-refundable parts of your trip. If your hotel only docks you one night and your airline offers you a flight credit if you miss your flight, you won’t have a lot of expenses to claim. And the insurer could, in fact, offer you only a portion of your claim. In that case, you could end up with a tall stack of paperwork for a check no bigger than the amount you paid for the insurance.

2.    Baggage loss/theft or delay. This type of insurance covers checked or carry-on baggage that is lost or stolen, or unanticipated hotel stays due to flight delays.

WHEN TO BUY IT: If you’re carrying an original Monet painting or you’re checking really expensive equipment.

WHEN TO AVOID IT: All other trips.

BEWARE: Most policies don’t offer much in terms of reimbursement. And, frequently, benefits won’t kick in until the luggage has been lost 24-48 hours. Besides, your valuables may already be covered through your credit card or homeowner’s policy. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Call your credit card and insurance company for details.

3.    Flight Insurance. This insurance covers you or your beneficiaries in the event of an airplane accident where loss of life or dismemberment occurs.

WHEN TO BUY IT: If an unanticipated accident will put your family in a serious financial bind and you don’t have life insurance (or your life insurance doesn’t cover you overseas) and your credit card doesn’t automatically offer you this type of insurance, you might consider flight insurance.

WHEN TO AVOID IT: Almost always. Here again, many credit-card companies and virtually all life-insurance policies include this.

BEWARE: The fine-print exclusions on these policies make payouts rare and tedious. Make sure you read everything.

4.    Accident/Medical Insurance. This covers emergency medical care costs when you’re traveling. It’s the most important kind of insurance to consider, particularly if you’ll be traveling in a foreign country.

WHEN TO BUY IT: If you’re traveling to a developing country and your current health care insurance doesn’t cover air lifting you to a good hospital… if your current health care insurance doesn’t cover you overseas… if you’re prone to heart attacks… and maybe if your itinerary includes risky activities like bungee jumping and skydiving.

WHEN TO AVOID IT: Those in good health, with a good health care plan, might choose to opt out of this type of insurance.

BEWARE: Most insurance plans do not cover non-emergency medical situations in foreign countries (like dental surgery or lost eyewear). Similarly, most plans won’t cover preexisting medical conditions that present problems abroad. Some will cover you in case of a heart attack, but only if it’s the first one or as long as you haven’t had one in a designated period of time. Thus, the older you are, the more you may need to spend in expanded medical insurance.

Now, as I said earlier, your credit card may offer you some of these coverages. And you may find you’re covered, too, by your health-care insurance, homeowners insurance, life insurance and possibly club memberships like AAA or AARP.

Tomorrow we’ll explore that issue in more depth, and I’ll give you a list of questions to ask each provider.

For today, just know that when it comes to travel insurance, you are entering “the land of fine print,” where restrictions, limitations, and hidden fees lurk.

I’ll arm you with the right questions to ask tomorrow. In the interim, here are a few other tips to keep in mind to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth out of your travel insurance:

** Avoid buying insurance from your trip provider. Why? If the cruise line or tour company you’re traveling with dissolves, you could find yourself out of luck entirely.
** Look for providers/plans that offer 24/7 services, preferably including translators, and be sure to carry their 800 numbers with you.
** Don’t spend more than 4%-8% of the cost of your trip on travel insurance. Amounts will vary depending on the length of your trip, destination, your age, and the type of coverage.

Stay tuned…

And don’t forget to scroll down for today’s writing prompt.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

READER FEEDBACK: “I sold 11 pictures, got two more orders and…”

Hi Lori,

I know you like to hear success stories from your readers, so here’s another one of those:

I took your photography workshop in the Bahamas in November of 2005 (or was it 2006?)… and have been practicing my photography wherever we travel, taking photos of picturesque villages, wildlife, castles, flowers, pretty scenery, etc. Finally today, I had my first showing in conjunction with an organization called the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, where numerous members showcased their services and products. I enlarged 62 of my most recent photos to 8 x 10, with 11 x 14 matting, and set them up at our little market at the Chamber of Commerce building here in McAllen.

It was a real success! I sold 11 pictures, got two more orders, was asked to participate in our city’s Art Walk, which takes place the first Friday of each month from 6:00 in the evening to about 9:00, and is very well-attended, and also got a request to take pictures around town of events with the intent of publishing them in our local newspapers.

So it was a really good day for me, not to mention a great boost to my ego! If I weren’t so busy in October, I would love to attend the photo workshop in Santa Fe, but just can’t quite swing it. I’ll be anticipating hearing about other workshops you may be planning for the future, and hope I can make it then.

Thanks so much for all the great information you keep sending my way. It’s all helpful and insightful.

Best Regards,

Lily Torrez

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