Travel insurance is a bit of an oxymoron, in that travel has (for me) all sorts of positive associations, but insurance isn’t a fun topic even for a financial advisor. Nevertheless, one of the best ways to turn a travel snafu into a travel nightmare is NOT to carry travel insurance.

The best protection generally is the most comprehensive package, but the most important is to cover emergency costs that would be a great hardship for you to cover yourself. That is, medical evacuation is more important than lost luggage.

Insurance companies contract to reimburse the named insureds for (some) unexpected events you cannot control. There’s a lot packed into that sentence. Travel policies are not standardized the same way some aspects of medical and household policies are, so it pays to understand the nuances of terms.

Who is covered in the definition of “family”? My parents have a policy with a broad definition of family, but the policy lists his family size as “one.” He says they assure him over the phone that he and my mom are both covered, but I fear there could be a problem if they have a claim.

What is an emergency? If you’re insuring your trip because your elderly parent might need you back home, make sure your insurance covers such a contingency. If you’re concerned about a named storm along your path of travel, buying a new policy likely won’t cover an event that’s already in the news.

What is a pre-existing condition? Typically for the most comprehensive coverage including pre-existing medical conditions, you must buy a policy within 30 days of your first purchase (such as airline tickets or a travel package).

To find the best policy for your situation, start with suggestions from your insurance agent. It is helpful also to research on your own, so you understand the terms. Call up several insurers and ask questions. Your first call may leave you more confused than when you started, but by the third call, you’ll generate new questions and understand the answers.

If you are a frequent traveler, you might consider an annual policy at a fraction of the cost.

After purchasing your policy, document your trip and your valuables with photos, as outlined by travel insurer Allianz. This makes it easier to prove to the insurance company what costs you incurred. Include:

1.     Inside of packed suitcase.

2.     Receipts for anything purchased for use on the trip.

3.     Credit cards (front and back).

4.     Passport.

5.     Emergency medical information.

6.     Prescriptions.

7.     Receipts for purchases while traveling.

8.     Claim checks and valet tickets.

9.     Outside of your accommodations.

10.  Inside of your accommodations at checkout.

11.  Pet (if they are traveling with you).

12.  Pet vaccination record (same).

13.  Rental car.

14.  Anything that goes wrong while traveling.

If possible, store these photos in the cloud or some shared server, so the electronic documentation can survive the loss of your camera or cell phone. If they aren’t stored in the cloud, store them on multiple devices, such as phone and computer.

Nothing takes the place of vigilance, but unexpected events do happen. On our recent trip to southeast Asia, an Australian traveler in our group was refused entry into Vietnam because his passport was damaged. Upon examination, he saw a hairline slice off a page that he surmised must have come from a scanning machine at an airport.

Because of the distances and times involved, his only solution was to fly back to Australia to replace his passport. He joined us a day late, frustrated and tired but expecting to be reimbursed by travel insurance.

I hope he’s right.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Karen Telleen-Lawton is an eco-writer, sharing information and insights about economics and ecology, finances and the environment. Having recently retired from financial planning and advising, she spends more time exploring the outdoors — and reading and writing about it. The opinions expressed are her own.