Travel insurance is often seen as a “luxury” purchase or something that’s “nice to have, but not necessary.” While that may sometimes be true, especially in the case of a traveler who is planning a trip that will only involve a few days away or is relatively close to home, travel insurance is more often a prudent investment for all kinds of travelers.

The purpose of a travel insurance policy is not to guarantee that nothing will go wrong while you are traveling. Nor does a travel insurance policy inherently mean that you won’t be inconvenienced or end up canceling or changing your plans. Rather, travel insurance policies seek to provide you with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that if a delay, cancellation, or disaster does occur that impacts your plans, you will be able to recover some of the costs you may have lost and have access to assistance services that may not have otherwise been available to you.

Just as with other kinds of insurance policies, a travel insurance policy will have stated benefits, stated exclusions, and limitations. It’s not a one-size-fits-all product, so it’s crucial to read any insurance policy’s terms carefully and be sure that you fully understand them before purchasing. Often, travel insurance companies may provide a review period which allows you to purchase a policy, read it thoroughly, and return it for a refund within a specified time limit should you find that you are not fully comfortable with its terms. Since many claims issues eventually arise because travelers are not aware of the limitations of the policies they have purchased, it’s essential to do your homework and know exactly what is covered, and what is not.

Travel insurance is also often intended to act as a supplement to insurance coverage you may already have, so be aware of which coverages in any given policy are considered “primary” and which are “secondary.” The purpose of secondary coverage is to help provide you with a more complete safety net in the case of an unforeseen event that disrupts your trip. In some cases, your regular medical insurance provider may provide you with some level of medical coverage while you’re traveling, but only up to a certain threshold; a travel insurance policy with secondary coverage can bridge that gap to fully protect you against an unforeseen medical emergency that happens while you’re away from home. In other cases, homeowner’s insurance or insurance offered as part of your credit card membership may give you some protection against financial loss in the event your belongings are lost or damaged, but a comprehensive travel insurance policy can supplement those benefits with secondary coverage that will offer more complete protection.

Knowing what travel insurance is intended to do – and what it’s not – can help answer some of the most basic questions you may have about purchasing a travel insurance policy for your next trip. The best course of action, if you are considering buying a travel insurance policy, is always to prepare yourself as much as possible before purchasing by reading, researching, and understanding different policies and what their benefits may be. Keeping your expectations realistic and knowing just what you’re looking for in a travel insurance policy can help you make a more confident purchase that will be right for you.