COMMENT:

The kiwi may be a flightless bird, but most Kiwis take off overseas every year.

Wherever you are right now, chances are you've recently considered the merits of a break away in the sun. You might even go online and make a booking. Sweet.

The chance that something beyond your control mucks up those travel plans starts the moment you click the pay button for the flights and accommodation. Travel insurance can cover that risk, but one in five travellers don't bother with insurance and, surprisingly, almost half of all travellers don't think insurance starts until they start travelling.

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That may explain why some people don't bother buying insurance until just before they travel or they don't buy it at all, an increasing trend among those going to parts of Asia.

If you leave it to the last minute, then you can get caught out, as we've seen in the past year or so. Remember what happened when the digger cut the fuel supply to Auckland Airport? Or when Mount Agung in Bali erupted?

Trying to buy insurance to cover the cost of travel disruption after those events have happened is impossible. But if you had bought cover when you purchased the tickets, you would be covered for any additional costs incurred because of the travel disruption.

Travel insurance also covers for loss or theft of luggage, credit cards or a passport. And some of the things you may not think of, including your liability for injuring someone else or damaging their property.

Medical and evacuation costs are the biggest costs a traveller may face and can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The best way to make sure you're covered for those costs is to let your insurer know about pre-existing medical conditions when you buy your insurance. Most insurers list a raft of pre-existing conditions that they'll cover on their websites, many at no extra cost.

Others will incur an additional premium, but it's worth it for the peace of mind they bring. Hospital costs can be several thousand dollars a day. And making an insurer aware of your pre-existing conditions can help you get medical care more quickly should something go wrong.

But what if an insurer won't cover your pre-existing condition? They may simply exclude that condition and cover you for everything else. If you're not happy with that, you could shop around. Each insurer has different risk profiles. But if insurers won't cover you, ask yourself if you should risk travelling at all.

If you get sick after taking out insurance, but before travelling, you should advise your insurer. They might want to talk you through the policy again. Cover for medical costs is just for the period of travel.

If you do need to make a claim, it's important to know what to expect.

Insurance is there to put you back where you were before an event, not to leave you better off. If your clothes or camera are stolen, for example, most policies will pay what they were worth at the time they were stolen, which may not be the same as it would cost to buy them brand new.

Some items, such as estate jewellery, are valued differently so if you have anything out of the ordinary, speak to your insurer.

Very few claims are declined, and when they are, it's often because the claimant hadn't read what their policy covered or hadn't disclosed everything to their insurer. You must tell your insurer about anything that would affect their decision to insure you or the terms under which they insure you. If you don't, they may refuse to pay all or part of your claim.

If you have any questions about different types of policies, what you need to disclose, what counts as a pre-existing condition or how to make a claim, speak to your insurer. They're there to help you understand your policy.

Top travel tips

• Buy when you book.

• Shop around.

• It's worth being insured, even if there are some exclusions for major events, like storms or volcanoes.

• Disclose everything and if you're not sure what to disclose, ask your insurer.

• Understand what you're covered for and what's excluded in your policy.

• Keep receipts if you need to reschedule travel due to disruptions or you incur medical costs.

• Keep your insurer's emergency contact details on you at all times.

• Talk to your insurer if you have any questions.