When traveling, any number of things could go wrong -- lost luggage, trip cancellation, a medical emergency -- so consider the following types of insurance.
Travel Insurance -- Check your existing insurance policies and credit card coverage before you buy travel insurance. You may already be covered for lost luggage, canceled tickets, or medical expenses. The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information for prices from more than a dozen companies.
Medical Insurance -- For travel overseas, most health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services up front and reimburse you only after you return home. Even if your plan does cover overseas treatment, most out-of-country hospitals make you pay your bills upfront, and send you a refund only after you've returned home and filed the necessary paperwork with your insurance company. As a safety net, you may want to buy travel medical insurance, particularly if you're traveling to a remote or high-risk area where emergency evacuation is a possible scenario. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com). For general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc. (tel. 800/777-8710; www.worldwideassistance.com).
Lost Luggage Insurance -- On international flights (including U.S. portions of international trips), baggage coverage is limited to approximately $9.07 per pound, up to approximately $635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than the standard liability, see if your valuables are covered by your homeowner's policy and get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package. Don't buy insurance at the airport, as it's usually overpriced. Be sure to take any valuables or irreplaceable items with you in your carry-on luggage, as many valuables (including books, money, and electronics) aren't covered by airline policies.
If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. For most airlines, you must report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. The airlines are required to deliver luggage, once found, directly to your house or destination free.
Trip Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance helps you get your money back if you have to back out of a trip, if you have to go home early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Allowed reasons for cancellation can range from sickness to natural disasters to the Department of State declaring your destination unsafe for travel. For information, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 800/284-8300; www.accessamerica.com), AIG Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com), Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com), and Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 800/228-9792; www.travelex-insurance.com).
You'll encounter few health problems while traveling in Austria. The tap water is generally safe to drink, the milk is pasteurized, and health services are good. Occasionally, the change in diet and water could cause some minor disturbances, so you might want to talk to your doctor.
There is no need to get any shots before visiting Austria. Just to be prepared you might pack some anti-diarrhea medications. It's not that the food or water in Austria is unhealthy; it's different and might at first cause digestive problems for those unfamiliar with it.
It's easy to get over-the-counter medicine. Fortunately, generic equivalents of common prescription drugs are available at most destinations in which you'll be traveling. It's also easy to find English-speaking doctors and to get prescriptions filled at all cities, towns, and resorts. You might experience some inconvenience, of course, if you travel in the remote hinterlands.
Common Ailments -- Some concerns might arise if you're planning strenuous activities at higher altitudes. All of us, of course, are affected by a lack of oxygen at altitudes more than 2,500m (8,202 ft.). Symptoms of altitude sickness are often a severe headache, a feeling of nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, and lack of sleep.
In a nutshell, high altitude sickness most often occurs when you go too high too fast. The body needs time to acclimatize itself as you climb to higher regions. This is an extremely complicated subject, and if you plan to climb the highest peaks, read the study made by Princeton University at www.Princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html.
In winter, higher elevations might also cause frostbite. Wet clothes, wind chill factor, and extreme cold can cause frostbite. Some people with poor circulation, such as those who suffer from diabetes, are particularly vulnerable. Precautions are advised -- no smoking, no drinking, good food, and rest. As you proceed higher and higher, wear multiple layers of clothing, especially water-proof synthetics. Survive Outdoors Inc. has frostbite prevention advice on its website at www.surviveoutdoors.com/reference/frostbite.asp.
Snow blindness is caused by the exposure of your unprotected eyes to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. This often happens in conditions of great snow or ice, mostly at higher altitudes. It is usually prevented by wearing dark-lensed "glacier glasses," of the wraparound, side-shielded variety. Wear these glasses even if the sky is overcast, as ultraviolet rays can pass through masses of cloud formations.
What to Do If You Get Sick away from Home -- Nearly all doctors in Austria speak English. If you get sick, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. You can also try the emergency room at a local hospital. Many hospitals also have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life-threatening; you may not get immediate attention, but you won't pay the high price of an emergency room visit.
If you worry about getting sick away from home, consider purchasing medical travel insurance, and carry your ID card in your purse or wallet. In most cases, your existing health plan will provide the coverage you need.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before you depart. For conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert Identification Tag (tel. 888/633-4298; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hot line.
Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883 or 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in the countries you're visiting and lists of local, English-speaking doctors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435 or 404/498-1515; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on necessary vaccines and health hazards by region or country. In Canada, check Health Canada at tel. 613/957-2991 (www.hc.sc.gc.ca).
Travel Health Online (www.tripprep.com), sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable medical clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
U.K. nationals will need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC; tel. 0845/606-2030; www.ehic.org.uk) to receive free or reduced-cost health benefits during a visit to a European Economic Area (EEA) country (European Union countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) or Switzerland.
Never leave valuables in a car, and never travel with your car unlocked. A U.S. Department of State travel advisory warns that every car (whether parked, stopped at a traffic light, or even moving) can be a potential target for armed robbery. Report the loss or theft abroad of your passport immediately to the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, contact the nearest embassy or consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff, for example, can assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney, if needed.
U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or via the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html.
Austria has a low crime rate, and violent crime is rare. However, crimes involving theft of personal property have increased in recent years. Travelers can become targets of pickpockets and purse-snatchers who operate where tourists tend to gather. Some of the most frequently reported spots include Vienna's two largest train stations, the plaza around St. Stephan's Cathedral, and the nearby pedestrian shopping areas (in Vienna's 1st District).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.