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Travel Insurance

The cost of travel insurance varies, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get quotes from more than a dozen companies through InsureMyTrip.com.

U.K. citizens may find an annual travel insurance policy is cheaper. www.moneysupermarket.com compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multi-trip policies.

Most big travel agents offer their own insurance and will probably try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Britain's Consumers' Association recommends that you insist on seeing the policy and reading the fine print before buying travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers (tel. 020/7600-3333; www.abi.org.uk) gives advice by phone and publishes Holiday Insurance, a free guide to policy provisions and prices. You might also shop around for better deals: Try Columbus Direct (tel. 0870/033-9988; www.columbusdirect.net).

Trip-Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and State Department advisories. With expanded hurricane coverage and "any-reason" cancellation coverage, you'll be refunded a substantial portion of your prepaid trip cost. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia.com also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for some packages.

For details, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com); 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. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).

Medical Insurance -- For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often reimburse you only after you return home.

Check the fine print to make sure coverage extends to any adventure activities you have planned for Iceland, such as whitewater rafting, horseback riding, or winter sports. 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).

Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca).

Lost-Luggage Insurance -- On international flights (including U.S. legs of them), baggage coverage is limited to approximately $9.07 per pound, up to about $635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than what's covered by the standard liability, see if your homeowner's policy covers your valuables, get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package, or buy Travel Guard's "BagTrak" product.

Staying Healthy

Icelanders are blessed with a very healthy environment. The use of geothermal and hydroelectric power has made pollution almost negligible. Some say Iceland has the purest tap water in the world, and even surface water is generally potable. The incidence of insect, water, or food-borne infection is extremely low. In 2007, a smoking ban went into effect in bars, restaurants, accommodations, and cafes.

Iceland's extreme variations in daylight hours may wreak havoc with your body clock, so bring an eye mask to help you sleep in summer. In the short days of winter, Icelanders combat depression through the traditional practice of downing a shot of cod liver oil each morning; the oil is rich in Vitamin D, generated by sunlight on the skin.

The sun can be stronger than many visitors suspect at such a northerly latitude. Bring sunblock and lip balm to protect your skin, and sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare.

In spring and summer you may want to bring insect repellent with DEET to fend off the midges that can be an annoyance in certain interior regions. Iceland has a few bees and wasps, so anyone with an Apoidea allergy should bring a portable remedy. Bring seasick pills if you plan on any boating activities, long ferry rides, or bumpy road trips.

Outdoor Safety

Icelanders visiting the U.S. are amused by all the warning signs and guardrails. If Iceland tried to match these precautions, it would be quickly bankrupted. Always use care in Iceland's untamed outdoors. Thoroughly research the potential hazards of any journey, and talk to someone with local knowledge before setting out. Bring a first-aid kit to any remote destination.

Be prepared for Iceland's notoriously abrupt shifts in weather. For forecasts, check with the Icelandic Meteorological Office (tel. 902-0600; www.vedur.is). Keep in mind that the temperature usually drops about 1° for every 100m (328 ft.) of elevation. Even near the coastline in summer, night temperatures can drop below freezing. Always carry warm and waterproof clothing and footwear, even in summer.

Bring a map and compass for longer walks, or ideally, a GPS unit. A cell phone is also useful for emergencies, though coverage is unlikely in remote areas.

Rocks & Footing -- Rocks and rock faces in Iceland are often loose and crumbly. Hiking shoes with good ankle support are advised. Be careful not to loosen rocks that could tumble onto someone below you, and be aware of potential rockfalls or avalanches. Take special care to have solid footing on mountaintops and clifftops, where winds are strongest.

Geothermal Areas & Volcanoes -- In geothermal hotspots, most tourists know better than to stick their fingers in boiling mud pots, but other dangers are not so obvious. Sometimes unwary visitors step right through a thin crust of earth into boiling mud below. Lighter colored soil is usually the most dangerous. Stick to paths and boardwalks when provided, and always seek advice before approaching active volcanoes.

Glaciers -- Even road-trippers who seldom stray from their cars are likely to encounter a glacier face-to-face. Do not set off on a glacier without some experience or advice from a local expert. Organized trips with professional guides are the safest route. Glaciers can collapse without warning, and even a smooth surface can disguise hidden, deadly crevasses. If you walk onto a glacier despite the danger, follow other footprints or snowmobile tracks. Generally, the best time for glacier traverses is from mid-February to mid-July, with optimal conditions between March and May.

Do not venture into ice caves; even experienced guides seldom lead groups there. Also beware of quicksand that can form from meltoff at the glacier's edge.

Emergency Shelters -- The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (tel. 570-5900; www.icesar.com) maintains several bright orange emergency shelters in remote interior and coastline locations, and along some roads, often in high mountain passes. The shelters are identified on most maps and are stocked with food, fuel, and blankets. These are to be used in emergencies only. If you are forced to use something, make sure to sign for it so it can be replaced.

Search & Rescue -- Locals constantly encourage visitors to inform someone before venturing into risky areas alone. For most trips you can simply leave your name and itinerary with a local tourist information office or park warden. For more risky ventures, you should register at the Reykjavík office of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, Skógarhlíð 14, Reykjavík (tel. 570-5900; www.icesar.com); local and online registration is in the works.

General Availability of Healthcare

Iceland has very high-quality medical care and more doctors per capita than any other country on earth. Virtually all doctors speak English reasonably well. Reykjavík and larger towns have hospitals. Most smaller towns have at least one doctor and one pharmacy (apótek); if you need a doctor, ask at any local pharmacy or business. Most pharmacies are open 9am to 6pm, and over-the-counter medicines are accessible, if expensive. Iceland's barren interior is another story entirely: you could be hours from even the most rudimentary form of care.

What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home -- For emergencies in Iceland, dial tel. 112.

If you get sick in Iceland, you can usually just call or show up at the nearest hospital or health center.

Even insured U.S. citizens may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.

U.K. and E.U. citizens will need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) available at www.ehic.org.uk to receive free or reduced-costs health benefits during a visit to Iceland. The European Health Insurance Card replaces the E111 form, which is no longer valid. For advice, ask at your local post office or see www.dh.gov.uk/travellers.

Crime

Crime isn't nonexistent, but it's not much of a problem in Iceland. Outside Reykjavík, Icelanders rarely lock their doors. The country has fewer than 1,000 police officers, most of them unarmed, and the total prison population is under 200.

Simply use the same precautions you would anyplace in the world. Don't carry a purse that doesn't close. Don't openly rifle through wads of cash in the middle of a busy street. Carry your wallet in a front pocket to prevent pickpocketing. Don't carry all your money and credit cards in the same place. Keep car doors locked, and do not leave valuables exposed (use a hotel safe when possible).

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.