Although it's not required of travelers, health insurance is highly recommended. Most health insurance policies cover you if you get sick away from home -- but check your coverage before you leave.
International visitors to the U.S. should note that unlike many European countries, the United States does not usually offer free or low-cost medical care to its citizens or visitors. Doctors and hospitals are expensive, and in most cases will require advance payment or proof of coverage before they render their services. Good policies will cover the costs of an accident, repatriation, or death. Packages such as Europ Assistance's Worldwide Healthcare Plan are sold by European automobile clubs and travel agencies at attractive rates. Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc. (tel. 800/777-8710; www.worldwideassistance.com) is the agent for Europ Assistance in the United States. Though lack of health insurance may prevent you from being admitted to a hospital in nonemergencies, don't worry about being left on a street corner to die: The American way is to fix you now and bill the daylights out of you later.
If you're ever hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, MedjetAssist (tel. 800/527-7478; www.medjetassistance.com) will pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice in a medically equipped and staffed aircraft 24 hours day, 7 days a week. Annual memberships are $225 per individual and $350 per family; you can also purchase short-term memberships.
Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated in the United States.
Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0845 606 2030; www.ehic.org.uk). Note that the EHIC only covers "necessary medical treatment." For repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, seek travel insurance from a reputable company, such as Travel Insurance Web (0870 890 3641; www.travelinsuranceweb.com).
The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, 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.
U.K. citizens and their families who make more than one trip abroad per year may find an annual travel insurance policy works out cheaper. Check www.moneysupermarket.com, which compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multitrip policies.
Most big travel agents offer their own insurance and will probably try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Think before you sign. 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 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. The latest news in trip-cancellation insurance is the availability of expanded hurricane coverage and the "any-reason" cancellation coverage -- which costs more but covers cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for its air-hotel 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).
On flights within the U.S., checked baggage is covered up to $2,500 per ticketed passenger. On flights outside the U.S. (and on 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 what's covered by the standard liability, see if your homeowner's policy covers your valuables. If it doesn't, get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package.
If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. Most airlines require that you 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 for free.
For up-to-date health-related travel advice in the U.S., go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/travel.
You'll have little trouble finding hospitals and doctors in the Carolinas and Georgia -- in fact, the region has some of the most highly regarded medical centers and teaching facilities in the country.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise, they won't make it through airport security. Visitors from outside the U.S. should carry generic names of prescription drugs. For U.S. travelers, most reliable healthcare plans provide coverage if you get sick away from home. Foreign visitors may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.
Although tourist areas are generally safe in the South, crime can occur anywhere, and U.S. urban areas tend to be less safe than those in western Europe or Japan. Visitors should always stay alert. This is particularly true of large U.S. cities, especially Atlanta. Parts of Savannah, Charleston, and Charlotte can be unsafe at night. Avoid deserted areas at night. Don't go into any city park at night unless there's an event that attracts crowds. Generally speaking, you can feel safe in areas where there are many people and open establishments.
Remember also that hotels are open to the public, and security may not be able to screen everyone who enters. Always lock your room door.
Georgia and the Carolinas are among the safest places in the Southeast, especially in the small towns and villages. Resort areas such as Myrtle Beach attract more crime, of course. But on a per-capita basis, Georgia and the Carolinas have far less crime than does Florida, to the south.
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.