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Summer vacation planning: Do you need travel insurance?

You might already be packed for that long-awaited summer vacation, but there might be one more thing you need to carry along with your luggage.

Did you think about travel insurance? Experts say the best time to buy it is at the same time or shortly after you book your trip. If you wait too long and an illness or a broken bone forces you to need to cancel, you won't be able to get coverage once you're sick or laid up.

Just like all insurance, vacation-travel insurance is protection against the unexpected.

"It's going to protect you if your trip is canceled, if your baggage is lost, if you get a medical issue and need to be evacuated," said Laura Adams of InsuranceQuotes.com. 

Adams said you should be picky about how much travel insurance you need to keep costs down. A policy that covers only airline tickets and hotels might be enough, but if you are traveling overseas, you should look for insurance that covers medical emergencies.

"If something happens to you and you're overseas and you don't have medical insurance, that could really be a huge bill," Adams said.

Christopher Elliott, author of "How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler," says you need travel insurance only if:

• You're spending more than $5,000 on a vacation

• You're cruising or taking a package tour (because neither industry is very flexible anymore)

• You have a complex or lengthy itinerary that will fall apart if one thing goes wrong

• You're traveling overseas, especially if you're on Medicare, which typically won't cover events out of the country

Elliott said you will typically pay between 4 and 8 percent of the total cost of your trip on insurance. Beware of anything under 4 percent, because your coverage likely won't be very good. You shouldn't have to pay more than 10 percent.

Make sure you buy from a reputable company. One way to check that is to select a member of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.