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Finally, there's the type of insurance that not a lot of people know about: medical evacuation. When you're traveling abroad or in international waters, health insurance generally doesn't apply. But if you get seriously ill or injured on the road, you still need to be treated and may even need to be repatriated back home. This kind of emergency could cost you tens of thousands of dollars!

Right now, medical coverage and evacuation-only policies cover just a fraction of the total market—about 5.5 percent of travel insurance sales. But this coverage niche has increased by about 33 percent since 2006. I personally carry a MedJet Assistance card, which will not just evacuate me to the nearest facility but, if it's appropriate, will take me to the hospital of my choice—not the one that protects their bottom line.

Other companies like MedEx and OnCall International offer similar protection—but again, read the fine print to find out if they'll simply evacuate you to the nearest appropriate hospital and at whose discretion—yours or theirs. 

Learn more tips on travel insurance at PeterGreenberg.com.

When purchasing any policy, never buy it from your travel provider. If the company goes belly-up, so does your policy. Check out a resource like InsureMyTrip.com, which compares different policies among established companies. Plans come in all shapes and sizes, from the most stripped-down "light" policies to the Cadillac versions that allow you to cancel any time, for any reason. If you're not sure, find out which insurance company is underwriting the policy, not just who's selling it. If you're not familiar with the company, check out its credentials through A.M. Best, an international insurance rating agency, or the Better Business Bureau. Also check for membership in the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, which has a list of member companies that must adhere to strict legal and ethical standards.

And remember, while you're on the road, that it's crucial to keep a paper trail. That includes travel records and all receipts in case you have to file a claim for travel delay, medical treatment, lost luggage or any other unforeseen situations.

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg has been named one of the most influential people in travel. Read his valuable travel advice at PeterGreenberg.com.

Have your travel plans ever been altered by a natural disaster? Share your best vacation horror stories in the comments area.

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