Earlier this year, I wrote about our family’s experience with travel insurance. We took a long-delayed, much-anticipated vacation to Paris and had a truly wonderful seven days exploring the city, enjoying the museums and restaurants, taking in the famous sites, and having a great family adventure.

However, it was an eight-day trip and on that eighth day things took a bad turn. That’s when my wife tested positive for COVID, which meant she would not be allowed to travel for another 10 days.

That led to a very stressful decision to have her remain in Paris until she could be cleared to travel while our three kids and I returned home. With four negative tests in hand, we figured we should leave while we could. If we had stayed, we would have risked having COVID domino through our family and who knows how long we’d end up having to stay?

When the four of us left, my wife was completely symptom-free. However, the next day she became seriously ill, leading to a very difficult two additional weeks in Paris. While the most important part of the story is that she did eventually recover enough to return home and is now fully healthy, two additional weeks in Paris added a lot of expense to the trip — an additional $4,700 to be precise. Fortunately, before we began our trip we purchased a travel insurance policy and we made sure that the one we selected had a provision for the exact scenario we experienced.

A long wait

I last wrote about this in May, about a month after my wife got home. I had filed a claim with the insurance company right after she returned but was told it could take up to 60 days for the company to even review the claim.

As we waited, I wondered if we’d end up being reimbursed for any of our added costs. In part, that was based on some skepticism about insurance generally. I had a sense that there was probably fine print somewhere in the contract that would enable them to get out of paying anything. At best, I thought that we might receive $2,000. Somewhere along the line, someone from the insurance company explained that this situation would be covered under “trip delay,” which, according to our policy, would pay $250 per day up to a maximum of $2,000.

Finally, in mid-August, nearly four months after my wife returned home, we received an insurance settlement. To my great surprise, we were reimbursed for every bit of what we claimed! To be honest, I still don’t fully understand how the insurance worked. Part of our claim was, in fact, reimbursed under the “trip delay” provision, but most of it was reimbursed under “trip interruption,” which has more generous coverage.

Lessons learned

I certainly don’t consider myself to be an expert on travel insurance, but here are a few suggestions.

• Consider what could go wrong. Before our trip, I had called our health insurance provider and found out that if we needed medical care while in Paris we would have to pay out of pocket and then submit receipts to our provider. They recommended paying for travel insurance, so this was the first reason why we decided to get a policy.

COVID was the other reason. We knew we’d be required to get a COVID test the day before our scheduled flight home and that a positive test would mean we would not be able to return to the U.S. for another 10 days (this rule is no longer in effect). That felt like a big risk, especially considering how expensive it could be to stay longer.

• Choose your insurance company carefully. I began my search by looking at what’s available via travel insurance brokers such as InsureMyTrip and SquareMouth. At the time, COVID-related coverage was especially important so I looked for that. I then compared the limits under different provisions and, of course, the cost. I also read reviews from people who had used various providers. Once I had narrowed the options down to a handful, I went with a company whose name I recognized, Nationwide.

Our policy cost over $500. It wasn’t the least expensive option, but the combination of its coverages and its familiar name gave me the peace of mind I wanted. While it took a while for them to pay the claim, I have to say that their 24/7 travel assistance was extremely responsive and helpful.

One option we had to decide on is a pricey add-on known as “cancel for any reason,” which, as the phrase suggests, gives you a lot of latitude in canceling a trip. We went without it because of the long list of covered reasons for a canceled, interrupted, or delayed trip, including COVID, already provided by the insurance. Plus, we knew that with some of our biggest expenses, such as our airline tickets, if we canceled, we could get a credit from the airline. It’s all about weighing the risks and considering the cost.

Be complete in filing your claim. Several parts of the insurance claim form were confusing, so I filled it out as well as I could and I wrote a very detailed cover letter that explained the situation, being sure to note the times I was in touch with the insurance company and the guidance I received. We were also sure to get all of the receipts and submit those. Several times when I called to check on the status of the claim, the person I talked to said the paperwork was all completely in order.

• Seek a support system. For the week that our family was all together in Paris, we stayed in an apartment we found through Vrbo. That gave us a nice amount of space and put us in an interesting not-so-touristy neighborhood. As we wrestled through where to have my wife stay on her own, we opted for a hotel. We figured if she needed help, a hotel would be the better choice and that turned out to be a wonderful decision. The staff could not have been more attentive, helping us with all manner of requests. If she had been at a Vrbo apartment, she would have been on her own. I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been.

We also had many friends praying for us, some offering to connect us with people they knew in Paris, and even people bringing meals to me. It's extremely stressful to have a loved one ill in another country. The support my wife received in Paris and the rest of us received at home was invaluable.

What experiences have you had with travel insurance or trips gone wrong?