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3 Must-Have Travel Pieces: The Best Luggage for Serious and Fashionable Travelers

I’m a sucker for reliable (and beautiful) pieces of luggage and travel accessories. That’s mainly because I’m frequently on the road, en route to places both familiar and not. In other words my obsession isn’t unfounded. best-luggage-and-best-travel-bags-2015_02-1200x675

So here’s a brief roundup of some exciting new travel gear—whether you’re in the market for something fashionable, extremely functional, or just plain beautiful.

LOUIS VUITTON HORIZON COLLECTION BY MARC NEWSON (FROM $3,100)

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Travel has always been in Louis Vuitton’s DNA—as evidenced by last winter’s Volez Voguez Voyagez exhibition in Paris. And this year, the French maison collaborated with esteemed designer Marc Newson to create the Horizon line. That’s no small deal: Newson is the genius behind Hermès’ Nautilus pen (2014),Beretta’s 486 (2014), and the Montblanc M pens (2015)—among others. The highlight of this particular collection is its customizable and lightweight cabin trolleys, which come in 50 and 55 iterations—in a variety of colors and materials. But that’s not the best part of it: These are the first rolling cabin bags that feature completely flat packing surfaces. In addition to that, the pieces have a mesh-lined interior separator, TSA-compliant locks, and four compact wheels.

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MONTBLANC URBAN SPIRIT COLLECTION

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Montblanc, which is renowned for its writing instruments and watches, is releasing a new 22-piece line of luggage and small leather goods in September: the Urban Spirit Collection. All of the items in Urban Spirit reflect the brand’s aesthetic—sleek, functional, and versatile. But they all have 21st century features. Each is equipped with Montblanc Shield, a special protective lining in the internal pockets of small leather goods and the internal pockets of larger bags. This safeguards against the reading of chip-based cards and passports.

T. ANTHONY LIMITED EDITION 70TH ANNIVERSARY BAR SET ($1,800)

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The phrase “one for the road” takes on a whole new meaning with the release of T. Anthony’s 70th anniversary travel bar. The set, which was first introduced in the 1940s, by Theodore Anthony himself, is quite spectacular and reminiscent of the way travelers used to pack—back when they boarded ships with their bespoke steamer trunks. The case itself, in grained calfskin with brass hardware, is a thing of beauty. But open it up and you’ll find everything you need to make a stiff drink (or simply open a bottle of wine): four highball glasses, four rocks glasses, a corkscrew, a double jigger, an ice tong, and a stirrer. But move fast. There are only ten of these—and only six are left. NB: As beautiful as this bar set is, it’s better suited for road trips and train travel. For obvious reasons, this is not something you can take with you in a plane—unless you’re flying private.

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Why Culture Is Oahu’s Secret Travel Attraction

“Hawaii is one of the most unique places in all of the world,” says Fred Hemmings, renowned surfer, former Hawaii senator and overall beloved Oahu figure.

Over a towering slice of hula pie at Duke’s Waikiki, the Honolulu native makes his case. “We are born from the ocean,” he says, pointing out the islands’ unique geography. “It’s one of the last places on earth to be settled because of the isolation. There’s very rapid change, but our culture has endured.”

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That enduring culture sets Oahu apart from any other U.S. destination. Obviously, the tropical landscape is vastly different. But it goes beyond that — the people are different (there’s no ethnic majority), the food is different (a diverse state makes for a fusion of global culinary influences) and the laid-back, friendly “aloha” vibe is different.

We’d never suggest visiting Oahu without spending time on the beach, but tourists sometimes get so dazzled by the soft sand that they don’t explore the other rich facets of the island. Our editors share some ways that you can soak up some Oahu culture from beyond your beach towel.

The Water

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In Oahu, surfing isn’t merely a hobby; it’s a way of life. Early every morning, locals pound waves on the empty beaches before heading to work. It’s part of their routine.

While it’s hard to pinpoint who originated surfing — reports of the first surfers date back to 1777 with the Tahitians — Hemmings says that the pioneers were closer to home. “Hawaiians invented the sophisticated art of riding waves.”

Hemmings should know. One of his closest friends was Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic Gold medalist and the father of modern surfing. In 1911, the 21-year-old Kahanamoku entered his first swimming competition and broke three freestyle records. He is credited with spreading surfing’s popularity throughout the mainland and the world and was the first inductee into the both the surfing and the swimming halls of fame.

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Kahanamoku has been immortalized with a bronze statue on Kuhio Beach, where he fronts a surfboard, arms outstretched — often draped with leis — to welcome you to Waikiki. Learn more about him by perusing the photos that plaster the walls in Duke’s Waikiki (named after the iconic surfer, of course).

And while you can spy surfers on Waikiki at any time, check out the annual Duke’s OceanFest (set for August 20 to 28 this year) as it celebrates the legend and his favorite sports, including longboard surfing, paddleboard racing, swimming, tandem surfing, surf polo, beach volleyball and stand-up paddling. Or give it a go yourself and get a lesson from the Waikiki Beach Boys (people like Kahanamoku who teach travelers to surf or canoe) in beachside booths near the statue.

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The History

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Hotels fight for sand along coveted Waikiki, but The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort is the most distinctive. And it’s not only because its shocking-pink Spanish-Moorish façade jumps out from the rest of the structures lining the beach.

The second-oldest hotel in Oahu (behind Moana Surfrider, its sister property), The Royal Hawaiian has a history that stretches back to King Kamehameha I, the famed leader who united the Hawaiian Islands. After the king conquered Oahu, he vacationed on the land where the hotel now stands. To honor this royal link, the hotel named its Kamehameha Suite after the king and adorned the master bedroom with the colors of the Hawaiian monarchy — red and yellow.

The 1927-opened hotel continued to play a key role in local history: Its Coconut Grove garden once served as the setting for Queen Kaahumanu’s summer palace and the U.S. Navy leased the resort as a rest and recreation center for the Pacific Fleet during World War II. Delve deeper into the hotel’s past with its twice-weekly Royal Hawaiian History Tours, which are complimentary for guests.

While the hotel will celebrate its 90th anniversary in February, it is far from a relic. The Royal Hawaiian makes use of its enviable location for the backdrop of ‘Aha‘aina, Waikiki’s only waterfront luau — of course, luaus and their hula shows are cultural musts in Hawaii.

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In 2015, it debuted a renovated Mailani Tower, a more modern and exclusive option. The tower has its own reception area, concierge and lounge that serves a free light breakfast and evening snacks, cocktails, wine and more for Mailani guests. Rooms come with vivid paintings from local artists Solomon Enos and Carl Pao, aromatic Malie Organics toiletries from Kauai that you’ll want to pilfer and many have pool and/or ocean views.

Venture outside of the hotel to discover more of Oahu’s history. As the only royal palace in the U.S., Iolani is a popular stop-off. The 1882 structure was groundbreaking for its time — it was fully electrified before the White House and had a telephone only a few years after its invention.

Inside, stroll through the ruby-and-gold-filled Throne Room, where King Kalakaua would throw lavish parties, and the Gold Room, where the royal family would play and listen to music. Pop into the Basement Galleries to see historic photos and a collection of crown jewels, including a gold-mounted boar’s tusk pin and a diamond butterfly brooch with fluttering wings.

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A visit to the Bishop Museum should top your list. The museum recently procured its biggest find: an ‘ahu ‘ula (feathered cloak) and a mahiole (feathered helmet) from Kalani’opu’u, the chief of Hawaii Island, that were gifted to captain James Cook upon his 1779 arrival in Kealakekua Bay. This is the first time both artifacts have returned together since they left on Cook’s ship 237 years ago. When the exhibit opened in March 2016, it drew the largest turnout the museum had ever seen, according to a Bishop official. The treasures are impressively intact, and the cloak, in particular, is a showstopper woven with red and yellow feathers plucked from 20,000 birds.

The Land

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Oahu’s 597 square miles are rife with culture. About 3,000 feet above the island’s coastline, Nuuanu Pali draws visitors with panoramas of the Koolau cliffs and the Windward Coast. But it’s not merely a scenic lookout: Nuuanu Pali was the site of the Battle of Nuuanu, where in 1795 King Kamehameha I defeated the local chief and added Oahu to his kingdom, thus beginning the islands’ reunification. During the fierce battle, hundreds of soldiers were forced off of the rocky cliffs to their deaths.

Some spots veer off of the usual tourist paths. The Ulupo Heiau, for example, could easily be overlooked, as the state historic site holds a massive amount of dismantled rocks. It was a sacred temple built by the menehunes — mythical Polynesian dwarves who work at night as stone builders — to worship the Hawaiian gods.

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Ten miles from the Ulupo Heiau, 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch nature preserve captivates with its beauty. Stand in the verdant Ka’a’awa Valley and you’ll feel awestruck surrounded by rugged mountains piercing the electric-blue sky and the aquamarine waters of Kaneohe Bay behind you. Ancient Hawaiians felt the same way; they considered Kualoa to be one of the most sacred places on Oahu. Kualoa served as the residence of kings and a puʻuhonua , or a training ground where royalty learned the art of war and history.

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The ranch was purchased in 1850 from King Kamehameha III and is still run by the same family. The sixth-generation owners also use it as a cattle ranch and as a farm, as they harvest oysters and grow guava, star fruit and more.

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Another great thing about visiting Kualoa is that you can explore it in a multitude of ways. Traverse the terrain by ATV, horseback, jungle vehicle, catamaran or zipline tour. Our pick is the brand-new Premier Movie Sites Tour. Since 1950, Kualoa’s exquisite landscape has starred in a slew of films and TV shows, and this tour takes you behind the scenes. You’ll drop by Jurassic World ’s Indominus Rex dinosaur pen, Lost ’s bunkers, a Hawaii Five-0 set and 50 First Dates’ Hukilau Cafe.

Foodies will want to opt for the new Taste of Kualoa, a farm-to-table tasting tour that sends you to the shrimp and tilapia ponds, oyster farm, tropical fruit gardens and the grazing grounds of the grass-fed cattle for bites.

The Music

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For tourists, ukuleles conjure up images of a clichéd Hawaiian souvenir stocked in all of the ABC stores and airport shops. But that’s because you’ve never heard Jake Shimabukuro play his stirring rendition of “Ave Maria.” The Honolulu native has been hailed as the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele. He has collaborated with a host of well-known artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jimmy Buffett, Bette Midler and Ziggy Marley, and also tours the world.

“Hawaiian culture has always been built around the idea that we are all ‘ohana [family],” Shimabukuro says. “The ukulele is a simple instrument and you don’t feel like you have to be a musician to play it. The ukulele is everyone’s instrument, and when we learn to strum our first chord, we quickly realize that we are all the same. We are all one big ‘ohana.”

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The ukulele has a long history in Oahu. Many students learn how to play in grade school, where it is an elective. And one of the foremost ukulele producers resides in an unassuming storefront in the Kakaʻako neighborhood. Kamaka Ukulele, a family-owned and -operated factory and shop, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. These aren’t those tchotchkes mentioned above, though the shop did invent the original pineapple-shaped version. Handcrafted Kamaka ukuleles can cost upwards of more than $2,000 and each one has to be checked by a Kamaka family member before being shipped or sold.

If you drop by the store and Fred Kamaka Sr. is manning the counter, let the charismatic, witty patriarch regale you with stories of his family’s business. Call ahead and you can arrange for a private tour of the small factory. You never know who will show up there: During our visit, not only did we see Shimabukuro (he’s close with the family) but we ran into well-known player Herb Ohta Jr. It’s a chance encounter that only happens in Oahu.

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Five Unexpected Travel Destinations To Heat Things Up This Summer

Switch it up this summer. From Atlantic City, Manchester and Cooperstown to Collins Park and St. Petersburg, these spots offer alternatives to the usual getaways.

Skip Luxury Seats in the Bronx, Visit Cooperstown:

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Box suites may be a luxury for fans, but head to the home of baseball for the ultimate vacation. Cooperstown, in the Catskills just a 3 ½ hour drive from the rival New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, is an all-American town known for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and opera too. And for luxe, The Otesaga Resort Hotel occupies 700 feet of lakefront on the shore of Lake Otsego (the famed “Glimmerglass” from James Fenimore Cooper’s novels) and offers a premier spa, world class golfing and delicious dining options.

Skip Stowe, Try Manchester:

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Avoid the crowds and tourists at Stowe Vermont and head down to Manchester, a super-scenic small town. Unplug – from fly fishing lessons with Orvis and swimming in secret waterfalls to leaf peeping. For Instagram aficionados, the hotel can arrange nature photography lessons with photographer Les Jorgensen (#nofilter needed). Kimpton Taconic, in the heart of Manchester, offers expansive views of the Taconic and Green Mountain ranges. In-room walking sticks, hiking survival kits and on-site mountain bikes make it extra convenient for guests to explore the great outdoors.

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Skip Vegas, Do AC:

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Las Vegas may be sin city, but with world-class restaurants, nightlife and the iconic Jersey Shore at its feet, Atlantic City is the show that never ends. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa rivals the resorts of Las Vegas. From unique spa treatments at Spa Toccare and its brand new Premier Nightclub to fine dining from top chefs such as Bobby Flay, Borgata brings the spirited Vegas vibe to New Jersey. The Water Club Hotel, Borgata’s non-gaming, non-smoking counterpart, offers the bustle of the casino floor with the Immersion Spa and five heated pools. The Atlantic City Boardwalk – the first boardwalk in the United States – recently debuted The Playground, a destination at the end of the boardwalk with dining, shopping, and entertainment worthy of the Las Vegas Strip, with unparalleled views of Brigantine Beach.

Skip South Beach, Head to Collins Park:

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In this emerging cultural district in the heart of Miami Beach, The Plymouth Hotel opens its doors this summer. The Art Deco icon will bring a Miami Beach staple back to life, completely reimagined and transformed with the help of designer Fernando Santagelo. The Plymouth has a unique oval lobby, and touches of vintage design elements throughout. Chefs Bruce and Eric Bromberg from Blue Ribbon Restaurants will debut Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill.

Skip Miami, Try St. Pete:

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Transforming from “God’s waiting room” into “God’s tasting room,” St. Petersburg now rivals Portland and other top craft beer destinations. St. Pete is home to 27 (and counting) craft breweries. Then get your art on at the Dali Museum or learn how to blow glass like Dale Chihuly at The Chihuly Museum. Or you can find your happy place somewhere in the destination’s 35 miles of white sand beaches, whether it’s laid-back St. Pete Beach, off-the-radar Caladesi Island or family-friendly Fort de Soto. The destination boasts an average of 361 days of sunshine per year. A truly hot destination year-round.

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4 Hotel Myths Costing You Money

Whether it is a business trip or a well-deserved holiday, there are some unexpected ways to save on luxury accommodation. We caught up with a few industry experts for their tips on high-end savings at hotels.

Myth 1: You can save money by booking through an online travel agency.

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Although online travel agencies like Kayak or Expedia offer an easy, one-stop shop booking system, they can end up being more expensive than booking directly through the hotel.

“Generally hotels offer the same rates when you book directly through the chain,” says Zach Honig, Editor-in-Chief of travel hacking website, The Points Guy. “In many cases, you can even save up to 10% over travel agency prices if you’re a member of the chain’s loyalty program, and you’ll be eligible for special discounts, including those available to active-duty military, corporate employees and AAA members.”

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Honig points out that pay-what-you-want sites like Priceline may offer equivalent prices. However, if you book through an online travel agency, you may not be able to earn points or receive benefits from a loyalty program.

For luxury hotels, you might find that going direct or through their marketing affiliation is a better option,” says Nikhil Nath, CEO of Knowcross, a technology intelligence company for the hospitality operations industry. By booking through these entities, you can often snag a bonus like room upgrades, free breakfast for two or a late checkout.”

Myth 2: WiFi will cost a fortune.

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“Most major hotel chains now offer free Wi-Fi to all loyalty program members — even those without elite status — though you typically need to book directly through the chain in order to be eligible,” says Honig.

Also, some other hotel brands like Hilton Garden Inn and Marriott’s Residence Inn offer free connectivity to all their guests. Do your research beforehand and avoid a hefty bill.

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3. Booking suites last-minute will rack up the bill.

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Generally hotels only have 20 percent of their suites occupied, says Skipper CEO Jason Shames. While this varies from hotel to hotel, this could translate into potential discounts on last minute luxury rooms.

Traveling with lots of people? Consider booking suites in blocks, as many hotels will offer better deals and perks for larger groups. Online travel agencies who specialize in block bookings like Skipper may offers discounted rates for large hotel bookings, for no fee.

4. Hotels are always more expensive on the weekends.

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Booking and traveling in off-seasons will always stretch your dollar.  If you don’t have flexibility with the month, play around with days as well. Sometimes booking a Saturday is cheaper than Sunday. And while it may seem that better rates are available on weekdays rather than weekends, this is not always the case in busy, metropolitan areas with many business travelers.

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Finally, The Real Deal On Travel Insurance

If you’re among the millions of Americans planning a major vacation — and spending big bucks — whether it’s a late-summer fling or an upcoming winter break, the time to think about travel insurance is now. How do you figure out if you need it, when to buy it and what kind to buy? Let’s review.

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First, let’s define. Travel or trip insurance is often called travel protection and usually contains three categories — protection for your financial investment in a trip, protection for your health (if you get sick or injured in a strange place and have to be hospitalized or flown home) and protection for your belongings. The first two are the most important and most-used. On average, you should expect to pay about 5 to 7 percent of the cost of your trip to cover all three, says Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice.

So, should you or shouldn’t you? That depends on how much you can afford to lose, says George Hobica, founder and president of AirfareWatchdog.com. You wouldn’t buy insurance on a $300 plane ticket. If something happened and you had to change your plans, you wouldn’t enjoy it, but you’d suck it up and pay the change fee or just buy another ticket entirely. “I think it’s only really useful if you have a very expensive trip, say a $5,000 cruise, that you’d be really put out if you had to cancel,” he says. Another important factor? Your tolerance for fear and concern. “It’s not [usually] a good economic decision,” says J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, “but it’s a good decision for you if you’re really nervous about it.”

Here are five questions you need to ask to make the call:

1. What happens if I have to cancel?

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Most people, when they do cancel, end up doing it at the last minute, Godlin points out. Keep that in mind as you look at the trip’s (hotels, rental cars, flights) cancellation penalties and policies. Take some time to run the numbers on what you could stand to lose on the off chance you had to cancel a day or two out. “It’s basically a risk assessment of what financially can I stand to lose or not and…how do I manage that against events which may cause me to cancel?” says Godlin, adding that if all you’re concerned about is a hotel that will let you cancel up to 6 p.m. the day before, “you probably don’t want to buy travel insurance.”

2. How’s the climate where I’m going?

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And when you’re thinking climate, think political and health-related as well as the weather. To gauge the political concerns, look at the State Department’s warnings and alerts. And if you’re traveling outside the U.S., you may want to consider the quality of healthcare where you’re going, says Phil Sylvester, chief content and communications manager at World Nomads Group. This is particularly true on your first visit to a particular destination. But if you’ve traveled there before and know of quality and trustworthy doctors, or if you have local friends with that information, insurance is not as much of a priority.

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3. How much time is there between planning the trip and paying for it?

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“The more time you have, the more time you have for things to happen that could affect your ability to take your trip,” says Godlin. So if the cancellation policies are strict and the penalties are severe, as your window stretches so should your consideration of a policy. The further out a trip is, the more you should look into policies that allow you to cancel for any reason. However, these can cost an additional 30 to 40 percent more when buying from a retail seller (although included in some cruise line protection plans). Note, cancel-for-any-reason premiums are significantly higher than more limited policies, so they typically only make sense if you have a pre-existing medical condition that could mean cause for cancellation before the trip, an elderly family member you’re concerned for, risk of being deployed as a military member, etc. Note that just because you can cancel for any reason doesn’t mean you’ll get full reimbursement. Sylvester says you’ll often only get 55 to 75 percent of the cost back and that there is other fine print: Sometimes purchase must be made within the first 15 days of booking, or policies can’t be used within two days of departure. And reimbursement may come in the form of travel credits rather than cash. In other words: read the fine print.

4. Am I covered in other ways?

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“A lot of people don’t realize that their credit card has perfectly fine travel insurance that’s free, built-in, automatic as long as they charge their entire trip to that credit card,” says Hobica. He cites cards with travel insurance policies as the “first line of defense.” Citi’s Aadvantage Card’s perks can include trip cancellation and interruption protection up to $5,000 if the trip is paid via the card (and lasts less than 60 days), for reasons like sickness or injury confirmed by a doctor in writing, for example. Lost baggage insurance can cover checked and carry-on baggage, plus electronics and valuables, for up to $3,000 per person. Chase Sapphire has the same maximum trip cancellation and interruption coverage, and it covers lost or stolen baggage up to $3,000 per person (but only $500 for electronics and valuables).

5. Where’s the best place to buy it?

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“We always tell people, ‘Be very careful if you’re out buying something else that isn’t insurance and you’re suddenly confronted with an insurance decision,’” says Hunter. (This advice also applies when you’re asked if you want an extended warranty at checkout.) Since you likely weren’t already thinking about it, you could be more vulnerable, and the person selling it to you could be motivated by the fact that they’d make money on the commission. So don’t click “yes” to add it on to your trip right away or immediately agree with the travel agent — shop around first and compare quotes. “Probably, you’ll find a much better deal if you go to a third party,” says Hunter. Sites like TravelInsurance.com, InsureMyTrip.com and SquareMouth.com are good places to begin comparing.