If I've heard Linda Limberger's question once, I've heard it a hundred times.
"I'm wondering if you could recommend trip insurance," she asked. "Something that covers medical, cancellation and other things."
Maybe there's an app for that?
Actually, there is -- and there isn't.
There are a number of travel insurance smartphone apps that allow you to review your policy and contact your company in an emergency. But the pickins are slim. Unless you're living in Australia or doing business with one company, you're better off firing up your web browser for that kind of information. (Your cell phone probably has one.)
One of the best user interfaces among travel insurance apps is Travel Guard's Mobile App (Android and iOS). It offers access to vital emergency information including Travel Guard’s Emergency Assistance Centre, and can help get you to a doctor, hospital, embassy and more, and all this without needing internet access.
Ah, you noticed I spelled "centre" differently. That's not a coincidence.
The Travel Guard app seems optimized for an Australian audience. It's not entirely clear why. But if you're fortunate enough to live in Australia, you can use it to retrieve key contact information for doctors, clinics, dentists, hospitals and Australian embassies. You can also use your GPS location to find your closest services by country. Of course, like any self-respecting smartphone app, it offers directions.
The Travelguard Mobile app also offers helpful news updates with information that can help you have a safer trip. It's displayed based on the country you're visiting.
Shopping for travel insurance? Another Australian app, Tripwise by Travel Insurance Direct, promises to send you "special offers" if you download its app (Android and iOS). But like other apps, it does a lot more, including a helpful listing of passport, visa and vaccination requirements at your destinations, scam warnings (I like that one), and emergency contacts.
In the United States, the most developed smartphone app among travel insurance companies is the Allianz Global Assistance TravelSmart app (available for Android and iOS). Billed as a natural extension of your travel insurance policy, the app is an easy way to find your travel insurance policy or to reach Allianz in case you need to file a claim.
One of my favorite features is a medical dictionary that lets you find the right word to describe your ailment. For example, did you know the Portuguese word for bandage is "Lugadura?" Or that in Dutch, a "Val" is fall? I wouldn't without the app.
But when it comes to shopping for insurance -- any kind of insurance, really -- most of the action is now online. For example, if you're interested in car rental insurance, you can check out Insuremyrentalcar.com for a quote on its site, but there's no app to download. This is, in part, a realization that for certain kinds of tasks, the old-fashioned web browser is best suited for finding information. Once you have a policy, that's another story. Several large and reputable travel insurance companies have full-featured apps to support your trip.
In the meantime, Limberger and others like her would be well advised to cast a wide net in their search for the right policy -- online and offline.
Christopher Elliott specializes in solving unsolvable consumer problems. Contact him with your questions on his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google or sign up for his newsletter.