When you go on holiday protecting yourself with comprehensive travel Insurance is almost as essential as having a valid passport, if not more so as the consequences of travelling uninsured have the potential to be a lot more expensive.

Once you leave the UK you're no longer protected by a free health service and therefore face the very real possibility that an accident or illness overseas could see you paying out thousands of pounds for treatment. However, despite this many Brits still jet off on their holidays every year without arranging cover.

In the past travel insurance has had a bit of a reputation for being expensive and not particularly comprehensive, however this was largely down to the travel agents that hiked the price of basic cover and sold it as an add-on when excited holiday makers were planning their trip away.

This is definitely no longer the case and by taking a couple of minutes to compare travel insurance to find a policy that provides you with value for money you'll be safe in the knowledge that you're protected financially wherever you travel.

Annual or single cover?

The first thing you'll need to decide on when looking for travel insurance is whether you want to take out a single trip or annual policy. A good rule to follow is that if you travel abroad more than twice a year, plan to take part in winter sports or are visiting America, you're better off opting for an annual policy as the overall cost will be cheaper than insuring each individual holiday you take.

Single trip insurance is designed to provide you with cover for a specific holiday and the cost will depend on both your destination and the length of time you are away for.

Annual policies are designed to protect you overseas for a year from their start date regardless of however many times you travel and this makes this type of insurance a really flexible option.

Some insurers will give you the choice of taking out either European or Worldwide annual cover. If you only plan to venture within Europe during your policy year European annual cover is likely to be a more economical option, so is definitely worth looking into.

If you plan to take any longer holidays you should also check whether an insurer places a restriction on the number of days you can spend abroad on any one trip. If you plan to be away for a number of months at any one time you may find that 'backpacker' or 'gap year' insurance options provide more suitable cover for your travel requirements.

Additionally, when setting up your annual travel insurance it's important to choose your policy start date carefully. While you may be tempted to have it start on the first day of a holiday it's actually safer to arrange it to begin on the day that you book your first trip as this way you're fully protected against the cost of cancellation.

Benefits to look for

Once you decide whether annual or single trip insurance will be more suited to your travel arrangements it's then time to start comparing the individual policies available. To make this a little easier you should start by looking at the different features offered including:

  • Medical cover - This is one of the most essential components of cover and while it can be tempting to pay a little extra for bonus cover in almost all circumstances 2million will be a sufficient medical travel insurance limit

  • Cancellation - There is nothing more disheartening than paying for a holiday that you aren't able to go on and this is where cancellation cover come in handy. When choosing compare the amount each will pay out for cancellation and check it will be sufficient to compensate you for the full cost of your holiday should the worst happen

  • Personal liability - This element of a travel insurance policy will protect you financially should your actions abroad cause someone to begin legal proceedings against you it is therefore almost an essential

  • Pre-existing medical conditions - Honesty is always the best policy with insurers as if they find out that you provided them with incorrect information they are perfectly within their rights to cancel your cover. So, while declaring a pre-existing condition may increase your policy premium slightly, should you need to make a claim it will be worth it. Different insurers approach pre-existing conditions in different ways, some will simply exclude medical cover for its treatment from your policy while others will simply raise the premium accordingly

  • Lost luggage and cash cover - Another important part of any travel insurance UK policy is the cover it provides for your luggage while you are abroad or in transit. You should check that the policy provides sufficient cover to completely replace the luggage you are likely to be travelling with and that you'll be compensated financially if your luggage is delayed by any length of time. It is also worth noting that many insurers will offer a discount if your luggage is already protected under a personal belongings clause on your house insurance so this is definitely worth checking out to save paying for the same protection twice.

  • Winter sports and adventure holiday cover - Statistically you're more likely to make a medical or luggage claim on this type of holiday so it's important to make sure you're adequately protected. Many providers offer specially tailored winter sports and adventure holiday policies or customised 'add-ons' to compensate as the type of activities covered are typically listed as exclusions in other policies

  • Age limits - Because most insurance policies are based on statistical risk calculations many travel insurance providers specify a maximum age limit on their policies. This will range from 65 to 98 and is definitely something to look out for if you fall into this age bracket. However, there are also many providers who offer policies specially tailored for those over 65 so without very much searching at all you should be able to find affordable cover

  • Discounts - As an added incentive to draw in customers many insurers offer a range of discounts to make their cover even more competitive. However, while cheaper cover is obviously very appealing it's more important to find a policy that will provide you with adequate protection. That said advertised bonuses such as family or couple discounts and definitely worth looking into when choosing your travel insurance policy.

Once you have decided exactly what you need from your insurance the final step is to look for the best travel insurance quotes for your type of cover, so you pay as little as possible for the cover you need.

You can compare the best travel insurance policies in 2014 and get quotes by visiting the various providers listed in our travel insurance comparison table.