How You Can Land the Right Travel Insurance

Travel Leisure
Melhi | E+ | Getty Images

Summer vacation season is upon us, which means the chances are good you're planning some adventures.

Chances are also excellent that you have been pitched on travel insurance. Offers for policies appear whenever you book a flight online, and that's just one of the ways companies are promoting their wares.

"I would say that there are more marketing channels than there were five years ago," said Linda Kundell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.

The pitches are working. Consumers spent $1.9 billion on these policies last year, versus $1.8 billion in 2011 and $1.6 billion in 2010, according to the association. Travel Guard, a leading provider of insurance, estimates that between 25 percent and 30 percent of travelers buy policies.

But do you really need travel insurance? It depends.

Travelers have different appetites for risk, and some are better able than others to absorb the costs of a trip cancellation or other glitch.

"You have people who don't want to lose the cost of a $400 airline ticket. Then you have consumers who are willing to roll the dice and are more worried about a $3,000 trip that they don't want to cancel," said Carol Mueller, a spokeswoman for Travel Guard. "You need to look at the things that could go wrong and what's your risk tolerance."

(View: Despite Rising Travel Costs, Summer Deals Still Exist)

In addition, consider how far in advance you are booking. The further in the future, the greater the chance of a problem.

(Read More: Flight Delayed Due to Furloughs? Here's What to Do)

Another factor is where you are going. If you will be out of the country, your health insurance may not cover an injury or illness. In an exotic or remote location, you might require a medical evacuation, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars without coverage.

If you do want travel insurance, an array of options is available.

Step one is to carefully read the policy to make sure you are getting what you want. And make sure that the product is called an "insurance policy" (these are state regulated) rather than a "travel protection plan." You should also check the coverage you have in place. Some homeowners' or renters' policies, health insurance or credit cards may already provide the benefits of a travel policy.

The popup ads that appear after you buy a plane ticket online are one option. Those policies tend to be relatively inexpensive but are also limited.

"It may not have as robust coverage as a more expensive policy that you may be able to buy through a third party," Kundell said. "If may not have as robust medical coverage."

Be careful, too, about what the popup policies cover. Make sure they aren't limited to mishaps related to your flight, for example.

If you want to buy a more comprehensive product, websites such as help you comparison shop. Travel agents also sell policies.

Not everyone needs the same level of travel insurance, and some people may not need it at all for certain trips. But if it helps you relax and enjoy your trip, it may well be worth the price.

_ By CNBC's Kelley Holland