Travel insurance is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip, and fill any gaps that wouldn't be covered by your primary health insurance or other insurance you may have. It's not meant to be a substitute for health insurance and won't cover non-essential overseas medical treatment, such as routine exams.
Travel insurance usually covers travel at a certain distance from your home. You pay the insurance company a fee, called a "premium," which can vary based on where you're traveling, how long your trip is, your age, and what activities you plan to participate in. The insurance company agrees to cover costs (up to a certain limit) for things like emergency medical treatment, lost or stolen luggage, delayed flights, or nonrefundable expenses should you have to unexpectedly cancel your trip.
Travel insurance can be an affordable way to protect yourself against specific unforeseen events. Having to cancel your long-anticipated trek in Patagonia due to an enexpected family medical emergency is bad enough without having to forfeit all your costs as well. Also, your personal medical insurance may not cover costs while traveling out of the country or might exclude certain activities. With travel insurance, you can explore your boundaries (within reason, of course) and still be covered.