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What To Do If You Get Sick On A Trip

Traveleidoscope:  What to Do If You Get Sick On A Trip

Last week, I wrote about 10 Ways to Stay Healthy When You Travel. This week, here's what to do if you get sick on a trip!

Before You Go

I've been sick plenty of times while traveling everything from run-of-the-mill traveler ailments to a bust eardrum. So I learned the hard way that planning is an important part of being prepared before hand. One of the first places I go when planning a trip is the U.S. State Department website It’s a great travel planning resource Another awesome planning tool the State Department offers is Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It’s a free service that allows, “U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.” I use it for every trip outside the U.S. because, ya just never know…

Do Some Research:

What shots are required?

For U.S. citizens, the US. State Department provides information regarding required vaccinations.

Where is the nearest hospital?

Do an internet search to find it. Alternatively, you may also want to consider joining the International Society of Travel Medicine. I'm not a member, but by joining, you get access to the Global Travel Clinic Directory that lists clinics by country and the care the clinics provide, what languages their doctors speak, and where they're located. The membership dues are listed on its website.

What does your health insurance cover?

If your primary health insurance doesn’t cover medical care abroad, you may want to consider supplemental insurance. For example, for the most part Medicare doesn’t provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. There are some narrow exceptions, so be sure to check with Medicare before you travel.

What does your travel insurance cover?

Your travel insurance policy may not cover medical costs – only travel related costs. You’ll have to check your policy to be certain.

What happens if I have to get evacuated?

While this probably won’t happen, evacuation may be necessary if you’re involved in particularly dangerous activities, in a crisis, or a disaster, but probably not if you break a leg or even have a heart attack. It’s important to note though that medical evacuation is not the same thing as travel insurance. It’s usually a separate membership or coverage, through very specific companies (like MedjetAssist for one). I checked my annual travel insurance and it does not cover evacuation or other medical coverage for that matter. My scuba diving insurance, on the other hand, does address medical evacuations because for scuba diving, if you have a dive related accident, you may need specific medical care that could require being transported by air.

Where is the nearest embassy in case the situation is serious?

U.S. embassies are under the U.S. Department of State so check its website for the nearest embassy location where you’re headed. In a serious situation, it’s helpful to know what the State Department can and can’t do in a crisis. In the evacuation example above if you don’t have that coverage, the State Department may cover that cost up front, but you’ll need to reimburse them for it.

What are the emergency numbers to know (like the country’s equivalent of U.S. 911)?

The State Department has a list of 911 numbers abroad.

Are there any prohibitions on bringing certain medications into the country?

For example, Benadryl is considered a controlled substance in some countries.

Pack a First Aid Kit:

I always take a basic first aid kit with me that includes adhesive bandages, antibiotic cream, disposable gloves, hand wipes, insect repellent wipes, pain relievers, diarrhea medication, constipation medication, etc.. Cuts,scrapes and other little things you can probably take care of yourself, but they can also be real problems if they get out of hand.

Don’t Forget:

Insurance cards, emergency contacts, identification, list of medications, prescriptions and allergies. Remember to make copies. I keep hard copies of everything in my travel binder and on a USB drive. Ya never know….

Once You Leave:

If you get sick on a plane or on a cruise:

Make sure to notify a crew member. When I was a flight attendant, I had many people get sick, some seriously. For more serious situations, we’ll make an announcement asking for a doctor or a nurse. It’s possible that you’ll need to be moved to another part of the plane so you can receive medical attention. And in some extreme cases, the plane may have to land.

On a cruise ship, there’s usually a small medical facility for minor issues, but more serious situations may require medical evacuation.

At Your Destination:

Most hotels have access to doctors. Even if you’re in a country where they don’t speak English as a primary language, hotels usually have access to English speaking doctors. Embassies may also have a list medical providers and facilities with English-speaking providers. And remember - Make sure to find out before you go what your insurance covers.

Filling a prescription abroad may be different that in the U.S., so check whether you even need a prescription for some medications and if your insurance company will cover the cost.

Times when you should seek medical help immediately include: when you may have been bitten or scratched from an animal or even rubbed against certain plants that may be causing a reaction. If you’ve been in a car accident, it may be a good idea to seek medical care (even if you feel okay), in addition to filing a police report. It goes without saying, but if you’ve been physically attacked, seek medical care in addition to filing a police report.

When You Get Home:

Follow up with insurance, if necessary. Also follow up with your primary care physician and any other healthcare providers that need to know. Even though I haven’t had a cold in years, I get all other kinds of sick, sometimes when I travel and/or I picked up something on the trip that doesn’t manifest itself until I come home. My primary doctor is great with finding out where I’ve been. Before he asks any other questions, he always asks where I’ve been (really!), since it may help him diagnosing something not found at home or if he thinks I need to see an infectious disease doctor (which he’s had to do on a couple of occasions).

Have you ever gotten sick on a trip? What did you do? I’d love to hear about it on Facebook or in Traveleidoscope's comment section!

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