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Worried About Getting Sick Abroad? Do These Things BEFORE Leaving for Your Trip

Emergency preparedness should be a part of your travel plans.


hen planning your vacations, how often do you consider what it would look like if you got sick on vacation, particularly in another country? Or who to contact if you had any kind of emergency? We often fine-tune the details like transportation, lodging, or the best Insta-worthy spots, without giving much thought to the what-ifs beyond a delayed flight or a “catfished” hotel room. It’s even scarier to think about an emergency occurring when you are miles away from home, possibly without immediate family. Pay attention to these four tips before your next international adventure–they can help you if you get sick while traveling abroad.

Check Your Health Insurance

This is critical in navigating foreign healthcare systems by knowing if your policy extends abroad. Persons who utilize state-supported insurance (Medicaid, Medicare) are not covered abroad. However, you should still travel with copies of your health insurance card and claim information, and be sure the emergency contact information is filled out completely inside your passport. For travelers with pre-existing conditions, have an up-to-date list of medications (including the generic names) and possible alternatives accompanying a signed letter from your primary care physician detailing the illness/disease. This will help if you have a rare condition and cannot communicate with foreign doctors. If traveling with medications, be sure they are in their original containers (with a copy of the prescription) and not on the country’s list of illegal substances.

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Have Travel Insurance

The way I advocate for travel insurance, you would not believe that I used to think it was a scam. However, a series of unfortunate travel events made me a believer, and now I do not travel without it. The coverage and coverage amounts will vary based on company, length of trip, destination, and the number of travelers. You’ll need to do your due diligence in researching what will work best for you–but it’s a good idea to ensure that your travel insurance covers accidents and illness, medical evacuation, and next-of-kin travel, which will cover the cost of someone coming to you. You will want to keep all supporting documentation such as accident reports, itemized receipts, prescription details, etc., ensuring that they include dates, your name, and who provided the care/service. Some policies cover costs upfront, while others cover through reimbursement. Another benefit to travel insurance is that you won’t be left alone to figure out foreign health care systems. The companies that I have used for past travel insurance are Allianz and Faye.

Register With the Embassy

A pro tip for any international travel is to enroll the trip in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the U.S. Department of State. Should you fall ill, the embassy can aid in multiple areas. Some of the resources they can provide are transferring funds from relatives in the states to you in a foreign country, finding medical assistance, contacting your family, and providing a list of healthcare providers.

Create a Safety Plan

I love random adventures, including traveling with strangers and many solo trips. Having a safety plan in place allows you to enjoy your vacation while giving your family and loved ones back home peace of mind. Periodically check in, share your location/itinerary, and establish a safe phrase/word. If I am using rideshare, I share my ride directly from the app so that someone knows who is transporting me as well as the make and model of the vehicle. I also provide (with consent) the name, phone number, and a photo of my travel companions. Alternatively, they also have the name and number of my emergency contact.

Pack the Essentials

One of the things that comes along with me on every trip is my own version of a first aid kit. The best part is it’s fully customizable based on your specific needs. When I review the itinerary (and weather), I also think of anything that can happen during or after that activity that could result in needing some kind of “medical” attention. For instance, if we are hiking, I toss in portable heating pads, muscle rub, and anti-chafe creams. In general, I also include things like anti-diarrheal pills, allergy tablets, hydration packs, etc., in addition to traditional first aid supplies such as bandages, alcohol wipes, and gauze. While making your own kit is pretty easy, if you are taking an extended trip or traveling to a place where healthcare is a bit harder to access, consider services like Duration Health, designed to be “an urgent care, anywhere.” These kits contain antibiotics, EpiPen, and emergency prescriptions for travelers. Prior to receiving a kit, a medical consultation is required.

Get Familiar With the Area

The number for emergency services (9-1-1) differs in each country. The U.S. Deptartment of State has compiled this list of emergency service numbers across the globe, and it’s worth saving and reviewing before any international trip. Be aware that they may not have an operator that speaks English or a language outside of the country’s official language readily available. Think through how you will navigate translation in such a situation. As a bonus, provide this information to other travelers accompanying you on your trip. Does the country you are visiting distinguish between the emergency room and urgent care? What are the operating hours? How close are they to your lodging? Do you know the route there if you must drive and GPS is unavailable? When you are exploring the city, take a small detour to do a drive-by and locate these places making sure to take note of landmarks along the way.

Admittedly, this can seem overwhelming, and if you are a novice traveler, it may have you second-guessing venturing out into the world. But, being prepared can help you and reduce stress, allowing you to focus on recovering rather than getting assistance/health care.

jpsartre3207 January 12, 2023

You forgot something basic: get vaccinated for whatever the area you are visiting recommends.