Getting sick is never fun especially when you are traveling because it will likely change some awesome plans you had for seeing and experiencing something new. It is hard being sick away from the comforts of home and your loved ones. This is a guide to make getting sick a little less painful while you are abroad.
The first line of defense against getting hurt and sick is to prepare and not get sick! I realize this is not always possible so it is best to do a few things to be prepared if the worst should happen. Preparing a few things will make life a lot easier for you when you aren’t feeling and thinking at 100%
First Aid Kit
The first thing you can do is keep a well stocked mini pharmacy in your bag at all times. There is nothing worse than waking up feeling terrible and realizing you have nothing to help and then need to venture out of your room to find a pharmacy then struggle to tell them what is wrong with you in broken English. By keeping a stocked First Aid bag you can likely at least help yourself for a day or two. Here is a list of what I bring with me on pretty much every trip.
Travel insurance is one of those things that should be a non-negotiable while on a trip. It shocks me how often people travel and do not buy it. The last thing you want is to end up in a jail sick because you can not afford your $200,000 dollar hospital bill. Buy insurance and be sure to keep the information on you at all times. Remember if it is not a complete emergency you need to call them BEFORE going to the doctor/ hospital. Also be sure to familiarize yourself with the policy, many activities may not be included. For example, most insurance will not cover for scootering for example unless you have a valid motorcycle license back home. We love World Nomads Insurance since they tend to cover most “dangerous” activities plus they are cheap and you can buy insurance from them while you are already on the road!
Know how to find a doctor (that is open)
Knowing how to find a doctor who speaks English while abroad can be difficult. The last thing you want is to end up at the doctors and have to rely on Google translate to tell them what is wrong. A great resource is IAMAT they offer a list of reputable English speaking doctors for free (you do need to sign up). Some of them will even come to your hotel. When you call your travel insurance company they will sometimes assist you in finding an open clinic. Alternatively, you can always ask your hotel’s front desk but they may not know much if it is a smaller guesthouse/ bed and breakfast.
You would think with the power of Google these days finding a doctor would be easy but finding information in english can be difficult, especially in developing countries. Many sites seem to lack hours of operations and Google maps is not always correct. (We found this out the hard way and made our way to a clinic that was closed…. It took me 4 trips to the bathroom to make it there—It was 15 minutes away).
Know the signs of serious illnesses
Knowing the signs of serious illnesses is something especially important when traveling to developing countries (think most of the Asia, Africa, South and Central America). Diseases such as Dengue Fever, Malaria, Japenses Encephalitis, Yellow Fever can become deadly fast. Most of these illnesses involve a fever so having a thermometer on hand is very important. We made a rule that if anyone has a fever for longer than a day (less if they have other symptoms of one of these illnesses, we would go to the doctor).
Okay, I am definitely sick or hurt
Once you become ill it is time for you to use your best judgment as to if this is something like a common cold you can treat on your own or something more serious like the diseases mentioned above which require a doctor and hospital.
Going to a Pharmacy
If it seems like something manageable and you don’t have what you need in your first aid kit, then it might be time to head to the pharmacy. Pharmacies elsewhere in the world tend to have more power over offering up things like antibiotics and higher dosage painkillers without a doctor’s prescription. I would highly recommend you speak openly with them as you would with a doctor. I would also recommend you google anything they give you. In Asia, they tend to give our antibiotics for almost everything. This can be an issue as your body can build up resistances to them.
Recently, I had a sore throat that wouldn’t go away for a few weeks. It was going into my ear and didn’t seem to be getting any better. Chris went to a pharmacy without me and they handed him anabolic steroids. Upon some research, I realized this was likely something a little too strong for my throat and opted for some more natural methods.
Going to the Doctors/Clinic
If you decide this is something more serious and you need a doctor to look you over, call your travel insurance provider immediately and then head out. (Unless it is an emergency then go to the hospital immediately) Sometimes your insurance will call ahead and let the clinic know you are coming. Once you are there be open to new ways of doing things, the doctors would have had different training and thus act differently. Be sure to let them know of any allergies a few times and keep google translate handy to ensure you both understand.
Going to the Hospital
If something urgent has come up, get to the hospital asap. If you can, call your travel insurance ahead of time. If that is not possible get someone or yourself to call as soon as you can. This is vital to making sure they pay and you don’t get stuck with the bill. Hospitals will likely be different than what you are used to, procedures, wait times, really everything. Be patient and open to these differences. Some hospitals, especially in Asia, often have an eastern and western medicine wing, choose whichever suits you best.
Making accommodation to your travel plans
Sometimes you get sick or hurt and need to make changes to your travel plans, this happens to try to remain flexible. It may end up costing you a little more money but your health and comfort while sick are much more important.
Recently, I had some sort of serious food poisoning or stomach bug. We were supposed to take a minibus for 6 hours, while the ride did include 3 bathroom breaks I was using the bathroom at least once an hour. We opted to fly last minute which ended up costing us an extra few hundred dollars but I saved myself 6 hours of pain and suffering (Not to mention I didn’t poop my pants!)
Have you been sick whick travelling? What was your experience like? How do you prepare? Let us know in the comments below!