One of the greatest fears of traveling is the possibility you will become sick or injured while overseas and have to chart the waters of unfamiliar healthcare options in a language you don’t speak. While an illness or an injury may occur I have found that caution and good old common sense are your best preventative measures. I was recently visiting friends overseas when an article came out in a weekly paper on ‘How to Walk Around the City’. Apparently members of the expat community (mainly the women) were breaking their arms and ankles while tooling around town. The uneven cobblestone streets here differ little from other parts of the world but this being a trendy, artsy town the ladies seemed to think their choice of shoes could include high heels. I guess vanity vanquishes sensibility.
Aside from this, there are some guidelines you should follow when you venture overseas.
- If you have a medical passport that lists your vaccinations, review it and make sure you are up-to-date on your booster shots.
- Check the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, www.cdc.gov for updated information on required vaccinations for your destination (I have found this website to be one of the best available).
- There is a difference between the advised vs the required vaccinations. Read this information carefully.
- In my view it is always necessary to have current vaccinations or boosters for Hepatitis A & B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Yellow Fever.
- In some parts of the world you will not be allowed into a country unless you have proof of a yellow fever vaccination. Check the updated information on the CDC website or on travel sites like www.worldnomad.com or www.iamat.org.
- If you are traveling to an area with malaria please take sensible precautions like wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, apply repellent and try to limit your time outside during the active mosquito hours of dawn and dusk. Ask about bed nets and pick one up in-country if you don’t have one. You can bring anti-malarial medication with you but I usually pick this up from the local pharmacy along with other things like citronella soap and candles. Most medication have side effects so be aware of what you are likely to experience and plan you activities accordingly.
- If you are taking prescription medication bring enough to last you during your trip, keep the medicines in their original bottles and keep the original prescription with the meds.
- Likewise, if you wear contacts or prescription glasses, bring a spare pair of glasses and the original prescription. If you are traveling to Asia you can pick up a new pair of glasses quite cheaply and they have a wonderful selection of frames.
Everyone should have a travel insurance policy before they head overseas if for no other reason than peace of mind. Most people I know have never had to use the insurance for medical purposes although I know some who have been reimbursed for lost or stolen items, cancellation of trips and other sundry reasons.
- Do your research before you buy your policy and make sure it will cover all the activities you are planning to do. Some policies exclude scuba diving, rock climbing, bungee jumping, zip-lining, etc, in other words anything but passive sightseeing, or, they will put expensive riders on a basic policy. Read the fine print and ask lots of questions.
- I have personally used World Nomads www.worldnomads.com for years and this company is quickly becoming the standard for independent travelers. Their website is a chock full of great information so check it out.
- I am also a member of IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers) www.iamat.org. They are a wonderful resource and well worth the small cost of membership.
- The following companies have also been recommended although I have no personal experience with them.
Travelex (US based) +1 1-800-228-9792 www.travelex-insurance.com
Travel Insured (US based) +1 1-800-243-3174 www.travelinsured.com
- I guess I should put a disclaimer here to say all the information on this page is solely my opinion and experience so please use only as a guideline, at your own risk.
MY FIRST-AID KIT
Not so long ago I’d haul lots of bits and bobs in my first-aid kit because there just weren’t emergency supplies available on every street corner. This has changed so my paired down kit now contains small quantities of the following:
- Antacid such as Pepto bismol (some people take this as a precautionary measure before heading to the food stalls on the street).
- Band-aids, moleskin and Neosporin, Bactine or iodine.
- Ibuprofen (Advil) for muscle soreness.
- Anti-diarrheal such as Imodium but I always have a stash of acidophilus tablets (now referred to as probiotics) which I take at the very first sign of a stomach problems -this usually does the trick. An old remedy was passed along to me by an elderly Pakistan gentleman and it has worked wonders on many occasions. Take 1 cup of rice (I use white) place in a pan with about 6 cups of clean water. Bring to boil and simmer for about an hour. Throw out the rice and drink the rice water.
- Anti-histamines Benadryl.
- Anti inflammatory Cortaid.
- Antibiotic such as Zithromax (Word is out that in some parts of the world the well known Cipro is no longer effective).
- Rehydration tablets – Gatorade, Emergen C, or sports rehydration tablets.
- Motion sickness – Dramamine. Necessary on those buses careening along steep, winding roads even if you aren’t usually bothered by motion sickness.
- Insect repellent. Recommendations specify a product with more than 30% deet. I’m allergic to deet so I pick up repellents used by the locals. (By the way if you are using a repellent and sunscreen, new evidence suggests that it doesn’t matter which order you apply them but most folks put on sunscreen first).
- Tweezers, q-tips, sunscreen, eye-drops, aspirin, tylenol, cotton balls, a small tooth comb (great for removing cactus), scissors, ace bandage, space blanket.
There are many other products that can be substituted for the contents of my kit so play around with what works best for you. Check out Robert Evan’s alternative medicine kit at www.vagabondish.com/travel-medicine-5-essential-drugs. And, again, please don’t forget to pack any medication you rely on.