Getting sick while traveling is probably one of the most common fears travelers have – and for good reason. Not only does getting sick disrupt your daily itinerary, but finding a doctor can be a major challenge in certain parts of the world. Does this mean you shouldn’t travel? Absolutely not – it simply means that you should approach sickness with the same spirit of adventure as you approach the rest of your journey.
My family and I have traveled a fair bit over the past 30 years or so, and have been around the block a time or two. We’ve suffered from food poisoning, limped on sprained ankles, traveled with casts (and waited out part of a journey due to a cast), and been evacuated by air ambulance due to a heart condition. I guess you could say we’ve tested the medical care in many countries around the globe – and we’re still traveling.
So what do we do when we get sick? That’s a hard question to answer. There have been many times on our journeys when we faced sickness or injury, and there is no doubt we will face it many more times in adventures to come. What we do depends on many factors – where we are, the availability of medical care or medications, the seriousness of the injury, and our itinerary.
Many times we had to make a decision – was it bad enough to go to the doctor? Or should we just wait it out. Stomach problems generally fit into this category. Our typical approach is to wait it out for three or four days and, if it’s not better by then, we start looking for a clinic. That amount of time generally gives our body time to fight whatever is causing the problem. If we’re still sick after that, it’s time to consider drugs. Muscle strains usually fit into this category as well. We wait a few days to see if it is getting better – if not, we get to the doc to get it checked out.
These are the easy problems to deal with in that you have time to think, time to ask around, time to consider your options, and time to get into a city with good facilities. Ask your hotel staff where a doctor is, and jump in a taxi – chances are there is some sort of clinic in your area that can deal with minor disturbances.
On the other hand, there are times when you know you need medical care – an acute ear infection, a rapidly swelling wrist, a foot that can bear no weight whatsoever… These are the challenging situations we all fear. Can I trust the doctor to set a broken bone? Will he give me the right medication?
We have found that, in these situations, the local people know best. They deal with medical situations in their communities all the time, and know exactly where to go. We’ve also found that doctors tend to know their limits and will send you on to someone else if they are not capable of dealing with your problem.
When I severely screwed up my foot falling down some old stone steps in northern Vietnam, everyone told me I needed to get to Hanoi twelve hours away for x-rays. We hired a taxi, I sat in the back with my foot propped up on pillows, and we made our way to the hospital in Hanoi.
When my son woke up one morning in Mexico with an excruciating earache, we were able to find a clinic a few blocks from our hotel. Another day, my other son fell and sprained his wrist, which led to a journey to a hospital 75 miles away. Each situation is different, and each one will require a different course of action. Just remember – it’s all a part of the adventure.
What about those times when your life is in danger? When something goes terribly, horribly wrong and you hover on the edge of death? Although we don’t want to think about it, we all know it could happen. That’s why it is imperative that you have evacuation insurance.
If you find yourself in countries with limited health care, you may very well need to be evacuated. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m young and healthy – nothing will happen to me.” And yet, you just never know. One minute all is well, the next you’re in trouble.
We were living in Ethiopia when my husband’s heart suddenly went into arrhythmia. We had gone for an 80-mile bike ride and forgot our water bottles. I stopped at every little café to buy water; he took off to get in a good training ride. Apparently, the exertion, altitude, and dehydration all worked against him to send his heart into an irregular beating pattern.
The good news is that the doctors in Ethiopia recognized the problem right away, and they also recognized that they were not in a position to deal with it. That’s when our evacuation insurance came in very handy.
Within minutes of my phone call to the agency, they were on top of the situation and making arrangements. As soon as possible, a plane left Israel to pick my husband up in Ethiopia and take him to an Israeli hospital. The bad news, however, is that the air ambulance came with a price tag of $90,000. That’s why you want to pay those few bucks whenever you travel!
There is no one answer to the question, “What do I do if I get sick or injured while traveling.” Just take it all one day at a time and make the best decision you can at the time. It’s all just a part of the adventure!
Are rumors of horrible medical care abroad holding you back from heading out to see the world? Take heart – most of those rumors are unfounded. A while ago I read 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World by T. R. Reid and started thinking about our experiences with health care in the four corners of the globe – including the United States of America.
In Ethiopia, my husband’s heart went into arrhythmia and he was admitted into ICU at the local hospital. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, he had a team of doctors on his case and received the best care possible in the country. As it turned out, the Ethiopian doctors knew exactly what needed to be done, but they were not prepared to equip my husband with a pacemaker should it be required – so they arranged to have him evacuated to Israel.
In Israel, top-notch doctors treated him with the most current, innovative methods and did a massive barrage of tests to ascertain exactly what was going on. In the end, they managed to get his heart converted and he went home to Ethiopia a healthy man once again.
In Taiwan, my hip suddenly began to hurt. The very next day I had an appointment with a hip specialist who sent me for an MRI – in two hours! After dealing with the US system of waiting weeks to get an MRI approved and scheduled, I was pleasantly surprised.
In Mexico, doctors took care of my son’s badly sprained wrist and I got to see a knee specialist about my bum knee.
In Panama and Colombia, my son had ingrown toenails surgically removed.
Yes, I’ve dealt with the medical system in the USA and it is slow and cumbersome compared to the health care you will get at a much lower cost in most other countries. Doctors around the globe are highly trained and professional, good facilities can be found in nearly every country, and health care is generally much more affordable than in the USA.
If you are thinking of globetrotting around the world, medical issues should certainly not stop you!
The question has been asked lots of times: What do you have in your health kit?
First, let me say that we have a three pronged approach to healthcare, at home and abroad: staying well, and treating illness & emergency care. I’ll share what we carry with us for all three.
This includes eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep and decent hygiene.
To that end we carry with us:
The following supplements from BeeYoutiful:
Anyone who’s traveled much will tell you that virtually everything you need can be had anywhere you go, and sometimes much less expensively than at home. This is true. What is also true is that when you most need it is often the time it’s least convenient to go on a hunt for it. To that end, we carry a pretty extensive medical kit for treating basic illness, including (but not limited to)
We carry health and emergency evacuation insurance as we travel. We know lots of people who go without it, but we also know a few who are alive because they had it. We’re not willing to gamble when it matters most. We also carry the following in our health kit for emergencies.
We’ve had some criticism on those last two items. It seems that some people think that we’re a bit over the top for carrying a stick kit and suturing supplies and one person even intimated that it was irresponsible for us to suggest that other should carry something they aren’t trained to use.
Let me explain:
We are carrying them because we found ourselves in a situation where we needed a kid stitched up in Guatemala and the healthcare center didn’t have a suture kit. They didn’t have butterfly bandages either. They ended up field taping the ten year old’s hand up and giving him a round of antibiotics (which I’m not a big fan of) to ward off infection.
I’m carrying the needles, etc. so that I can take them with me for the doctors to use, not because I’m going to stitch my own kid up in the forest instead of seek proper care. Although, if it came down to it, I’d do my best in an extreme situation.
I realized, the day that we didn’t have what we needed to put Elisha back together, that we were very lucky that it wasn’t more serious. I realized that, in an extreme situation, if I had the choice between a dirty needle or the potential death of a kid, I’d gamble on the dirty needle. The reality is, if I’m better prepared, I’ll never have to make that choice. The needle kit was immediately added to our bag.
Could we be carrying more: of course.
Could we do with less: certainly.
For us, this is the balance we’ve struck between being prepared for the worst and trying to ensure the best possible health situation for our family.
What’s in your family’s travel medical kit?
Engineers at UCLA are working on converting an iPhone into a small laboratory. Weighting less than 2 ounces, the iTube attaches to your phone and analyzes a food sample in about 20 minutes using a colorimetric assay test. The user grinds up a small sample of food with hot water and places it in the tube along with an extraction solvent. After several other testing liquids are added; the phone then captures an image of the sample using its built-in camera and a program app optically analyzes the image for allergen particles down to parts per million. It doesn’t just confirm the presence or absence of peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs or gluten; it also tells the amount within the sample.
As someone who suffers from severe food allergies; the possibility of such a gadget intrigues me. However I am still skeptical. When in doubt about the specific ingredients of a food, I simply opt not to eat it. True, this practice limits my culinary variety but I figure I can find thrills other ways.
How about you? If you suffer from food allergies would you consider the iTube a useful gadget for home or travel use?
“But you’re just going to leave!”
Although I hated to admit it, who said that was right. At the time I’d been seasonally migrating as a guide for four years. And had no intention to confine my adventurous spirit in domestic American life, then—if ever. The catch though was he was not American; Swedish born to immigrated Polish parents. And unless we got married, physically being together was a matter of juggling countless visas. I was willing to explore the challenges of the relationship. He proposed, and I accepted. However, the seemingly prince-charming-fairy-tale was soured after five months, in one evening by his jealousy. (I’d been out socializing–drinking and playing cards with colleagues after a conference—and being that my fiancé and I were nine time zones apart, I missed talking to him on the phone for a whole day.) When I told him why, he got irate. The plot got thicker; but, long-story-short things didn’t work out with us.
My traveling continued, and continues still…But for several years after that break-up I abstained from dating or intimate relationships.
How do us late “Generation X” travelers bridge tradition and progressive thought?
I grew up with a passion for horses, not wanting to get married, or have children. My passion for horses keeps getting stronger. I was intrigued with the idea of marriage a few years back, and now have warmed up to fostering or adopting a child down the road. So where does that adult understanding leave me?
My current boyfriend and I are in an open relationship. We are committed to one another, but are non-monogamous and can have relationships with other partners. This doesn’t mean I can be traveling half-a-world-away, get drunk, and wake up naked next to some stranger; then afterwards confess to my boyfriend that it “didn’t mean anything” the morning after. Rather, as a couple, we consent to our partners other relations—be it flirting, dating, sexual contact, or intercourse. Everything, all our feelings are in full disclosure. We talk about everything!
There’s a Polish proverb that says, “Love enters a man through his eyes, women though her ears.” So shouldn’t it be every womens’ dream to have a guy that will actually talk to her?
So I began this post with a very traditional phenomena of girl-meets-foreign-boy-and-falls-in-love fantasy. And while I don’t doubt that could happen, it didn’t eventually work out for me. In the end, my original prince charming and I lacked one true thing…an open line and space of communication. But the guy who was always there happened to be my best friend.
At the root of most relationships, communication is lacking. Distance shouldn’t matter. In the end, every human is seeking a connection. It could be simply a friendly conversation; an exchange of directions; or one’s life story that just needed to be expressed.
My point is that communication should, and can be, the heart of travel when it comes to any form of relationship. Within in a few moments, or several hours of stories, you can make a friend.
What are you willing to give?
Personally, I’ve known my current boyfriend for more than a decade. He knows everything; all my travel stories, personal/health issues and fears. Perhaps that makes an open relationship plausible. We agree. We work. We love each other unconditionally.
And yes, I realize, both within my country (of the USA) and copious amounts of others it presents a multitude of controversy…
But because we as a whole, at vagablogging, share this progressive space…how do you feel about open relationships? Or in general…the way communication happens between fellow humans that you meet along your travels…
And I responded, “I go the hospital. They have doctors overseas too.”
Medical concerns are a huge issue for sure. Nobody wants to face the possibility of a serious injury with no access to medical facilities.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: they have doctors and hospitals overseas too. If people live there, there will be medical facilities – and many times, they’ll be better and cheaper than what you would find in the good ol’ US of A.
We’ve dealt with quite a few health crisis throughout the years. I broke my hand in Egypt, my son broke his arm in Malaysia. He suffered from pneumonia in Malaysia as well, while I waited until we got to Argentina to get it. My husband’s heart went into arrhythmia and he had to be evacuated to Israel in an air ambulance. We’ve sought out clinics in dozens of countries around the globe for various maladies and always managed to find a doctor. Always.
In fact, I would even go so far as to say that many times I’ve gotten better care abroad than I would have at home. In Mexico a knee specialist came in to his office on Sunday solely to see me when my knee suddenly erupted into severe pain. I was sitting in front of a neurologist in Taiwan 45 minutes after my head exploded with an excruciating headache. An MRI in Malaysia can be scheduled within hours rather than the weeks or months it takes in the USA.
Is it scary to deal with health issues far away from family and friends? You bet. It’s scary at home too, but having that support system in place makes it a bit more bearable.
But don’t fear medical issues while traveling because of a lack of facilities. Because… well, that’s not the way it is.
An eleven-year-old British boy and his father will soon embark on a 3,500 mile overland journey from the UAE to the UK along the safest route possible. The family is relocating back to London. Their son, Joe, experienced paralyzing anxiety about flying for the first time. Several failed attempts to re-board the plane have been made. For the last six weeks therapy, hypnosis, and a sedative injection were tried, but none have worked. Oddly, the boy has flown many pervious times without problems.
Do you have a fear of flying?
You’re not alone. According to many studies about 40 percent of people have anxiety associated with airline travel–even those who fly on a regular basis. Fear like being out of control, of crashing, claustrophobia, and with heightened security of TSA. Several of my friends refuse to fly because of one or more of those reasons. John has only flown once in his life and barely left the State he grew up in. Sparing emotional details he just says, “I don’t like it.” At one time he worked at an airport refueling planes—not sure if that helped or hindered the situation. But as fate would have it, John shall take the second flight of his life in two weeks. He called me when he booked tickets, and said he’d call me again to make sure he’s up-to-date on packing requirements for TSA. I’m sure I’ll hear from him while he’s waiting at the gate. Flying aside, he suffers from sensory overload problems which lead to panic attacks on a normal basis. As I’ve discovered, which I bet many of you have too, traveling opens great horizons. For many years John has said, “We gotta go to Ireland for your 30th birthday.” Now that is less than a year away. I hope his next flight is a pleasant experience.
I can relate to both Joe and John’s anxiety. Mine however was separation-anxiety linked to airline travel. When I was eight, my parents got divorced and as a result lived in different states. Twice a year I’d be put on the plane by one…and collected at the other end by another. At least, back in those days, passengers without tickets could accompany friends and family right up to the boarding gate. My, my have times changed…
That anxiety lasted well into my late teens before I gained control of it. However a different type cropped up last year when my Service Dog, Trinity and I prepared for our first flight together. Rather than starting small, we went straight to the big-leagues and flew internationally. And for an added challenge, I chose to depart from THE international airport linked to my childhood anxieties–Logan in Boston, Massachusetts. That turned out to be an extremely positive move, because every security personal we encountered was accustom to seeing Service Dogs! Within three months we took a total of eight flights spanning eleven times zones. Turns out my pre-flight anxiety was much worse. The airlines “misplaced” our bag in Paris for over an hour. Then the chaos got worse. We boarded the train where workers decided to strike, tripling the crowds of frustrated travelers on the first day of spring. What remains vivid about that first flight was the Steward who brought extra chicken treats for Trinity. The lost luggage attendant insisted on bringing her multiple cups of spring water while we waited. Everyone on the overcrowded train pushed and shoved each other but was extremely aware not to step on her tail. Unlike most people, my dogs’ favorite part of flying is the TSA pat down! It’s one of the few times she gets attention from someone other than me while in uniform.
Special note: If you happen to be a Service Dog Handler and are considering flying with your dog; please feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to chat further about my experiences to share more information.
Here are a few ideas to help battle flight anxiety:
1) For those of you technologically minded, “There’s an app for that!”
3) Captain Stacey Chance has put together a free online self-help course that also has an audio download so you can take it with you and listen on the flight!
But electronics aside, anxiety can also be relieved with pressure points. Ever wonder why the human reaction is to hug someone when they are upset? Without realizing, the exchange of a firm hug triggers good endorphins because of a point around ones collar bone. But obviously you can’t have someone hugging you the whole flight; so try these other points on your hands.
1) Pinching the “meat” of your hand between thumb and index finger
2) Pressing the indention of your wrist at the base of thumb
3) Pressing either side of your index finger at the tip and below the knuckle
For visual guidance check out this video.
Pressure point triggering is a task taught to Service Dogs for people with sensory issues. This is one of the tasks my dog does.
If you notice someone else who has a fear of flying, refrain from running up to hug them. A stranger might not be receptive to your thoughtful gesture. However, try to politely share about the pressure points on their hands.
Happy flying, everyone!
On the 7th of June, 37 year old Andy Campbell and his team set out from The Royal Geographic Society in London. Over the next two years he’s making his way around the world without a distinctively planned route. Eight years ago, Andy fell while rock climbing and became paralyzed from the waist down. As an able-bodied person, suddenly loosing the use of your legs can come as quite a shock. Mobility takes on a whole new angle of thinking. But it hasn’t dampened his adventurous spirit.
A few years ago I vividly remember standing in the doctor’s office blinking at X-rays of my spine hoping magically they’d look “normal” the next time-no such luck. My own gypsy spirit drifted beyond the walls as she said the words, “scoliosis” and “phase two, spinal degeneration”. Putting on the recommended back brace my view of the world changed. For the next year and a half it became part of my daily clothing. I began to take notice of little things like the weight of doors as my hand opened them. Seven months after I was told not to lift over 15lbs for a long while; our very own vagabonding inspiration, Rolf, traveled around the world on his “No baggage” journey.
“Disability does not mean inability” as one Michigan based Service Dog training facility promotes. And in that light, Andy of “Pushing the Limits” is making his way around the globe and would appreciate your ideas on where to visit! Check out his blog, drop an email and give him suggestions on where to go next!
I’ve applied to join the expedition when it reaches North America…
Traveling isn’t limited to putting one foot in front of the other—especially after the invention of the wheel–it’s all about attitude.
Warning for men: if talk about female cycles makes you uncomfortable or queasy I’d suggest you skip this post!
Ladies, we can’t all live in the remaining hunter-gatherer cultures where ones menstrual cycle is a sacred celebration. Nor are we still band from our own households for three days like the old laws in Nepal. And frankly I doubt if I strip naked to walk through a field, anyone would still believe that I was warding away storms and ridding the crops of pests like they did in Ancient Rome. Instead most of us reside (or travel) where ‘that time of the month’ makes us feel like crap and becomes an extra hassle; to carry or find supplies can be cumbersome. The traditional methods of tampons or pads still can bleed into awkward moments. For example, when all our travel buddies are going swimming, and we’ve got to make up an excuse rather than announce to everyone were on the ‘rag’.
History aside, years ago while reading a travel blog I came across a post about menstrual cups. They are a rubber or silicone device which you can insert to gather blood, then simply empty and reuse for many years. At first it’s slightly strange getting accustomed to them, but afterwards you’ll be thankful to have made the switch! Technically the little cups were first made in the 60’s; but new designs work better and are widely available. For those of you located in the Americas, Diva Cup is a good brand. In Europe, Lady Cup seems to be the favorite. Their website is also offered in twenty language translations. Of course each time it’s emptied it must be rinsed. If you’ve got no access to water or the microbes might be questionable have some wet-wipes handy like swipes or intimate wipes.
As a final note, during the “No Baggage Challenge” another of our vagablogging team members referenced these cups in her advice for a female version of the trip around the globe with no bags.