How to Handle Illness When Traveling Abroad

By January 31, 2012 How To: 6 Comments
Pills scattered across a table

Image by NVinacco from Flickr.

I had grand plans at the start of this new year – weekly blogging, 365 days of photos and more.  Of course, I only made it a few days into January before becoming really really sick.  A week of headaches led into three weeks of fatigue and a hacking cough that is only now fading away.  So, due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m calling January a wash and am resetting my New Year resolutions beginning in February.

Being that sick got me thinking to how much it sucks being sick abroad.  Here at home, I at least had the comfort of a bed and a few people to comfort and take care of me.  When doing the independent travel thing and you get sick, you’re often in an unfamiliar place with nobody around to help you through that illness.  Here’s a few thoughts on how best to deal with being sick abroad.

Travel Insurance

The first thing I’d suggest is to make sure you’re traveling with traveler’s insurance.  In addition to covering things like major accidents and emergency evacuation, in a situation where you’re sick in a country where you don’t speak the language, you can call your provider, explain the situation and get good advice, usually from a staff nurse, on what to do next.  This is especially handy of you have symptoms for something that might be more than a normal cold or food poisoning.

God forbid you have to go to a local doctor or hospital, the insurance provider will tell you where the closest reliable place to go is, handle any communication issues, and cover any extraneous costs.  Hopefully you don’t get sick on your trip, but if it does happen, having travel insurance covers most of your bases.

First Aid Kit

I always carry a first aid kit at the bottom of my backpack and it’s surprising how often it comes in handy.  Yes it’s got bandaids and first aid cream, but I usually end up using the various medications more.  Anti-diarrhea meds, headache relief and rehydration packets are a life saver when you need them.  Don’t forget to refill these after heavy use or you’ll be left in the cold (pun intended) when you need them next time.

Digestion issues and food poisoning are probably the most common issues a traveler will run into.  The more foreign the country you are traveling in is to your home country, the higher the odds of something happening.  Best to have a remedy with you as it could be difficult to find the appropriate meds after the fact, not to mention that you won’t want to be wandering around town in your condition.

Hostels and Hotels

Take advantage of the staff at your accommodation.  They’ll know where the closest doctor or hospital is, where to get the meds you need, and will hopefully have a good handle on your language and be willing to act as a translator if needed.  They should also know if you might have caught something common to the local area that might be serious.

In addition, if it looks like you’re going to be laid up for a few days recovering from your illness, get out of the dorm room and splurge for a private room.  There’s nothing worse than having to deal with other people’s crap when you’re sick and you’ll gain karma points by not passing it along in case whatever you have is contagious.

Call Home

Call, skype or otherwise communicate with someone(s) back home.  Just talking to people back home adds a level of comfort to your situation.  Being completely alone for three days while recovering from food poisoning isn’t a situation anyone wants to be in.  Make it better by getting some love from friends or family back home.

Ever been sick on the road?  How’d you deal with it?  Share your tips so other people don’t have it so hard when a virus floats along…


Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Thanks for great article about handling illness when you travel.
    Keep travelling..Keep writing..and Keep sharing

  • Than person go for the aboard and he is sick. I think he call the hotel staff and call at the home and get the proper treatment for the doctor. Unfortunately accident should be happened contact the lawyer .He give legal suggest.The hotel
    staff not care properly that accident should be happened.     

  • Jenny says:

    I’ve added Benedryl as an item in my first aid kit.  Allergies can be cumulative, so a little bug bite that wouldn’t have bothered you much in the past might make you swell like a balloon this time.  It’s good to have an anti-histamine.

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  • 24/7 in France says:

    FYI – In France, there are doctors who (still) make house calls.  I would add Pepto Bismol chewable tablets to this first aid kit list too. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  • Kenyatalii says:

    This was a great article.  It’s quite helpful to any one travel across the world. Good work.

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