If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s that it does a number on your body. From sleeping in crowded hostel rooms with strangers sniffling and coughing through the night, to not sleeping at all, your immune system goes on overdrive. And sometimes it just can’t keep up.
However, being sick abroad doesn’t have to be the worst thing (or most expensive thing) to happen to you.
So, after having had tonsillitis, a sinus infection, bronchitis, a terrible bought of migraines, and numerous allergic reactions, I have a couple tips to share about what to do when you find yourself sick when abroad- and some precautionary steps to take beforehand!
Taken in Menorca when I had tonsillitis.
1. Research your health insurance plan
Luckily, I had a very good plan that covers emergency room visits, even when abroad. Second, my university’s program made us buy student health insurance so I was covered for routine visits at the local urgent care. You can also check out this cool article from the New York Times to help pick out that insurance.
*Bonus: Our insurance had the option to have a free English translator. It was often easier to speak Spanish directly with my doctor, but if you don’t know the language of the country you’re visiting this could be very helpful.
2. Stock up on prescriptions
I could get 3 months filled ahead of time for my prescriptions. Also, before I left, a was able to request refills a little bit early in order to have almost enough to go abroad. Planning ahead will save you hundreds of dollars!
3. Check to see if over the counter medications are available/legal
Some medications, like Sudafed D, aren’t allowed in large amounts in different countries. Other medications aren’t even offered over the counter at all abroad and require a prescription.
4. Get a Medic Alert bracelet and store health info on your phone
These bracelets can have any major allergies or health problems on them so in case anything happens to you, the information is readily accessible for emergency workers. I had one written in English and you can customize what you want written on it. You’re also give identification number that emergency responders can look up. Definitely a must for all you solo travelers out there.
5. Learn what your illnesses, allergies, or chronic diseases are called in the languages of the countries you’re visiting
(Taken in Valencia, España)
1. Find your local clinics and hospitals
Most study abroad programs will have you buy health insurance used at a specific clinic. Find that clinic on a map and print out multiple ways to get there so that you won’t have to stress about finding a route when you’re sick. Do the same with your local ERs and urgent cares and research insurance options if you do need to visit.
2. Get an emergency contact
Your roommate, host mom, best friend, the lady down the hall from you…. Someone who can help you when you need it most and could get to a hospital somewhat easy if needed (aka it wouldn’t take them a 13 hour flight to do so).
3. Google translate is your friend
Remember when you bought that emergency data plan for your smartphone before leaving the States? Now is the time to use it. Sure it’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing!
4. Follow up on the paperwork
I missed one signature on one paper and came back from a vacation with frantic emails about how I needed to pay for an x-ray in full. Now I check everything thoroughly and stay as informed as possible about every step of the process. Note: Following up also means getting copies of everything so that you can add it to your medical records back home. Your doctors will thank you.
5. Tell people back home!
This may seem obvious, but when you’re dealing with everything abroad, it’s easy to keep the loved ones back home informed. Keep your parents and emergency contacts up to date in case you get really sick and they need to provide information, or take you back to the states- eek!
A comfy bed (surrounded by travel photos) is necessary for a quick recovery!
Welp, there it is! Hopefully you’ll never have to end up using any of this advice, but in case you do, here’s to hoping you feel better soon! Remember, your health comes first and it’s super important to stay healthy when you’re globe trotting and traveling the world.