The only thing worse than getting sick is getting sick when you’re traveling far from home. There’s no one to take care of you, you can’t read any of the words on the medication bottles, and worst of all you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time in crowded buses, trains, and planes. Like most emergencies that happen when you’re on a trip, getting sick abroad can be intense, but with a little bit of pre-trip preparation, those troubles can be tackled.

The following is a list of tips and tricks to help you fend off any foreign bruise, bite, or burning fever.

Check With Your Medical Insurance Provider Before You Go

Some health insurance providers cover foreign medical emergencies. Depending on what happens, you’ll have varying amounts of coverage. It’s also very likely that your international insurance coverage will be different from your local coverage, so it’s best to check before. Also, be sure to keep all your receipts if you’re ever treated in another country, a lot of insurance policies will reimburse the costs — if you provide proof. Depending on how developed the country you’re visiting is, you may not be able to recover those documents after you’ve left.

Think About Getting Medical Travel Insurance

If you don’t have a provider that covers any medical treatment abroad, then it might be a good idea to get traveler’s insurance. Traveler’s insurance is a short-term insurance that people can purchase when they know they’re going to be abroad. A number of companies exist in the US that can provide travelers with varying degrees of coverage. For example, someone who might be mountain climbing or backcountry hiking might need better coverage than someone who is spending a week in Paris. You’ll want to call a few of these companies and compare prices and coverage and pick a package that best suits your needs.

Make Sure Your Vaccinations Are Up to Date Before You Go

sick-abroad-vaccineTraveling to certain parts of the world means coming into contact with a series of foreign and unknown diseases. In order to prepare for these, savvy travelers should plan ahead to see which diseases these countries recommend inoculating against. You can check the CDC website, which includes a handy where are you going’ search engine. Anyone traveling through airports is familiar with the risks of diseases — there are signs warning passengers about everything from Ebola to Chikungunya. But it helps if you have figured out what types of diseases you are at risk of contracting before you see the airport signs. (Some countries won’t even let you in without the proper inoculation!)

Bring Plenty of Any Meds You’re Currently Taking

There is nothing worse than running out of medication halfway through a trip. Bringing enough medication for the full length of your trip is a bit like avoiding the annoyance of ATMs and card problems by bringing along some ‘just-in-case’ foreign currency. The hassle of finding a local pharmacy, getting a prescription, and paying an extra fee for the medications (if you can even obtain them!) are enough reasons to stuff your bag with all necessary pills.

It’s also probably worth downloading WebMD’s App to your smartphone (it’s available for both Apple and Android), so you’ll able to figure out if any symptoms you may come down with are serious enough to warrant seeing a doctor.

Avoid Unnecessary Risks to Your Health

Once you arrive in a foreign country, it’s best to know a bit about what to expect regarding the safety and health standards of that country. For example, while some countries have tap water that is safe to drink, other countries’ water would be better off avoided or boiled. Also, while locals might be drinking or eating certain foods and beverages, your body may not have the same tolerance and won’t deal well with it. And don’t forget your old habits—just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a helmet, look both ways before crossing the street, or get a random tattoo. Also, incapacitation from too much drinking can be risky if you’re in a hot country, and anyway, you don’t want to waste a day worshiping the porcelain god. It’s fine to be carefree and have a good time, just don’t be too reckless!

Carry All Your Relevant Health Information

Good for you—you’ve read up on your travel destination, discovered potentially dangerous diseases, and got yourself vaccinated. You seem to have everything in order. But what if something happens and you can’t tell your doctor what’s wrong? Bringing health information that records the dates of vaccinations, your blood type, any allergies you might have, and any recurring medical problems (like seizures or angina) can help foreign doctors know how to treat you. If you end up with some sort of brain injury or concussion and aren’t able to communicate, a card with all this information can be life-saving.

Know How to Contact Your Embassy or Consulate

Your home country’s embassy or consulate is your best friend in times of need. Their main job is to help foreign nationals in times of need. Consulates are smaller, but ubiquitous, because there are sometimes no ambassadors (and hence no embassies) in foreign countries. So make sure you take down the contact information of your embassy or consulate. It can literally be the only resource you have in certain situations if you need to be airlifted back to your country, need access to a higher level of medical aid, or require legal representation to even be treated.

Pack a First-Aid Kit

First aid kits shouldn’t feel like a burden on your space, enjoyment, or expenses. Large retailers like Amazon sell them for as little as $20. Try and buy a mini-sized pack—all you really need are bandages, gauze, tape, and pain-killers. If you’re planning on doing some adventuring, try to include a more thorough range of goodies like disinfectant swabs, ice packs, or slings. Also, think of bringing sunscreen and chamomile lotion — sunburns can be just as bad as second or third-degree burns.

Know a Few Medical-Related Words & Emergency Services Info

Probably the most important thing to learn is how to ask for things and who to ask. Before you go to a new country, be sure to know how to dial 911 in that country. Often, it’s a short and easy to remember number, but if you don’t look it up before, you might run into a bit of trouble. You should also know how to say basic things like “I’m sick,” “Hospital?” or “Doctor.” Often times people will know where to direct you for help. If you know how to say “I’m sick” and then grab your stomach, and ask for “Doctor?” someone should know exactly what you need and point you in the right direction.

Don’t Panic!

Probably the worst thing to do in a moment of danger is to panic. A lot of situations are in your control because they involve getting people to help. If you avoid worrying, know how to ask for a few basic things, and have a plan established early on, getting help can be easy. The faster you manage any pain or problems, the faster you can get back to enjoying your vacation!

Do you have any tips and tricks for staying healthy abroad? Have a crazy story from when you got sick on a trip? Let us know what it is in the comments below!

2 Responses

  1. Robin

    Before I went to India, I bought a one pound jar of probiotics that are sold for use in livestock. Same beneficial bacteria as are marketed for people but a LOT cheaper. I ate a spoonful several times a day for about 2 weeks before and after arrival. I was in several states for a total of 6 months, drinking both city water and well water, and eating everything including raw vegetables from street vendors. Zero digestive upset. Be proactive about optimizing your immune system and it’ll go a long way to keep you healthy.

    • Shervin

      I’m no refuting your experience but I recently visited a travel doctor for vaccinations for a few countries I’m visiting–including India–and when asked about probiotics, my doctor said that they have not medically proven benefit on preventing digestive infections and what not.


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Lover of cheese. Trash panda enthusiast. Avid nap-taker and fridge-hunter. Occasionally writes and sometimes travels. Responds to "Chloe" and "Generous Overlord."