Getting sick while travelling doesn’t have to be a headache!
Sick in the USA
For some people a concern about long term travel is health. What if I get sick while I’m away? How will I cope? Here are a few of our experiences and pointers which may put your mind at rest. (Or just make you wonder how we can be so sickly…!)
Go easy on yourself
If you suspect you aren’t feeling too great, go easy on yourself; those ‘character’ hostels and death defying tuk-tuk rides will be waiting for you when you return to normal service. When we needed to head down to Hua Hin from Bangkok we had the usual choices- ‘authentic’ train experience (including hauling heavy bags down flights of steps and generally being confused about where the hell we were supposed to be); kamikaze minibus ride, where backpackers are shuttled to the coast in the quickest and most hazardous way possible; or, our preferred option- private taxi. It’s not hard to find other folk to share rides with, and for far less than the cost of a 20 min trip across London we were driven, for over three hours, door to door, in a comfortable and safe people carrier. The driver even bought us fruit.
The pharmacist is your new best friend
When we get sick in the western world we would mostly expect a doctor to sort us out. Not so in other nations- when you are feeling under the weather the pharmacist will become your new best buddy. Dodgy bellies are par for the course in any country where the water is something you expect to swim in most days but never drink (or even clean your teeth in). In Bali we dropped into the local pharmacy (the big green cross to show you were it is seems pretty universal) with a particularly persistent tummy bug. Usually the pharmacist can just sell you some anti-biotics over the counter; any complicating factors (allergies, other medications etc) and they have a hot line to a doctor. A quick call and a few dollars later and you have the means to get fixed up pronto. Beats waiting in line at the doctor’s surgery. Don’t forget to stock up on Gatorade while you are there.
Get me to a doctor!
We had a similar experience in Mexico although this time the bug was even more persistent so a Doctor was required. Again, ask in the pharmacy- they’ll be able to point you in the right direction. Even if your doctor doesn’t speak much English it’s amazing how much you can convey with a pained expression and embarrassing gesturing towards the appropriate bodily region. You’ll leave teary with gratitude and barely a dent in your wallet. There are good reasons all those US citizens cross the border to pick up their meds.
Sometimes, things may take a turn for the worse and you might need something a bit more of an emergency nature. Don’t worry, you won’t be left to suffer. Even in the USA, where we expected a bill running into the thousand to remedy an inconvenient case of dehydration, it didn’t turn out as we expected. The Cedars Sinai hospital in LA does have a department for the poor and generally uninsured. You may have to wait HOURS to be seen, you may find yourself sitting next to a (no doubt lovely) weathered gentleman who pongs a bit, but you will be seen and taken care of. You may even meet some characters while you wait (ours was an actor who had just returned from being on location in Columbia. Too much partaking in local specialities had resulted in a nasty flair up of a stomach condition- and possibly a later need for rehab). We were expecting some sort of bill which we assumed our travel insurance would take care of but nothing ever arrived….I’m not sure this is the norm!
What? It’s free?
In some countries there is a reciprocal agreement in place which means that you will get your health care for free because their citizens can expect the same on their overseas visits. We found this agreement between Australia and the UK which meant we had full access to the Medicare system once they had taken a copy of our passports. Even if you don’t feel yours is really an ‘emergency’, this is an OK route to getting into the system and referred to a specialist department if you don’t mind a wait (best avoid showing up at a weekend which seems to be ‘pointless accident in the home’ and ‘drunken mishap’ central). At least you know you’ll get seen eventually. Unless you are a cat. We saw a poor moggy, accompanied by a frantic owner, being turned away from the ER in Australia!
Better healthcare than at home?
If you are in a country with a lower cost of living you might be surprised what you can get for your money in swanky private hospitals. The Bangkok Hospital we visited was a revelation. We were personally shown to our department; the nurses looked fresh from the 1950s- starched uniforms, neat hats perched on their heads, severe hair-dos. For less than $100 we had a consultation with a specialist, 3D scans using the very latest technology and a full written report. I can kind of see the benefits of medical tourism.
The best medication
Some medications overseas are just better than ones you are used to in your own country. I’ve never found better sea-sickness tablets than the ones you get in Thailand- non-drowsy and you don’t feel a flicker of queasiness even when the seas are so rough the passengers are advised to put on life jackets. Some other remedies that a pharmacist can recommend for minor infections can be incredibly effective- more so than the sometimes disappointing natural remedies but without resorting to good bacteria flattening anti-biotics.
Be careful on what you take
There are some drugs which you can’t get in other countries so if there is anything you particularly rely on, take it with you. You know those headaches which only super powerful painkillers will shift? You won’t find codeine widely available if that’s your poison. Advice is not to even take it into the UAE. Ask for it in Thailand and you’d think you’d asked for snake blood. Oh no, that’s right, they do actually sell that.
If you aren’t getting the most out of your trip any longer, you can always go home. Make sure you have good travel insurance (we’re with Insure and Go) and you probably won’t even be out of pocket.
Taxi sharing with Gillian and Jason from One Giant Step
Coconuts were the best way to re-hydrate Han in Bali
Can you guess what was wrong with Han in Guatemala?!
With so many options to deal with health niggles you might encounter along the way you can quit worrying and get out there!
Note- don’t be put off- our examples are taken over many years, plenty of tropical countries and some fairly risky food!
Do you have any tips from when you’ve dealt with health hiccups on the road?
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