I want to start this blog post with a disclaimer: I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR. ALL COMMENTS AND INFORMATION PRINTED HERE ARE STRICTLY MY OPINION BASED ON MY OWN EXPERIENCES.
It is important for every one of us to stay as healthy as we can wherever we are. However, it is something travelers might often not think about. When we are at home, we are close to friends and family who we can call if we have a medical problem. We are also in an area where we know where to find a doctor and a hospital if needed.
I know that most people will not set out on a trip if they have severely compromised health without making the necessary inquiries and arrangements. However, there are many medical problems that can come up for otherwise healthy people when they travel.
Even if we are traveling to just to a neighboring state in the United States, known for its fairly healthy environment and clean drinking water, there is a chance our body can react unfavorably to the new environment. Although the water is considered safe to drink, it is probably different than the water we drink at home and could cause digestive problems just because we are not used to it.
I don’t know about other travelers, but when I am on a trip, I usually eat a lot more than normal and am more apt to eat unusual foods and more unhealthy foods. Just a change in diet can affect many people to the point of being too sick to enjoy their trip.
Another change in the environment that could cause medical problems is the air around you. Different areas might be populated with different pollen and pollutants than your body is used to. These things can cause your health to become compromised even if you do not normally have these kinds of problems.
There is always a chance of injury when you travel. A simple sprained ankle can really mess up your trip. It is important to plan ahead for maintaining your standard of health, be prepared for minor medical problems, and know how and where to get help if you need it.
When I travel I am careful to carry enough of my prescription medications to cover more days than I plan to be gone. That way, if my return is delayed or I drop a pill, I am still covered. If I am traveling for just a few days and staying in the country on a driving trip, I just fill my weekly pill dispenser. However, if I am flying, I take pills in marked prescription bottles (little ones from the drug store) and put them in my empty dispenser once I arrive so I don’t forget to take them regularly. I always take over the counter medications like pain killers, sinus medications, antibiotic ointment, band-aids, artificial tears, Imodium, and Tums. You can find these medications nearly anywhere, but if you want something at midnight, you might be out of luck. I also take along a thermometer.
Most lodging places will have contact information for you if you need emergency medical help. Many can recommend local doctors, dentist, etc. if you need to visit one of these physicians while you are staying at their facility.
If you or a travel companion have specific medical needs, it is important that everyone in the traveling party know about those needs. Allergies, diabetes, etc. should be identified with medical alert tags on the person.
I traveled with someone one time who was taking blood thinners and we checked ahead of time for locations of Quest providers who could test his blood every two weeks, as directed by his doctor. One trip included the presence of a kidney stone that the Dr. said could jar loose at any time and block everything and that we would need to get to a hospital immediately. I checked out and mapped ahead of time local hospitals along the way and knew how to get the patient there in a hurry if needed. This may sound a little paranoid, but I felt responsible for making plans ahead of time so there would be less confusion and stress on the trip.
Since we are familiar with living in the states, we are all pretty familiar with picking up a phone book and finding a hospital or doctor. Many places in the United States have a 911 service or similar emergency contact number that can be summoned for help. However, traveling in a foreign country might be very different depending on what country you are visiting.
In France, for instance, the first line of medical treatment is the local pharmacist. I was once sick long enough in Paris that I decided I needed medical help. The hotel desk clerk directed me to the only drug store open on Sunday. I discussed the problem with him and he issued the appropriate medication. It is my understanding that this is normally the first stop one makes when sick there. I thought I had thoroughly understood the directions from the pharmacist, including the direction to “take one right now.” However, upon returning to the hotel, I gave the medicine package to the hotel clerk and asked her to translate it all to me so I knew exactly what I was taking. Her English was much more fluent than the pharmacist, although he apologized throughout our encounter for not speaking better English.
It is important that you know how your medical insurance works while you are in a foreign country. You need to know how to proceed if you should need medical attention. When some family members were living in India for six months, they found that the medical help at doctors’ offices and hospitals was so inexpensive that they didn’t even feel the need to turn in the bills to the insurance company for reimbursement. One acquaintance, who broke a bone in Australia, asked for a bill and was told there was no charge because they had universal health care and didn’t even have a process for writing up charges.
There is a lot we can do as travelers to help insure our safety and health while on a trip. We need to make sure we are faithful in taking regular medications that have been prescribed.
We also need to use wisdom when eating – what and where and how much. Keeping our hands clean is another important rule for staying healthy. I keep hand wipes in my day bag all the time and make sure I wash my hands in some way before eating anything, even a snack.
Exercise is not usually an issue on my trips because I usually do a lot of walking. However, resting can be as important as exercise. When you are tired, REST. If you wear yourself out, you will not fully enjoy the trip.
Be careful! It is easy to get interested in looking at something or hurrying to get somewhere and take a misstep or trip over something. Be sure to watch where you are walking and pay attention to your surroundings.
Make sure you are appropriately dressed for the weather. Know what kind of weather to expect where you are traveling, but also take items you will need if the weather turns off colder or warmer than you think it will.
Drink water – make sure it’s clean and healthy water – but DRINK IT!