Recently, I received an email from my husband with the subject line, “luck ran out.” It sure did. While bouldering, he fell and injured both ankles severely. That of course got me to thinking about health and first aid while traveling. Unfortunately, this is a topic I am all too familiar with having lived overseas with young children and an adventurous husband!
I’ve lived through taking my youngest to a Chinese hospital to get stitches in his knee (game of tag gone awry resulting in a collision with a rusty vent) sans any type of numbing medication, taking my husband for stitches in his head (collision with a tree on a horse-back outing) in a Honduran medical clinic, and dealing with severe wounds myself from a moped accident in Thailand. So, here’s my advice…
First and foremost, check with your insurance company about travel waivers for prescription medications to be sure you have enough of them while away. In all likelihood, you will not be able to find them abroad. Ask them what they require you to do should you have a medical need/emergency and understand what your policy covers (i.e.: are you covered for medical evacuation?).
Then fully research the country(ies) you intend to travel to and know what vaccinations are required and suggested. Talk with your medical doctor about what’s best for you. Do this 6 weeks prior to traveling. Most vaccinations take at least 2 weeks to be fully effective. They also may not be available in your area and might need to be ordered or the type you want isn’t available. I learned too late that typhoid shots were not available in my area. My daughter struggles to take pills and we had a terribly frightening experience with them!
We never leave home without a medical kit. It doesn’t matter whether you are on a tour or off independently backpacking in Tibet – you need to be sure you have whatever will keep you safe and comfortable. There are many kits available online, but we prefer to pack our own. Here is what we include in ours.
In a waterproof bag: Prescription medications in their original packaging, Benadryl, Triple Antibiotic Cream, Band-aids, Gauze, Baby Powder, Aloe Gel, Hydrocortisone Cream, Ibuprofen, Tweezers, Hand Sanitizer, Sunscreen, Anti-diarrheal, Styptic Cream (for cessation of bleeding), Tampons (not readily available in many third world countries), Lip Balm, Anbesol Gel or Orajel, Suture/Syringe Kit (in case you need a shot & you are worried about dodgy needles where you are going). We don’t use cough or cold medicines but if there is something you take to make you feel better, by all means bring it!
If you should need medical attention be sure you ask for advice – your hotel concierge, an expatriate, even a call to the consulate or embassy before you dash off somewhere. Of course, you may have no choice if it is a life-threatening event, but in most cases you do have a choice and you should make one wisely. If possible, find someone who speaks the local language to go with you to translate. There is nothing more frightening than being in the hands of someone you cannot communicate with.
We’ve learned that being adventurous and enjoying activities while traveling are tons of fun and lead to great memories. But more importantly, even though travel incidents make for great stories, we’ve learned that caution is wise and being prepared is necessary. Travel safely!