Keeping healthy at home is hard enough. Just ask anyone who has survived a Northeastern winter. Between hacks, coughs, drips, sneezes, wheezes, and fevers, it is amazing that we can make it until spring.
But when traveling, it’s a completely different story.
Of course you have purchased travel insurance for your trip, but the key to a successful trip is to remain healthy and not use the insurance at all. Staying healthy on holiday is not just about avoiding the Centers for Disease Control hotspots or getting a shot or two before you head out — although both are reasonable precautions.
According to Chris Zimmel, a former flight nurse with over 150 air evacuations worldwide under her belt, having the right insurance is critical.
“I don’t think most folks have an inkling of air ambulance costs and somehow expect that their health insurance will pick it up,” she says. “One trip to India to pick up a lady with a broken hip set the family back $100,000.”
If you do not have that kind of pocket change, use some common sense and heed these dozen tips for staying healthy on holiday.
1. Take full bottles of prescription and over-the-counter medications. What happens when you are fumbling in the dark and half of your medicine goes down the drain?
2. Keep your medicine with you at all times. Do not check them in your luggage and do not leave them out in the open in your hotel room.
3. Take paper prescriptions with you. Drugs are commonly stolen and if you need to replace them, you will need a prescription. Beware that not all American drugs are readily available outside the country. Conversely, you may be able to purchase some prescription drugs over the counter in some nations.
4. If you need to purchase drugs outside the United States, they may not be the same quality — there is no FDA in Myanmar.
5. If you wear glasses, bring a copy of your prescription. Again, the quality might not be as good as home, but you won’t be blindly stumbling through the rest of your vacation.
6. If you fall ill, check with the hotel staff first. Most hotels have an English-speaking doctor on call for sick guests. This is a good first step and he can determine if more care may be warranted.
8. Make sure your travel insurance company has English speaking contacts. If you are not critically injured, you want to be describing your problem in English to someone who understands.
9. Stay away from small clinics and doctors’ offices in an unfamiliar area. In many countries, almost anyone can hang a shingle that reads “doctor.” If you need emergency care, go to as large a hospital as possible-generally they have some standard operating procedures.
10. If you are hospitalized, get a private room and monitor your medications and treatments. If possible keep a written record of it (or have a traveling companion do so) so that you can show it to your physician back at home. If possible, obtain the hospital records. This will also help in any insurance claims
11. If you have to ask if you can drink the local water — don’t! And remember, ice in your drink is probably made with — you guessed it — the local water.
12. Check with your travel insurer as to the registration of their air ambulances. It is best to contract with a US-based company as the US and Canada have stringent requirements for outfitting the aircraft, and certification of the flight crew. You should have at least one CRFN (Certified Registered Flight Nurse) and the crew should be certified for high altitude transports. Finally, be ready to give an accurate and detailed medical history so the proper equipment and crew can be on board. If a patient is on a ventilator, a respiratory therapist would need to be on board, failure to mention this could be disastrous.
While the list may seem daunting and frightening, it is ultimately your responsibility to keep yourself safe and healthy while traveling. You can’t be sure of the level of care you might receive and these 12 tips quite literally might save your life.