Being sick or getting injured while travelling is never fun. It is actually kind of horrible. But if you travel for long enough, it will happen eventually. And if you travel like me, your chances of bodily suffering get significantly higher. So I’m going to share with you my 6 tips for being sick or injured while travelling, because I’m really good at it. Case in point, the current Aircast on my foot and crutches on the floor.
Anything can happen while travelling. Depending on where you are going, there are all kinds of hazards that may not apply to your daily life back home. From being exposed to different foods and water, to taking on more strenuous adventures, to riding in taxis with absolutely insane drivers, you could find yourself in places and situations that may put you at risk.
Of course, we are never not at risk, even at home in our beds. The difference between being sick or injured at home and being so while travelling abroad, is that at home you know how to deal, you have support systems, and you are probably much more comfortable. But when you’re sick or injured abroad, all bets may be off! Of course we all try to mitigate risk, minimize stupid situations, wash our hands after petting stray dogs etc, but hey, shit happens! Or in my case, extremely potholed roads in Jamaica while running happened, causing my ankle to sprain in not one but two places. Because I am gifted like that.
From gastro malaise, to hospital stays, to crutches and casts, my body has run the gamut. I will leave avoiding illness and injury for another day when my foot isn’t the size of a watermelon. So let’s talk about how to deal…
Be Prepared – Travel Insurance is Key
Only cowboys and idiots leave home without travel insurance (which is why I haven’t always had it…). But now, I am a responsible adult and I always make sure that I can see a doctor, or at least that my limp body will be returned to my weeping parents. There are a ton of travel insurers out there, but choosing one that makes sense for your trip, your travel style, the country you are in, and your country of residence is essential.
Being insured will not only save you a ton of cash when you get sick or injured, but it will probably cut some red tape. The time when you are sick or injured is the exact time when you really don’t want to be dealing with bills and bureaucracy.
Last weekend, between jolts of ankle pain and waves of drowsiness from my Motrin PM tablets, I was on the phone with my travel insurer on the way to the hospital. I was emailed the claim forms before I even got treatment.
World Nomads Insurance is pretty top notch if you’re looking for flexibility, wide acceptance, and less hassle. Which, is all pretty important while you’re on the road, especially for a long period of time. They cover the more adventurous of us, ahem, and you can claim online. What is actually one of the best bits about World Nomads, you can buy while you’re out of your home country. So if you have forgot to buy, or you travel longer than expected, you can still grab insurance through these guys!
Make Sure You Know What is Going On
This can be difficult if you are travelling in a country where you don’t speak the language, but that makes it all the more important to advocate for yourself. Use Google Translate or other translation apps if needed, but make sure you are totally clear on what is actually wrong with you, what medication you have been prescribed, and what you need to do to take care of yourself.
I can’t tell you how many times some dodgy doctor or pharmacist has handed me unmarked pills after only a few hand gestures and pointing at parts of the body. Get the phone number of the clinic or better yet the doctor, and get copies of everything that was written down, you will need it all for your insurance claim.
The worst thing about being sick or injured anywhere is that you are in pain. The thing about being abroad when your body hurts is that you are possibly alone. Like me. Whenever anything bad happens, I always want my Mom.
Yes, I am 32 years old, what’s your point?
But really, being alone in a hospital bed is kind of the worst. So reach out to whoever you can either in country or afar and whine about it. I am independent to a fault, but when I’m not feeling well, I’m looking for sympathy ASAP! It just makes you feel better, which is totally science.
I’m a classic cheapskate when it comes to accommodation, but if you are sick or injured and abroad, spend the extra cash and make sure you are comfortable in a decent, quiet room with a soft bed. Not only do other travellers probably not want to share a dorm room with you, but you’re not doing your body any favours by not relaxing the way you need. Get a nice room, with air conditioning, cable TV, Wi-Fi, a deep bathtub, and room service and just get better. This is exactly what your credit card is for.
Additionally, people are normally pretty decent individuals, so ask them to help you. Most fellow travellers or guesthouse/hotel employees will go out of their way to run to the shop for Gatorade or Imodium, carry you and your bags up a flight of stairs, and basically do what they can to make you feel better.
Change Your Plans
Never Plan A, but sometimes an injury or a sickness while travelling can actually be spun and made into a positive. Sure you may not being able to climb the highest peak in Jamaica with your bum ankle, but instead plan a relaxing boat ride out to a bar in the middle of the ocean and eat some lobster. Once you’re well enough to venture out, go back to the guidebook or ask around about possible activities that you may not have considered when you are 100% healthy. One classic option is to hit up a museum or a gallery. The building will probably have both air conditioning and decent toilets (can you tell gastro distress is a fave of mine?), plus most will have wheelchairs for borrow if you’re not up for the walking.
Fun story: 3 days after my body rejected my appendix, my Mom pushed me around the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C. It was good getting out of bed and also kind of fun having my Mom wheel me to and fro.
And if you really can’t leave your guesthouse, make friends! It could be a really good time to get to know the people working the front desk or other travelers.
Nothing is certain while travelling, so instead of having your trip ruined by injury or sickness, make that lemonade!
Try the Local Healing Medicines
This may not be for everyone, but a lot of local or traditional remedies will not hurt you, but they could very well help you! I learned in Cambodia that rubbing banana leaves on bruises helped them go away faster, and in the Cook Islands we drank coconut water to replenish our systems while ill (or hung-over). In Kyrgyzstan, the remedy for everything is shot of vodka, or if you’re really lucky, a vodka bath. In Fiji, there is kava, which is mildly intoxicating dirt water with a ton of supposed healing powers. Here in Jamaica, there is a local plant called bizzy that really is proven as a strong antidote to poisoning and other toxic ingestibles.
Chances are if you are sick in a different culture and if you give an old lady the chance to look after you, you will be offered some local healing. My advice? Go for it! It may taste weird, but it very well could work, it will definitely be a great story and it will surely take your mind off your own misery for a while.
As I wrap up this post and gaze forlornly at my oversized booted leg, I am reminded of the many times I have been sick or injured while abroad. This is not the first time I have been on crutches overseas, nor will it be the last I am sure (My Dad says I have ‘weak ankles’). This was not the first time I emailed my Mom telling her I was on my way to the hospital, nor will it be the last I am sure. It just comes with the territory!
Being sick or hurt while travelling will always suck. But hopefully for you, I gave you some ideas of ways to make it suck just a little bit less.