If I could give you advice, it would be to travel as often as you can. Traveling and living in multiple cities has always been a life goal of mine. Some years, chasing that goal entails multi-country tours. Others, it means staying in one place to soak up much of the local atmosphere as I can. From summer internships in Spain, business trips in Latin America, living in France while pregnant, and educational sojourns to Asia, I have learned much about the art and adaptability of travel from my journeys. Such experiential education becomes even more important to apply when you become ill while traveling.
I don’t mean the headache or hangover type of ill. I mean the I-want-to-be-in-my-bed-with-my-doctor-and-mother-on-speed-dial type of ill.
Now that I’m a parent, it’s even more important for me to be prepared prior to and during travel. Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot. Here are my top 5 tips for dealing with illness while on the road.
1. Ask about special amenities for the sick.
Airports sometimes have accelerated immigration for the ill along with great doctors and facilities. This year, I had the great misfortune of acquiring dysentery while traveling in Latin America. The illness did not fully hit me while in I was still in country. Instead, it took its sweet time and descended full force while I was en route from Latin America to Europe with my family. By the time I’d landed in Germany, the flight attendants had to literally wheel me off the plane. Thankfully, this meant that my family and I were able to jump the regular immigration line and get in a special one that whisked us right through. The kind airport staff wheeled me all the way to the airport infirmary, where I was seen immediately by medical staff. The lesson? It never hurts to ask about airport services and health care offerings.
2. Travel lightly.
This holds for any trip but especially if you happen to be really ill. When I first started traveling, my luggage resembled the embarkation scene in Titanic (which incidentally is the best luggage scene in American film.) By contrast, when I was pregnant with my first child, I spent 3 weeks traveling with a super tiny wheelie. Over the years, I’ve learned how to pack efficiently. The last thing that you want to do when you’re feeling sick is lug around two heavy roller bags and a carry-on. Pack lightly, and you’ll also increase the chance of passersby being willing to help you with your luggage.
3. Buck up your language skills.
Wherever you go, a few well-chosen words and phrases go a long way with locals. Never is this more important than when you are sick and trying to explain in broken [insert language here] what is wrong with you. Often when doctors or hospitals say they have English speaking staff, their English is about as good as your high school French – that is to say, theoretical at best. At the very least, download Google translate and deal with the data charges. If you suffer from certain conditions, learn how to explain them in the local language. Write yourself note cards or keep an email with the correct translation so that you can show it to doctors. Better yet, hack your way to some basic language learning in advance.
4. Befriend a doctor with experience in international travel.
The best prevention is preparation. Speak with your physician prior to travel and be sure that you travel with a respectable amount of whatever medications you need. Carry them in your hand luggage and label them appropriately. Pharmacies around the world do not always carry the same products.
5. Purchase travel (health) insurance.
If you are not 110 percent certain that your U.S. insurance plan covers you for overseas emergencies, consider purchasing travel health insurance. You will pay out of pocket at the point of service, but the reimbursement from the insurance plan should be quick. You can save loads of money this way for a small, upfront fee.