As a world traveler, I’ve been quite lucky. The biggest medical problems I’ve ever had abroad were a nasty cold in Moscow, for which a pharmacist recommended medicine after I mimed my symptoms, and, on a Danube River cruise through Austria, an infected toe that resulted from a blister. That time, the cruise director contacted an English-speaking doctor, who made a ship call and prescribed antibiotics. The doctor bill and the medicine totaled less than $40, and all turned out fine.
But I’m well aware that illness or accident can happen anywhere, at any time. That’s why I always prepare for my travels by gathering health information on the destination in advance and taking any needed precautions. I also now pack a medical kit with essentials such as cold medicine, first-aid supplies, over-the-counter painkillers, and meds for constipation and diarrhea, two problems that are not uncommon for travelers.
Beyond a well-stocked medical kit, if you’re going abroad, you should also consider whether you need medical insurance (Medicare and Medicaid do not cover medical costs overseas) or—if you’ll be in a place where health care is not on par with that in the U.S.—whether you should purchase medical evacuation insurance.
Excellent sources of health information for travelers are the U.S. State Department’s Your Health Abroad webpage (travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/your-health-abroad.html) and the Travelers’ Health website by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (cdc.gov/travel).
The State Department’s site answers all sorts of health-related travel questions, including the proper way to travel with prescription medicines, how to find a doctor or hospital abroad, and what to do in a medical emergency. Did you know, for example, that in the event of an emergency, the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you’re visiting can help you with funds transfers and with notifying family and friends back home—and that embassy websites have lists by specialty of English-speaking doctors?
The CDC has easy-to-understand color-coded notices for travelers, with green indicating that you need to take the usual precautions you would when traveling any-where, yellow recommending enhanced precautions (which are detailed) and red warning against nonessential travel. The CDC site also provides country-by-country recommendations on vaccines and medications (such as for malaria prevention) that you might need; for that information, search the country you’ll be visiting by clicking on Destinations.
The CDC traveler’s website even provides specialized information for different types of travelers, including pregnant women, those traveling with children and those who are immune-compromised. There is information on travel to high-altitude destinations as well as to cold or hot environments, on jet lag, motion sickness, road safety and much more.
All travelers (actually, everyone) should stay up to date with routine immunizations, but if you need any specialized vaccinations or need to consult a doctor about illness during or following travel, you can find travel medicine specialists through the Global Travel Clinic Directory link on the International Society of Travel Medicine website (istm.org).
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of AAA World.