When we have it, our personal health is incredibly easy to take for granted; when we don’t, there is seldom anything else that takes priority. When we travel abroad, we are in a uniquely vulnerable position. Oftentimes we are in unfamiliar territory and we may not know the answers to basic questions about our surroundings: where the nearest hospital is, how to obtain over-the-counter and prescription drugs, etc. Proper preparation and education will ensure that even in the event of a medical emergency, you will have the best chance at survival (and resuming your vacation!)
First, research how health insurance coverage works in the country to which you are traveling. Are visitors covered? What sort of health insurance coverage is available and how much will it cost? For what kinds of conditions will you be able to seek medical attention? If you have traveler’s health insurance, be certain to know what is and is not covered so that you can decide whether or not to pursue supplemental health insurance through another vendor.
Prior to leaving on your trip, make sure to document all the medications you are presently taking, as well as their dosages and projected duration. If necessary, develop a plan that will allow you to continue taking your medication on schedule while simultaneously allowing you the freedom to explore your new surroundings. Planning ahead will save you the trouble of trying to locate pharmaceutical resources in an unfamiliar place. If you plan to be in the country long enough that your prescription drugs will run out, be sure to locate local pharmacies and communicate your needs to them ahead of time.
Vaccinations are another important (and in many cases, mandatory) aspect of traveling abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides information regarding destinations and their potential vaccination requirements for entry. Travelers can sort the results based on several different categories, including pregnancy, compromised immune function, and extended stays. Travelers are advised to utilize other resources as well, such as Internet travel forums that host information from travelers who have recently been to the country in question. Particular attention is given to pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, and very young children, who may need different vaccines and may actually be barred from entry. Our immune system naturally degrades over time, so the elderly are also at increased risk for contracting certain pathogens. Once travelers are certain about who will be traveling, they can begin researching the particulars of vaccination, obtaining health insurance while abroad, and pharmaceutical drug coverage.