If you’re traveling and find yourself in a medical emergency, there are a variety of options open to you. This can be an incredibly scary situation, especially if you are in a remote place or can’t communicate easily with locals. Understanding the situation beforehand can be incredibly beneficial if a disease or injury unexpectedly changes your plans.
The first thing to be aware of are the potential risks of a place you’re traveling to. This means a basic understanding of common diseases that affect travelers. Only concern yourself with feasible threats, however. For example, if you’re visiting a country with a very low rate of malaria that mostly only affects children and it’s not currently mosquito season, you will probably be healthier without malaria medication than with it. However, if dengue fever is a common affliction that hits many travelers a year, it pays to understand its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Always be informed.
When you pack, put together a small first aid kit. It is easy to go overboard on these and bring tons of medications and supplies that you would never realistically need or use, and they end up being dead weight in your pack. Pharmacies are exceedingly common in most countries, as pharmacists often act as physicians in areas underserved by clinics and hospitals. Most general medicines are available (and even cheaper), though it’s good to know their generic names and bring along any prescriptions you take that are very specialized. Beyond that, your first aid kit should include OTC painkillers and diarrhea medications, antibiotic ointment, small bandages, and anything else that you think you would feasibly need that wouldn’t be worth going to a pharmacy for, is light to carry, or might be difficult to obtain abroad.
If a medical situation does arise, be open about it. If you are traveling with a partner or as a group, make sure that your companions are aware of what’s going on. You may depend on them heavily, and they can also act as good resources of advice or things in their own first aid kits that you may be lacking, or go to a pharmacy on your behalf. If your illness or injury cannot be resolved that simply, seek more professional help. Medical care is incredibly cheap across much of the world, especially in comparison to places like the United States. If you are concerned about the quality of the care being offered, many large cities have foreign hospitals that cost more but have Western medical health professionals and standards that you may be more accustomed to. Your health is worth it.
In an emergency worst case scenario, it is generally possible to be airlifted to a larger facility with the specialization that you need. However, these flights can cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Travel insurance generally covers them, so it may be worth a small monthly fee in order to have the peace of mind. Even if you don’t choose to purchase travel insurance, however, these flights can be worth it—your life is worth more than money, even if the bill is that high.
Whatever you do, try to be safe abroad. Don’t limit yourself from fun activities, but enter into situations understanding the risks and rewards. Take care of yourself well, and hopefully you’ll never have to be in an emergency like this.