Ah, health and safety. You can’t control the unexpected, but you can control your preparedness. Everyone leaves home hoping for the best - and usually that’s what you get! But for times when things don’t go according to plan, your future self will be thanking you for all the preparation you did before leaving home.
Travel insurance is always a good idea.
I repeat: TRAVEL INSURANCE IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA.
After spending one night in the hospital in Thailand, I racked up over 1,000 US dollars in medical bills - just from drinking a little bit of bad water. Don’t let unexpected medical bills drain the rest of your travel fund.
How Travel Insurance Works
STEP 1 - purchase a plan that best suits your needs. This part is really important. Each type of plan will only cover specific situations. If you opt for an inexpensive, emergency-only plan, then they will not cover you if you try to claim reimbursement for a flight you missed. If you’re worried about your baggage being lost on a budget airline, make sure your plan covers lost baggage. If you’re renting a car, make sure you cover yourself for accidents or vehicle damage.
Basically, your coverage is completely up to you. It’s a risk calculation that only you can decide. Some people will always pay premium to cover the improbable, and others like to roll the dice. At the very least, make sure you have basic emergency medical coverage.
Packages range from low-budget, I’m-pretty-much-dying coverage to the more pricey, covers-lost-sunglasses kind of plans. There are a lot of different options out there. Here are a few popular companies to start with:
GBG - they offer up to a year of coverage at one time.
World Nomads - they also have a cool website with trip ideas and guides!
Allianz - a huge insurance company that offers a TON of different options. This is usually the default travel insurance you get if you click the box when booking a flight.
Whatever you go with, save ALL your coverage details in an easily accessible place - printed in a travel folder, saved to Google drive, emailed to yourself, written on the back of the Declaration of Independence - we don’t care.
Bookmark the “FILE A CLAIM” page, and make sure you’re clear on what is and is not covered.
STEP 2 - hopefully you never even get this far. When you get sick, or get hurt, or need to seek medical attention for any reason, do not hesitate to go to a hospital. It is REALLY important that you go to a doctor even if you don’t think your insurance will cover it. Medical issues should not be shrugged off when you’re in a foreign country. No matter what.
Even if you have insurance, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for your expenses. So for the time being, you’re fronting the bills. BUT KEEP ALL OF YOUR RECEIPTS AND MEDICAL REPORTS!!!! Scan them. Make copies. Save them in 3 different places. DO NOT LOSE THEM.
STEP 3 - file a claim under your insurance plan as soon as possible. A lot of companies will put in an “untimely filing” clause, which means you won’t be reimbursed if you don’t file within 90 (or so) days of the incident. Go to your bookmarked “FILE A CLAIM” page a get to work. They will ask you for a personal description of the incident, an official record from the hospital, all the medical bills, and your receipt of payment.
They will probably take a long time to get back to you. Make sure you give them everything they need the first time your file your claim. Turnaround time is not quick.
STEP 4 - Receive your reimbursement! Some companies can set up a direct deposit, others might just send you a check.
ALTERNATE STEP 4 - Unlucky travelers may be denied a reimbursement. Do not take no for an answer. Almost all insurance companies will offer you the opportunity to appeal their decision. No promises here, but you might as well give it a shot.
Believe me, we weren’t thrilled when we learned about how many vaccines, and how many rounds of shots, we needed. But, let’s be honest, no one wants to pick up rabies from a rabid monkey in the middle of Vietnam (this is one of Kim’s genuine fears - (rabid) monkeys).
It’s safe to say that the general philosophy on shots/vaccines should be this: if you can’t take the needle, don’t get on the plane.
Research Your Destination’s Health Advisories
Before you even buy a plane ticket, you should have already considered all the foreign threats to your body’s wellbeing. Each and every country has its respective infectious diseases - especially place in Asia, Africa, and South America. A great place to start disease research is Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
The CDC has full profiles on all diseases of concern, featuring distribution maps of each. You can dig through the website to make an entire grocery list of vaccines for yourself!!!!! It’s fun!!!!!!!!
Do not assume that you know what you need without doing the research first.
We thought we needed a Yellow Fever vaccine, but it turns out we’re not going anywhere near Yellow Fever territory. Ever heard of Japanese Encephalitis, though? Neither had we… but check out its distribution map:
It spans pretty much all of Southeast Asia, which we planned to travel around for over six months. Point being: seek medical advice. Start with websites, and then visit a doctor. We found an immunization doctor through a referral from Kim’s primary care physician, but you can just as easily hit up a travel health clinic (they’re the experts on all of this).
It’s also worth mentioning that vaccines are expensive. There’s unfortunately no way around it (unless you have some pretty spectacular insurance). Most insurance companies won’t cover preventative immunizations. Check your insurance plan. Call that toll-free number on the back of your card.
It definitely sucks to set aside a hunk of cash for preventative medical care, especially when budgeting for a trip, but think of it as personal insurance to yourself. In the long-run, it’s better to pay for preventative care than emergency care.
Everyone likes to say, “safe travels,” but if you really want them, don’t skip the needles!
A List of Our Pre-Trip Vaccinations
Get your immunizations record from your primary physician and bring it to your appointment (if you’re seeing a specialist). Make sure you don’t get any doubles!!! Go fish!!!!
Tetanus. Most people have already gotten this. Check your records. because it may be outdated. MJ had to get an update, Kim was good to go.
Meningicoccal A. One time shot, easy peesy.
Meningicoccal B. Yes, it’s different than Meningicoccal A. This is a two-part shot, and it’ll make your arm sore for a few days…
Japanese encephalitis. Two-part shot, 21-28 days apart. This disease is carried by mosquitoes, so if you’re staying in Asia for more than 2-3 months, you can’t really avoid it.
Hepatitis B. Most people already have already gotten this one. Both of our blood tests showed that we didn’t have high enough antibody counts, so we each got booster shots.
Typhoid. You actually get a choice with this one! For those heavily adverse to needles, you can opt for an 8-day round of pills. Those who can’t be bothered with keeping track of pills, you can get a shot instead. Pills will give you a 5-year immunity, meanwhile the shot will only last for 2 years. Kim took the pills, MJ got the shot. Choose wisely.
Malaria. This one isn’t a typical vaccination. They’re prescribed pills that you have to take leading up to, and during your trip to a malaria-prone area. Some types of Malaria pills will cause crazy dreams or even hallucinations, so make sure you don’t get those… unless you’re into that.
Rabies. This is very optional, and very expensive. But before you decide to save the cash, remember that if you’re doing any backcountry traveling, hiking, camping, or cave exploring, you may come in contact with a rabid animal. Rabies kills approx. 70,000 people per year. That being said, having the vaccination does not excuse you from contracting the disease if you come in contact with the saliva of a rabid animal. YOU WILL STILL NEED EMERGENCY MEDICAL ATTENTION. It’s just less likely that you’ll die before you get it :)
Contents of a Killer First Aid Kit
There may be some other things you want to bring for your time on the road.
Azithromycin (general, high-dosage antibiotics). This is the cure-all of antibiotics. You will need a prescription, but it’s worth asking for. Our doctor gave us 15 rounds of two-pill doses. These will save you after that street meat destroys your bowels, and runs you a fever.
TUMS. Honestly just fixes everything.
Vitamin-C Tablets. For an immune boost during long flights, or really whenever.
Excedrin. The ultimate hangover cure.
Sudafed or Benadryl. Best way to clear your stuffy sinuses in the morning.
Claritin. If you have persistent allergies.
NyQuil and DayQuil.
Dramamine. If you are cursed with motion sickness. Try the non-drowsy type so you can stay awake for scenic ferry rides.
Melatonin. For when you do want to sleep on the ferry ride.
Neosporin and Band-Aids. For the boo-boos.
Tweezers. Splinters know no boundaries.
Tiger balm or anti-itch cream. Mosquitos know no boundaries either.
Moleskin and/or medical tape. These can be super helpful if you start to develop hot spots or blisters after long days of walking.
Ace bandage. Just in case you twist an ankle.
Precautions on the road
There are so… so… sooooo many ways to protect yourself from accidents. These are just a few important ones:
ONLY DRINK SEALED BOTTLED WATER dear God please don’t drink tap water it nearly killed me just don’t please don’t.
Avoid ice cubes, they might also kill you.
Avoid riding scooters. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people end up in the hospital.