What To Do If You Get Sick While Traveling

Posted on Jul 29 2014 - 9:42am by Kimberley Laws


You started your vacation with visions of sunshine and smorgasbords dancing in your head, but, now your head is home to a throbbing ache, a thick layer of sweat, and a whole lot of dizziness. You’re far away from home, sick as a lab rat, and unsure of what to do next.

Grab your travel partner and tell them to start reading. Here are a few steps to take if you fall sick while abroad.

Be Prepared

Leaving the United States without adequate travel insurance coverage is like playing high stakes poker–and the pot is your health and all of your assets. That’s why it is wise to ensure that you purchase a health insurance policy that will cover you while you are abroad. And, be sure to read the fine print for exclusions. This Expert Interview with Joe Cronin on International Health Insurance warns that “in most cases, the international medical care facility will charge you directly before they provide services if you do not have an international plan they recognize.” Without it, you could find yourself “up the Ganges without an antibiotic.” 

Also, ensure that you bring all of your medications in their original, clearly marked containers. Bring your health insurance I.D. card with you on your travels. If you have any serious conditions, be sure to wear a MedicAlert bracelet. And, if you have a pre-existing condition, have your doctor prepare a letter describing your ailment and the prescribed treatments being undertaken.

And, do not forget to register with the American Embassy in the foreign nation that you are visiting. 

Seek Medical Attention

While some conditions may not require medical care, some will. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “What to do if You Become Sick or Injured on Your Trip” lists a number of symptoms that warrant an immediate doctor’s visit, including bloody diarrhea, a flu-like illness in a malaria-risk area, diarrhea accompanied by a fever, and several others. 

Whenever possible, contact the toll-free number on your travel insurance I.D. card before seeking attention. They will be able to direct you to the closest English-speaking medical professional. If you do not have travel insurance, you can seek advice from your concierge or group tour guide.

The American Embassy can also help you find a doctor and notify your loved ones if need be. To find the U.S. Embassy nearest you, visit the Website of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions. If you are in Canada, you can dial 1-888-407-4747, and if you are overseas you can call 00 1 202-501-4444. In many cases, Embassies and Consuls can also help by transferring monies from relations in the United States to help pay medical costs. You can also find a list of local healthcare providers that cater to travelers’ needs at the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.

If a medical professional recommends that you postpone any travel plans, request a doctor’s note stating so just in case you can use it to file a claim with your airline. 

If your illness is not serious enough to warrant medical attention, but you’d like to research your symptoms and possible treatments on your own, for a fee you can seek advice from a certified physician usingJustAnswer.com.

What to do If You’re En Route

Unfortunately, illness does not always wait until you have reached your destination to strike. And, if you’re miles out at sea or flying high above the clouds, you can’t simply phone the American Embassy or head to the nearest doctor’s office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do offer a few trips to travelers who find themselves unwell while onboard an airplane or a cruise ship. 

If you are on a flight, they recommend informing the crew member of your illness and donning a mask to protect other passengers. If your condition becomes serious, you may be taken to a private part of the aircraft or the crew may land the plane and arrange for you to be taken to a nearby medical facility.

If you are cruising the open seas, you should also contact the crew as some cruise ships have a medical center contained on the ship. If need be, you may also be taken to a facility on land.

And, depending on your distance from the United States, you may be medically evacuated back here. According to FOX Business’s “What Happens When You get Sick Overseas,” the average cost of a medical evacuation is roughly $40,000, so it is important to ensure that your travel insurance includes medical evacuation coverage.

Some Other Tips

If you are prone to illness–and even if you’re as healthy as a pampered poodle–there are a few other precautionary measures that you can take to prepare for this unfortunate eventuality.

Are you brushing up on your Spanish language skills before embarking on your trip to Barcelona? It may be wise, then, to also learn some useful medical-related vocabulary while you’re memorizing how to ask for a bathroom and order a beer.

You may also want to figure out some logistics before you arrive at your destination. If you’re heading to Paris, why not find out where the Embassy is in advance? You could also locate a prime medical facility “just in case”–preferably one that speaks English.

Thanks to your medical travel insurance and the care of an English-speaking doctor, you will be able to rid your head of that throb and nausea. And, in no time, you will be back on both feet–ready to soak up the sun and dig in to that smorgasbord.

Have you fallen ill while on vacation? What steps did you take to seek treatment?

About the Author

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer, avid blogger, career counselor and High School English Teacher. You can follow her at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.