What Should You Do If You’re Injured or Ill While Traveling?

When you’re traveling to an exciting foreign destination, the last thing on your mind is the possibility of injury and illness. Thanks to optimism bias, we can only focus on the exciting things—the new people we’re going to meet, the new food we’re going to try, and all our travel arrangements coming to fruition exactly how we planned them.

But in reality, the possibility of getting hurt or sick is real, and if you’re in a foreign country or somewhere you don’t have contacts, you may have trouble finding the help you need—unless you’re adequately prepared in advance.

Do Your Research

The best thing you can do is research your location in advance, preferably with enough time to prepare your itinerary and contingency plans in advance:

  • Types of injuries, illnesses, and ailments. Certain diseases or injuries may be more prevalent in other countries. For example, malaria tends to be common in many African countries, in Central and South America, and in the South Pacific. In Eastern Europe and some parts of Africa and Asia, you may be more likely to get tuberculosis. These aren’t reasons to avoid certain areas; instead, it means you should take extra precautions to make sure you aren’t susceptible to those illnesses and ailments, which may not be common in your home country.
  • Hospital and medical care possibilities. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the healthcare and medical possibilities in other countries. Are the hospitals there easily accessible, and are they clean and up-to-date enough that you can have confidence in your care? How will you be able to pay for your treatment, should you need it?
  • Legal ramifications. It’s also a good idea to see what legal ramifications there may be for certain types of injuries, or your response to different situations. For example, if you’re injured in an auto accident in an unfamiliar area, would you be entitled to compensation for damages?
  • Common mistakes and unfortunate stories. You should consider reading the stories and anecdotes of people who have visited your intended area before. What did they wish they knew before they traveled? Which mistakes did they make, or what would they have done differently?

Learn the Language

Hospitals are often equipped with staff who can speak multiple languages, but it’s still a good idea to learn some basic words and phrases relating to injuries and healthcare when you travel to another country. Make sure you’re able to articulate things that are wrong with you, learn how to ask for help, and how to explain what type of care you need. That way, if you’re in a situation where no one speaks your native language, you can still get by.

Be Proactive

Improve the treatment options available to you with the following proactive tips:

  • Carry a small first aid kit. A small first aid kit, combined with some basic first aid knowledge, could save your life (or someone else’s). Try to carry whatever size kit you can manage.
  • Designate an emergency contact. Have someone you can contact for help if things go south. That may mean having an international phone plan so you can call back home, or building a friendship with a local who you trust, so you can call on them if you need assistance.
  • Don’t stray too far from potential help. Don’t put yourself in a situation where help would be inaccessible. For example, if you’re going to travel far outside city limits, where hospitals aren’t readily available, make sure you at least have adequate cell phone coverage to call for help. That doesn’t mean you can’t go exploring, but it does mean you should have a backup plan in case something goes wrong when you do.

Other Tips

If you do find yourself seriously injured or ill, despite the tips above, you can maximize your chances of survival and treatment with the following:

  • Stay calm. You’ll make much more logical, sensible decisions if you’re in a calm emotional state. It’s natural to get worked up and frightened in response to an injury or illness, but you’ll need to make a concentrated effort to calm your nerves if you’re going to make it out.
  • Prioritize your health. You might find yourself worried about logistics or costs while considering medical care in another country, but it’s almost always better to prioritize your health. Get the help you need first, then worry about the other stuff.
  • Look for points of trust. When evaluating healthcare institutions or determining whether to trust an individual, look for signs of trust. For example, is this institution certified by any international bodies? Is there demonstrable evidence that they know what they’re doing?

If you follow these tips, you should be able to avoid at least some injuries and illnesses, and improve your recovery from others. Most importantly, don’t let the fear of injury or illness discourage you from going on an adventure, or from having a good time in a new location.