Getting sick while traveling probably comes with the gig. Between last-minute stress before we leave, red-eye flights in an anything-but-sanitary environment, unfamiliar food and sleep disrupted by jet lag, the rigors of travel are enough to make any of us more susceptible to sickness.
But once you’re down, you don’t have to be out. Here are ways to salvage your trip if you do end up getting sick while traveling.
1. Check your insurance before you travel.
Heck, check right now. This is one of those things few people ask about until they need it, and then it might be too late. If you are not covered for medical care while traveling, we highly recommend purchasing trip insurance with medical coverage.
2. If your illness is serious, contact your embassy or consulate.
If you are really sick, you don’t want to end up in a random doctor’s office or foreign ER without knowing whether the staff is competent, without anyone knowing you are there, or with language or other communication barriers. Embassy and consulate officers can recommend local health care providers, direct you to a hospital, notify family, assist with the transfer of funds, help arrange for transport and more. Don’t be wary of contacting your nearest embassy if things get dire; these folks are paid with your taxes and are there to assist.
3. Find a good doctor.
If you are traveling within your home country, the best way to find care covered by your insurance is to call your insurance company or visit its website. You can also check sites like HealthGrades.com for reviews of local doctors.
4. Start medications right away.
Many of us are reluctant to run to the nearest doctor or pharmacy when we’re not feeling well, instead preferring to gut it out while a malady runs its due course.
When traveling, however, taking this tack might mean that your vacation is over by the time you actually feel better, so I encourage you to pounce on whatever medications are available as soon as you start feeling under the weather. Over-the-counter fever and pain reduction medicines (ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin), antacids or stomach soothers, Nyquil-type medications to help you get through the night, and even simple stuff like throat lozenges can be great allies in dispatching your symptoms quickly.
5. Protect your traveling companions.
If one sick traveler is a source of misery for everyone on the trip, multiple sick travelers can shut things down completely. If you feel an illness coming on, take immediate action to protect your fellow travelers. Here are a few ways to prevent spreading your germs to your companions:
– Wash your hands regularly (and encourage your companions to do the same)
– Carry and handle all of your own stuff
– Remove your toothbrush from the sink counter
– Don’t stick your hands into their snacks
– Don’t get food from the buffet for anyone but yourself
– Don’t share food, utensils or glasses
– Don’t use others’ cell phones or handle their room key
– Use the same pillow every night
6. Quarantine yourself.
If you are really sick, you might consider quarantining yourself by paying for a separate hotel room for a night or so. Not only will you protect your companions from germs, but you’ll also be less likely to disturb them with your coughing, tossing or turning — and without sleep they’ll be more vulnerable to contracting illnesses themselves.
7. Realize that your illness is temporary.
Most common travel maladies last about a day or two — or at least the worst of it lasts that long. If you employ some of the strategies above, get a ton of rest and wait it out for 18 to 36 hours, in most cases you can get fully back into the thick of your trip.