3 Things I’ve Learned From Getting Sick and Injured While Traveling
The times I’ve been lucky and the times I haven’t.
My first ambulance ride was in Italy in 2016. After buying what I could only assume was freshly-baked focaccia (a pizza dough-like bread) near my apartment, I met up with a friend for what was meant to be an ambitious walking tour of the port city of Genoa.
I didn’t get more than a few blocks into the walk before I could feel that something was not right. At all. I’ll save you the gory details of my body violently heaving up all the contents of my stomach, but after collapsing on the floor of a café, I was writhing in pain and terrified that one of my organs had spontaneously combusted.
It wasn’t long (although every second was hell on Earth) before I found myself being loaded onto a gurney and rushed to the emergency room.
They brought me back from what felt like the brink of death, and I was on the street eating gelato within a few hours.
1. Travel insurance doesn’t matter…except when it does.
That trip to the Italian hospital didn’t cost me a dime, despite the bloodwork and in-depth consultation with a doctor. That’s entirely thanks to Italy’s robust universal healthcare system — a lucky break for me since, although I had student insurance, I hadn’t brought my card or information with me. Still, they brought me back from what felt like the brink of death, and I was on the street eating gelato within a few hours of my visit.
On subsequent trips, I was not so fortunate.
During my first trip to Hawai’i, both of my ankles swelled to the size of grapefruits by the time I arrived at my accommodations. Terrified that I was dealing with a potential blood clot from the long plane ride (something I’d experienced before), I decided it was best to go to an urgent care center and get checked out. Just to be safe.
The visit was $300, and my out-of-state insurance wasn’t accepted despite still being in the U.S. Thankfully for me, I had a travel insurance plan that completely covered the cost. This was the first trip where I really prioritized travel insurance, and I had spent around $80 for my coverage. It ended up paying for itself within 24 hours of my arrival.
2. A small first-aid kit is never a bad idea when packing.
While I was fortunate to not have experienced a blood clot in Hawai’i as I feared, my treatment was made more complicated by the fact that I hadn’t brought any first-aid supplies with me. The urgent care clinic advised me to take aspirin until my swelling receded — a pretty simple care plan, right?
I contemplated putting some first-aid supplies in my luggage…but had ultimately decided against it for space reasons.
The only problem was that my friend and I hadn’t rented a car or anything, and the nearest convenience store where I could obtain some aspirin was a 20-minute walk from where we were staying. Easy under normal circumstances, but brutal with two swollen ankles.
I contemplated putting some first-aid supplies in my luggage…but had ultimately decided against it for space reasons. Yet on the very first day I was desperately wishing I had some painkillers with me. I ended up gritting my way through the pain and walking — unable to justify the ridiculous Uber prices — but I wish I had made things easier on myself when packing.
3. A reliable travel partner is priceless.
On both occasions, I was immensely fortunate to be traveling with a reliable and supportive person by my side. Both friends on these separate trips stuck by me through the hospitalizations and urgent care visits, the long walks, and more than a little of my complaining. Despite taking several hours out of what would have otherwise been a picturesque day in their travel itinerary, they never made me feel guilty for throwing our day off its course with my bad luck.
It can be really scary to realize you’re in a position where you can’t quite take care of yourself in the moment, especially when you’re thousands of miles from home. Having someone dependable in your corner, even if it’s just to sit next to you in your hospital bed or be there waiting for you when you get out of the doctor’s office, makes a world of difference.
If you have those kinds of people in your life, appreciate them. And if you ever have the opportunity to be that person for someone else, please take it. You have no idea what it will mean to them.
Have you ever been sick or injured abroad?