When most people plan a vacation, they aim for maximum fun, packing their days full to bursting with activities and new experiences. But what happens if, say, your zip lining adventure ends in a broken hip or that local seafood joint sends you back to your hotel with a nasty stomach bug?
People rarely plan for injuries on vacation, but knowing how to handle a medical emergency while traveling can give you and your fellow travelers some peace of mind as you set off. If you’re unsure how to get started, here are some tips for a safe vacation.
Do Some Prep Work at Home
Before you board that bus or plane, it’s a good idea to make sure you have everything in place to handle a sudden injury or other medical crisis. Instead of daydreaming about your island escape or European excursion, take some time to check these steps off your to-do list.
- Call your health insurance company. Talk to your health insurance provider early on and find out what kind of coverage you’ll have while traveling. Especially if you’ll be going abroad, insurance plans can have widely varying benefits for travelers. Your insurance rep can walk you through your plan so you know exactly what types of medical issues and services are covered.
- Consider supplemental insurance. If you’ve realized there are gaps in your coverage after speaking with your health insurance provider, look into supplemental plans. They provide extra coverage in addition to your primary plan for things like accidents and certain major illness, generally without breaking the bank.
- Look for nearby hospitals and doctors. Search online for what hospitals and doctors are near your hotel. To minimize costs, check your insurance provider’s website for in-network doctors and facilities. If you’re traveling abroad, this is even more important — some countries may only have a few facilities that meet international health care standards.
- Get registered for international travel. Most international trips last longer than domestic ones — if you’re paying for that 13-hour flight, you might as well spend a good bit of time in your destination, right? But spending an extended period of time going on frequent outings and trying exciting new activities can increase the chances of a medical emergency, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking advantage of everything offered to you as an American in a foreign country. A good practice is to register with the U.S. Department of State. This will let the government know where you’re traveling and will make it easier for a U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you during an emergency.
- Bring a first-aid kit. Even if your vacation will involve more casual walks and nice restaurants than death-defying acts, little bumps and scrapes are impossible to avoid. Leaving the bandages and sunscreen behind isn’t a problem — until it is. So don’t forget to include first-aid items on your packing list.
- Make sure you can afford an emergency. Vacations are rarely cheap, and saving up for travel and accommodations is tough enough without considering the outings, food and other expenses that pile up. But even if you’ve been collecting quarters in your vacation fund jar for what feels like forever, take a good look at whether or not you have enough to cover both a great trip and a medical emergency. If you’re short, postpone the vacation for a little longer. It could turn out that you don’t end up needing the extra money, which is all the better for you — you’ll already have something saved for your next adventure.
Have an Action Plan for When You’re There
You’ve reached your destination, you’re having a great time … when calamity strikes. Your earlier preparation means you don’t have to worry about finding a medical facility or wondering whether or not your insurance will cover the treatment. But you should still check to make sure that you have cash in the local currency, if you’re abroad, and all your documents before leaving for the hospital or doctor’s office.
If it turns out you’re less financially prepared for an emergency than you thought, don’t despair yet — try calling your credit card company. Many credit cards will cover the cost of medical bills, assist with emergency evacuations or advance money to help with medical crises. If you’ve suffered a serious injury while abroad, contact the nearest U.S. embassy. In cases of extreme need, the embassy might be able to offer you an emergency medical assistance loan.
A vacation is a chance to get away and relax. Plan ahead so your trip can be fun, comfortable and worry-free.