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What to Do If You Get Sick or Injured While Traveling Abroad

June 27, 2016

If scaling a mountain, ziplining, whitewater rafting or hang gliding sound like your idea of a dream vacation, then you’re not alone.

Every year, millions of people set off on adventures to far-flung places for travel excursions. According to one George Washington University study, 1.5 percent of the U.S. population has gone on extreme adventure trips.

Adventure travel is great for adrenaline junkies, but it also comes with certain risks. While traveling abroad provides rich, cultural experiences, anything can happen when you go to a different country, including injured. According to CDC data, injuries are responsible for between 18 and 24 percent of deaths for travelers abroad.  

These figures aren’t to scare you, but rather to remind you that safety should be of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to adventure travel. The majority of people who visit a foreign country enjoy their trip and return home safely, but if you plan to go on an adventure trip abroad, there are several things to keep in mind.

Prepare Before You Go

Depending on what country you visit, it’s important to see a doctor before you travel abroad. Do this at least six weeks before your trip. Tell your doctor if you plan to engage in extreme sports during your trip so he or she can offer specific recommendations that will may minimize your risk for injury. If necessary, see a specialist such as an orthopedist or sports medicine doctor if you have an existing injury that may be a cause for concern. 

Overall, be prepared. Listen to your doctor’s advice and train as much as you can before you leave. Extreme sports can be physically taxing on the body — especially when you consider temperature and altitude changes — so do everything possible to prepare your body to acclimate to these conditions.  

Make Sure You Have Travel Insurance

Some health insurance policies will not cover adventure travel because of the high risk, so it’s important to get travel insurance before your trip. Companies like TravelGuard offer standalone adventure travel insurance, which can include medical evacuation coverage for your return if you need to see a doctor in your home country. 

Pack Emergency Gear

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can reduce your risk of injury by wearing protective gear during your excursion and packing a medical kit that has medications and medical-grade tools like wraps, bandage scissors and precision forceps. You also should pack a visual communication tool that will help you get medical care if you don’t speak the local language. 

Getting Sick or Injured Abroad

Even if you’re thoroughly prepared before your trip, adventure travel is risky and the likelihood of injury is higher than a normal vacation. 

If you get injured abroad, it’s important to have contact information for your doctor with you. Even if you are taken to a local hospital immediately, you may be transported home to seek further medical care. It’s important to have this information handy, so that your doctor is aware of your condition and can prepare for your arrival. 

If you have travel insurance and get injured, call your insurance provider’s customer service number to speak to a representative. The representative can tell you the location of the nearest medical facility. A representative also can arrange emergency travel services for you, if necessary.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the quality of medical care abroad may not be as good as the U.S., especially if you are traveling to a remote location. Research local hospitals before you travel, because you likely won’t have time to do this in the event of a serious medical crisis. In certain cases, you may need to be medically evacuated if local hospitals are not equipped to handle your injury. 

Adventure travel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but more so than any other type of vacation, it’s critical to be prepared for it. Visit your doctor before your trip, pack all the required emergency gear you need and research hospitals and urgent care facilities beforehand. If you have travel insurance, you will probably be able to choose where you receive care. Doing your due diligence beforehand will increase the likelihood that you get the best care possible.