Things go wrong. Sh*t happens. If you’re me, it happens on almost every trip. I’ve had food poisoning in Thailand, dysentery in Australia, infected mosquito bites in Turkey, and infected blisters in Vietnam. My most recent mishap was when I was working a trade show in Las Vegas this summer. I had some sort of allergic reaction due to my eczema and had to Uber to an urgent care off the strip when the hotel doctor couldn’t see me for hours. I ended up waiting in the lobby behind big sunglasses before having a cortisone shot injected into my butt by a perfect stranger. Just another day in the life of a traveler. I can only imagine what else they see there. Going to the doctor on the road is one of those unpleasant realities that is almost unavoidable. But it’s entirely possible to get in and out of there with a solution in hand. Here are a few things I’ve learned from doctor’s visits abroad and at home.
Do Your Research
Look up doctor’s offices to visit and read the reviews on Google. I wanted to know the wait times before I went over there and the quality of care to expect. This isn’t always an option, especially if you’re overseas, but can be helpful. Asking hotel staff also might do the trick. You also might not even need a doctor, depending on the circumstances. For example, if it’s not urgent, namely a skin issue, you can simply show a pharmacist the issue and let them give you a medication. I’ve visited a pharmacy in Fethiye to show them my mosquito bites and without knowing a word of Turkish, they sold me hydrocortisone cream and in Thailand I got (nasty) charcoal tablets for my unruly stomach.
Know the Important Words
It’s unlikely you’ll end up in a foreign hospital trying to explain your condition to doctors, but either way, know the foreign words for any existing conditions you have. This might be gluten intolerance or diabetes. It’s easy to find cards online in whatever language you need. You can also ask someone to write down a message for the doctor or come with you. Your hotel concierge might have suggestions. And don’t hesitate to take a taxi or some other method of transportation to get there. You don’t need to risk your health further by trying to walk to the doctor’s office.
Be Your Own Advocate
Since I’d had a similar allergic reaction before, I knew I needed a cortisone shot so I swiftly told the doctor that and had it taken care of. Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek a second opinion, though, if you’re not sure about the diagnosis. Travel with your own customized first aid kit with items like antihistamines, pain relievers, anti-diarrheal, and the like. I’ve also started adding in rehydration salts, a beeswax alternative to petroleum jelly, antibacterial salve, a hot/cold pack, and bandages in all shapes and sizes. If you travel with medications, make sure to have a prescription copy with you.
Figure Out Payment
Some countries, like Australia, have national healthcare and must provide service even to those without it, namely foreigners like me. When I went to the general practitioner near my apartment in Sydney, I braced myself for the worst, prepared to put the large sum on my emergency credit card and pay it off little by little from my bartending job. But instead, I paid $50 AUD for the doctor’s visit and my medication. Other times, you may not be so lucky. Travel Insurance is the best way to avoid pricey co-pays and fees. I always use World Nomads on my travels and thankfully have health insurance in the United States to cover visits like my one in Vegas. Travel with some sort of backup funds just in case.
Give Yourself Time to Heal
And most importantly, once you’ve been treated by a doctor on the road, follow their advice. You’re not going to get better overnight, even if you’re trying to make it to your next city in time for some festival. I wish I’d taken my own advice when I had food poisoning in Koh Tao instead of taking the overnight train to Bangkok the next day. Trying to do too much too soon can make things worse. Give yourself a pass to stay in bed, watch Netflix, and eat comfort food wherever you can find it. If you need to, switch from a noisy dorm room with shared bathrooms to a private room.