“You have to prepare very differently” for getting sick abroad, said Murthy, an Alexandria resident who lived in India for two years in the mid-2000s. “Hospitals can be zoos in other countries. Nothing works quite like it does here in the States.”
Before leaving on a trip, most travelers prepare for what they imagine as the worst: rain, sunburn, boredom. The remedies for these potential inconveniences are simple: Throw in a slicker, a bottle of sunscreen and a heavily downloaded Kindle, then slam the lid shut.
But sometimes the setback is more serious than a lobster-red nose. What could ail you? Food poisoning, a broken limb, a deep laceration, typhoid, dengue fever, malaria. And what can fix you? Proper medical care, no matter the continent, country, city or mountain village.
Depending on the malady, you could self-medicate with the proper pills, lotions, bandages and rest. But when the illness exceeds your CVS medical training, you’ll need to seek professional attention. A scary concept in an alien land, but done right, the experience can be painless.
To ease the ouch of mind, body and budget, we sought advice from travel medical experts on how to navigate international health-care systems as foreign and chaotic as Bangkok’s street-food scene. The professionals offer tips for each step of the process, from the preventive stage to the unwell phase, when no amount of apples (or bottled water) will keep the doctor away.
An insurance safety blanket
On the comments page of InsureMyTrip.com, a travel insurance aggregator, travelers gush about how travel medical insurance gave them “peace of mind”; “fortunate” and “felt very comfortable” were also popular words. In the first 100 of 1,466 responses, not a single person related a negative story involving an injury or a claim. Nor did anyone complain about wasting money for an unused service.
“There’s the ease and then there’s the cost control,” said Bruce Kirby, president of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. “The premiums are so small because the occurrences are so small.”
When you travel without insurance, you have to pay for all medical expenses out of pocket — sometimes up front, in cash. In the case of an evacuation, which can cost several thousand dollars, those pockets had better be coal-mine deep. Those with insurance, by comparison, don’t have to worry about smashing the piggy bank for massive expenditures. Depending on the plan, the company will dip into its own coffers and cover your bills like a generous benefactor.