Getting sick abroad is last on my packing list but always a great possibility when staying in hostels and bustling through markets in high heat, surrounded by germs. However, becoming ill is avoidable, and manageable if we do catch something nasty.
My advice is fourfold.
These must be done in advance. Apart from the fact that it will take at least a week for your doctor to arrange vaccines to be brought to the surgery, the vaccinations usually take at least 2 weeks to become effective. Call up your local doctor’s surgery and they will be able to give you a list of vaccinations you have already had. From here, ask them which vaccinations are currently necessary for the country you are travelling to. If they are not willing to provide this information over the phone, visit your surgery in person. If you are not currently located near your surgery, there are travel clinics located in most towns, which can give you advice on vaccinations and provide them too. Alternatively, you can do some research, using www.travelhealthpro.org.ukorwww.fitfortravel.nhs.uk, both of which are NHS-recommended travel advice websites. My personal favourite is https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/travel-vaccinations/jabs/
Medical travel insurance
It often takes a while to find the appropriate medical insurance for you, depending on your destination and duration of stay. Therefore, this also must be done in advance. The deals change year upon year, so I always use a comparison website to find the best deal, like www.moneysupermarket.comI have used Alpha Travel insurance on a number of occasions because they have a wide range of multi trip options, which are useful for people, like myself, that travel throughout the year and don’t want to have to think about buying travel insurance more than once a year.
I am speaking from experience when I stress the importance of saving proof of your medical insurance onto the cloud, so that it can be picked up from any device. I was bedridden and had to have an emergency doctor’s appointment when in Byron Bay, Australia. I was told I had a UTI and the infection was moving to my kidneys because it had been left untreated. I had to pay for numerous medications because I had lost the proof of my medical insurance. The £90 bill threw my financial planning off-kilter as a result and I had to be very careful with my proceeding spending.
Over the counter medicines are cheap and easy to purchase in the UK. However, they are often not so easy to come by abroad. I found this out the hard way in Malawi when I forgot to pack insect repellent and paracetamol and had to travel 2 hours to the nearest town to overpay for painkillers that would have cost me a mere 49 pence in Britain. Pills are light weight and, if you take them out of their superfluous packaging, you can combine them all into a medical washbag, which is easily identifiable when in desperate need for Imodium after that street food didn’t sit well in your stomach.
Take a note book. If you don’t end up writing endless journal entries about mesmerising sunsets or strenuous bush walks, it will come in handy when your phone runs out of charge and you need an emergency contact number, in the form of either your parents back home (who, yes, will be worrying if you don’t keep in touch) or a kind student traveller you met at lunch the day before who said would have your back if you were in need. Take a note of contacts, and if you don’t need them to help with a medical emergency then you might just meet for cocktails at that hipster bar just down from your hostel. Travelling shouldn’t centre around catastrophe, after all, I always prepare for new friendships and adventures.