What to Do When You’re Injured Abroad

The last thing a traveler wants to consider is the possibility of being injured abroad – until it happens to you.  The reality is, the likelihood of falling ill, being injured, or discovering strange changes in your body is much higher when you’re away from home.  So, how do you handle it?

Prepare for the Worst

Many health-related risks and costs can be prevented (don’t eat the ice cubes in Mexico!).  Research the political stability, common traveler ailments, and potential dangers of the places you intend to visit.  While some vaccinations are optional, certain shots are necessary.  Though they can be pricey, your health is worth more.

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Some countries offer free (or at least affordable) public healthcare:  Canada, the UK, Singapore, Cuba, Denmark, Norway, and New Zealand, to name a few.  Other countries will charge you an arm and a leg for a band-aid: the United States, Mexico, Russia, and the Netherlands, for example. While check-ups in England are covered for non-citizens, surgeries may not be.

If possible, bring all of your medication with you. Third world countries may have less-than-trustworthy healthcare systems. If you’re traveling off the beaten trail, bring your own first-aid kit or get first-aid certified before you go.  Drinking clean water and using hand-sanitizer can combat a lot of health-related issues before they occur.

Is Insurance Worth It?

When I was 20 years old, I thought I was invincible.  I had been backpacking Europe for 6 months, and the worst injury I had incurred was a massive hangover.  I was loving life, living in the French Alps, when I took a jump snowboarding and slammed down onto the icy snow like concrete. With one freak fall, I broke my back.  Seriously.

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I was rushed to Grenoble Hospital for spinal surgery.  I was told that I would probably be paralyzed.  I was in so much pain, I didn’t care.

Two weeks and over $30,000 later, I left the hospital in a stretcher, still relearning how to walk.

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Because I was only 20, my medical bills were covered by my parents’ insurance.  Had I been a few months older, I would have been in so much debt that my traveling days would be over forever.

You might travel your whole life and never break a bone.  Or you might trip on a hike, get bitten by a snake, or break your back snowboarding. It might not be likely, but it is possible.  The best advice I can give you is to cover your ass in case.

Find a Plan That Works for You

Insurance rates depend on where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and what you’ll be doing while you’re there.  UK citizens have to purchase extra ski & snow insurance that is covered in all basic Canadian plans.  Privatized insurance companies have diverse plans with fluctuating rates.  When I travel, I purchase daily insurance that I can cut off or add to at any time.  Doing the research to find the best rate for what you need is well worth it.

And When the Worst Occurs…

Don’t panic.  Let your rational take control and remember this blog post.  Breathe through it.  Even if the doc leaning over you doesn’t speak English and won’t let you call your parents (seriously, this happened to me), do your best to communicate your immediate needs.  Trust that these are medical professionals with your best interests in mind.  I was treated horribly in the French hospital – but there were still a few kind nurses who helped me contact my parents, slipped me extra morphine, and even called my scars “beautiful”.

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I’m not trying to scare you off taking risks while traveling, but it is important to be aware of the potential consequences of that cliff dive or bungy rope you’re entrusting with your life.  Prepare for the worst, but expect the best.  Somehow, I got through my atrocious injury, and I am traveling again today – with a new-found respect and appreciation for my legs that carry my around the world.

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5 comments

  1. After looking over a number of the articles on your site, I truly appreciate your technique
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  2. Good article, Alison. Last month I broke my leg, both Fibula and Tibia (compound fracture, so bone sticking out) in a bad downhill long board crash. Ended up getting a 5 hour, $5,350 surgery, and also treated like hell by the nurses. Now I’m working on rehab and considering going back to the States to go through physical therapy and checkups.

    Let this be a warning! I’ve lived two years in China, and never expected this freak accident, haha. Be safe you guys.

  3. […] Although this incredible ski resort is still associated with the trauma of breaking my back, it only holds good memories for me. The snowed-in village up the hill from Grenoble is full of ranging nightclubs, celebrity appearances, and (much to the detest of the French) English-speaking skiers. Nicknamed ‘i’le du soleil’ or the island of sun, this stunning mountain range receives a minimum of 300 days of sunshine a year, which I can attest to. During my time working at the French restaurant Rendez-Vous, I was snowboarding in a t-shirt and still sweating. Unfortunately, a lot of sunshine means a lack of snow, and the conditions were nothing like I was used to at home. The slopes are slippy and icy, which was a great factor in my epic fall and broken bones. If you’re going to risk the gondola to take in the gorgeous views, my best advice is to simply be careful. […]

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