Getting injured is inevitable. Bones can be broken, skin can get sliced, tendons become severed – it happens. If we are lucky we can head to a hospital and get patched up, released back out into the world with a few new scars and perhaps a bit more wisdom for the road. If you happen to be abroad when you get injured, however, you will be knee-deep in complications faster than you can say #wanderlust.
To save you some hassle I've compiled a list of important tips – learned from experience – to help ease the inconvenience should you ever become injured abroad. Murphy's Law, right?
Travel Safety: Before You Depart
1. Have Insurance
This should go without saying. Don't get me wrong, I hate insurance companies and I have had problems when dealing with them in the past BUT you would be an idiot to travel abroad without proper medical coverage. Most travel insurance will also cover your possessions, too. Since you likely are traveling with a phone AND a computer AND a camera this isn't the worst idea ever. Just make sure to read the fine print...though even if you do they will still jerk you around. It's an insurance company, what do you expect?
Before you leave you should also save their contact info in your phone. That will save you a frantic search should something happen and you need to make an immediate claim.
2. Know How To Contact Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
Like most people, when I travel I write down a few helpful words for each language in my travel journal. In this list I make sure to include help, police, and fire. Write them down in your native language, as well as phonetically (so you can actually remember how to pronounce them) and then in the foreign language. I'll take a photo of this list, too, in case I don't have access to my travel journal. Yes, all of this is also on the internet but a) you may not have wifi/data access and b) you may not have time to look that shit up. Plan ahead and familiarize yourself with the details. Preparation, after all, is the most direct correlate to success. Be sure to also write down the Emergency Medical Services numbers. 911 and 112 are the most common EMS numbers, but be sure to know the numbers where YOU are going!
3. Save Hospitals, Police Stations On Your Map.
Most of us use Google Maps (or a similar app like CityMaps2Go) when we travel. These maps can usually be used offline, which makes them helpful for emergencies. Be sure to save nearby hospitals, police stations, and even your embassy or consulate on them. 99% of the time this will be unnecessary, but it could also make the difference in an emergency. Do it.
4. Take A First Aid Course BEFORE You Travel
When the shit hits the fan (and you know it will!) you'd best be as prepared as you can be. Knowing how to properly respond to an emergency situation can save a life – yours, or someone else's. How many compressions to breaths? What do you do if someone is having a stroke? How do you help someone cope with heat stroke? Do yourself a favour and make the time to learn this stuff – better late than you being shit out of luck, right?
5. Bring A First Aid Kit
I never travel anywhere without a first aid kit. I carried one 9000km across Russia and Mongolia and never even opened it. Nor did I need it over the four months I spent in Asia (though I almost did!). In all my trips over the past decade I've only really needed it once – on The Camino – and I'm grateful I had it at the time. Rather, Christine is grateful I had it because it was her feet that were disgustingly blister-pocked. Having a first aid kit saved us time AND money because we didn't have to immediately hunt for a pharmacy to deal with her cuts and blisters. Carrying around a small first aid kit might be a bit of a hassle (especially if you are a minimalist packer) but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Travel Safety: When The Shit Hits The Fan
6. Stay Calm
If you take a first aid course chances are you'll feel more confident when disaster strikes. Regardless, when bones get busted or skin gets sliced and diced or something decidedly worse occurs you need to keep your cool. If you are the kind of person who panics easily or who hesitates under pressure then you are (and I say this with all the love and respect there is) a liability when disaster strikes. Nobody wants to be a liability, so work on staying calm under pressure. Taking a first aid course will help with this, but so will dedicating time to staying focused and calm. Breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are all great ways of building your focus and internal calm. Seems hippy-dippy, I know, but I also know that meditation has kept me cool under a TON of ridiculous situations, including being stalked by a jaguar in Costa Rica to getting bullied in Russia to severing my tendon here in Sweden to getting in a bus crash in Rome. Staying calm is perhaps the most important thing you can do in an emergency. Period. So work on it.
7. Ask Questions And Request Clarification
When you get to the hospital make sure you understand what is going to happen. Ask questions as best you can and demand clear answers. This can be tricky with a language barrier but it is crucial to understand what is happening. Obviously, in a life-threatening emergency you'll just have to go with the flow and let the medical professionals do their thing; it's best not to hassle the doctors for a play-by-play of them saving your life.
For non-life threatening situations you will want to make sure you understand the situation and this will require you to ask questions. On my first trip to a Swedish hospital I didn't find out that I would be knocked unconscious until an hour before my surgery. They also didn't tell me that they changed their mind shortly after, leaving me in the dark about what was actually going to happen. Don't be left in the dark – ask questions so you can understand your situation and prepare accordingly!!
8. Document Everything!
Take photos of your injury as soon as possible, and keep taking photos periodically until you are healed. Keep receipts and documents from the hospital or pharmacy, and take clear photos of them as well. Write down precisely what happened and when, including dates and times wherever possible. If the accident happened in a hostel or hotel, get a statement from the staff. These will be necessary for an insurance claim, and they are also helpful should problems develop with said claim. If you return home and need to explain things to your doctor, these details can prove vital. Moreover, in the rare chance that something serious goes awry you will be covered should a lawyer need to get involved.
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As cool as it is to hop around the world getting your #yolo on, being prepared for the worst is never a bad idea. Hopefully you'll never have to employ any of these tips, but I hope you found them helpful nonetheless. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch!