How to Deal with Getting Sick While You’re on Vacation

Whether it’s just a case of the sniffles or the full-on flu, getting sick can quickly ruin your getaway. Here’s how to salvage your vacation and get on the road to recovery as soon as possible.

My family and I planned a dream getaway to Europe this past summer — our first time visiting the region together. Halfway through the three-week family adventure, our child got sick. What to do?

At this point, we were in Bologna, Italy. My son was not showing severe symptoms, but he was tired with an ongoing fever, sore throat and runny nose — and we had another 12 days left of traveling! While sickness wasn’t a part of our travel plans, we were prepared and knowledgeable about how to handle the situation — so that it was a mere inconvenience, instead of a vacation disaster.

How to Assess the Situation Using Professional Help

Our first step was to gather information from the right sources. The prospect of sitting at the emergency room all day was not appealing, so we explored other options. We asked our travel insurance company, as well as the U.S. travel consulate, for private doctors in the Bologna area. Neither one had any recommendations.

Finally, we decided to try a local farmacia, an Italian pharmacy — these shops dot every corner and are easily identified by a lit-up green cross in front. The English-speaking pharmacist was incredibly nice and put us in touch with a private pediatrician. The doctor came directly to us that very same day for only 100 Euro, diagnosed him with “fatigue” and prescribed him medication so he would return to full strength more quickly. Crisis averted!

Why You Should Always Call Your Travel Insurance Provider

Travel insurance was a life-saver for us in this situation, and it’s certainly a worthy purchase for any major trip. While our company was unable to direct us to a doctor, they did open a case regarding the incident, which allowed them to more quickly reimburse us upon our return home. They also provided me with all the details I would need to qualify for reimbursement.

Our travel insurance required a written diagnosis and receipt, which I secured from the doctor and submitted digitally when we got home. They reimbursed us for medication, as well — all within just two weeks. This incident alone covered the cost of travel insurance for our family of four. And when we also experienced a flight problem on our return journey, they reimbursed us for that too, making our insurance policy absolutely indispensable.

Quick Tip:

Before traveling to a foreign country, ask if your health insurance plan covers medical costs during your travels. If not, you may need to purchase supplemental travel insurance, which can also cover flight delays, lost or delayed luggage, trip cancellations and more.

What You Should Pack Before You Leave

Before heading on vacation, especially overseas, preventative planning goes a long way. Plan ahead for any essential medications that you take — make sure you have a supply to cover your trip, as well as a copy of your prescription. We pack these in our carry-on bag so there’s no risk of losing them, and we always bring a few extra days’ worth, just in case we face unexpected delays. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows you to carry solid medications in your carry-on if they are clearly labeled in the original containers. If you have liquid medication exceeding 3.4 ounces, pack it separately in a sealed plastic bag and notify a TSA officer when passing through security.

You might also want to pack a basic first-aid kit to handle minor aches and injuries. Even if you are packing for carry-on travel, there are a range of other preventative steps you can take, depending on the type of vacation you have planned. Here are a few additional items that we bring to handle travel sickness:

  • Over-the-counter medications: The CDC offers extensive recommendations, and we pack various treatments for fever, inflammation and allergic reactions; antacids; antidiarrheal medication; and cough drops.
  • Insect repellent: We always ask our doctor or local travel clinic for professional advice on staying safe in tropical climes and places with mosquito-borne illnesses.
  • Sunscreen and aloe for sunburns: Different countries have differing regulations on the ingredients in sunscreen — we pack our own to guarantee we have the level of protection we need.
  • Bandages: These are essential for a quick self-fix, or until we can obtain professional help.
  • Thermometer: We were grateful to have a small one with us, so we could check our son’s temperature when he was ill.
Quick Tips:

Since you can find many of these items at pharmacies while traveling, print out allergy and medical information cards in the local language and carry them with you.

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