Medical emergencies during travel are the worst kinds of surprises to have.
Some are nuisances and some are deadly. How does one prepare for the worst? Recent writings about why tourists end up in the ER list a few of the culprits: stings from animals in the sea, the flu, altitude sickness, mosquito-borne illness, and food-borne illness.
For this blog, we interviewed the new member of our medical advisory board, Tyler DeLange, MD.
In his years of travel and being an emergency room doctor, he’s heard and seen examples like the ones listed above. It is a fact that travelers get sick or injured:
- Over 50% of travelers report health problems while traveling
- 5% seek medical attention abroad
- Less than 1% require medical evacuation
Over the years, he’s kept mental notes on how to travel well and avoid emergencies. Below are some of his tips.
Be wise, stay in groups, avoid remote places, avoid travel after dark, bring pepper spray, use only secure cabs/transport. Hire security detail when needed. Traveling in a car is the most dangerous thing you will do – always wear your seat-belt.
Zofran, Imodium, Benadryl, Cipro, Ambien, Ibuprofen, Tylenol.
Foods to avoid while traveling in developing countries:
Tap water, any fresh drinks not in a bottle, peeled fruits and vegetables, ice, salads, street food – particularly with meat.
How to pack light and efficiently:
Bring all-synthetic clothes and undergarments – easy to wash and quick dry. Use a packing cube type of system. Put heavy items in carry-on, lighter items in checked luggage if weight limit is tight. Small containers for toiletries. Multi-faceted shoes for many activities. Wrap fragile souvenirs that you can’t carry-on in clothes and place in corners of suitcase, padded on all sides.
How to sleep on airplanes:
Ambien or Benadryl, wax earplugs, white noise earphones, use fans when available.
Choosing a reputable organization and practices: Avoid ‘show up and dump’ organizations. Avoid personal gifting and rather focus on projects that will help strengthen communities in the long-term. Do they have a long-term presence where you are serving? There should always be a focus on educating and teaching the locals to be more self-reliant. Find somebody you trust with your money.
Learn key phrases dealing with ordering food, securing accommodations, transport, and medical terms. Use Google Translate and other translation apps (including 1st Minute). Best bet: travel with an interpreter or someone very fluent!
It’s always better to be over-prepared for travel contingencies. The peace of mind is reassuring. However, you can’t control what happens while traveling abroad.
Tyler DeLange, MD is an emergency medicine physician at Utah Emergency Physicians. He completed his residency at Johns Hopkins and is the founder of this humanitarian organization listed below.