Flying Solo: Health and Wellness for the Single Traveler

By Gretchen Kelly

feverFor most people the idea of being sick on a vacation is scary. That turns into really scary when you’re traveling solo. But travel long and hard enough and you’ll find that you’ll have to deal with this issue somewhere, somehow. Like most things in life, it’s how you handle that that defines you as an expert or a novice. After traveling to over 50 countries in the past five years, I’ve found myself patching up in various parts of the world whether I liked it or not. The keys were not being embarrassed to say “I need help,” knowing how and where to get it and also knowing when to call it quits and go home.
Here is an easy checklist to staying well on the road to your next great escape:
  • Take out traveler’s health insurance with an evacuation policy if you are going to far-flung destinations. Medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars if you don’t have insurance and if you’re traveling solo you want to be doubly sure you’ve got a way out as you’ll be your only resource. One sprained ankle on Macchu Picchu and there goes your vacation – for the next ten years.
  • Ask your doctor about antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea. There are some antibiotics travelers can take to limit the severity and duration of Montezuma’s revenge, Bali and Delhi Bellies and the various other names that intense cramping and diarrhea take, none of which are fun to have when traveling but all of which seem infinitely worse when you’re alone in an unfamiliar place. You take these once you’ve started feeling bad and the bad doesn’t get worse.
  • Make sure you take all your prescription drugs with you in their original bottles. If you take medications for depression or anxiety, be doubly sure to have the original bottles as these medications can be classed as recreational and are forbidden in some countries.
  • If you do get sick on the road alone, don’t wait for it to blow over. Often solo travelers with no one to say, “hey you don’t look well,” go the distance too long without help. Ask your hotel to get the doctor on call. Most reputable hotels have a list of doctors “on call.” Unbelievably, most of them will make “hotel calls” – even in the middle of the night. Securing a hotel on call doctor is often a lot safer than going to a local emergency room or clinic, unless the situation is serious. Your hotel can also try to arrange delivery of any medicine you might need. It’s to their advantage to help you. Sick tourists are bad for business.
  • If you find yourself unwell enroute, remember that many airports have walk in clinics. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is one good example. You can walk in, get seen and get medicated in the time it takes to transfer flights. And remember that even though you don’t qualify for European National Health, many prescription drugs are cheaper abroad than they are in the US.
  • Do not buy prescription quality drugs over the counter without a doctor’s advice. Although many countries have drugs on offer without prescriptions and it’s tempting to try them, you can’t be sure of the content, quality or strength of what you’re taking. Get a doctor’s prescription before you medicate with prescription drugs.
  • Know when to call it quits. If your body needs to rest, do that. If you feel you need to get home to do that, curtail your vacation and go home. Remember though that many airline carriers won’t let you fly if you have a fever and solo travelers will get picked off lines for illness quicker than others.
  • Antihistamines are a traveler’s best friend. You never know what you might or might not be allergic to. It might be an insect you’ve never encountered or a spice you’ve never tasted. Take a large economy size box of basic antihistamines with you and you won’t be caught off guard.
  • Have phone calling cards with you so you can call home inexpensively, safely and quickly if you need to. Sometimes a friendly voice from home makes everything feel and look a hundred times better.

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