- - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sometimes, when you least expect it, and you are far away from home on a beautiful beach or in a jungle or wandering the streets of a distant city, things can go horribly wrong. Most anyone who travels has a tale to tell.

It happened to me.

It was a beautiful day in southern Thailand. It was hot, very hot, as it tends to be in that part of the world, the sun reflecting off of the sheer limestone formations dotting the horizon along the Andaman coast. I awoke, ate breakfast in the hotel, and made my way down the beach to hire a wooden long boat to take me to one of the many dazzlingly beautiful islands.

I chose an island that would be almost an hour boat ride away, but one that would reward me with stunning natural beauty – and not a restaurant or hotel to obstruct that in any way. Because it was a more distant island, the boat was not returning to pick me up for another six hours, which, at the time, was not a problem. I had water, snacks, sunscreen and towel. What more do you need in paradise?

A few hours later, I began to feel unwell, but thought perhaps I was simply experiencing slight heatstroke. I took a swim to cool off and moved my things under a tree. But then it hit. I was sick – very sick. And alone. And stuck on an island. Weak and dehydrated, I curled under a tree and waited for my boat to return.

I got worse as the hours went by. Shivering with fever, I barely had enough strength to pull myself into the longboat when it arrived. As we made our way through the choppy waters back to town, I hung my head over the side of the boat and cursed every wave that splashed into my face.

Finally arriving back at my hotel, I collapsed. With a high fever and severe dehydration, I was too weak to go to the hospital. So the hotel called for a doctor who arrived (within 10 minutes) with two nurses and had me hooked up to an IV, took blood samples for the lab and a presented a bag full of medication to bring me back to health.

I unfortunately had a severe case of E. coli, but was lucky to have received treatment so quickly, and by a reputable doctor. Even better, I also had trip insurance that covered all costs of my treatment and medications, as inexpensive as it was in Thailand.

Whether it’s E. coli or broken bones, sometimes bad things happen when you are far from home. When it comes to traveling, it is imperative that you are vigilant when it comes to taking your health and safety seriously and make sure you have proper medications, coverage and information before you leave the country. After traveling to more than  70 countries in my lifetime, I’ve had my share of accidents and illnesses on the road, but I’ve always been prepared by following these six tips to staying healthy when traveling:

Research Your Destination. It is wise and important to know the conditions of your destination. Can you drink the water? What is the climate? Are there contagious diseases that can be transmitted through water, mosquitos, etc.? The State Department’s website lists extensive information about individual countries and cities, including any travel warnings you may need to know about, or you can also download their Smart Traveler app for information on the go.

Buy Travel Insurance. What happens if you fall and break your leg, or your luggage is lost, or your plane is delayed so you miss your connection and need to stay an extra night, or worse, your flight is canceled? It’s great when these things don’t happen, but it’s wise to be covered for the times when they do. Most travel insurance policies only cover what they say they cover, so read the fine print and look for clauses that address hospitalization and evacuations, and pay attention to when those may kick in.

Get the Necessary Vaccines and Medications. Different parts of the world suffer from a variety of different diseases such as Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Malaria. Know what vaccines will protect you before you go, and plan ahead as some need to be administered in several doses before they will be effective. If you visit a travel medical clinic, they will be able to dispense the proper vaccines for your destination and prescribe the necessary medications in case of an emergency.

Pack a First Aid Kit. Most of the time, you can find what you need in a local pharmacy. But it’s always good to be prepared with small over-the-counter staple items such as anti-diarrheal medication, antihistamine, pain relievers, antacid, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids, insect repellent (containing Deet for those malaria- and dengue-infested areas), sunscreen and aloe gel for sunburns.

Know About the Water. A good rule of thumb anywhere is to stick to bottled water. However, know the limits with regards to even brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth. In some places, it is better to stick to drinking from sealed bottles and cans, but a simple rinse while washing and brushing won’t be harmful. We can all get a bit lazy when it comes to ice, especially when wanting to cool off in warmer climates. Don’t do it unless you are extremely sure. Hot teas and coffees are fine after the water has been boiled. And if you’re worried about being wasteful going through a number of bottles, bring a portable water filtration system with you, or even purification tablets if you know you may have trouble finding sealed bottles.

Stick to Boiled, Baked and Peeled Foods. If you are anything like me, you love food and eating traditional and authentic dishes are one of the main reasons I love to travel. But sometimes, even in the United States, you get a bad dish and getting sick is unavoidable. However, a good rule of thumb is to stick to foods cooked right then, or fruits you can peel yourself. Look for restaurants that are full of people. Chances are better that the food will be fresh, and because of the high turnover, that food will be constantly cooked and not sitting around. Salads are delicious, but lettuce can be unwashed or rinsed with contaminated water. Street food happens to be my favorite, especially in Thailand. Just like at a restaurant, make sure the food is cooked properly, and at that moment.

Travel is fun, informative and life changing. Stay knowledgeable, be prepared and if you follow these tips for staying healthy, you will be ready to face almost any situation.

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