Whether your sojourn in Europe is a student year abroad or a lengthy retirement stay, the last thing you want is to become ill while you’re there. It cuts into the time you could be seeing all the high points (museums, castles, restaurants), and it can be slightly frightening if you need medical attention in a place where the language may not be all that familiar.
The key to developing ways to keep healthy while traveling abroad is simple: plan, plan, plan. Do not leave good health to chance. It’s as precious an asset as cash, a passport, and driver’s identification for your vehicle. Make sure you have protected it just as you protect those things.
Visit Your Doctor
First, visit your own doctor at least four weeks before you’re scheduled to leave. Your doctor can either answer any questions you have about medical issues and traveling, or can refer you to a doctor that can. In addition, they will be able to provide you with required and recommended vaccinations.
If you require insulin, for example, are pumps or supplies the same as you are used to? How about emergency syringes in case of allergies (i.e. EpiPens)? Make a list of the common medications any conditions require you to take, and make sure you have discussed the continued supply of them as well as any differences.
Research Your Travel Destination
Second, research your destination and make sure you rely on available resources to assist you if help becomes needed. The US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program allows travelers to register their trip so the US government can send alerts about the country you’re visiting if necessary. They can provide assistance in the case of family emergencies (the consulates are divisions of the State Department) and also with any civil unrest (such as terrorist attacks) or natural disaster.
The World Health Organization also provides an excellent resource for researching. Its International Travel and Health Web page is a source of what vaccinations are required and any health risks in certain areas. It is also a reliable source of what travelers should do to prepare.
Remember Health Insurance
Check into health insurance requirements for travelers in the countries you’ll be visiting. Research whether health insurance is needed by travelers in your targeted countries and, if it is, whether your health insurance policy applies overseas. Be sure to ask your insurance company if it will cover stays in the hospital and emergency visits (ambulances and the emergency room together).
Forewarned is forearmed. If you do not have coverage, or the coverage you do have doesn’t seem as if it would be adequate, many companies offer travel health insurance. The US State Department’s information on international travel and health abroad is very useful here as well.
Pack To Maintain Health And Safety
When you pack for a European trip, you think of comfort (good walking shoes!) and looks (favorite slacks, cashmere sweaters). Think of health as well. Pack a kit that includes any medications you take at home. Add basics you might need, such as pain relievers (aspirin, ibuprofen) and decongestants. Pack a separate kit for first aid: ointment, wraps, and Band-Aids.
In addition, get a note from your doctor in English and the language of your destination that outlines any medical conditions you have. Are you allergic to nuts or penicillin? Make sure the doctor in your host country will know about it. Do you have a pacemaker or an artificial hip? Documentation will help the medical personnel overseas should you need them.
Finally, develop an emergency contact list. Include relatives who should be notified in case of an illness, your health insurance information, and the local embassy or consulate. Make sure loved ones in the US have it as well as you, in your health kit.
Safe, healthy travels!
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