THE first time I went to Europe solo I came down with a cold in Prague that morphed into bronchitis by the time I reached Munich and caused my eardrum to rupture.
I didn’t have anything more potent than Panadol on me and when the first symptoms appeared in the Czech capital, it took ages to find a pharmacy and then the medication sent me on a hallucinogenic trip that scared me out of taking follow-up doses.
I now carry a stash of pills – Imodium and Stemetil to treat gastro, antibiotics to look after my eardrums, antihistamines to combat allergies, anti-inflammatories for injuries, Hydralyte for dehydration – so I don’t need to fret about finding pharmacies when common travel bugs strike and language or opening hours are against me.
But what should travellers do when struck by illness far from home?
Be prepared to look out yourself
Dr Deborah Mills, medical director of Dr Deb The Travel Doctor in Brisbane, says that while there’s no definitive list of what should be in a traveller’s medical kit, the best approach is to prepare for the most common ailments.
“The four most common problems travellers suffer are gut problems, chest and respiratory problems, pain, and wounds so the kit should be packed with this in mind,’’ she says.
“It’s critical to have good instructions for all medication and be clear how to take them. Don’t take Imodium by itself for gastro, don’t take aspirin for fever in areas where dengue is prevalent, and carry a letter of authorisation to have the medication and carry them in a little kit through customs.
“It’s important to know about the high prevalence of fake drugs, up to 30 per cent of drugs sold in developing countries are fake, and it’s important to BYO drugs even if it seems more expensive to get them from home.’’
Check in with your travel insurance
Dr Mills says travel insurance providers can also help when symptoms become more severe and a traveller needs help from medical professionals.
“Travel insurance is not just to pay the bills, it’s to find reliable doctors and to act as a phone resource with travellers able to ring their insurance company seeking advice,’’ she says.
Southern Cross Travel Insurance, for example, tells customers to call the Emergency Assistance Team immediately if they need medical attention while overseas. Staff will offer advice on where to seek medical care, arrange a payment guarantee should the facility need upfront money, and even move patients to more suitable facilities.
Ask for help
Travel insurance companies are reporting that more and more seniors are hitting the road, many of them with pre-existing ailments that could require care while travelling.
The best advice for those who may need help while away is to join a guided tour escorted by a host.
“Tour guides have in-depth knowledge about a destination and can provide on-the-ground assistance and access to medical services. Always let your guide know about pre-existing conditions as this will assist should an issue arise,’’ Collette’s Australian general manager Alison Mead says.
“Concierges at hotels are also a great source of information and can help identify nearby pharmacies or emergency services should you need assistance.’’