An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.
To stay healthy on the road, make sure you’re in the best possible shape before you leave. Problems are much easier to sort out at home. You don’t want to ruin a vacation by trying to get medical treatment in a strange place.
You’ll want to:
- See your dentist to get those cavities filled
- Get an overall check-up
- Arrange any yearly tests you may miss while away
- Renew prescriptions
- Get a First Aid kit and include things like bandages, medical tape, scissors, antiseptic cream, eyedrops, rehydration salts, an emergency blanket and medicines for pain, inflammation and diarrhoea.
In many countries, your first aid kit can be quickly and cheaply restocked with the basics for a nominal fee in many countries. If you’re going to the Middle East, northern Africa or Southeast Asia, you’ll find antibiotics, painkillers and other common treatments available everywhere for pennies. Just keep an eye on the quality and expiry dates of what you’re getting.
Get insurance and check that bicycle touring is covered as a primary activity. Some policies claim to include cycling but in the fine print this turns out to be only if bike travel is a small part of your trip. If a bicycle is your main mode of transport, you may not be covered. Triple check this point with the insurance company! See more about choosing insurance for cycling.
Some cyclists prefer to go without insurance. They argument goes that the money saved by not paying for a policy can be used towards treatment as and when it’s needed. There is some truth to this. In Southeast Asia, for example, you can get excellent medical care in Bangkok for very little money. For minor things like a sprained ankle or dental care, it’s easy to take care of the cost yourself. On the other hand, if something very serious happens the fees can quickly skyrocket. If you plan to go without a policy, consider how you will cope if you need medical evacuation and the bill runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Where there is no doctor
Despite all your good planning, you may need medical help in a country where few people speak English or where standards are well below what you’re used to. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Carry a copy of the free book Where There Is No Doctor. It offers an excellent and plain-speaking guide to basic medical care. There are also many other useful publications put out by the same organisation, the Hesperian Foundation. Take a copy on a laptop or print out the most relevant pages.
- Check with luxury hotels, embassies or anyone in the local expat community. Someone will know a good English-speaking doctor.
- A book like Point It, with its diagrams of the human body, can help you communicate with a doctor.
- Translate and write down the names of any conditions or allergies you have in the local language before leaving home.
- Keep your family doctor’s phone number in a safe place. In a pinch, it could be reassuring to call and talk to someone you know and trust who can offer sound advice.