A most common question I see asked on family travel forums is how to deal with illness while on the road. If you ask my family, they will tell you I’m somewhat of an expert on this topic. I’ve been sick or injured a lot on this trip.
And yes, my lovely family and long term friends I know you are reading this and scoffing “On this trip … how about all her life! She wasn’t nicknamed ‘stacca’ at school for no reason”. To all of you thinking this, I can only say nah nah ni nah nah!
Anyway, where was I? …
Will my family get sick on the road?
Yes. If you are travelling long term as a family, sooner or later someone will get sick or injured.
We all get sick or injured from time to time. On the road it’s no different.
95% of the time it will be a sniffle or a grazed knee. But chances are, sooner or later yes you will need to see a doctor or hospital for a cold that doesn’t improve or a cut that needs stitches.
Being worried about managing your families health on the road is a very understandable concern. Relax – we’ve found it A LOT easier than we ever imagined all throughout South East Asia. Western trained doctors have been plentiful. Hospitals and clinics have been efficient and modern. The most modern dental surgeries I’ve ever seen were in Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Saigon in Vietnam. Well stocked pharmacies have been easy to find, including ones that will provide prescription drugs over the counter. We also travel with a well stocked medical kit and always have travel insurance.
Did I say we always travel with insurance? I lie. Two months ago we realised our travel insurance had expired the same day we flew out of Australia. Woopsy! I’ve been meaning to renew it and now that we’re heading to Thailand on a two week road trip, it’s top of my to do list. Of course, no one will be surprised if I on sitting on the iPhone in the car purchasing it as we cross into Thailand! But I will actually get around to buying it. If the past 570 days of travel have taught us nothing else it’s that we need insurance. Actually it’s really taught us that I need travel insurance. I am genetically predisposed to getting injured, bitten or stung by the stupidest things. It’s not the kids we’re worried about, it’s me!
If there’s one thing you should purchase for your trip it’s this! Forget the expensive zippered waterproof spage age pants that you’ve been eyeing off at the travel store. Save your money for insurance.
Even if you never use it, having the peace of mind to know that if someone gets sick you can take them to the nearest hospital and get treatment without worrying about the cost. And if all else fails, the insurance will get you home to get the right treatment. Besides if your travel includes developed countries, the average family can tally up their fair share of doctors visits for simple things like antibiotics. It’s surprising how quickly doctors bills add up, particularly in the USA, so it’s worth having insurance to claim them back through.
Of course the cost of travel insurance varies greatly depending on what country you are from. Americans seem to pay more than Australians, and Australians pay more than people from the UK. If you are only travelling in countries where medical expenses are small, it’s worth looking at the price of travel insurance and working out if it’s really the best option for your family. In our experience, yes it is.
When have we been sick or injured during our travels? Or used our travel insurance?
Surprisingly often, and all for relatively minor things that could happen anywhere. Here’s a run down from the first year of our trip – the illnesses, injuries and times we were glad we’ve had insurance. Most of these were too minor to ever claim insurance on, but I’ve noted the ones that we did claim.
1. TRACY: – Thyroid Cancer before even leaving Australia
Days before we were supposed to embark on our trip back in November 2009, suspicious cells were discovered in a cyst in my thyroid that had been ‘normal’ for ten years. Fan-bloody-tastic, why now? The diagnosis came back as cancer and our trip was put on hold for three months while we got everything sorted out. We had six months of flights and accommodation pre-organised that thankfully our travel insurance covered.
CLAIMED: Sadly our travel insurance didn’t cover the cost of my cancer treatments back in Australia, but it did cover the quarterly follow up blood tests that I needed for the duration of that policy.
2. Hayley – Thumb meet door in Ballina, Australia
No we’re not even out of the country yet! Our trip started with a weeks holiday in Australia saying goodbye to family. The day before we flew out Hayley jammed her thumb in a door hinge. The whole thumb swelled so badly we were sure it was broken so off to Emergency for an x-ray we went. Thankfully the bone was just squashed and the pressure under the nail was relieved by burning a small hole in it. Of course once we hit Asia the small hole in the nail let in an infection. More creams and treatment were needed before the nail eventually fell off.
3. Tracy – Migraine in Amed, Bali
The first time in our trip that we ventured more than 30 minutes away from medical care I got struck down with the type of migraine that I usually only get once a year. We were still perfecting our medical kit and hadn’t thought to pack anti-nausea medication. Highlights included a whole day in bed wishing I could fall unconscious and discovering if there is ever a bathroom you want to spend a whole morning vomiting in, it’s an outdoor Balinese bathroom with good ventilation.
4. Tracy – Migraine in Penang, Malaysia
By the time we got to Malaysia two months into our trip I’d discovered that post thyroid cancer I get a lot more severe migraines than I used to. We jumped in a taxi to the nearest hospital where I was seen within minutes, given a shot, five types of different medication to try and a script for more … all for less than $USD20. Back home to a bucket and bed.
CLAIMED: But only because we were putting in another bigger claim at the time.
5. Tracy – Suspected broken toe in Penang, Malaysia
This is the first of my ‘it would only happen to Tracy’ incidents for our trip. Well if you don’t count the cancer diagnosis right before leaving. Hayley was sitting on a really heavy wooden stool eating nude (as one does at 2.5yrs old) and asked to be picked up. Unfortunately the stool come with her. After a few seconds of believing it could fly, the heavy wooden stool tipped and crashed to the ground on my big toe. I regained the ability to talk after ten minutes. Another visit to the hospital in the space of one month, this time for x-rays and painkillers. No break but it took a month before I could walk without pain and another twelve months before bumping the toe stopped bringing tears to my eyes.
CLAIMED: But only because we were putting in another bigger claim at the time.
6. Red shirt riots in Bangkok, Thailand
We were in Krabi, Thailand last year when the red shirt riots broke out in Bangkok. Our next stop was Bangkok but thankfully our travel insurance announced they would cover the cost of current bookings and any rearrangements. In hindsight we would have probably been fine if we had of went to Bangkok, but it was nice to be able to make the safe choice for the sake of the kids without it costing us anything.
CLAIMED: This single incident, by the time you factor in the cost of last minute flights, additional visas and accommodation cancellations more than covered the cost of 12 months travel insurance. Actually it covered the next years as well.
7. Noah – Electrocution in Koh Lanta, Thailand
They don’t make things like they do back home! Especially not when it comes to electrical wiring.Noah discovered this when playing at a beach-side bar. He was playing nearby when he suddenly shrieked and came running back to us clutching his arm. He’d bumped into an exposed live wire. Thankfully the shock was only sufficient to give him a dead arm for a few hours and to cause Mum to worry enough to keep checking on him for the rest of the night!
8. Noah – Split eye in Hanoi, Vietnam
Noah constructed a rather lovely fort out of all the cushions in our room, as kids tend to do when bored in a hotel. The whole thing went terribly wrong when he tried to jump onto it and it collapsed. He hit the corner of a chair and split his eyelid open just below the eyebrow. It was a wide gash so the hotel’s doctor suggested stitches. Of course the nearest medical facility turned out to be an expensive international clinic. Several hundred dollars later Noah’s eye was glued and steri-stripped back together, no stitches needed as yet. Of course it was summer in Hanoi, which means 42 degree days and over 90% humidity. The steri-strips didn’t hold, the wound opened again and we ended up back at the clinic forking out another $100 to get it re-looked at.
CLAIMED: Almost $200 in doctors fees thanks to us stupidly going to an international clinic. Thank goodness for travel insurance!
9. Tracy – Ridiculous jaw injury in Kampot, Cambodia
Second in our list of It Would Only Happen To Tracy injuries and perhaps the ultimate! I was eating … wait for it … a crunchy baguette when my jaw suddenly went POP! The jaw went straight back in but OUCH! Later that day the other side of my jaw started to ache and half my face puffed up in the space of a minute. I looked like an elephant woman. The next day I could barely eat so it was off to a dentist where I had three consultants all conferring over me to determine I would be fine if I just stayed off solids for a week. For the princely sum of $USD5 Twelve months later I’m still having problems from that damn baguette. I suppose now we’re stopped periodically in Penang I really should do something about it!
10. Hayley – Chest infection in Penang, Malaysia
Hayley has a tendency to get asthma when she gets a chest cold. Last year a particularly nasty one went around Penang. We all had it for a month. But Hayley needed several doctors visits, an afternoon on a nebuliser and medication to get over it.
11. Noah and Hayley – chicken pox in Penang, Malaysia
The beauty of school – communal infectious diseases! During our 4 month stop in Penang last year, both kids caught chicken pox along with 70% of their classmates.
12. Tracy, Noah and Hayley – Car crash in Penang, Malaysia
Penang’s sounding like not the best spot for our health about now is it?
Last year I ran up the back of another car while driving. Both kids were in the car, not in car seats of course. Thankfully we weren’t driving fast and no one suffered more than a sore stomach from the seat-belts. The bill – about $700. Ouch!
NOT CLAIMED: We did attempt to claim this one but couldn’t provide all the required paperwork.
13. Daniel – Monkey bite in Selangor, Malaysia
Remember I said I was genetically predisposed to stupid mishaps. It’s definitely genetic. Notice all these accidents and illnesses only involve people with my DNA? Well meet my cousin, Daniel!
Daniel came travelling with us for a few weeks and was bitten by a monkey. Not just any monkey, the friendliest species of monkey in Malaysia. He opted for a rabies treatment course over the next month just in case. A good thing he had his own insurance!
CLAIMED: About $100 in doctors bills and vaccine costs.
14. Noah and Hayley – Multiple head injuries and skinned knees … everywhere!
When your travelling with young kids in hot areas you spent a lot of time around pools. Pools, water-slides, wet surfaces and kids who like to run. It’s a recipe for falls. We’ve had A LOT of grazed knees and more than our fair share of eggs on the forehead. There’s also been a lot of overbalancing when climbing around ruined temples, tree climbing injuries and a few balls to the head. Hayley also fell out of a small amusement train at one point, giving herself a spectacular egg on her head. The usual kids stuff that would happen anywhere, even back home. We’ve never ended up at a doctor for any of them, but we’ve gone through a mountain of bandaids!
15. Hayley – Pulled elbow in Brisbane, Australia
Hayley was playing with her amazingly lovely cousins over Christmas and asked one of them to pick her up. Unfortunately lifting Hayley by the arms stretched her elbow joint, catching a tendon in the joint. Our GP sent us straight to Children’s Emergency who popped it back into place. It’s a phenomenal thing to see a child go from whimpering one second unable to lift her arm to bouncing and driving a pretend steering wheel in the space of 3 minutes. Sadly, it took Hayley’s cousin longer to recover from the incident than it took Hayley to get better.
16. Hayley – chest infection in Brisbane, Australia
Back in Australia Hayley got her second serious chest infection of the trip. After a week of not improving, and eventually refusing to eat or drink we ended up back in Children’s Emergency. She was admitted with suspected pneumonia, but thankfully it was just a bad chest infection. She spent a further week at home in bed before returning to her usual self. Noah got the same chest infection a week earlier than Hayley. He recovered faster but still required a visit to a GP, medication and lost almost 2kg in the space of a week.
17. Tracy – Another migraine in Cessnock, Australia
My next hospital visit for a migraine during our trip came while visiting my brother in rural NSW. After a morning of vomiting every 20 minutes it was off to the hospital where I passed out on a drip for several hours. Of course we needed to be in Sydney by later that evening so Colin and the kids picked me up from the hospital with my bag of drugs and bundled me into the car for the 2.5hr drive to Sydney. Not the best way to recover from a migraine!
18. Flooding in Brisbane, Australia
While we were home in Australia, Brisbane experienced it’s first major flooding in 30 years. All of our belongings were in a storage shed in a low lying area. We were due to fly back to Asia in the middle of the floods but chose to cancel our flights just in case the flooding got worse and we had to move our belongings. Thankfully our airline gave us a credit for our flights that we could put towards later flights.
19. Colin – Tonsillitis in Penang, Malaysia
Colin’s been the only really healthy one on this trip. Well apart from those times he tries to give up coca-cola and ends up in bed with intense flu like symptoms from caffeine and sugar withdrawals. Two months ago in Penang he finally came down with actual illness, tonsillitis. Antibiotics and bed rest soon sorted him out.
20. Hayley – Muffler burn in Penang, Malaysia
The muffler on our new car sticks out quite a bit, as Hayley discovered when she bumped into it a few weeks ago. We’d just pulled up at a shopping centre so it was straight off the pharmacy for assistance and ice. The lovely pharmacist even dressed Hayley’s leg for her once we’d iced it for 40 minutes. As tends to happen with the humidity over here the wound quickly got infected and required anti-fungal creams to clear it up.
21. Tracy – Fire coral sting in Perhentians, Malaysia
And rounding out our It Would Only Happen To Tracy list … During our recent visit to The Perhentians I brushed against a rope in the water. Both arms immediately started itching and stinging. By that afternoon I had a rather lovely rash everywhere that was followed the next day by my face swelling up. A week later the red rash around the bite area was still there and my arm started to swell, despite applying steroid creams three times a day. By this stage we were back in Penang and a visit to the pharmacy quickly determined that I was allergic to whatever had stung me. Three weeks after the initial incident I’m still itching and on medication for it! Did I mention that everyone else in the family touched the same rope and I was the only one affected?
OK so there’s our adventures during our two years of travel. Everything more serious than a sniffle and everything else that’s required a travel insurance claim.
Have I scared you yet?
It probably looks like a lot has gone wrong over the past year. But if you consider all the places we’ve been over the last two years and all the silly things we’ve done like exploring caves in Cambodia, riding elephants in Malaysia and hooning around Thailand with four people on a bike the list is surprisingly quite tame!
Most of it could have happened back home and there’s never been a time when we felt like we couldn’t get adequate treatment if/when we’ve sought it out. But I do think we definitely got our money back on the cost of travel insurance claims, even with only minor mishaps to claim on.
Which reminds me … I really should go purchase a new travel insurance policy right now. I’ve narrowed it down to Travel Insurance Direct, World Nomads and InsureandGo Holiday Insurance. It should only take me a week to decide be …