Much to Nick’s chagrin, right before we left for our trip, I half-jokingly said “one of us is bound to get sick at SOME point, but we’re prepared for it!” Two days later, our first full day in Iceland, I was in bed for the day, coughing and congested. Doh.
On an eight month trip, it’s true though – someone is bound to get sick or injured in some way, predictable or otherwise. So how was our prep? What have we dealt with that we didn’t or couldn’t prepare for?
- Vaccinations – despite 25 planned countries, NONE of them had any “required” vaccinations like many countries in South America or Africa. BUT, plenty of them had “suggested” vaccines. At the brilliant suggestion of one of our doctor friends, we did get a few of the suggested vaccines including Hepatits A, TDAP and Typhoid – just in case.
- Rx Medications – at the suggestion of the aforementioned doctor friend, we also brought certain prescription medications for the “most likely” problems that could come up on the trip. This included meds for traveler’s diarrhea, UTIs, and general antibiotics.
- First Aid Kit – just simple Band-Aids & Neosporin.
- OTC Medications – Tums/Rolaids, Aspirin, Aleve, Allergy Meds, DayQuil & Cough Drops.
- Traveler’s Insurance – most primary care insurance will be useless when you’re abroad. We used World Nomads insurance as our insurer if any major medical problems came up.
Guess what? Some of these were REALLY helpful. Some were never used. And certain things that we ended up needing, we didn’t have..and struggled to find when we did need them.
We have been to some of the biggest cities in the world. Through some of the busiest train stations and airports in the world. Constantly on the move traveling and exposed to different people, places and cultures. A whole host of different things were bound to come up.
So far on this trip, we have dealt with:
-Multiple bouts of coughing/congestion
-Food poisoning that completely wiped us out of commission for 24 hours in Vietnam
-A pretty serious head injury (two deep cuts on rocks!!)
-Trouble adjusting to local water and/or the spice levels of foods in multiple places
-Leg and ankle problems bad enough we had to track down a brace for each
There is no such thing as Walgreens or CVS anywhere we’ve been – and grocery stores do NOT carry anything remotely resembling medication. You HAVE to use a pharmacy wherever you go. But, BONUS! Don’t expect them to have ANY brands you’re used to, for there to be helpfully labeled store sections or for most of their inventory to even be readily visible or accessible to customers. More often than not, even in Western Europe, we had to use Google Translate (with only moderate success) to try to explain to the pharmacist what we needed and then cross our fingers they could produce something to solve the problem.
If we were to plan this trip all over again, knowing what we know now, what would we do differently?
Honestly, probably not a lot.
You can’t fill a suitcase with DayQuil, cough drops, Aleve and all the other possible medications you might need. What we had was our best approximation of what we’d need if a health disaster struck and it did come in pretty handy. We were so fortunate to have friends visiting in April, May, June, July, August, October AND November so we were able to request top ups of this or that if we were running low – that ended up being much more helpful than crossing our fingers at a local pharmacy. BUT if you aren’t having people visit and you’re taking a trip like this, either make friends with a local or a pharmacist who can actually help you. We tried Googling “where can I buy X in (pick random city)” and that was only so helpful. Hotel staff or Airbnb hosts were hit or miss on helpfulness, depending on the language barriers but so were the pharmacists.
What did we run out of first? DayQuil & cough drops.
What have we not even opened? UTI meds & antibiotics.
Bottom line: do you best to know your body’s needs, plan for the more severe things (both for injury AND illness) and know where your closest pharmacy or clinic/hospital is. Know that you have allergies? Know that you get motion sickness? Do you have a sensitive stomach? Plan for the predictable so that when the unpredictable hits, you’re ready and it affects your trip as little as possible!