Just about every time we go on vacation, someone gets sick. I think it’s because we’re all off our normal routines and we’re exposed to a lot more people. We eat food that we don’t normally eat, we stay out later and get less sleep, we’re around large crowds of germy people, and we are in unfamiliar climates. All of this combines to lower our resistance to whatever bug is going around. If we’re not actually sick, we’ve still found ourselves in doctor’s offices due to things like swimmer’s ear, accidents, and injuries. We may do activities that we don’t normally do, like hiking or swimming that lead to turned ankles or ear infections. While we take precautions to try to prevent illness, such as washing our hands frequently and eating healthfully, it still happens. I don’t think I’m alone in this, given the number of tourists I’ve sat next to in various doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. Traveling is fun, but it does carry an increased risk for illness or injury.
This is why, when we travel, we make sure that we have money in the budget to cover unexpected illnesses and accidents. It’s not enough to just have enough money for the trip. Sure, it’s great when you can say, “My trip will cost $2,000,” and you’ve saved exactly $2,000. You think you’re all set. And you may be. But you have to also have some extra in your budget to cover the unexpected. Sometimes this crops up as an extra tank of gas or an extra meal, but often the unexpected comes in the form of the flu, a broken leg, or a sinus infection.Even under the best insurance a trip to the doctor is going to cost you something. If you have an emergency fund or other savings beyond your trip savings, that’s great. You can raid that fund to cover your overage. But if your only savings is your trip fund and any unexpected illness is going to cause you financial hardship, you need to save a bit more before you head out on your trip. You don’t want a nice vacation to turn into a credit card nightmare because you had to put a trip to the ER on the MasterCard.
In addition to saving up enough money to cover unexpected trips to the doctor, here are a couple of other ideas for combating illness and the associated expenses when you’re on the road.
- Make sure your insurance is valid where you’re going, and gather a list of doctors and hospitals that accept it (or carry your benefit book with you). Life is much easier if, when you have to go to the doctor, you know where you can go and be covered. You’re not running around trying to find an acceptable facility and you’re not stuck paying for things just because the doctor you went to was out of your network. If your insurance isn’t accepted where you’re going, make sure you have other arrangements, such as having cash on hand or taking out a temporary policy that will cover you during your trip. Trip insurance policies often include things like medical evacuation, hospitalization, and other services necessary in a medical emergency.
- Carry medications with you. Minor illnesses and colds don’t require a trip to the doctor unless you are unprepared. Carry a medicine kit with cold remedies, pain killers, stomach and gas aids, sunburn relief, bug bite relief, first aid supplies, and anything else you need to handle minor illnesses and injuries. If you have something special like a trick knee and you sometimes need a brace, carry your brace on the trip. Carry enough of any prescriptions to last you until you return home, plus a few extra in case you are delayed. Not only can you save yourself a trip to the doctor by being prepared, you can save some money as all of this stuff is cheaper at your home than in some pricey tourist destination.
- Try to take care of yourself. It’s hard when you’re having fun, but try to sleep and eat well. Don’t take on activities that you are unprepared for unless you are in the hands of an experienced guide. Otherwise you risk injury. Wash your hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer when you’re not around sinks. Try to stay away from people who are coughing or visibly ill. Try to refrain from touching everything and definitely keep your hands away from your face. Watch out for things like poison ivy, venomous snakes, or stinging bugs. Everything you can do to protect yourself reduces your chance of an unplanned visit to the doctor.
You’re not fully financially prepared to go on your vacation until your vacation fund is big enough to cover not only the hotel and airfare, but also the cost of any unexpected illnesses or injuries. If you already have an emergency fund you can use that. Otherwise, you need to increase your savings. Having only exactly enough to cover the cost of the trip is tempting illness or injury to ruin your trip.