Handling Emergencies on the Road

Lisa Fritscher January 11, 2011 No Comments

Travel Emergencies and Insurance

The more you travel, the greater your odds of experiencing an emergency on the road

If you travel extensively, the odds are good that you will eventually encounter an emergency situation while on the road. Exposure to unfamiliar germs, changes in sleeping and eating schedules, strange foods and activities that increase your risk of injury are all common parts of any vacation. Dealing with an emergency at home is never pleasant, but when you are in an unfamiliar place, emergencies can be downright scary. Developing a plan of action before you leave home can go a long way toward helping you remain calm and making good decisions when a situation arises.

Trip Insurance

Trip Insurance and Hospitals

Hospitals are easy to find even in small towns

Trip insurance is the single best investment you can make in any vacation, even if you have good health coverage. On a cruise or in a foreign country, the doctor may not be willing to bill your insurance directly. You may be responsible for paying out of pocket and then filing a claim for reimbursement. If anyone in your traveling party is on Medicare, that organization will not pay when you are overseas.

Trip insurance fills in the gap. Although the specifics vary by policy, the trip insurance may make payment directly to the doctor, or may wire you cash within a tight time frame (as little as 24 hours). Trip insurance also covers delays, cancellation or trip interruption for covered reasons such as injury or illness. Since the insurance is time-limited to the duration of your trip, prices are generally surprisingly reasonable.

Call your insurance company to find out exactly what is covered while you are away, and compare several trip insurance policies to find the one that best meets your needs. If you are putting together a multi-leg trip, such as a one-way cruise to Alaska followed by a month-long tour of the state, it may be less expensive to buy a single policy that covers your whole trip rather than one policy for the cruise and another for everything else. Read all the fine print before signing a contract, especially if anyone in your group has a pre-existing condition or if you plan to engage in extreme sports. You may need a specific policy or an additional rider to meet your needs.

Walk-In Clinics

First Aid centers on the Road

First Aid centers can handle minor emergencies, while walk-in clinics manage more severe difficulties.

Walk-in or urgent care clinics are readily available throughout the United States, both as stand-alone facilities and attached to major drugstores. Significantly less expensive than a visit to the emergency room, walk-in clinics treat both travelers and locals. They can handle most minor injuries and illnesses and can refer you to a local hospital or specialist if needed. Most walk-in clinics accept most major insurance policies including trip insurance, but if you have the time, it never hurts to call and ask before you arrive. Note that walk-in clinics are open from early morning until late evening, but are not open all night. Major attractions also have First Aid centers, which can handle some minor illnesses and injuries.

Ask the Front Desk

Hotel First Aid Assistance

Check with your hotel for recommendations

If the situation is not life-threatening, call or visit the front desk of your hotel for advice. Front desk staff is used to handling guest emergencies, and can provide valuable advice on which clinic to visit or avoid, when to go and how to get there. Some hotels even offer free transportation to a local clinic or emergency room. Although it should never be expected, hotels often offer small perks to those who are recuperating, from flowers delivered to your room to free or heavily discounted extra nights if you are too ill to travel. The hotel may also stock limited first aid supplies such as bandages or pain relievers.

**Note** If the hotel offers to call a doctor directly to your room, make sure that the visit will be covered by your insurance. Both major medical policies and trip insurance vary widely in their willingness to cover in-room treatment, and the charges are often high. If it is covered, though, by all means take advantage of the service. You or your child will be much more comfortable waiting in your room rather than in a crowded clinic. In some cases, the doctor will even bring the appropriate medications along, saving you a trip to the pharmacy.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit when Traveling

Take a few minutes before each trip to replenish your first aid kit

Never depart on any vacation without packing a well-stocked first aid kit. Pain relievers, fever reducers, bandages and antibiotic ointment are often pricey in gift shops and it may be difficult to access a pharmacy. Pack additional items according to your family’s needs. For example, a snakebite kit is probably not necessary when staying in a city hotel, but is critical when camping in the back woods.

If anyone in your family is prone to ear infections or other minor illnesses, talk to your doctor before the trip. He or she may want to prescribe antibiotics for you to use if needed. Also make sure that everyone’s immunizations are up to date. If traveling outside of the country, visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website for the latest travel immunization recommendations.

Calling 911

Calling 911 on the Road

If you have access to a landline, use it instead of a cell phone for 911

Unless you have no other option, try not to call 911 on your cell phone. Although newer GPS technology makes it easier for 911 operators to locate cell phone users, you run the risk of the call being routed strangely due to the location of cell towers and the location assigned to your cell phone number. Use a landline if possible, even if it means asking someone nearby to make the call for you. Especially when you don’t know exactly where you are, dealing with the closest 911 center at the outset can make it easier for emergency personnel to find you. Of course, if the cell phone is your only option, don’t waste time searching for a landline.

Keeping Children Calm

Remaining Calm during Emergencies

A stuffed animal can make things better when someone isn't feeling well

Unfamiliar places and situations can make kids antsy, and adding in an emergency situation can push them over the edge. The best way to keep your kids calm is to remain calm yourself. Remember that while the place you are visiting is unfamiliar to you, it is home to quite a few people. Unless you are doing an extremely remote jungle trek or safari, in which case your guide will have up to the minute emergency training, you are never far from medical services.

Depending on your child’s age and level of development, you may want to talk through these things with him as well. Kids are generally receptive to facts that are presented gently but in a matter of fact tone. If your child is smaller, use a soothing tone to remind her that everything is all right and you will handle the situation. Consider picking up small gifts, such as a teddy bear or some candy, to amuse the child while waiting for medical attention. Even adults who aren’t feeling well sometimes appreciate these small tokens!

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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