How to Plan for Health Issues when Traveling Abroad
Last year, my parents announced they were taking a trip to Europe. My sister and I were extremely shocked, for a couple of reasons. First, neither of them had ever talked about visiting Europe. Mom has always wanted to see England, but had not expressed an interest in the other countries they were planning to visit: Belgium and Sweden. (I thought they should also visit Latvia, but they vetoed that idea.) Plus, my father had never expressed any interest in traveling outside the United States. Secondly, at 75-years-old, Dad’s health has not been great the last couple of years. My sister and I were surprised they would take a chance on him becoming ill outside the United States.
However, my parents were determined to go and did not tell us of the trip until two weeks before their departure date. I think they did this because they did not want us to talk them out of going. They planned a long trip, wisely giving themselves plenty of time in each country to accommodate their lower fitness levels. They were very excited and had done their research, finding the places they most wanted to visit, even if they were not the normal tourist destinations. Unfortunately, in the first country they visited, Dad became ill.
Luckily for my mom, this happened in England, where language was not a barrier. Dad displayed the symptoms of a ministroke, including dysphasia, or confusion and the loss of vision in his right eye. As is common for ministrokes, the symptoms disappeared by the time they found a doctor. The doctor was concerned though, and he had Dad stay overnight for observation. The next day, the symptoms still had not returned and they released him.
Mom and Dad were only a couple of weeks into their trip. They had made it through the Mystery Lover’s England Tour, but had not seen other sites in London, or visited Gustav Vasa’s castle in Sweden or La Grand-Place in Brussels. They had a tough decision to make: continue with their trip of a lifetime or return home.
Mom and Dad had planned well though. They did three things before they left that made the decision to continue or return home easier to make.
Met with their doctor
Before they ever left, they both had full checkups with their dentist and doctor to make sure that they were healthy for international travel. They also refilled all their prescriptions and had their doctor write a note on letterhead validating their need for the prescriptions. This really helped, because Mom just had to give this letter to the doctor, rather than try to remember all his prescriptions. The doctor was able to avoid any negative drug interactions when treating Dad.
Checked on travel insurance
By taking out a comprehensive travel insurance policy, they avoided the money worries. The comprehensive policy included travel interruption insurance and medical insurance. With the interruption policy, if they chose to cancel their trip at this point, the insurance would reimburse them for all the prepaid costs they had incurred.
Since they are on Medicare, which does not cover medical expenses outside of the United States, the medical insurance was necessary. They were glad they had purchased the best coverage that they could. Because it was an emergency visit, the hospital worked directly with their insurer, rather than having to pay the expenses out of pocket and submit receipts for reimbursement.
Looked into burial insurance
It sounds morbid, but it was a safe precaution. They made sure their burial insurance would cover them if they died outside of the United States. Also, they checked with the State Department to make sure none of the areas they were visiting had warnings or alerts, which affect a life insurance payout.
Without worrying about money, they were able to make a decision based solely on how Dad was physically feeling. Ultimately, they decided to come home. Dad had a few side effects from the ministroke, but the worry of more problems weighed on both their minds. Plus, Mom was afraid of Dad having another stroke in a country where she might have a language barrier.
Even though they had planned well, they had to cut their trip short. Like life at home, things happen without warning. With a little forethought, though, you can keep the consequences of the unexpected limited to simply ending a trip early.