So, what about your healthcare while you travel?

I often get emails with health questions related to my travels and I thought it might be a good idea to just put them out here. PLEASE, do your own homework and do what works for you. This is how I handle things. I am not saying it is the correct way, or what you should do. These were the questions from my latest email:

1. What health insurance do you carry?

I have a U.S. based “Cadillac” health insurance plan from G.E.H.A. that I still carry, left over from when I worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. In the five years since I retired and started traveling, I have never, knock on wood, had a medical expenditure that, after co-pays and deductibles, justified making a claim. This even includes having a minor surgical procedure done in Thailand. I continue down this road because my son in California is on my health plan and healthcare prices in the United States are generally much higher than overseas.

2. What vaccinations do you have?

None, since I retired over five years ago. It isn’t that I am anti-vaccine, I just haven’t been in a situation where I thought they were critical. Maybe I am a little too lackadaisical or misinformed, but that is the truthful answer. Next time I go for my annual physical at Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok I plan to get a “Hepatitis B” vaccine, a rabies vaccine and a tetanus booster if needed. I won’t hesitate to get a location-specific vaccination, or anything else if I go someplace where it is strongly recommended by multiple sources.

3. What is the worst sickness you have experienced?

Admittedly I have been very lucky. The worst case of sickness I ever got was food poisoning from a “fast-casual” restaurant back in the U.S. many years ago. I eat street-food and pretty much everything else that is presented to me with gusto. There have been a few times that I have had to take antibiotics for cases of travelers diarrhea and such, but I think my immune system has adapted pretty well. Having said that, I don’t drink tap water in developing places or in SE Asia, but I do brush my teeth with it. I don’t worry about ice like some people do because most places seem to have it delivered from clean sources.

4. What insect/parasite precautions do you take?

We have a few insect traps similar to this one in our home. We live right on the Mekong River in Laos and they seem to do a pretty good job keeping mosquitos at bay. Sometimes we use citronella coils when we are outside around dusk and sometimes if the mosquitoes are really annoying, we will use citronella oil. When I sleep in open places deep in the jungle I sleep under mosquito nets.

As far as parasites go, I don’t do anything and I got a clean bill of health from my last check-up.

Some experts may see my health “plan”, or lack thereof as a form of Russian roulette and maybe they are right. However, having met many long-term expats from all over the world, what I do fits pretty well with what I see most other people doing after they have been traveling a while. Out of everyone I meet, Americans seem to be the most concerned with health insurance, doctors, hospitals and sickness in general while traveling. I am not at all saying that health on the road isn’t a concern and it shouldn’t be addressed, but I don’t think it should be a fearful obsession that limits your dreams.

 

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Also published on Medium.

Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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3 Comments

  1. We have been traveling SE Asia since Oct 2015. We pay out of pocket. Healthcare is very affordable and we have reserve cash if we need it for a real emergency..We are planing to return to the U.S. For 6-8 weeks in 2017 and plan on buying health insurance for the U.S. for those 2 months….. Since it’s the only place in the world that if something happens you are screwed and it could bankrupt us! They have the American people so fooled about healthcare…. That system is broken and is screaming for change…..

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    • I guess because in America, healthcare, not being seen as a right, as it is in almost all other parts of the developed world, makes it a bit of an obsession. Everywhere else people seem to be able to concentrate more on other important things without worrying about being bankrupted by illness.

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  2. Great article! I wish I had not spent so much on vaccinations in America before traveling SE Asia. Most people I have met who are expats don’t even bother with getting 1/4th of what I got. I am glad however that I did not purchase traveler’s insurance for SE Asia. I got a very bad case of food poisoning in Chiang Rai, Thailand which ended up with dehydration bad enough to plummet my blood pressure causing my heart to speed up to compensate. I was headed into hypovolemic shock. I knew it was serious. My family decided to take me to a private, high dollar hospital. I freaked out about the price and wanted to go to the local government hospital, but I was in no position to argue. The hospital had no wait time in the ER and was state-of-the-art. Better than 90% of American hospitals I have seen. (Before nomading, I worked in the medical field, so I’ve seen more than a few hospitals.) I declined hospital admission and was treated in the ER for several hours, including IV therapy. Total bill (including 5 prescriptions): $98.00!

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