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.