These are the Biggest Risks for International Travelers
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If you pay attention to news reports it’s easy to believe that the world is becoming a more dangerous place. Each day there seems to be some new risk facing those who venture abroad.
However, with the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic, the main risks for international travelers haven’t changed much over the years, and they’re largely determined by the actions you take both before and during your trip.
Below we’ll describe some of the biggest risks taken by any international traveler, along with some steps you can take to protect yourself abroad.
Road and Traffic Accidents
The biggest danger facing international travelers isn’t disease or political unrest, it’s cars. Motor vehicle crashes kill more US citizens traveling abroad than any other cause. They can occur with you behind the wheel, in a taxi or rideshare vehicle, or as a result of being struck as a pedestrian.
This is because roads and traffic laws are not uniform around the world. Developing nations can have poorly maintained road networks and traffic laws that are barely enforced. And drivers of rental vehicles in other countries frequently get lost and spend more time looking at navigation apps and scenery than the road ahead.
There are some things you can do to reduce the risk. First off, always wear your seatbelt in any car, regardless of local customs or laws. If you’re hailing a cab, make sure it’s licensed and registered, and don’t accept the ride if you feel the vehicle or driver is unsafe. If you’re driving yourself, keep your eyes on the road, avoid traveling after dark when possible, and pull over prior to looking at a map or making a phone call. Pedestrians should always look both ways before venturing into the street, and never assume cars will stop just because they are supposed to.
While COVID may have dominated the headlines in recent years, there are numerous other debilitating diseases you can be exposed to. Depending on where you’re traveling, you could be at risk of contracting measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and different strains of influenza.
Your first line of defense should be to talk to your doctor before the trip. Let them know where you’re going and they can determine the correct vaccines to help protect you from diseases common to the area.
Insects are far more than annoying; they can be dangerous. An insect bite can transmit pathogens that lead to diseases like Zika, dengue, yellow fever, malaria, Lyme disease, and countless others.
Once again, your first step should be to talk to your doctor. They can recommend appropriate vaccines and medications depending on where you’re going, and may even be able to advise you on the best insect repellent for the particular risk.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, make sure to apply repellent regularly, and wear long pants and long-sleeved clothing that fits loosely to protect your skin. At night, you may want to invest in bug netting to keep insects away while you sleep if the hotel or accommodation does not have screened windows.
Most trips abroad involve sitting on an airplane for the better part of a day or longer. This can be extremely dangerous for certain individuals, as it can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Sitting in a stationary position for a long period of time can cause blood clots in deep veins, usually in the legs. DVT is dangerous because these blood clots can loosen and become lodged in the lungs, and cause a pulmonary embolism in severe cases.
Those most at risk of DVT include pregnant women, those who have recently had surgery, and those who have given birth within the last three months.
If you’re at risk of DVT, speak to your doctor about DVT medications and compression stockings that can help reduce the risk.
Food and Water Contamination
Travelers’ diarrhea is perhaps the most common illness travelers can get, and it’s caused by consuming contaminated food or water. Even if the locals can eat or drink certain things without issue, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can as well.
To avoid travelers’ diarrhea that can lead to lost days spent in bed or even hospitalization, make sure to only drink bottled or purified water in developing nations, even in cities. Only eat food that is cooked and served hot or from sealed packages. Do not eat unpeeled fruits or vegetables, or any unpasteurized dairy products.
You should also make sure to bring along over-the-counter antidiarrheals with active ingredients similar to Imodium or Pepto Bismol. Speak to your doctor before taking any new over-the-counter medication.
Travel Insurance is Crucial
Picture what would happen if you got into a car accident and were critically injured in another country: You may not be able to receive full treatment locally, so emergency medical evacuation that costs over $100,000 could be necessary. When all is said and done, you could receive a medical bill in excess of $200,000. Worse still, your domestic health insurance will not help cover this bill, as you were outside your home country. This is why appropriate travel insurance coverage is so important.
If you’re traveling internationally to a country outside the US, make sure to have travel medical insurance. It is designed specifically to cover you during trips outside your home country. The insurance company can expertly help you navigate international claims, and even assist you in overcoming language barriers in some cases.
For international trips to the USA, get visitors medical insurance. Healthcare costs in the US are extremely high, and your domestic health insurance will do you no good here. It’s essential to have visitors insurance to cover you for any new illnesses or injuries you may incur.
If you’re a US resident traveling abroad or domestically, consider trip cancellation insurance. In addition to trip cancellation coverage, a travel insurance plan can also provide coverage for emergency medical care, either as primary or secondary insurance.