Do you know what to do in a travel medical emergency?

Everything you need to know (and do) if you face a travel emergency
Nobody wants to think about the associated risks with travel (except pessimists like me:)

Probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me while travelling was when my mom became ill in France. The condensed version of the story is that she was in-between chemo treatments for Stage IV cancer. En route to Paris, we had a 14-hour delay in an unheated train station. By the time we eventually arrived, it was clear she wasn’t well. Mom didn’t get better, and we were oblivious to the risks of the situation. From that harrowing experience, I’ve learned a lot about what to do in a medical emergency. This is what I think everyone should know.

How to navigate a travel emergency

The thing about emergency situations is that they crop up on you with little warning. Emergencies are harder to deal with when you travel because nothing is familiar. Does 911 even work in France? The #1 thing you can do in a travel emergency is be prepared in advance. When you know what to expect or what actions to take when the event occurs, you’re better off.

What else can you do to ensure the best possible outcome?

  • Keep emergency contacts on hand. Have them written down in case your phone loses power. Also write down the phone numbers for your credit card, travel insurance, the Canadian consulate or embassy in the country you’re visiting and directions to the nearest hospital.
  • Have spare batteries.
  • Carry snacks and water.
  • The Government of Canada recommends purchasing travel insurance. There’s a broad range of coverages available to suit your needs. Just make sure you read your policy and are familiar with all the coverages, benefits, exclusions and limitations.

The 2nd thing you want to do in any travel emergency is to act smart and calculating. When you’re in a sudden or unforeseen medical travel emergency, the key thing to remember is that leaders don’t wait. They’re assertive and act fast.

Do you know what to do in a travel medical emergency?
Being in an unfamiliar city or country adds a layer of stress as well.

What to do when you’re in an emergency

When my mom, sister and I were stuck at that train station en route to Paris, there was a lot of confusion. Nobody knew what was going on. Staff herded everyone (crowds reached 6,000 people!) outside into the drizzling rain. It appeared everyone complied. We did too for a time. Who really knows what to do when you’re in an emergency until you’re actually in one?

Quickly though, we realized how ridiculous the situation was. Our mom had a compromised immune system. We needed to take matters into our own hands. And so, we snuck back into the station, talked to the right person (never accept a ‘no’ from someone who isn’t authorized to give you a ‘yes’ in the first place) and got on a priority list. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, people!

Even though we were out of the rain, it was still freezing inside that unheated train station. We were all so very cold and tired by the time we eventually arrived in Paris. How did we react when mom woke up ill? We kept her in bed and plied her with (delicious) ham sandwiches. It embarrasses me to no end to admit this.

what to do in a medical travel emergency
Make sure you have copies of emergency contacts and health facilities close at hand.

What to do in a travel medical emergency

What should we have done? Oh, I don’t know, how about call or email her doctor? How about call her travel insurance hotline and speak to their nursing team? Actually, I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t purchase travel insurance, which is such an irresponsible fail of ours. Companies like Allianz Global Assistance offer 24/7 phone assistance, can direct you to an accredited health care facility in their network, liaise with your doctor or family members back home and oversee your care if you’re hospitalized.

Even though my mom’s condition didn’t develop into a full blown medical emergency, it was still scary. It would’ve been so reassuring to get advice and options (like medical transport back home if need be).

Once we arrived back in England (where I was then living), we took mom to a medi-clinic. She was able to get a refill of the pain medication she’d exhausted in Paris. We had to pay a pretty penny for that appointment and the meds, which of course, may have been eligible for coverage if she had travel insurance.

As much as I beat myself up about this experience, I have to remember: A stumble may prevent a fall. I know better now. Well, I like to think I do. Have you ever been in any sort of travel emergency? How did you react to the situation? I’d love to hear any and all tips.

Please PIN this post so others can learn from my mistakes:

travel medical emergency

Disclaimer: I’m a brand ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (Canada) and receive financial compensation for these blog posts. As always, my opinions are my own.

About The Author

11 thoughts on “Do you know what to do in a travel medical emergency?”

  1. Adonis Villanueva

    What a harrowing experience! Glad your mom is ok and that you’ve learned from the experience 🙂 There’s nothing worse than an emergency on your holiday. That’s why good travel insurance comes in handy. Also, some credit cards offer free travel insurance – you’ll have to look through the fine print 🙂

    1. That’s right, most credit cards do. But I think most of them are only good for trips two weeks or less.

  2. Carol Colborn

    My husband fainted in Auckland, New Zealand in 2017. We also had to shell out $3,000 to buy a new ticket to go to Europe when Primera declared bankruptcy on the day of our flight. We didn’t have travel insurance for either. Not prepared.

  3. Aah, so sorry about your experience with your mom! I’ve never had a medical emergency while travelling but you’ve made excellent points and I’ll definitely take note of them! ????????

  4. I am so sorry to hear you had to deal with a medical emergency. Great to share your lessons. So many things go so much more smoothly if you plan for them in advance. You are so right about being assertive. And keep pushing until you get the most senior person. We have not luckily had a serious medical emergency. And we now always travel with insurance!

  5. I doubt your mother would qualify for any travel medical insurance with her cancer diagnosis. We have been most frustrated trying to get travel insurance ourselves. Glad you got looked after in England and you have some great points to be better prepared next time.

    1. So, I actually called the a travel insurance company afterwards and talked to their Chief Medical Officer. Because her condition was deemed “stable and controlled” she would’ve been covered. At least we weren’t in a full blown travel emergency….

  6. Sorry to hear about your mother’s emergency. Hope all is well now. Fortunately we didn’t have any serious emergency situation till now but yes, the small ailments that require doctor’s attention is also painful if you don’t have proper insurance etc.

  7. Jim Whittemore

    It’s so true, everyone thinks it’s not going to happen to them…that’s the problem “everyone thinks it’s not going to happen to them”. The best thing you can do it be prepared! You gave some really helpful insights into that, at bare minimum everyone should have some form of travel insurance to be prepared.

  8. The one tip that I realized that I need to do anyway is copied the numbers down on a paper or book. I am so used to the cell phone that I forget that in case of emergency, someone might not be able to access those numbers. Some really valuable tips here. Thanks for the same.

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