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How to Survive Traveling While Sick: Our Best Tips

Traveling While Sick
Allianz - Traveling While Sick

I was touring the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel when a fellow traveler asked me to take his picture. “No problem,” I said. The next day I was coughing and sniffling — just like that traveler had been the day before. If only I’d washed my hands after touching his camera! But there was nothing to be done. I had to soldier through traveling with a cold, and do my best to enjoy the rest of the trip.

Traveling can be taxing even when you’re healthy. What are you supposed to do when you’re feeling terrible but you still have to stick to your itinerary?

How can trip cancellation/interruption insurance help when you get sick while traveling?

Several travel insurance plans from Allianz Global Assistance include trip interruption benefits, which is an awesome benefit to have. Your trip interruption benefits kick in when you have to cut your trip short for a covered reason, and can reimburse you for not only the unused portion of your trip, less any refunds, but also the extra costs of making new travel arrangements to get to your original or final destination. Likewise, trip cancellation benefits can reimburse you for prepaid, nonrefundable trip costs when you must cancel your trip for a covered reason. (Read your plan documents to find out exactly what your plan covers.)

Trip cancellation/interruption benefits can’t always help when you’re sick, however. Having a serious illness can be a covered reason for trip cancellation or interruption, but only if it’s disabling enough to make a reasonable person delay, cancel or interrupt their trip. A doctor must examine you (or your traveling companion) beforehand and advise you to cancel or interrupt your trip. If that’s not possible, the doctor can examine you within 72 hours of your cancellation/interruption.

How does this play out in real life? Let’s say you’re preparing to depart for a five-day tour of Iceland when you start feeling kind of yucky. If you’re delirious with fever and you’re throwing up constantly, your doctor would probably recommend you delay or cancel the trip. If your doctor diagnoses you with a milder illness, however, such as strep throat or a cold, that probably wouldn’t warrant canceling the trip. That’s when you suck it up, pack some meds and go.

How to survive traveling while sick 

If I had been traveling on my own when I came down with that nasty cold, I might have paused my trip and holed up in a hotel room for an extra day to rest and recover. I was part of a tour with a set itinerary, however, so there was nothing I could do but keep going. The guide kindly stopped at a pharmacy, but the array of unfamiliar medications bewildered me. Looking back, I wish I’d had the free TravelSmart app from Allianz Global Assistance, which gives you the universal pharmaceutical name for common medications. It also translates first-aid terms into several languages and locates nearby, pre-screened medical facilities.

What else can you do to feel better when traveling while sick?

  • Skip strenuous activities.
  • Take a long, hot bath or shower.
  • Eat foods that are gentle on your stomach.
  • Drink lots and lots of water, juice and tea.

If your symptoms worsen and you feel like you’re becoming seriously ill, you should seek help. Call our emergency assistance hotline and our multilingual experts can recommend a nearby doctor or hospital, serve as interpreters when you’re speaking to a doctor, and help arrange payment for emergency medical services you receive (if you have emergency medical benefits in your travel insurance plan). From the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, call this number toll free: 1-800-654-1908. From anywhere else, call collect: 1-804-281-5700.

How to survive flying while sick 

Flying with a cold isn’t just inconvenient; it can be painful. When congestion blocks your Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of your throat, that can prevent your sinuses from achieving equal pressure with the airplane cabin.1 Dry airplane air doesn’t help, either. Nor do the glares from your seatmates every time you cough or sneeze.

So what can you do to feel better when flying while sick? Rule one: Be considerate of your fellow passengers. Ask for a window seat, so you can turn your head if you must cough or sneeze. Wash your hands frequently and disinfect your tray table, as well as anything else you touch. You may even want to wear a mask. Rule two: Do your best to take care of yourself. Bring a decongestant, cold/flu medication, nasal spray, cough drops, tissues, a cozy blanket — anything you can think of to alleviate your symptoms and make the flight more comfortable. Rule three: Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol. One ingenious comfort for a long trip is The Kitchn’s inflight ginger tea: put fresh ginger, lemon wedges and honey into a travel mug, then ask a flight attendant to fill it with hot water (please).

If you’re feeling really, really lousy, confide in a flight attendant and ask if they can seat you closer to the restrooms, or in a row by yourself. They may be able to bring you extra water, crackers, airsickness bags or a blanket.

How to survive getting sick on a cruise 

Being sick on a cruise ship is no picnic. If you feel like you’re coming down with something, you really shouldn’t board the ship. Not only are you putting other passengers at risk, but you could be quarantined or turned away at the dock, if it appears you’re too sick to board.2

If you come down with norovirus, the flu or something similar, you may be quarantined in your cabin to protect other passengers. Quarantine is a serious matter. You won’t be allowed to roam the ship, and your meals will be delivered to your room. (Fortunately, quarantine can be considered a covered reason for trip interruption/cancellation.) If you have to visit the ship’s on-board doctor, expect to see a steep medical bill — unless you see the doctor for a medical emergency, and you have emergency medical benefits as part of your travel insurance plan.

Now, if you just have a cold or other minor ailment, you should take good care of yourself and be careful not to spread germs. If you didn’t pack medications, you can purchase them in the ship’s onboard pharmacy.

We hope you stay healthy during your next trip! But just in case, you should always protect yourself with travel insurance. Find the right plan for you.

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