Injuries While Traveling - A Paremedics Point of View
By Corey Hannum
Adventure Travelers in general are much more prone to injury while on vacation than someone who is doing a city-tour or a cruise. That's just the nature of sports. Even the most careful person can get injured.
In addition to the normal health-care issues which can occur at any given time, such as the flu, a cold, or even a heart attack, the adventure traveler is at risk for sport related injuries. A skier can take a tumble and fracture a leg, a hiker can sprain an ankle, and a mountain biker could fall and get a concussion. When you are at home, or in the United States, you are aware of how to handle such injuries. You know which emergency number to call, you know how the hospital works, the people involved speak English, and your insurance will cover it. But when you are on an adventure travel vacation abroad, you may not be familiar with the health care system.
Health care in European countries, such as Germany, Austria, and France, is excellent, and hospitals are equally capable of treating injuries as hospitals in the states. These countries also have Emergency Medical Services which are similar to those in the United States. However, the adventure traveler still faces a number of difficulties in getting help. First, as a traveler, it is unlikely that you have a cell phone, which functions in Europe, which you can use to call for help. Second, you may not speak the native language, and may not be able to adequately explain where you are, and not everyone speaks adequate English. Third, you may face payment issues if your insurance does not cover international accidents. However, theses problems can all be avoided with a little bit of advance planning.
When doing an extreme sport, regardless of where you are, you should never do it alone, as the risk that when you are injured, you unable to call for help, is too great. Similarly, when traveling internationally, you should never venture off alone to mountain bike through the woods, or ski off piste; and if you do, you should always tell someone roughly where you will be. If you do travel with someone who has a cell phone which functions internationally, be sure to store the local emergency numbers in the phone, and bring it with you.
The language barrier is unfortunately a problem with no easy solution. Although many Europeans speak excellent English, there is no guarantee that those whom you come into contact with will, especially in the EMS. In hospitals communication is normally not a problem; if the doctor does not speak English, there are normally English speaking members of the staff available to translate. The best way to avoid translation issues is to carry a tourism book or dictionary with you where phrases are listed in English with the native equivalent. This is especially important if you have allergies or existing health problems!
The easiest way to avoid these problems is to travel in a tour group. I know, you are probably thinking "A tour group, how boring," but it doesn't have to be boring! There are a number of companies which offer guided adventure travel tours, which offer real Adventure Travel not "adventure travel for retirees." By traveling in a group, you have the extra security that the guide is familiar with the local health care system, native language, and also most likely has a cell phone near by at all times. This alone can mean the difference between life and death when the injuries are serious.
Finally, be sure to inform yourself, before departing for your vacation, weather or not your insurance covers international health care, and if so what types. For instance, I had an insurance policy once which covered inpatient treatment over 24 hours. Any medical care which was under 24 hours, I had to pay for myself.
Despite the additional risks that come from being an adventure traveler, if you plan a little bit in advance, you can travel with a feeling of security.
Corey Hannum is the president of European Adventure Travel, a provider of guided luxury adventure travel tours in Europe, and authors the Adventure Travel News blog. He is also a certified paramedic, and has bachelors' degree in German. In addition, he is a dedicated skier and sports enthusiast.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.