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Whether you’re hiking through the Arizona desert, trekking through the Amazon, or perhaps exploring the tropics of Northern Queensland where pythons have been known to swallow Australian crocodiles whole, chances are you may come into contact with a snake at some point during your trip.

And, after having stepped on a venomous cottonmouth in Florida, watched as a boa wrapped itself around our camera tripod recently in Joshua Tree (see featured image above!), and aggravated a deadly rattlesnake in Arizona, trust us, we would definitely know!

Snakes are found all throughout the world except for Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland and New Zealand, so unless you’re limiting your travel to these destinations only, it’s important for every avid hiker to be prepared with first aid knowledge of how to treat snakebite. Most snakes are found in tropical regions, though they inhabit many landscapes including in the water, forests, deserts and prairies.

As a global traveler it’s important to be prepared – the following are essential tips and tricks you should be aware of re snakebite for emergency situations while hiking abroad. Would you believe, all photos are our own!

#1 Don’t Be Afraid

The most important thing to do if you are facing a snake or have been bitten by one is to stay calm…easier said than done!  Becoming excited means your heart beats faster which increases the flow of blood to the affected area and increases the amount of toxin able to find its way into your tissues.

Most snakes would choose to slither away than fight a human, and don’t aggressively bite things out of malice.  Snake venom is used to subdue prey which would otherwise be impossible to eat, so they don’t generally like to waste their venom.

That being said if their only escape route is a past a human with a shovel they are likely to react aggressively!! Like-wise, as we found out in Florida once, if you step on one they’re also likely to strike out and try to bite!

As excellently put by the Florida Museum of Natural History, “you may be able to safely feed squirrels in a city park, but if you grab one of the squirrels, chance are it will bite and scratch you out of fear.”

“Most people would not condemn squirrels because they defend themselves by biting and scratching. Snakes defend themselves mostly by fleeing, but they might bite if captured or harmed. However biting is not a sign that they are dangerous, it is just the only way that most snakes have to defend themselves. Some snakes might also exude a smelly musk or defecate on the human or other animal that is threatening them.”

Most people are bitten on the hands and arms handling or trying to kill a snake. Therefore, if you are uncertain of its identity do not try to catch or even kill a snake. Only take it to the emergency room for identification purposes if you are absolutely sure it is already dead.

People don’t realize that for a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work.  A snake can actually bite for several hours after it’s dead.

One Texas woman in 2013 was so afraid of a snake in her backyard she tried to kill it by dousing it in gasoline and setting it on fire. The snake slithered around the backyard in a frenzy until her house was burnt to the ground. Sadly, I’m not kidding

#2 Administer First Aid

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been bitten by a snake, ensure that movement is restricted, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.  Creating a loose splint will help restrict the movement of the area. Do not use a tourniquet.

Be sure to remove any rings or constricting items so that the affected area does not swell.

If the area of the bite begins swelling or changing color the snake was most likely poisonous.

Monitor the person’s vital signs (temperature, pulse, rate of breathing and blood pressure if possible).  If signs of shock are showing (i.e paleness) lay the person flat with their feet raised about a foot and cover them with a blanket.

#3 Get Medical Help Immediately

Get medical help immediately.  The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite involves the use of antivenin, and if you’re hiking in a remote location and require an emergency medical evacuation this is where your international health insurance comes into play.

Do not wait for symptoms to kick in before visiting the emergency room; an untreated venomous snakebite is a serious medical condition which can result in death. If traveling with others let them drive you – some bites can cause wooziness and you can hurt your self and others around you if you try to drive.

If you know you’ll be hiking through snake country, prepare for medical emergencies by familiarizing yourself with the contact information of the hospitals and clinics located in and around your destination. It’s always good to know where the nearest trusted doctor is…just in case!

#4 Don’t Travel Without Health Insurance

Make sure your health insurance is up to date before you travel abroad, and make sure that your policy includes coverage for emergency medical evacuations. Evacuation coverage typically covers expenses associated with a medical emergency that requires you to travel to find the nearest qualified medical facility, and this may just save your life should you find yourself in a life threatening situation abroad.

International Health Coverage with GeoBlue provides fantastic insurance for emergency medical evacuations, and this service is available 24/7 no matter where in the world you decide to hike. They have an elite network of doctors from most every specialty ready to see you in over 180 countries, and GeoBlue doctors and hospitals bill them directly so you don’t have to even worry about filing a claim, and you don’t have to lay out any cash.

If you choose not to call for an emergency evacuation and drive to the hospital yourself, the GeoBlue mobile app will allow you to quickly locate the medical facilities closest to your destination.

For more information about coverage with GeoBlue, or to obtain a free quote, contact Timothy Jennings at IndividualHealth.com.

A health insurance broker we trust, Timothy has worked in the international and US domestic market for more than 30 years and offers travelers a range of different options on plans and coverage including short-term travel medical (generally less than 6 months), annual renewable coverage for expats, and coverage for business groups worldwide.

Email him at <sales@individualhealth.com> or:

Get a Free Quote

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

    84 Comments

  1. Very informative. Thanks for the tips! Sometimes you will never know such emergency arises, better be informed than sorry.

    • Glad you found the post helpful Tanj – now you’re totally prepared just in case!

  2. Great information. I truly hate snakes and this post gives me the chills 🙂

    • Lol you shouldn’t hike with my husband then – he actively seeks them out for photo opportunities! Now you’re totally prepared though just in case – just remember that their first option is going to be to run away from you as you’re a lot bigger and scarier to them than they are to you 🙂

      …and always travel with health insurance 🙂

  3. Great article. We’ve seen snakes all through Australia from remote hikes to inner city parks and outside our home. Having lived in NZ which is free of pretty much anything toxic or venomous for a good part of my life it was quite an adjustment to live in Australia and continue our outdoor lifestyle while sharing it with so many of the worlds most toxic snakes and insects.
    Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers recently posted…A visit to Meiji Shrine in TokyoMy Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed it Toni – I grew up in Tasmania, Australia so snakes were definitely part of life at home!

      The good thing about Australia is that knowledge for how to treat a snakebite is automatically part of the curriculum in first aid courses, and they teach it in school and outdoor ed. Though if you’re moving from NZ or another foreign country where it’s not the norm, brushing up on these skills is definitely a must if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the outdoors.

      And of course health insurance 🙂

  4. I hate snakes! A brown Pygmy rattlesnake slithered into my bathroom in Florida once and scared the heck out of me! Great tips though, especially the part about removing rings.

    • Yep, Florida is a pretty big spot for them! We were living in Florida for a while and would come across so many species on our hikes- Mike was in his element, he has so many photos. The black racer eating the frog above is actually from our time in Florida 🙂

      Glad you found the post helpful and informative – let us know if you have any follow-ups 🙂

    • Glad you found it helpful Megan – so glad to hear that your friend in Cambodia is ok!! That’s just the thing, it really could happen to anyone, so whether you love them or hate them, or purposely avoid them, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to have a little bit of knowledge sitting in the back of your mind about how to react in the very rare instance that you do get bit.

      Hoping your friend had some great health insurance 🙂

  5. I never really think about getting bit by snakes (and hike A LOT), so thanks for the reminders. I think this is good knowledge to have for anyone out in nature, even if hopefully it’s never needed!
    Laura recently posted…Adventures in Jasper National ParkMy Profile

    • Glad we could set you up with some tips then! It’s definitely good to have the knowledge just in the back of your mind in case you do find yourself face to face. I think having that knowledge of how to react helps in keeping you calm as well – generally people overreact because they don’t know what to do or how to handle the situation which makes things worse!

      Happy hiking!

    • Glad you found it helpful Olga – let us know if you have any other Q’s at all – always happy to help!

  6. Snakes definitely give me the creeps. We run into a few along the way but I’ve never considered what I’d do if I actual got bitten. Thanks for the very useful information!
    Jennifer recently posted…You Should “Devour Barcelona”My Profile

    • Keep this info in the back of your mind then and you’ll be set! You’ll hopefully never have to use it, but it’s important to know what to do just in case 🙂

    • Haha lol don’t let us turn you off hiking!! Well for one we have an awesome zoom…which helps! Though my husband is a wildlife fanatic so he’s very comfortable out in the wild and knows how close he can get to stay safe and has this huge range of knowledge about every different species imaginable.

      So for instance when the Rosy Boa in our featured image started slithering up our camera tripod I actually started freaking out a little though Mike was able to recognize that it wasn’t venomous and is actually a super docile snake, so we were actually so close to that one I let it slither over my hand for a photo!

      The photo we got of the black racer devouring a frog – he wasn’t going to jump up and bite anytime soon with his mouth full lol so we managed to get reasonable close for that one too 🙂

    • We have a fairly large fascination with wildlife so you wouldn’t believe how many photos we’ve managed to accumulate over the years from time abroad! Have whole folders for “reptiles” haha 😀

      We didn’t actually see any snakes while we were at Uluru, though have encountered many elsewhere in Aus having grown up there. Glad you stayed safe!

  7. I used to be afraid of snakes. Through my travels, I conquered that fear. Knowing these tips further tells me I didn’t need to be!

    • Glad to hear you conquered your fear Carol! Through being married to Mike I have also learned to appreciate them as beautiful creatures and not be afraid 😀

    • Glad you found it helpful and informative Amanda – happy hiking!

  8. Snakebites and other types of bites scare me a lot! I am a scuba diver so I am always scared that something might happen under the water and I won’t know how to react. This is a really great post Megan! Super informative.
    Yvonne recently posted…Should You Travel to Latin America?My Profile

    • Hmm interesting point about being under the water – I had never thought of that though I know snakes can go under the water and some sea snakes can be poisonous. It’s rare, though I’m going to look into that!!

      Glad you found the post informative 🙂

    • I was shocked to hear that one too when I first heard it – I guess the venom stays active for a while after the snake has actually gone. Kind of reminded me of a chicken being able to run around for a bit with it’s head chopped off!

    • Oh no, well I hope our tips set you up with some knowledge which will help you stay clam if you do ever come face to face 🙂

    • Absolutely – always better safe than sorry!

    • Hopefully not! Though always a great idea to be prepared just in case!

  9. I really truly hate snakes. The idea of getting bitten is an absolute nightmare! These are very helpful tips though, god forbid!
    Mags recently posted…Richmond RundownMy Profile

    • It’s not the best scenario to try and imagine yourself in!! Though glad you found the tips helpful just in case 🙂

    • I hope so too! Though it’s always better to be prepared 🙂

  10. Great tips. I came very close to stepping on a huge rattlesnake a few years ago. Thankfully I didn’t have to use any of the tips in this post and made it out of the desert without a snake bite!
    Christy recently posted…Happy Hour Around the World with Cayman JackMy Profile

    • The thing I like about rattlesnakes is that you can hear them as you get closer and closer – so glad you missed it – stepping on one of those isn’t fun!!

  11. Great tips Megan. We are not really hikers, but taking the right medical precautions when traveling anywhere is very important. We are frequently in other countries that have their own unique insects and critters and we always try to be vigilant so we are not attacked!
    Don recently posted…Compare Cruise Drink Packages on Long Vs Short CruisesMy Profile

    • Glad you found the article helpful Don – and absoutely re taking the right medical precautions; the thing here is you honestly don’t even really need to be an avid hiker – we’ve run into snakes before on walking trails and boardwalks in State Parks that the regular tourist would head to, so it’s always important to be prepared 🙂

  12. Great information on a subject I would guess most of us have not given a great deal of thought to. If ever I am bitten I will do my best to follow your instructions but am not guaranteeing I will remain calm 🙂
    Tim recently posted…Kalahari’s New DayMy Profile

    • Well hopefully the fact that you now have all of these awesome tips in the back of your mind and know what to do will help you stay clam in the rare instance of an emergency 😀 Thanks Tim! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 Travel safe!

  13. I love this post! Thanks! I’m such an overplanner and I always worry about what could happen when we’re away from medical facilities. Thanks for the great tips and awesome photos!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Sonja – and glad you enjoyed the photos! It’s always a good idea to know what to do in an emergency when you’re so far away from a medical facility; and when hiking you so often are 🙂

    • Glad you found it informative Jenna – I hope you don’t have to put it to use either, though glad you’re now set just in case!

    • Lol I couldn’t help myself but laugh hysterically when I heard that. Seriously, some people!!

  14. Great post! Just curious if treating snakes bites is common knowledge for all Aussies since I heard that your country has the top 10 venomous snakes in the world.

    • Thanks Tabby! It is actually fairly common knowledge in Aus – how to treat snakebite is part of the national curriculum of Australian first aid courses, so we all learn about it in school and outdoor education as well 🙂

      Though honestly funnily enough I’ve encountered more snakes overseas and in the States than I ever did living in Australia!

    • Glad to hear! I was just saying to Tabby above that funnily enough I’ve encountered more snakes overseas and in the States than I ever did living in Australia!

    • Glad you found the post useful Zof. Happy hiking!

  15. Oh geez, I’ve never really encountered any snakes except for little garter snakes here at home in the woods! They scare my dog more than me. This is very useful info for when traveling to countries that host so many more kinds of more dangerous snakes!

    • Glad you found the tips informative and helpful Alli – and I hope you don’t have to use them, though always a great idea to stay prepared just in case!

  16. This is my personal nightmare, maybe I shouldn’t have read it before sleep hah
    But on the other hand quite glad I did as I learned a lot.

    • Oh no! Lol I hope we didn’t give you terrible nightmares – at least though you’re now totally set with how to deal with it, so maybe you can sleep sound knowing that you’re safe knowing what to do if anything ever does go sour :D!

  17. This is a great post and something I needed five years ago in Australia! I worked on a few farms and we came across a red-bellied black snake one day. No one was hurt but they can move pretty fast.
    I’m glad there is good awareness due to posts like yours. Its so important to be prepared. Great advice

    • Ooooh red bellied black snakes are beautiful but yes, poisonous if you sustain a bite. Our photo in the first aid section above is of a red bellied black snake from hiking in Aus – Mike came home with video that day and they sure do move quickly!

      Glad you enjoyed the post Kate; trying to spread as much awareness about how to be prepared as we possibly can 🙂

  18. Don’t really like to think about getting bitten by anything poisonous but I do travel carefully! Things like wearing decent footwear are invaluable. I think I got bitten by a baby snake in Malta once but all I felt was a tiny scratch through my shoe and saw a small snake butt disappearing quickly. The whole ‘don’t use a tourniquet’ thing is debatable. I know medical advice gets updated for a reason, but at the same time I’ve heard plenty of stories where isolating the venom in the limb was what saved the persons life. I’d be in two minds if it happened to me to be honest.
    Peter Parkorr recently posted…Why I Went To Catania For 3 Days And Stayed For 2 MonthsMy Profile

    • Wearing decent footwear is definitely an invaluable tip Peter – luckily that’s one thing we invest in – good quality shoes, and it’s what saved Mike one time in Florida when he inadvertently stepped on a baby cottonmouth snake; it bit his shoe but didn’t pierce through to the skin thank god!

      I’ve been in two minds about the tourniquet too, though I’m fully behind not using one – I have heard the stories where isolating the venom has saved lives, but then at the same time I’ve heard so many many more where someone has lost their limb unnecessarily because of it. I think if you can remain calm, follow medical advice, and get to emergency medical treatment within a very quick period of time a tourniquet is one of those things which is more of a hindrance than a help. I might consider isolating it if I was very remote and knew medical attention wasn’t coming for a while.

  19. “A snake can actually bite for several hours after it’s dead”. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!?!

    I really have never minded snakes too much, but that sentence actually scared the bejeezus out of me.

    • Truth! I know, it’s a crazy fact right! Much like a chicken being able to run around for hours after it’s head has been chopped off!

    • Oh no lol sorry about that Sammi! Though at least if you have another dream in the future this time round you’ll be set up with tips, ready to kick some serious snake-bite butt!

  20. Just one more reason to go to Iceland!! I’venever been a fan of snakes and there are so many in Florida 🙁

    • Yes, yes there are (re Florida!!) We were there for about 12 months and ran into so very many on our hiking adventures! The photo of the black racer devouring the frog above is actually from one of our Florida hikes!

      Iceland on the other hand we didn’t run into a single one 😀

    • I hope you never are too! Though as you said Pola, always have to be prepared 🙂

  21. Fantastic article Megan and very informative. I love all the pictures and am amazed that you’ve come across so many dangerous snakes on your travels.

    Just for info if you come across a wild snake in the UK they aren’t very dangerous, their bite is nothing worse than a bee sting.

    Good old St Patrick. He did a lot of good things for Ireland 😉
    The Guy Who Flies recently posted…Le Tour De Yorkshire 2015 Route Stage 2 Through North Newbald #TourDeYorkshireMy Profile

    • Thanks love! So glad you found the tips useful and enjoyed the photography – the photography credit all goes to Mike, I’m equally as amazed!!

      Thanks for the info on bites in the UK – Lol though I think I fear bees more than I fear snakes 😀 And I always get a chuckle when I hear there are no snakes in Ireland because my mind jumps to exactly the same thing re St Patrick 😀

    • Glad you found the post helpful Jess…and we also hope that these are tips you will never have to use!!

  22. It’s amazing how many people get bitten because they try to handle snakes. Just like you mentioned, doing simple things to stop an accident (like preventing it) is the safest way to go! Also may want to mention, it’s very important to keep calm if you’ve been bitten by a snake. Freaking out only increases your heart rate, helping spread the venom faster.

    Great write-up Meg! 🙂
    Ron | Active Planet Travels recently posted…Top 10 New Scams to Watch Out For While Traveling in AsiaMy Profile

    • Absolutely – if you stay away from them and let them slither away, 9 times out of 10 this will mean you avoid an emergency. It’s when you try and kill it or step on it or the like that you end up getting a bite!

      And absolutely, keeping calm is the absolute best thing you can do in a situation like this. Harder than it sounds, but hopefully more possible with the knowledge of how to deal with it and how to act. Great tip Ron 🙂

    • Sorry to have freaked you out Wayne!! Lol I guess a few people have said I hit their worst nightmare in this post :S! But better to be prepared just in case 🙂 Glad you can now feel prepared 🙂

      Travel safe!

  23. I never thought about how squirrels are not “condemned” for biting and scratching, but snakes are feared and cursed for biting! I think it’s because snakes have venom. Thanks for the tip to take it (dead) to the emergency room for identification if a snake bite does happen.

    • Glad you could take some tips away from the post Veronica 🙂 Squirrels can be nasty little things lol! But yes, I think snakes have a more fearsome reputation because of their venom and the potential of death if you get a bite from one which is poisonous.

      Though most people don’t realize that a lot of the time a snakebite doesn’t have to be deadly if you take the right action afterwards. Being able to identify it later is definitely one of the biggest tips for that 🙂

      Safe travels!

  24. Great post with lots of info. I hope those that travel and hike with young ones remember to teach them the basics too.

    • Thanks! And yes, absolutely, it’s so important to pass this kind of information on to the next generation of hikers too 🙂

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