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He broke his back on a pleasure cruise through the Amazon; she was fire twirling in Thailand when she set herself alight. One traveler lost his vision on a river cruise of the Rhine, and another found herself receiving stitches after an Asian air-conditioning unit decided to attack.
It’s important to remember that we’re not invincible while traveling abroad, and the stupidest thing you can ever do is to think it will never happen to you. One traveler who shares her story had a shower door collapse and was wheeled to the hospital in a computer chair, wet, shivering, and covered in glass! Another ate a bad falafel and nearly vomited over an Egyptian soldier at the border crossing of Egypt and Sudan! Awkward.
Though the following war stories from the road are not to dissuade you from traveling abroad, as life can catch you anywhere, including from the comfort of home. On the contrary, the hope is that after reading you’ll understand the importance of never traveling without insurance, and if the need for such while traveling doesn’t hit home after this we don’t know what will!
The following are war stories from the road – the best, the worst and the most embarrassing injuries travelers have sustained abroad.
Cloudy Vision on the Rhine
Mine wasn’t an injury sustained from an extreme adventure, so my bragging rights were none, and I experienced zero pain, so I couldn’t complain. But clearly, something was wrong.
It was the first day of a Rhine River cruise, and my travel partner and I were visiting the UNESCO World Heritage windmills at Kinderdijk. Suddenly, something resembling ink blots splattered the field of vision in my right eye. Later that afternoon a grey veil began rising to eventually cover the lower half of my already polka-dotted visual canvas.
The following day, eye specialists in Cologne diagnosed a detached and torn retina and confirmed that our summer travel would be abruptly aborted. How could this happen? We had spent months planning our European summer to the most minute detail. Yet as the poet Robert Burns put it so succinctly, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Fortunately, part of our detailed pre-planning included the purchase of travel insurance. We took comfort in knowing that our travel policy would buffer our wallets. A two-week policy to cover us both had cost us less than $200, yet our travel insurance provider spent over $10,000 on emergency evacuation alone when they booked our business class tickets home for emergency surgery.
This summer we are attempting a river cruise again, and you can bet we WILL purchase a travel policy!
Howard Blount: Backroad Planet.
An Almost Deadly Shower Door
I had just arrived in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam after spending 6 months backpacking around Europe and the USA. I was staying at my friend’s flat and after a full day of shopping and wandering around the city, all I wanted to do was take a long shower and chill out. Little did I know that this would be the most eventful shower of my life!
As I was finishing up, the glass door of the shower suddenly collapsed on me. I was wet, covered in glass shards, and bleeding profusely as I stood there completely shocked and confused.
I had to be wheeled out to the lobby of the building in a computer chair (true story) as my feet were covered with pieces of glass. I was rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance and suffered 5 major lacerations and 22 stitches all over my arms and hands.
To top things off, my travel insurance had just expired and I was planning to renew it as soon as I got to Asia. I was lucky that the hospital didn’t charge me an arm and a leg!
The worst part was that I had to fly back home to the Philippines because I couldn’t even lift my backpack. Though things worked out for the best because I met my lovely man in the sand dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam when I flew back again after having healed. We have stayed together since then and continue traveling around in search of our next (mis)adventure!
Anna Faustino: Adventure in you.
Gymnastics While Buzzed on a Bike
I was heading home after a quiz night in Khon Kaen, Thailand. I had had a couple beers and while a little buzzed, I was definitely not drunk. It was a road I had cycled down a hundred times before, though all of a sudden I flipped…straight over my handlebars and landed on the road.
To this day I have no idea what I hit (our best guess involves a black dog in a very dark part of the road). I continued to make my way home completely fine…until I realized my right arm was hanging in a very awkward way. A rush to the hospital revealed both arms in my right forearm were broken.
No travel insurance, yes to surgery with local anesthesia, and yes to an extremely expensive lesson abroad.
Chris Backe: One Weird Globe.
The Bus That Exploded in India’s Northwest
One evening about 2 months ago, while I was in the middle of a backpacking trip around India, I took an overnight sleeper bus from Udaipur to Jodhpur in Northwest India. About 1 hour into the ride, in the middle of nowhere, the bus driver slammed on his breaks and the bus flipped over the side of the highway. Glass shattered everywhere and parts of the bus exploded.
There were about 10 seconds where I seriously thought I was dead. It’s giving me anxiety just to think about it as I type.
I was the only foreinger on the bus, and didn’t have a clue as to what I should do. Everyone was screaming and panicking in Hindi. Everyone managed to escape except for 2 who were trapped inside the bus, and I’m still not sure if they made it out alive or not.
It was lucky to not have been injured badly too. I only had pieces of glass stuck in my right foot and it was while it was bloody, I was lucky to have healed quickly. I saw others with major cuts over their body, and they were taken away in an ambulance.
Another bus came and picked me up to take my to my destination, and I almost had a panic attack along the way.
From that moment on, I boycotted buses and only took trains. If you plan on traveling India, I will advise you to do the same.
Drew Binsky: The Hungry Partier.
Nearly Vomiting Over a Soldier at the Border of Egypt and Sudan
I was heading to Abu Simbel, one of the most incredible buildings left from Ancient Egypt today. A hidden historic gem well off the regular tourist trail, Abu Simbel is closer to Sudan than it is to any other densely populated area in Egypt. Needless to say, I was isolated from the endless string of touristic vans and found myself in a very large desert.
It was the perfect kind of day to veg out on fresh fruits and snacks, though instead I chose to eat a deep fried falafel at the entrance of the park. Until this very day, this is one of my greatest of life’s regrets.
Needless to say, the falafel did not go down well, and left me with the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever experienced in my life. During the whole trip back to Aswan I felt as miserable as a human being can feel. I recall asking our driver to stop at least 5 times during a three hour drive, not considering those times when a plastic bag was my best friend and the fastest solution I could find. As stupid as I could be back then, I had forgotten my health insurance telephone number, though fortunately a friend had some medicine back in Aswan, and I everything ended up turning out fine.
However, what really makes that day memorable was the driver’s first stop. Instead of stopping anywhere around the thousands of kilometers of sand, he chose to stop at the last Egyptian border control before reaching Sudan.
I still remember the soldiers’ face when I started running towards their “bathroom”, which consisted of a single hole on the ground. No words were needed, they simply opened the door and pointed. By the bathroom cleaning standards, I didn’t need any motivation.
On my way out, one of the soldiers handed me a mint gum.
Gui Varro: Traveltics.
The Ski Trip Which Tore an ACL
Two years ago, I took a five-hour drive over to North Carolina, went down the bunny slope twice and then decided to go down the black slope immediately. I only made it about halfway down before my legs were going in different directions and I heard that infamous popping noise, followed by excruciating pain.
Being the stubborn person I am, I decided I was going to walk down the mountain until I made it about 20 feet and felt and heard another pop. That time I let ski patrol come get me.
I parked myself at the bar the rest of the day with ice and elevation and then headed home the next day. I waited a few days before I headed to the doctor, but once I got there, he knew immediately that I had torn my ACL. He did an MRI as a formality and sure enough, I didn’t just tear it – I shredded the thing in half. I also strained my MCL and PCL and bruised my bone.
Surgery was almost immediate followed by months of even more excruciating physical therapy. For the first 6 months, I had no idea how I was ever going to bend my knee completely again. For the next year, I had no idea how I would ever walk without my knee randomly giving out.
Two years later, and I definitely feel more like myself but it’s still a journey. I was lucky enough to do this while in country and therefore have insurance through work at the time. I couldn’t advise any more to have insurance when doing adventurous activities and traveling.
The Ski Trip Which Broke Her Leg
I broke my leg on the 1st day on our annual ski trip to Perisher, Australia; an accident while overtaking a woman on a bend when my leg went into a sink hole and snapped. Before I knew it my husband had called the medics and I was rushed into an ambulance to Perisher Medical Centre.
The x-ray revealed a fractured lateral tibia, which apparently is not a good break. They wanted an immediate transfer to a Canberra specialist though we returned to our hometown of Wollongong instead; a nightmare 5-hour drive at dusk with kangaroos jumping back and forth in front of the car.
After being hospitalised, it was then found out that I had fractured bones in my foot also, which hurt a lot more than my leg. Traveling domestically, luckily our medical insurance came into play.
Paula McInerney: Contended Traveller.
The Two Week Trip to Italy Which Turned Into a Month
When I was fairly young, I took a 2 week trip to Italy with my mother. We spent our time discovering the north, taking in destinations like Venice, Lake Como and Trieste. The day before our departure I started feeling poorly. By the end of the day my situation worsened and my mum had to rush me to hospital.
I was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and had to undergo an emergency surgery. After the surgery I had to stay hospitalized for 5 days and wasn’t able to leave the country for another 7.
Our 2 week journey lasted a month, though luckily we had relatives to stay with. The most fortunate part however was having taken out insurance beforehand which covered all hospital costs from my surgery.
This was my first trip abroad, though despite my adventure, I wasn’t deterred to continue traveling.
Two Cheeky Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
It’s the nightmare everyone parent dreams of. You can hurt yourself that’s fine, but when your little baby boy gets hurt then the world comes to an end.
We were enjoying a pleasant holiday in Eilat when my son was climbing off a bunk bed when he fell and fractured his wrist. We ended up taking him to the Emergency Room, though no one could speak English to let us know what was happening. It was not a very happy affair. Thankfully my parents-in-law lived further north and we were able to visit a doctor in Haifa who explained what had happened and how long he would be in a cast.
Israel is not cheap. It’s one of the more expensive countries we have been too. Luckily our travel insurance policy with Travel Insurance Direct covered all the expenses. We never travel without it. We’ve used it for stolen phones, missed flights and broken baggage too.
The Tick Which Crawled Into Her Back in Bogota
I was in Bogotà, as part of my backpacking trip through Latin America. I didn’t particularly like it, though I was stuck there with traveller’s dissenteria. I spent most of my time at a crappy hotel feeling sorry for myself.
We thought the worst was over until one night I felt an itch and started to scratch my back. It was then that a friend caught a tick trying to crawl its way into my skin! I was terrified. Ticks in Europe and in the US can be deadly.
We knew the tick had to be suffocated with oil or alcohol and then removed. My friend put some drops of tea tree oil on the tick, though as it appeared it would not let go without a fight, we ended up having to retreat to the emergency room. We rushed to the hospital through a ghostly Bogotà.
The doctor who removed the tick didn’t seem worried, as he explained that ticks in South America are not nearly as dangerous as in the US and Europe. I did not even have to pay for his assistance, but needless to say I was thankful I had a good health insurance which covered any medical costs.
Claudia Tavani: My Adventures Across the World.
Attacked by the AC Unit in Vietnam
We were in Hoi An, Vietnam, and had been out enjoying the day. Upon arriving home, we prepared for bed, though Vietnam can be unbearably hot. Jack turned the AC unit on, though it turned to be so powerful it blew off the plastic covering and nailed me right between the eyes. It luckily missed my eyes, though it hit me hard.
I was bleeding everywhere. Sheets, clothing, pillows, they were all stained. The hotel took me to the hospital the next morning, and when I say hospital, I mean an old woman’s house who just happened to own equipment to stitch me up. She put me on a counter, started to yell in Vietnamese, and then just stitched me up – no anesthesia, just stitched me up on the counter as I watched everything happen between my eyes.
The hotel paid for the stitching, which turned out to be $10, and I then had to get them removed in Da Nang, this time at a proper hospital. Though still no-one understood me, so I left unsure about the care, of what I needed to do, and protection there after. I continued to buy bandages, scar cream, and disinfectant throughout the trip, all of which was covered by my travel insurance. Except that is for the extra night in Vietnam so they could “watch my progress” at the hotel.
I didn’t sustain a scar, though a permanent memory that’s for sure!
Jenn Malka: Who Needs Maps.
Drove the Motorbike Off the Road in Thailand
It was our 4th day in Thailand, and together with my boyfriend we decided to hire a motorbike to visit Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. On our way to this sacred temple we were laughing and joking when we should have been paying attention to the winding road…we weren’t laughing once we encountered the crash barrier.
Our left legs were seriously injured, and my boyfriend was bleeding significantly until we reached the nearest hospital by cab. Our wounds were so deep that we needed to continual hospital visits everyday, in Thailand first and later on our trip in Cambodia.
While the medical staff in Asia were extremely caring, traveling while injured is quite a painful experience, so we cut our trip short and returned home early. Luckily, our travel insurance met the costs of medical assistance and the return flight as well. We will always be grateful for that.
Diana Millos: Diana Millos.
Fire Twirling in Thailand Where She Set Herself Alight
While on an evening stroll while vacationing in Thailand, we stopped at one of the resorts which backed onto the beach. A fire-twirling presentation caught our eye, so we sat down for the show when they called for volunteers to give it a go.
Thinking I was top s*&% having completed similar stunts through circus in the past, I hopped up, pregnant, and attempted to twirl. I am blaming the fact that a head massage earlier in the day had left oil all through my hair, and it was only a matter of seconds before my hair caught on fire, and then my pants too.
If you can picture a heavily pregnant, early-twenty something, running towards the water with her hair and pants on fire, that pretty much sums up my Thailand vacation.
Anonymous: Too Embarrassed Abroad.
Why You Need International Health Insurance
Some of the above travelers were fortunate to have traveled with health insurance, though some were not and learnt the hard way. Some were lucky enough to have been traveling domestically and covered by their regular insurance at home, though domestic health plans don’t cover international travel, so it’s essential to take out a policy which specifically covers you for your time abroad.
Travel is not a dangerous pursuit, I’m not saying that at all, though the thing is, things happen when you least expect it, and you don’t need to be taking a crazy adventurous trip to find yourself in an emergency situation. When all is said and done, the cost of insurance is nothing compared to the out of pocket hospital expenses you could be faced with, or the cost of an emergency evacuation. You’re looking at flights, healthcare, medications – it all adds up hard and fast, and you may even find yourself paying for that trip for the rest of your life.
Convinced? Good! Organizing the right travel insurance for you will depend upon the nature and length of your trip, though there are a few basic types of coverage you should look for in any policy as a bare minimum to keep you covered. Read: What you should look for when buying international health insurance.
We recommend GeoBlue insurance through Individual Health – they offer the most complete set of benefits and services in the industry and essentially provide a worldwide, all-access pass to an exclusive level of care.
They have an elite network of doctors from most every specialty ready to see you in over 180 countries throughout the world, all of their doctors bill them directly so you never have to lay out any cash, and insurance is easy when you’re with GeoBlue – they have a neat mobile app to quickly and conveniently connect to quality care across the globe for anything from emergency needs, to filling a simple prescription, to translating your symptoms, to finding the right doctor at home or abroad.
Ask for Timothy Jennings and mention we sent you!
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Photo Credits: Featured photo by Trysil. Windmill, Kinderdijk by Digikerwin. Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica by b i b o y w o r x x x. Shower door by Nick Nguyen. Beer by Quinn Dombrowski. Bike by bareknuckleyellow. Falafel by Jacob Enos. Abu Simbel by Dennis Jarvis. Ski Slopes by Trysil. Venice by Kosala Bandara. Lake Como by Evan Blaser. Cascada La Chorrera by Alejandra Pérez Alonso. Fire Twirling by Takver. Arm cast by Birdies100.