Travel Interruptions: Illness and Injuries on the Road

ambulance at hospital

ambulance at hospital

When travel plans don’t happen exactly like you’d like them to, you’re going to need to call on some patience and creativity to still enjoy your vacation.  Don’t throw up your hands and give up!  Dig into those reserves that you have and find a way to put the joy back into your travel.  Yesterday we talked about problems at the airport: cancelled flights, delays, missed connections, and problems with the TSA.  Today we tackle those pesky problems that can happen when we’re out on the road.

If there is anything that the last couple of years have taught me, it’s that stuff happens.  And stuff usually happens at the most inconvenient time.  Like when you’re getting ready to go on a trip.  Or, perhaps when you’re on your trip.  After many decades of blissful health, the last several have found me plagued with injuries.  I’ve broken a foot, torn a rotator cuff, had numerous sprains and strains, and recently broke my arm.  Can injuries change your travel plans?  You bet they can!  But once you’ve dealt with the immediate first aid part of the injury, there are still plenty of ways to salvage those travel plans and have a terrific, although perhaps a different kind of trip.

Pre-trip injuries are usually the easiest to deal with.  You head off to the doctor, or self-treat if it’s minor, and then make adjustments.  As long as you won’t injure yourself further while traveling, why let an injury do anything more than slow you down a bit.  I’m dealing with a broken wing right now, but since I’m not on bed rest, I’ve chosen to restructure my vacation plans to do the things that I can do.  I can do my therapy exercises on the road just as easily as I can do them at home, I don’t need to see the doctor for a few weeks, I’ll find ways around not being able to carry much, and I’ll change up activities so I don’t do the things that will tire my arm.

Is it the same trip that I’d have without an injury?  No.  But I choose to make the adjustments because traveling makes me happy.

When you’re injured or fall ill while your traveling it can be a bit more complicated, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to give up on your travels.  You’ll first need to assess your health situation  Is staying in bed for a day or two going to solve the problem?  Will getting some medication do the trick?   If it’s a minor thing, taking it easy for a few days will likely get you on the mend.  This may mean opting for a day on the beach rather than the hike you wanted to do, or resting up around your room rather than zipping around from museum to cafe to nightclub.  Or, you could ignore being sick and carry on.  I once did this, going on a whale watching trip while suffering miserably from the flu.  Stupid!  I was miserable, the people around me were miserable, and I exposed them to my illness.  I say again, stupid!  Take it easy for a few days and enjoy what you can do rather than complain about what you can’t.

Occasionally “stuff” happens while traveling that will call for a trip to a nearby doctor, clinic, or emergency room.  If this happens it’s going to seriously mess with your plans for the day.  And maybe longer.  Dealing with these type of issues is tough enough at home, and while traveling it can present some real challenges for you to deal with.  You will need to find somewhere to get medical assistance, there may be language barriers, and no one is ever at their best in these situations.  And let’s face it, it’s not the fun that travel is supposed to be.  So what should you do?

Once you’ve realized that medical help is needed, get information about where the closest location might be.  Ask people around you, locals, someone at your hotel, a nearby store, etc.  Enlist the aid of fellow travelers to help get the information you need to solve the problem.  A trip to the emergency room may test your mettle when you don’t speak the language, but patience and gestures, combined with limited language skills and a phrase book, helped me get treatment for a bleeding friend while in Italy.  After clean up, shots, stitches and drugs, we were back at the farmhouse resting up.  We modified our activities to accommodate the friend’s head injury, but didn’t cut our travels short.

When the injured or ill person is yourself it can be a different story as you may need to deal with the situation all on your own.  Sometimes you can grab a cab and head off to the nearest emergency room.  But I’ve also had the problem of not being able to get information in a city that should have been easy to find it.  I put my plight on Twitter and asked my Twitter followers to assist me in getting medical help.  Within minutes I had an answer and could put together a plan.  Being sick or injured can really put a damper on your spirits, but my recommendation (and I’ve had to take it all to often lately) is to deal with the emergency, put on a happy face, and make the best of your remaining travel time – you have everything to gain by being a real trooper and enjoying what you can.

PreviouslyCancelled flights, delays, missed connections, and problems with the TSA

Coming up:  When problems mean you need to cancel or modify your travel plans

Photo credit: SXC

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Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.


  1. Travel Problems: Changes and Cancellations - June 21, 2011

    […] Travel Interruptions:  Illness and Injuries on the Road […]

  2. Weekly Travel Blog Links — LandingStanding - June 27, 2011

    […] offers up great advice (and wisdom) on what to do when illness and injuries creep up on the road.  This article also reminded me that Tony and I still need to find a solid travel insurance plan […]

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