WASHINGTON — An international vacation typically involves months of advance planning, from renewing passports to finding flights and booking hotels. But even the most carefully planned itinerary can be knocked off course by an unexpected health problem.
If you're traveling in a country where you don't speak the language and your insurance isn't accepted, even a basic errand like filling a prescription can become a complicated ordeal
Last year nearly 61 million Americans traveled abroad either for business or pleasure, with trips peaking at 6.8 million in July, according to the U.S. office of Travel and Tourism Industries. The most popular overseas destinations included Europe, the Caribbean and Asia, which together accounted for nearly 80 percent of all trips outside North America.
Here are some tips on getting the medical care you need, no matter where your travels take you:
PRESCRIPTIONS: Travelers who rely on a prescription medication should plan on doing some extra research and planning before traveling outside the U.S. Generally, it's far easier to bring an ample supply of medication from home than to try and get it refilled overseas.
If you're going to be traveling for a few weeks, for example, most pharmacies will give you an extended supply of medication if you show them your travel itinerary. All prescriptions should be kept in their original bottles that clearly display your name. This is important when traveling through foreign customs where your baggage may be searched.
"Generally speaking, any medication that is prescribed to you must be identified as such and be in the properly marked bottles," said Dr. Sal Pardo, vice chair of emergency medicine at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. "That's the most reasonable and fail-safe way to travel with medicine."
If you have any kind of narcotic-based pain medication, for example codeine, you may want to check with the U.S. embassy in the country you're visiting to make sure the drug is not considered illegal. A listing of embassies and consulates is available on the Department of State's website at . http://www.usembassy.gov/
If you lose your medication or need a new prescription abroad, most pharmacies will honor a fax or email from a U.S. physician. However, some countries do not even require prescriptions for common medications. In Mexico, for example, antibiotics, pain medications and other common pharmaceuticals are dispensed at the pharmacy without a prescription.
DOCTORS: Sometimes you'll need more than a prescription refill to get your trip back on track.
Let's say you're swimming on a beach in Ecuador and get stung by a jellyfish. A small rash develops into a larger infection and you want to find an English-speaking doctor who can diagnose the problem and prescribe the best treatment. Your health insurance does not cover overseas travel and your Spanish is limited.
Fortunately there are several organizations that offer free help finding qualified physicians.
The American Board of Medical Specialties keeps an authoritative directory of board certified doctors around the world. They even have a toll-free number: 1-866-ASK-ABMS.
Another group, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, maintains an online database of licensed, English-speaking doctors in 90 countries: . http://www.iamat.org/doctors_clinics.cfm
If you don't have access to the Internet or a phone, most major hotel concierges keep a list of English-speaking doctors in the area. In some cases, they'll have a doctor on call who can see you in your room.
Doctors recommend that travelers with chronic conditions, allergies or rare blood types bring a form with their medical history. The American College of Emergency Physicians offers a medical history form on the website , and your doctor can help you figure out what to include. www.er101.org
This is something you will want to keep in your wallet or purse, not in the luggage that stays in your hotel room.
INSURANCE: Most government and employer-based health plans do not cover medical care overseas. For this reason, many travel agencies recommend customers purchase some sort of travel health insurance.
Along with covering the cost of cancelled trips or travel delays, companies like Travel Guard, , provide a range of health coverage options, from basic medical expenses to medical evacuation. http://www.travelguard.com
Depending on the country and the condition of the patient, an international medical flight can cost $50,000 or more, making an insurance policy a smart financial decision. Adventure travelers who face a serious risk of harm can even be covered for the repatriation of dismembered limbs and other remains, according to Laurene Taylor of Liberty Travel, a New York-based travel agency.
Travel insurance prices vary depending on the cost of the trip and the age of the travelers. For example, a 30-year-old traveler purchasing coverage for a trip that costs $1,500 might pay $80. But a 70-year-old traveler on the same trip would pay $160.
Dr. Pardo recommends such policies for both older patients with established health issues and younger patients.
"Most of the time the people who get into trouble are those that don't think about it: the young, healthy group that travels abroad for three months and can't anticipate anything ever going wrong," Pardo said. "Suddenly they're in a situation where they really need these services."
Also on HuffPost:
Aqua Wellness Resort, Nicaragua
<a href="http://www.oyster.com/nicaragua/hotels/aqua-wellness-resort/" target="_hplink">Aqua Wellness Resort</a> is a rustic-luxe, wellness-focused retreat set into a hillside overlooking Redondo Bay on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. The resort has eco-friendly design, lush vegetation (expect to spot wildlife such as howler monkeys and iguanas), healthy cuisine (almost every dish comes with a hearty side of vegetables), and an excellent ocean-view yoga platform where group classes are held. Plus, the spa uses local materials, treatments, and techniques. Rooms are adorned with lots of natural wood; some units include plunge pools and stunning ocean views. The white-sand beach is secluded and beautiful, and guests can get in an extra workout climbing up the hill from the beach to reception. <a href="http://www.oyster.com/nicaragua/hotels/aqua-wellness-resort/" target="_hplink"><strong>See more photos of the hotel >> </strong></a>
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
Big Sur is considered one of the most healing places in the world, and no resort takes more advantage of this stunning natural setting than the <a href="http://www.oyster.com/monterey-county/hotels/post-ranch-inn/" target="_hplink">Post Ranch Inn</a>. The organic architecture is breathtaking, seeming to grow out of the ground beside the hotel’s surrounding redwoods, and the spacious, eco-sensitive rooms have ocean or mountain views, as well as wood-burning fireplaces and private decks. Free activities include yoga and stargazing, and the acclaimed spa has <a href="http://blog.oyster.com/oyster-qa-improve-your-well-being-with-the-post-ranch-inns-shaman-40149/" target="_hplink">shamanistic services</a> including illumination, soul retrieval, divination, and fire and drum ceremonies. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/monterey-county/hotels/post-ranch-inn/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Asclepios Wellness and Healing Retreat, Costa Rica
<a href="http://www.oyster.com/costa-rica/hotels/asclepios-wellness-and-healing-retreat/" target="_hplink">Asclepios Wellness and Healing Retreat</a>, named for the ancient Greek god of healing, is a wellness center located in the hills near the Central Valley town of Alajuela, conveniently close to the airport but worlds away from the hustle of downtown San Jose. A full spa, fitness center, outdoor pool, and organic restaurant all lie on spacious grounds amidst a lush landscape. Every one of its 12 comfortable and stylish rooms has a different theme, and all overlook hillsides planted with coffee and sugarcane. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/costa-rica/hotels/asclepios-wellness-and-healing-retreat/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >> </a></strong>
Haramara Retreat, Sayulita, Mexico
<a href="http://www.oyster.com/riviera-nayarit/hotels/haramara-retreat/" target="_hplink">Haramara Retreat</a> is arguably one of the most special hotels in Mexico. It is a luxurious yoga retreat located on 12 seaside acres of wild vegetation just outside Sayulita. The structures have been built using traditional construction techniques to minimize the environmental impact, and there is no electricity anywhere besides the restaurant and the yoga studio — not even in the rooms. Each room is housed in a private standalone thatched hut with no window panes or screens separating it from the jungle, and only gauze curtains and mosquito nets to avoid bugs and critters. It is geared towards those in need of some detoxification and relaxation, with yoga and meditation classes, an open-air spa, a vegetarian and seafood restaurant, unpaved walking trails, and limited cell phone service. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/riviera-nayarit/hotels/haramara-retreat/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Canyon Ranch Tucson
<a href="http://www.oyster.com/tucson/hotels/canyon-ranch/" target="_hplink">Canyon Ranch</a> is a health spa and all-inclusive resort in north Tucson near the Santa Catalina Mountains. Here the focus is on wellness, nutrition, and fitness. Daily fitness classes along with informational lectures and a menu packed with healthy, low-calorie food help guests to jumpstart (or maintain) a healthy lifestyle. The color palette of the southwest inspired the decor of the rooms, which come complete with flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, and iPod docks. Immaculate, peaceful grounds and focused spa treatments all provide an incredibly relaxing environment. While many guests report feeling renewed after a visit — especially after spending time in the 80,000-square-foot spa complex — there is a hefty nightly resort fee and a four-night minimum stay (all the better to get completely rejuvenated!). <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/tucson/hotels/canyon-ranch/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Parrot Cay and COMO Shambhala Retreat, Turks and Caicos
Accessed via a 30-minute boat ride from Providenciales, this 1,000-acre all-inclusive resort on a private island is the definition of tranquility. With an incredible infinity-edge pool, world-renowned COMO Shambhala Spa, waterfront Balinese-style villas, doting service, and more than three miles of pristine beaches, <a href="http://www.oyster.com/turks-and-caicos/hotels/parrot-cay-and-como-shambhala-retreat/" target="_hplink">Parrot Cay and COMO Shambhala Retreat</a> is easily one of the most luxurious and romantic options in the Caribbean. The spa offers holistic treatments to helps guests achieve both physical well-being and spiritual balance, and facilities include both a yoga room and Pilates studio. Retreats, which usually involve five hours a day of yoga for five days, are offered regularly. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/turks-and-caicos/hotels/parrot-cay-and-como-shambhala-retreat/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >> </a></strong>
The Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Scottsdale
Considered one of the top resorts in the Southwest, the serene <a href="http://www.oyster.com/phoenix/hotels/sanctuary-on-camelback-mountain-resort-and-spa/" target="_hplink">Sanctuary</a> continues to impress its high-profile guests with its cuisine, spa, and gorgeous suites. The spa and fitness offerings include a meditation garden, yoga, Pilates, nutrition consultants, and New Age therapies (hypnotherapy, astrology, and various forms of meditation among them). It undeniably has the most desirable location in Scottsdale, overlooking Praying Monk Rock and the desert — not suburban sprawl. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/phoenix/hotels/sanctuary-on-camelback-mountain-resort-and-spa/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Hidden Pond, Maine
Spread over 60 acres, the <a href="http://www.oyster.com/maine/hotels/hidden-pond/" target="_hplink">Hidden Pond</a> resort features 36 suite-like bungalows and two-bedroom cottages. The spa is set up to resemble a tree house, free yoga classes are held at the organic farm (where guests may also pick fresh flowers and veggies), regular nature walks are offered, and the restaurant serves organic local cuisine from an acclaimed chef. Another outstanding feature is the outdoor bar and grill that sits on a “sand bar,” with chairs circled around fire pits. This upscale boutique hotel attracts couples with its tranquil environment and top-notch restaurants; families also love the resort, for its cottages that include full kitchens and washer/dryers. The hotel also provides a free shuttle to the beach, which is just a five-minute drive away. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/maine/hotels/hidden-pond/" target="_hplink"> See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Natura Cabanas, Dominican Republic
Offering eco-friendly bungalows in a lush, friendly setting, <a href="http://www.oyster.com/dominican-republic/hotels/natura-cabanas/" target="_hplink">Natura Cabanas</a> is a taste of serene, northern coast luxury for a remarkably fair price. Guests enjoy delicious, fresh food, a clean, crowd-less private beach, yoga classes, and a fabulous spa. Yoga classes are free for guests and last for 90 minutes. The stone-walled, thatched-roof bungalows are a bit rustic, without TV or AC, but that’s the point. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/dominican-republic/hotels/natura-cabanas/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Ventana Inn & Spa, Big Sur
The rustic-luxe <a href="http://www.oyster.com/monterey-county/hotels/ventana-inn-and-spa/" target="_hplink">Ventana Inn & Spa</a>, situated on more than 200 acres of picturesque oceanfront land, is a zen, holistic retreat, with such offerings as yoga classes; discovery walks; afternoon wine and cheese; Japanese baths; and two pools (one of which is clothing optional). The 62 luxurious, streamlined rooms have wooden accents, and some have fireplaces; glass doors and large windows keep the rooms feeling bright and airy. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/monterey-county/hotels/ventana-inn-and-spa/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia
Opened in 2000, the 49-room <a href="http://www.oyster.com/st-lucia/hotels/anse-chastanet-resort/" target="_hplink">Anse Chastanet Resort</a> was one of the first properties in the area to focus on eco-luxury design, and to deliberately shun technology such as TV, telephones, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. The resort offers four open-air restaurants, two beaches, extensive water sports, a beachfront spa, and an outdoor fitness pavilion. Technology-free rooms have wrap-around terraces, many with views of the Pitons. Yoga classes are offered twice a day and the property includes a plantation where the resort grows its own organic produce. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/st-lucia/hotels/anse-chastanet-resort/" target="_hplink">See photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Canyon Ranch Miami
With some of the most beautifully decorated rooms in Miami (that are super-spacious to boot!), a beachfront location, a great spa, and a huge fitness center with a rock-climbing wall and dozens of daily classes, <a href="http://www.oyster.com/miami/hotels/canyon-ranch-hotel-and-spa-miami-beach/" target="_hplink">Canyon Ranch</a> is a great choice for a healthy vacation. It’s more relaxed than the other two Canyon Ranch resorts — one in Tuscon, Ariz., and the other in the Berkshires — because it serves alcohol, allows children, and doesn’t have minimum stay requirements, but it’s still very much a spa. The restaurant serves health food with detailed nutritional information next to every item on the menu, and there are lectures by physicians, nutritionists, and spiritual advisers. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/miami/hotels/canyon-ranch-hotel-and-spa-miami-beach/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>
Zoetry Casa Del Mar Los Cabos, Mexico
The luxurious <a href="http://www.oyster.com/los-cabos/hotels/zoetry-casa-del-mar-los-cabos/" target="_hplink">Zoetry Casa Del Mar Los Cabos</a> is not your typical beach resort. Here, guests won’t find children scurrying around or wild spring breakers; rather, Zoetry’s guests are treated to the tranquility of the Pacific Ocean in a resort that focuses on relaxation and overall wellness. The 42-room, hacienda-style property features yoga, tennis courts, dance classes, a walking path, wine tastings, and an on-site nutrition expert; and the restaurant menus are geared toward organic and gourmet cuisine intent on promoting health. It’s located on a protected sea turtle hatching ground, and the open layout adds to the relaxing atmosphere. <strong><a href="http://www.oyster.com/los-cabos/hotels/zoetry-casa-del-mar-los-cabos/" target="_hplink">See more photos of the hotel >></a></strong>