How To: Developing a Medical and Safety Plan

Kristin Walsh, July, 2012

When we first started talking about a mini retirement to cycle around the world, we focused a lot on savings, route planning, gear, etc.; all of the fun stuff to plan and dream about. Thinking about how we were going to stay healthy in dozens of different countries over our two to three year trip was just as important, but not nearly as exciting.

With slightly less than two years to departure, it was time to finally start seriously focusing on this task. It seemed daunting and it was tempting to just make an appointment with our local University of Washington Travel Clinic, walk in with our list of cities and countries, and ask them to put together a plan. There were so many things to consider.

  • What vaccines do I need?
  • When should I get them?
  • Where should I get them?
  • Do I need boosters and where can I get those?
  • What types of first aid supplies do I need?
  • Do I need to bring needles / syringes?
  • What kind of medicine / pharmaceuticals should I take?
  • Do I need any special permission for any mediation?
  • Where can I safely see a dentist?
  • What do I do if I have dental problems?
  • What insurance should I get?

I took a deep breath and decided that walking into the doctor’s office blindly was not an option and I needed to start researching this on my own. I tend to start any project by gathering a lot of information, looking for trends, and then researching those trends to better understand them. So, I started by searching some of our favorite cycle touring blogs (see references below) and created a spreadsheet of vaccines, first aid kit contents, medicines to bring, dental tips, and other miscellaneous medical information, including which blog I found each piece of information. As I started to see trends, I researched the various vaccines and medicines on known factual sites (see references below) in order to make educated judgments on what we should do.

Blog references for what others world travelers have done:

Factual references about various vaccinations, first aid needs, etc.:

Now that I felt confident in my information, I needed to consolidate it into a usable amount of information and into a format that was easy to use and decipher.

I started with vaccines as I thought that would be the most complicated. Starting with our tentative departure date, I was able to work backwards to figure out when we needed to get each vaccine and any subsequent boosters so we were protected before being exposed. After knowing when, I was able to determine if it would be appropriate to get them before leaving or when we were on the road. For those to obtain on the trip, I aligned the timing with the proposed route and researched where others had found good medical / dental care throughout the world. As we approach the few cities where we will need boosters, we will find medical clinics where care is available and schedule appropriately. Finding them now is not necessary. So, after many hours of research, I now have only a few “sanity-check” questions for the doctor when we go for our consultation ten to eleven months before departing. You can download the final spreadsheet that I plan to bring to the consultation here.

Vaccine Planning Calendar – Click to Enlarge

The next hardest topic to tackle was the first aid kit and medications to bring. Doug and I have a difference in opinion on how much of these items should be brought. I tend towards wanting to be prepared for most any situation, whereas Doug tends to lean toward the minimalist side. I took the same research strategy for this as I did for vaccines. For some items on the first aid kit list I included notes, like “DEET – bug / mosquito repellent, not effective on ticks,” just as a reminder. What was more important was that the “medicine cabinet” list include various names that a drug may be called in different parts of the world or similar drugs should the one we are looking for is not available. Eventually, I was left with a list that felt a little smaller than I wanted and a little larger than Doug wanted and had just a few questions for the doctor, such as which parts of the world I might need my own, clean syringes and/or needles. You can download the final lists of “First Aid Kit,” “Sharps,” and “Medicine Cabinet” contents here.

First Aid Kit - Click to Enlarge
First Aid Kit – Click to Enlarge


Sharps - Click to Enlarge
Sharps – Click to Enlarge
Medicine Cabinet - Click to Enlarge
Medicine Cabinet – Click to Enlarge

The easiest component of this process was figuring out which insurance provider to use. While there are about half a dozen providers that are mentioned on various blogs we have read, there are a few recurring restrictions that made the decision much easier.

  • Country of residence: certain providers will not insure US residents
  • Length of trip: few providers are willing to provide policies for trips longer than one year
  • Renewal process: some providers will not allow renewals and others require renewals from country of residency

By process of elimination, we decided on World Nomads. They insure US citizens, provide policies longer than one year, and allow for renewals from the road. Also, most of the posts that I read about actually using the insurance described good coverage and good customer service; two areas that are extremely important on the road in unfamiliar surroundings.

And last but not least, as I was doing research for the information above, I discovered several useful tips that I didn’t want to forget. These included advice like where to find local emergency phone numbers or the importance of having a doctor’s note specifying the intended use of needles / syringes so they are not mistaken for drug paraphernalia by officials. There were many of these types of suggestions that I wanted to remember, so I accumulated them in another spreadsheet that can be found here.

Other Critical Info - Click to Enlarge
Other Critical Info – Click to Enlarge

So, after many hours of research, I now feel confident that I have a plan that will keep us healthy and safe. Also, I know where I can quickly find information on new questions / issues that arise while we are out on the road. We hope this information helps you in tackling this important aspect of travel prep.

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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