I knew when I woke up that morning that something was wrong. After two months traveling solo through Southeast Asia, I thought I was getting the hang of things. On this particular morning, my stomach was in a knot. Unlike the queasiness of food poisoning or a hangover, however, this pain was sharp. Deathly sharp.
With blurred vision, I looked around the room, the gray light of the early morning seeping in through the cracks in the bamboo walls. I fumbled around in the darkness until I finally grabbed my phone and checked the time – 6:30 AM. Panicking, I tried to stand up to head to the bathroom, but immediately collapsed to the floor in pain. With tears in my eyes, I called my family and recounted the last fifteen minutes of my morning. They all demanded one thing: get yourself to a hospital.
A Long Road to Safety
Since it was so early in the morning, no one at my Thai guesthouse was awake. As I opened the door of my small hut, the stillness of the morning in Pai felt oddly frightening to me. I mustered my strength and crawled on my hands and knees to the next hut over. Covered in dirt, tears stinging my eyes, I pounded on the door, begging the person inside to help me. Finally, after a few minutes, the manager of our guesthouse emerged.
She didn’t speak much English, and I spoke no Thai, but somehow I was able to communicate to her that I was in trouble. Hastily, she put on some clothes and helped carry me to her motorcycle, her only method of transportation into the city. At this point, I thought my stomach was going to fall out of my body. The stabbing sensations in my abdomen were worsening with each bump on this gravel road. I clutched my stomach and urged myself a) not to vomit and b) to keep holding on, just a little bit longer.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we arrived at the Pai local hospital, where I was escorted to a 10-bed room. Others in the room were suffering severe head injuries, motorcycle accidents, and fevers. And here I was…with a stomachache? The doctors and nurses, with concerned looks on their faces, admitted they weren’t able to help me there, since they had no scanning equipment. They called me an ambulance to the nearest city, Chiang Mai, which was a whopping 5 hours away by way of windy, gravel road. Choking back tears, I took a selfie which I thought would be my last. I prepared for the worst.
I learned what the seventh layer of hell feels like on the ride to Chiang Mai. I was in a gurney in the back of an “ambulance,” which was something like a converted tourist van. It was around 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, and there was no air conditioning in the car. Even worse, I wasn’t strapped into my gurney for the winding road, so during each switchback on the mountainside, I had to hold on to the guardrails for dear life. I fell out of the gurney twice. No one helped me get back on. For close to five hours I wondered if I’d make it back home again. Finally, the ambulance’s sirens went on, we drove onto a paved road, and I regained hope.
The Purchase that Saved My Life
As a long-term traveler who was on a budget of less than $40 a day, I ordinarily would have cringed at the expense of going to a hospital. I’d say to myself, “Wait it out, Kay. You’ll be fine.” I probably would have taken a Tylenol and drank a shitload of water and went back to sleep. However, I made a conscious decision before my trip to purchase a travel insurance policy. I was confident that I would be able to get help knowing that I’d be reimbursed later. This proved to be a smart decision, because when I arrived in Chiang Mai and saw a doctor, he told me if I’d waited any longer to get help, I could have died.
Once the doctors took a few scans and confirmed the culprit – a ruptured appendix – they ushered me almost immediately into surgery. A round of anesthesia and a few incisions later, and I was free from the wretched organ that had almost taken my life.
My travel insurance didn’t just cover the costs of my ambulance, my surgery, and my hospital stay. It also paid for two weeks of recovery time in a hotel (I chose a luxurious one with concierge service at ~$220 a night), and reimbursed me for a missed flight. This amounted to over $4,500 in expenses – almost as much as I had budgeted for my entire trip – all paid for by my $50/month travel insurance policy. Was it worth paying the extra expense of travel insurance to save my life? You bet.
The Bottom Line
Traveling abroad isn’t cheap, and it can be hard to justify added expenses. However, I always recommend that people purchase travel insurance for trips abroad. In my case, it helped me with a medical emergency. However, travel insurance also covers you in other emergencies, such as evacuations, robberies, baggage issues, and even flight cancellations.
For my travels, I use and recommend WorldNomads insurance. Sure, it’s not the cheapest policy that exists, but the representatives were super helpful during my recovery and it was fairly easy to get reimbursed for my expenses. If you are traveling and doing any kinds of adventure activities, I couldn’t speak more highly of WorldNomads.
Read the full story here –> Surviving Every Traveler’s Worst Nightmare
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