Grace Lower | Jan 26, 2018
Aside from the obvious benefits of language immersion, I learned how to navigate an unfamiliar environment while in Spain. By the end of my stay, I’d mastered my host city’s bus system, learned my way around a tapas menu, and — unfortunately for me — gained first-hand experience in the Spanish healthcare system.
For any traveler, getting sick abroad is objectively terrifying. On top of the obvious discomfort that comes with illness, you’re suddenly forced to become an armchair expert on your host country’s health care system. If you’re lucky, your illness will be little more than an inconvenience, but if something goes terribly wrong, you could end up with a nasty set of hospital bills on top of an already miserable ordeal.
Although I knew the risks of getting sick abroad, I never thought I’d need to use my travel insurance. In fact, I wouldn’t have thought to purchase insurance if it hadn’t been required by my study abroad provider. And while I didn’t like the extra expense at the time, my travel insurance proved to be the best pre-departure investment I made.
But first, I’ll provide some context. One of the coolest parts of living in Spain was its proximity to Africa. When I was offered the opportunity to spend my spring break in the Sahara Desert, I lept at the chance. And I’m so grateful that I did. The 10-day trip through the desert was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had — the food was delicious, the stars were unbelievable, and the camels were surprisingly sweet.
I was just settling in for the long bus ride home when I noticed a sharp pain in my stomach. I had been careful not to drink any unfiltered water, and I had followed all the dietary guidelines, so I nervously wrote my nausea off as carsickness. I did my best to ignore my discomfort, took a Dramamine, and managed to doze off for most of the 11-hour ride.
When I arrived in Spain, things went from bad to worse. My stomach was churning, and I couldn’t keep any food or water down. After a desperate hour of googling my symptoms, I had narrowed it down to two options: I either had the stomach flu or I was dying. I closed my laptop and spent the rest of the night curled up in pain.
After two days of missing my classes and eating nothing but saltine crackers, I was dizzy and weak. My host parents were gone by the time I woke up, so I called one of the advisors at my study abroad office. She sighed and mentioned that it was common for American students to get sick from Moroccan food. When she suggested that I visit the ER, my queasy stomach dropped. I nervously reminded my advisor about my tight budget, but she assured me that my travel insurance would cover my hospital visit. Until then, I hadn’t thought of my insurance as anything more than an inconvenient fee.
That afternoon, I took a taxi to the hospital. When I checked in at the front desk, my groggy brain struggled to remember simple Spanish vocabulary like “ache” and “nauseous.” The sympathetic receptionist patted my hand, took a look at my insurance card, and sent for a medical translator — I felt slightly embarrassed that I couldn’t communicate my needs in Spanish, but speaking English was a welcome relief from a confusing and painful experience.
After a few hours of waiting and filling out paperwork, a shot in my thigh, and some tears (my stomach really hurt, okay?), I was sent on my way. The receptionist assured me that my travel insurance completely covered the cost of my treatment.
Once I had recovered enough to reflect on what had happened, I was intensely grateful for my decision to purchase travel insurance. I couldn’t have anticipated getting so horribly sick, but my plan had me covered, despite my naivety. These days, I wouldn’t dream of leaving for a long-term trip before buying insurance, because I know that without it, something as simple as a stomach bug could cost far more than expected.
Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.