Official figures from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) annual British Behaviour Abroad Report 2013 indicate that 19,000 Brits needed assistance in 2012/13. 3,599 British people were hospitalised and over 6,000 Brits died whilst overseas
These are frightening stats! In a foreign country, it seems we throw caution to the wind, somehow believing the ‘God of Travel’ will protect us. Maybe it’s that heady cocktail of sunshine, sangria and salsa that has us taking risks we would never entertain at home! That overdose of hedonism can sometimes result in unwelcome holiday mementos with injuries abroad being more commonplace than you might expect!
So how does this happen? The FCO suggests that the increase in hospitalisations of young people may be due to more road traffic accidents involving mopeds, and alcohol plays a large part in injuries abroad in the Balearics, Turkey and Greek island
Simone Lye, aka Aussie Flashpacker tells her story of an injury abroad:
At the end of my first year of university, three friends and I decided to go backpacking around South East Asia for our summer holidays. We had planned the most incredible trip throughout the year, saved like crazy and finally a few days after Christmas flew out to Thailand to begin our travels through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Full Moon Party antics
We flew straight from Bangkok to Ko Pha Ngan where the New Years Eve Full Moon Party was taking place. After a few days of island hopping, drinking and relaxing it was New Years Eve.
We set off to Haad Rin beach which was on the other side of the island and had a few drinks whilst trying to take it all in! It was such a full on, crazy environment with people everywhere. Shortly after the midnight fireworks, we wandered down the beach to the fire skipping rope and fire slide area. There’s no rules and no health and safety here!
I’m very accident prone, and so was hesitant to take part, but after some gentle persuasion from my friends I climbed the rope to the top of the slide and slid down it. It was over a metre from the end of the slide to the ground and I landed awkwardly, breaking my ankle in the fall!
Thai Medical Treatment
Ko Pha Ngan has only a small medical clinic. There were medics on the beach who assessed my injury and knew my ankle was broken. I was taken to the clinic in an “ambulance” which was just a Ute (truck for those of us not familiar with Oz English!). The journey lasted around an hour during which we bumped along the roads with my broken leg flying about. It was the middle of the night, but they assessed me there and advised I would need surgery. For this I would need to be transferred to Ko Samui.
The next morning, my friends and I took a ferry to Koh Samui, where we were met by an ambulance and taken to an international hospital. The ferry was full of injured westerners from the night before (some in a lot worse state than I was).
It was around 24 hours before I received any painkillers, and my surgery took place very late at night the day I arrived. I’d broken both my tibia and fibula (ouch!!!), and during surgery they put in a plate, seven screws and a nail to fuse my bones!
Paying for Treatment
I’ve always said “If you have enough money to travel, you have enough money for insurance”.
For every single trip I have been on, I have always been insured. My insurance was through Cover More Travel Insurance and cost me about $180 Australian dollars for six weeks. What a bargain considering my medical bills were in excess of $20,000 Australian dollars.
The hospital lent us a phone to contact the insurers, who were prompt and excellent, contacting me daily for updates where I would speak to a nurse and fill her in on how I was feeling. They arranged all my flights to Australia and I was upgraded to business class (living up to her Flashpacker name!) so that I could have my leg up for the entire journey. I was really pleased with my experience with Cover More and would recommend them. I can’t recommend strongly enough that people always get insurance!!!
I spent a few months in plaster followed by a boot, and had physiotherapy for about 6 months. My parents arranged for me to see a Orthopedic Surgeon in Australia, as soon as I got home from Thailand, to ensure the surgery was all done correctly (which it was luckily)!
12 months after I returned, I had further surgery to remove all the metal in my ankle. My ankle feels almost as good as new now! I’ve been very lucky, and it only aches after really long hikes and in the cold! I even hiked the Inca Trail in Peru in 2013 with hardly any hassles!
I should have listened to my gut instinct that was telling me it was a stupid idea (due to my accident prone nature).
I’ve learnt my lesson, and whilst I am still all for travelling adventures, if something just doesn’t feel right then I won’t do it. The experience has definitely toughened me up and made me grow up.
Simone’s Advice To Others
I would recommend others to avoid the fire slide, although there’s thousands of people who do it and don’t get injured. There’s a lot of dangerous things to do at the Full Moon Parties, so it is really important to exercise good judgement and common sense to stay safe.
If the worst should happen? Stay calm and find help, and as much as possible try to stay positive. I was lucky as I was with friends initially. Once I was settled in hospital they kept travelling (as I urged them to do)!
I did struggle in hospital, with the language barrier, being alone and generally being devastated my trip was cut so short. I think back now and we’d planned to hire motorbikes and drive around the island the next day. There’s absolutely no way I would ever do this at home, so I don’t know why I thought this would be a good idea in Thailand. I like to think that the broken ankle was taking me out of action so that I couldn’t get on a motorbike the next day and do much worse damage!
The moral of the story – trust your gut instinct AND get travel insurance!
What Can You Learn From This?
Her message is reiterated by the UK Foreign Office who advise travellers to:
‘Get comprehensive travel insurance – read the small print, declare pre-existing medical conditions and make sure it covers you for everything you want to do’.
Having suffered my own fair share of injuries abroad, including a broken collarbone and snapped ACL, I can only echo this. Insurance proved invaluable in both the cases and saved me much added stress.
ABTA quote figures showing as many as one in four (24%) travellers holiday abroad without travel insurance . Those most at risk seem more inclined to travel uninsured with 48% of 15-24 year olds failing to buy insurance.
Consumers cite cost as one of the main reasons for not taking out insurance.
Worryingly, 16% of consumers mistakenly believe that the UK government will pay for their treatment if they become ill or injured abroad.
Another 17% of travellers wrongly assume that an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will suffice. However this only provides access to basic state medical care and will never cover the costs of repatriation to the UK.
Take Simone’s example of a broken ankle requiring $20,000 (£9725 in Sterling) of medical attention. Do you really have a spare £10,000 lying around? Scrimping on £32 (the average cost of a travel insurance policy according to the ABI) to pay for travel insurance is a false economy indeed!
Data from the ABI shows that in 2013 over 4,300 holiday makers required support from their travel insurance. Their claims for emergency medical treatment cost, on average, £930 per claim. Even if you have a minor injury, that still is much extra outlay which could be avoided.
Without insurance, you could even find yourself stranded in a foreign country. One Barnsley man, who travelled uninsured, was in Thailand to celebrate a friend’s wedding when he collapsed. He was later diagnosed with a rare condition leaving him virtually paralysed.
His friends and family had to raise £80,000 to fly him home and his medical bills exceeded £80,000
Whilst his experience was unrelated to an accident, it does highlight the need for good travel insurance.
What Else Can You Do?
For accident prevention, my best tip is to exercise caution when drinking alcohol. Probably not a natural combination I agree, but if you know there will be temptations of the dangerous variety, it might be worth limiting the intake.
We’ve all heard too many stories of people not just getting injured, but dying on holiday through risks they took under the influence of alcohol. Don’t be the next statistic!
About Our Guest Contributor
Hello! I’m Simone a twenty something Australian girl. I currently live in the UK with my fiancé Dan, who I met in South America! My favourite thing to do is travel and explore the world. I love to inspire others to travel and see the world through our luxury and adventure travel blog, The Aussie Flashpacker.
As usual I would love to hear your comments, and for more tips and tales of this kind, don’t forget to sign up for travelicious updates from TravelTheGlobe4Less here.
Photos: Courtesy of Simone