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Travel Health Secrets for Long Term Digital Nomads

September 02, 2011

travel health soothing spa

Dealing with health issues while traveling the world long-term can be a great fear for many people. You won't believe the wild things we were told before we started our open ended, non-stop world tour as a family.....often by people who had done very little international travel.

Health on the road is too big of a subject for one post, so I will be doing a whole series on health issues while abroad. We have lots of tales to tell about travel health and have gathered extensive first hand experience.

Just like at home, we have been almost always very healthy on our family world trip, now going on our 6th year to 42 countries on 5 continents. Most of our fears and concerns before leaving were unfounded and we haven't even used our first aid kit except a few bandaids to cover kidlet's mosquito bites to keep her from scratching them. We rarely get a cold even and I don't think we've had any flu during this time.

Doctors always seem surprised that despite edging towards 60, neither DaVinci or I are on any regular medication. Even with my excess weight, my blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol etc are lower and better than many skinny folks in their twenties.

We do our best to eat well and exercise daily, don't smoke, rarely drink, think positively, do daily prayer and meditation and luckily just the walking and time in nature with this lifestyle benefits us. Both my parents are in their mid 80's and in relatively good health (my mom in excellent, fit health) and I grew up with 4 great grandparents, so good longevity genes help.

exercise gyms while traveling


But we are in our 50's and our extremely energetic child was 5 when we began and now is almost 11, so few go this long or far without one problem whether they stay at home or travel. We've had a few travel health  disasters like my landing in the hospital in a foreign land, needing surgery in a hospital where almost no one spoke English.  a paralyzed dominant arm for a year, needing physical therapy in several countries and almost bleeding to death in Prague and Vienna.

I crushed my knee and broke my femur 17 years ago and despite surgery by one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world ( 49er doc Dillingham),  that leaves me with mobility challenges. My knee use to dislocate regularly by simple things like rolling over in bed while asleep and be out for months leaving me unable to walk and in great pain, thus in a wheel chair and crutches.

Sadly, it went out this winter in Penang ( something it has not done in 11 years) but luckily by working with a local healer recommended by friends ( and being on prayer lists), taking the Chinese medicine he gave me, I was miraculously better in a few  days.

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We've also had dental emergencies abroad and a child injury emergency in Spain. I've had emergency room visits and tests or EKG's in rural Greece, UK, Austria,  Spain and Malaysia. Kidlet got a tick bite and doctor visit in Sweden and I've gotten my teeth cleaned in Croatia.  DaVinci has had major dental work done in Spain. We've done acupuncture in Penang, Barcelona and Malaga area. Not fun, but we learned and gained experience from it all. We always got good care and it was MUCH cheaper than at home in the USA.

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The photos here were taken in the pool, sauna and spa area where we are staying in Barcelona and where I spend several hours a day ( as well as another outdoor salt water pool that overlooks the sea). The latter is just cold water, but I try to take an hour's dip at sunset and I do my spa routine in the morning after breakfast and a little work.

I've been dealing with a very odd digestion problem since last May when I took an antibiotic for a gum infection given to me by my Danish Dentist in Andalusia. ( When Mozart was 4 she accidentally almost knocked out my front tooth while jumping on the bed and thus I have a fragile tooth there).  For some odd reason, I discovered in Penang ( thanks to McComb Candida plan) that the sauna/pool/whirlpool etc seems to sooth my digestive problems as does acupuncture so I am doing that again.

I have been to MD GI specialists in Spain and Penang and much has been ruled out via medical and blood tests ( no infection, no kidney stones or problems, no pancreatic problem, no tumors, no liver problems, no gaul bladder problems or stones, no spleen problems etc etc etc). I don't have symptoms for ulcers, diverticulitis, Chrones disease, colitis, IBD, Celiac, GERD, reflux, etc etc.

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It is a strange thing that seems to come and go and part of my problem has been my travel schedule because I haven't been able to complete treatment with one doctor. I've tried acupuncture in the past for other things, but was never thrilled with it, yet it seems to work better than anything so far, with this mysterious malady.

I finally found a great Chinese acupuncturist in Penang who specialized in gastric and internal medicine area who helped a lot, but I had to leave before I was 100%. That got me through Bhutan, Jordan and much of Spain, but I had some problems again in Barcelona and found an acupuncturist here who is helping. It gets scary when it is bad, but the fact that it does get better is encouraging, although I certainly would love to have the mystery solved and be done with it.

I know some great alternative practitioners in California that I will work with when I get there and also probably do more tests at Stanford while home to rule out things and try to figure out how to cure this once and for all. I plan to do a breath test here in Spain for H.Pylori just to eliminate that possibility even though it does not fit my symptoms.

The blessing in disguise with this is that I have lost weight because I can hardly eat anything so have been pretty much living on goat yogurt this summer. One of my big goals this year is to lose the excess weight and get healthier. ( I have lost 100 lbs twice in my left and maintained the loss for many years, but am clearly still working on this issue).

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One of the secrets that has helped us stay healthy is I have some great online resources for health. I am a nurse who worked for years in ICU and other areas of medicine ( from a family with 5 nurses and one dentist) so I have great respect for Allopathic Medicine for some areas, but being the free thinker that I am, I've also used many alternative medicine modes over the last 50 years and have had great cures and results when using conventional Western medicine could not help me. We prefer to work in a holistic manner if at all possible.

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HERE ARE SOME OF OUR "SECRET" RESOURCES THAT HAVE HELPED US OVER THE YEARS OF TRAVEL

Babinetics


Dr. Jeffry McCombs

Michael Hayes

 Dr Ba Hoang ( MD, PhD, TCM)

Letty at HIKE Sole to Soul

Aprylisa Healing Arts

Diana Zaheer

All of these people are wonderful and  have been a great help to us online or via  Skype calls during our travels and several have ordered or suggested natural herbs or protocols that have helped us greatly. Many we have known for many years ( up to 30 years), Bertrand Babinet is our child's Godfather, Jeff McCombs treated our child as a baby, I've known Michael Hayes forever and Letty is one of my dearest friends.

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I first met dear Diana Zaheer when our children were toddlers via a gifted group in San Francisco ( before either of us knew we'd be raising such global kids); met lovely Aprylisa through amazing long time blog reader and online friend Margaret Scheirman who introduced us; Letty introduced us to Dr. Ba who works with us via pictures of our tongue ( Chinese method) sent by email and information ( allopathic method) and has some miraculous products ( some pioneered in Russia).

I will be going into more details in the near future, but I think you can see friends and connections are part of the secret to health. I use to host internationally reknown healers at my home in Santa Cruz, so have access to many.

I also want to acknowledge Mariana Calleja who is both an MD and a travel writer at TravelThirst who graciously took time recently to answer questions about my current medical disturbance. Dr Marc Darrow is also an old friend and someone I may visit when we are in California as I've heard great things about his pain therapy results. Both are MD's with openness about alternative therapies which I appreciate.

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I will be writing more about health while traveling once we get back to Asia this winter and I have more time. What questions do you have and what do you most want to know about travel health or health in general? Have you had any health resources that have helped you?




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Marlana

That? Is impressive (the not getting colds much).

I use holistic remedies as well, as as essential oil and varies other things. Many doctors around the world are ahead of the US.

Violeta

I agree that having a good friend who is an excellent doctor is a huge help. We have such friend who was able once to diagnose me with a rare heart condition over the phone in 10 mins when I was sitting in a good hospital and was already seen by half a dozen "specialists" in the previous 24 hrs and they had no clue. I think education (about the condition/illness if known) is the second best secret to receiving good health care. Reading, researching, asking lots of questions, challenging opinions have helped me in the past. Also, saying "No" to doctors, who often prescribe unnecessary medicines and tests, can save lives. A raw food diet seems to be another secret to a long and healthy life - but I am still struggling with that one.

I would like to know what health insurance company do you use, if any, to cover your health care expenses (or disasters) when you travel. When you are on the road long term, a lot of policies don't seem to work. Also what do you think of medical evac policies/memberships?

Thanks and all my best wishes for a full recovery soon.

Violeta

Another thing that can be help to the rest of us is an account of how you dealt with certain common ailments (from children diarrhea to mosquito bites or more serious conditions). Something simple, but which can come in handy to others who face the same issue. I remember that Audrey from Uncornered Market had such an article not too long ago which I found very helpful and bookmarked it.

Mary Aspinwall

Thanks for a really interesting article on managing your health while on the move. Do you have a homeopathy kit? They are extremely useful. I've even designed a homeopathic travel kit especially for more exotic climates. If you type in "homeopathy kit" mine is the number one site - homeopathy world, but look around there are lots to choose from. Happy trails to the three of you, Mary.

Carolyn Hatch

I would like to know about health insurance and retirement visa requirements. Has this changed for you now that you winter in Penang? We are considering living abroad once retired.

Jeanne soultravelers3

Thanks Marlana! We try to keep our immune systems in top condition so that we don't pick up things like colds and have certainly adapted a more hand-washing routine through our travel lifestyle which I am sure helps.

I am often quite amazed that kidlet manages not to get colds even when in schools surrounded by sick kids sometimes. We're extra vigilant during those times and maybe add extra vitamins or herbs etc to prevent at the first sign of things.

Jeanne soultravelers3

Violeta - I couldn't agree more with you about doing your own research, asking questions and challenging opinions!

I will do a separate post just on travel insurance, but we use IMG with a very high deductible. That means we have paid for all of our own medical problems, even hospitalizations and surgery out of our own pocket and still stayed on our $23/day budget. We see insurance as more of "asset protection" for something major...especially in the USA where medical costs are highest in the world.

We have only bought an extra evac insurance for Morocco so far.

Good idea to do a post on some of the little things we do that seems to help.

Jeanne soultravelers3

Mary, No we do not have a homeopathic kit and I never heard of them, so glad that you told us about them.

I don't know too much about homeopathics but have had some success with them in the past ( and sometimes not) so I am interested.

Jeanne soultravelers3

Carolyn,

As I told Violetta above ( and have mentioned it before on the blog, but I can't even point you to where..probably Q&A.. so will have to do a post just on what insurance we use, so it is easy to find) we use IMG and get a high deductible.

The USA is the only place where medical expenses are totally ridiculous and scary.Finding excellent health care around the world for low prices has been easy for us.

Long stay retirement visas vary from country to country ( and some what even by which embassy etc that one gets them...as I know some folks who have moved States just to have a better chance). I haven't written too much about visas because I am not a lawyer or an expert on the topic..which is very complicated.

Nothing changes once you have the long stay retirement visa, but getting it is the big challenge. I've read recently that it is fairly easy and doable to get a long stay visa or residency in most European countries if you have at least 100K in the bank which gives them the assurance that you will benefit the country and not be a drain on it.

The process of getting the long stay visa is maddening ( ask most who have been through that gauntlet) ...bureaucracy is never fun...but the fact that many have done it shows that it can be done.

If you are going to live in Europe you will want to have your funds in a form that is not so affected by currency differences ( one reason we got out of the dollar in 2004/5).

I know folks who retired to Europe, bought a place and then were ruined by the rise of the euro and fall of the dollar...so keep currencies in mind and always look at future trends and different options for the many possibilities of these crazy times.

Good luck!

Jeanne soultravelers3

Carolyn,

As I told Violetta above ( and have mentioned it before on the blog, but I can't even point you to where..probably Q&A.. so will have to do a post just on what insurance we use, so it is easy to find) we use IMG and get a high deductible.

The USA is the only place where medical expenses are totally ridiculous and scary.Finding excellent health care around the world for low prices has been easy for us.

Long stay retirement visas vary from country to country ( and some what even by which embassy etc that one gets them...as I know some folks who have moved States just to have a better chance). I haven't written too much about visas because I am not a lawyer or an expert on the topic..which is very complicated.

Nothing changes once you have the long stay retirement visa, but getting it is the big challenge. I've read recently that it is fairly easy and doable to get a long stay visa or residency in most European countries if you have at least 100K in the bank which gives them the assurance that you will benefit the country and not be a drain on it.

The process of getting the long stay visa is maddening ( ask most who have been through that gauntlet) ...bureaucracy is never fun...but the fact that many have done it shows that it can be done.

If you are going to live in Europe you will want to have your funds in a form that is not so affected by currency differences ( one reason we got out of the dollar in 2004/5).

I know folks who retired to Europe, bought a place and then were ruined by the rise of the euro and fall of the dollar...so keep currencies in mind and always look at future trends and different options for the many possibilities of these crazy times.

Good luck!

Elizabeth

You hit the nail on the head. Most of the people who 'worry' about our travels and the health of our daughter have not traveled much. They just need something to fear. I myself am a curvy woman and have impeccable health. We use natural medicine as well, and I studied Ayurveda in India. We eat a mainly vegan ( with occasional dairy and fish) and our daughter is almost never sick. I also nurse her. When she did go to an MD in Korea, the doctor was amazing and it was free. The hospitals in Phuket are pretty good as well, just not for giving birth ( high C section rate).

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Elizabeth- You bring up good points! I think we all fear more what we don't know. We had a lot more fears about health before we started to travel because so much of it was unknown and no one was writing about what we wanted to do.

We did child led weaning, so out child was breastfeeding for a LOOONG time and I think that has been amazing for her health. Also because of my age, I had all of the childhood diseases that people got in the 50's and also things like hepatitis so could pass on lots of natural immunity onto her that way.

Nursing and travel is such a great combo!

winser

Hi Jeanne. I dont know the travels is hard and difficult sometimes.especially when you have a high standard of the food. I can understand it is really annoying if you getting sick in a foreign country, nobody can speak your language. My 2 travelers from USA got sick after the trip to Tibet, one of them can not eat anything and felt dizziness all the time, however, the guide can help them a lot in the hospital, they will felt crazy if nobody can speak the English at that moment. btw, both of them already over 60s. but they still enjoy the travels, thats it. Travels are beautiful but you have to ready for the difficulties as well.

Witold

Hi Jeanne , Thanks for the update on travel health . With the rise of more WiFi spots have the number of internet cafe's fallen ?

Cheers

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