In case you didn't know, I got sick in Vientiane on my last Indochina trip. This was my first experience getting sick while traveling alone. Ironically, it happened on what was supposed to be my birthday trip. Just when I thought I was all game for my solo trip, I had to face one of the disadvantages of traveling alone!
Visiting all ten ASEAN country members was on my list of things to do before I turned 30. Long story short, life happened that I could only check it from the list this year on my 31st birthday… Who would have thought that the momentum became one of the most bittersweet birthdays ever for me?!
Not only did I finally check something on my wishlist, but it was also the first time for everything… From getting sick during my solo travel overseas, to unexpectedly getting a chance to travel across the Thai-Laos border with corps diplomatique service on my freaking birthday!
Getting Sick While Traveling Solo
When I planned out my itinerary for my last Indochina trip, I was a bit anxious since it would be my first time to travel around for over a month. Not to mention that the coronavirus issue just started at the time. To be fair, at the time, I was still a bit in denial about that. But it didn't stop me from purchasing travel insurance for the first time.
Now before you judge me… Yes, I never traveled with travel insurance before, but then I probably just got lucky since I never really faced any major obstacles on my previous travel.
I don't know whether it's something to do with my instinct, but long story short, I decided to buy travel insurance from MSIG online for 2 months. I spent only IDR 406,000 (around $29 USD) for the Leisure B plan that is valid for any destination in Asia-Pacific countries.
Little did I know, the decision became one of the most vital things I've done for this trip because I ended getting sick alone in my hotel room in Vientiane. As a result, I canceled the rest of my trip in Laos and I didn't get a chance to visit places like Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang as I had to spend almost 2 weeks in quarantine inside my hotel room.
Well, to be fair, I think I already felt a bit unwell on my last day at Dream Resort Farm in Pakse. Luckily, the accommodation owner allowed me to extend my stay for a few hours without charging me extra.
It was only when I was on the bus from Pakse to Vientiane that I felt like my fever got worse. I spent the whole trip to the capital city sleeping on the bus, freezing because of the fever, although it still felt a bit bearable when I got off the bus.
I still overestimated my health condition at the time, but by the time I reached my hotel at Sengphachanh Hotel 2 in Vientiane, I knew that I needed the room as soon as possible because I was terribly shivering as I stood up.
It was around 9.30 AM when I arrived, and the good thing is that I got my room ready so I could do early check-in on that day. But the rest was history. Never had I felt that miserable in life, getting sick alone without anyone to take care of me.
The Ultimate Things to Do When You Get Sick While Traveling Alone
Despite feeling horrible with almost no tastebud on the day I arrived in Vientiane, I still managed to go to the nearest noodle stall not so far from the hotel later for dinner. It was only the next day when I felt so sick when I went alone to the supermarket to buy water only to realize that I was too weak to walk back to the hotel.
The hotel was located only around 150 meters from the supermarket, and I could barely walk back to the hotel that I had to order LOCA, an Uber-like app that you can use throughout Vientiane. It sounds ridiculous now, but believe me… It was not when I felt like I was dying at the time.
My strong, independent woman ego only realized that I probably needed some help at the time. The hotel staff couldn't help much as they barely speak English at the time, so these are the things I did when I got sick alone in Vientiane.
So if you reached this post as you're currently in the same situation as I was earlier this year, these are the things that I did that effectively made me go back home safe and sound right now.
1. Check with Your Travel Insurance.
The first thing I did when I realized that my illness couldn't be healed by only sleeping well was to check with MSIG about the claiming process. People talk about some pros and cons of having a travel insurance, but I'm just glad that I was covered by my insurance when I got sick while traveling.
You see, I only purchased the travel insurance just in case, I never really thought that it would come in handy as I got sick abroad. In my case, MSIG confirmed that the visit to the hospital wouldn't be cashless as they could only reimburse the hospital fee based on the plan I bought for my insurance.
They gave me the list of documents that I had to compile and send to their office to claim when I reach Indonesia. So I was actually a bit nervous about going to the hospital because I didn't know how much it would cost for a check-up.
Long story short, I spent around $300 for a swab test as coronavirus was getting strong during that period. I went to Alliance International Medical Center in Vientiane as it's highly recommended by expats in Laos. It also helps that the medical staff there speak English very well, so it's easier to have a one-on-one consultation.
However, the fact that I spent $300 for the medical check-up made me broke out of the blue was quite heavy for me financially. And although I got 50% of it reimbursed, I only received the money after I got back to Indonesia. The hospital visit definitely made me lose almost half of my travel fund for the rest of the trip.
So if there's anything that I've learned for my next trip, I'd definitely purchase travel insurance that allows some cashless service for this kind of incident. Now that half of the world is still closed, it's also important to choose travel insurance during pandemic.
2. Reach Out for Help.
The biggest obstacle that I encountered when I got sick in Vientiane was the language. None of the hotel staff where I stayed speaks English. Unlike some other experiences where I could communicate with others through Google Translate, I figured the app wasn't really working when I tried to speak in Lao.
But at the time, I knew I needed some help, and I needed it bad. By the time I found out about the claim process from my travel insurance, the first thing I had done was to post on some Facebook groups I'm in.
I know it's not an ideal thing to do, but it worked for me. I got connected to a Lao girl in Vientiane. Her name is Chuchu, and she was my hero at night.
Not only did she accompany me to the hospital, she also helped me double-check all the documents to be completed for my insurance claim. And I couldn't be more grateful for her! 🙂
3. Call Your Embassy.
The highlight of getting sick during my solo travel is that whenever you encounter any obstacles in your trip, call your embassy. That could be your last resort when you meet a dead end.
I had to wait for three days to finally realize that I could no longer do everything alone. I already went to the hospital, and I even started taking medications. Even though my coronavirus test was negative, the doctor said that I got some bacteria in my throat that caused a high fever at the time.
Luckily, I got a free breakfast daily at my hotel. But then, even after taking medicine, I couldn't go out for lunch and dinner without feeling like I would faint. I know, because I actually tried another trip to the supermarket nearby and I had to take LOCA again.
Eventually, I asked the hotel to help me connect with the Indonesian embassy in Vientiane. I still got my Indonesian number active, and I always got some necessary information about the embassy in every country I visit. So did I when I reached Laos.
I initially didn't know what I had to say when the phone reached the embassy's emergency contact, but when someone answered at the end of the line, I did what I had to do at the time. I cried.
I couldn't even remember the last time I cried before then, but I was so relieved when someone picked up the phone at the embassy. So when I could finally find my breath, I told the woman about my situation.
Mbak Inke, the first contact I had from the Indonesian embassy in Vientiane, informed me that the number I reached out to is available on Whatsapp.
They could send me some assistance; all they asked is the documents needed for their data. That includes my hotel's location, the itinerary before I reached Vientiane, and the copy of my passport to prove that I'm an Indonesian citizen. As I informed them that I went to the hospital and got some medications prescribed for my illness, they also asked me the list of medications I got from Alliance International Medical Center.
It didn't even take me an hour to get someone else reached out from the embassy. This time, it's Ibu Tatiana, my liaison during my stay in Vientiane from the embassy. She told me that she'd assist me during my stay in Vientiane and asked me what I wanted to have for lunch.
She sent me fried rice for lunch, and surprisingly with many other kinds of food. There were cakes, some cartons of milk, a couple of water bottles, and even cookies.
Later that day, I was also accompanied by Pak Salim to go to the other hospital for a second opinion. This time, I went to Mittaphab Hospital in Vientiane. Initially, we wanted to take another swab test, but then the doctor at Mittaphab Hospital said it wasn't necessary.
All I had to do is just to get a self-quarantine for 14 days, and try to recover during that time.
Obviously, I didn't get a chance to travel around Vientiane because all I did was staying in my hotel room, trying not to die. But I was lucky as the embassy in Vientiane helped me a lot.
They regularly sent me food because I told them that I couldn't walk to get it on my own. The staff at the hotel wasn't helpful as I could barely communicate with the language barriers.
Even when I decided to leave Vientiane for Bangkok on my birthday, Ibu Tatiana insisted on taking me with corps diplomatique service to cross the border to Nong Khai. She said if I took the regular shuttle bus to the train station, I had to carry around my stuff with me, and it wouldn't be an ideal situation given the idea I just got recovered.
That, my friend, is why my 31st birthday became memorable. Because in case you don't know me, I studied International Relations as I used to want to be a diplomat. And that was the closest thing I did to become one.
I got CD service when I crossed the border from Laos to Thailand. And the immigration officer in Nong Khai literally gave me a standing ovation while singing Happy Birthday when he stamped my passport. :')
I didn't even say anything about my birthday to the people from the embassy. But now that the immigration officer sang me Happy Birthday, they obviously found out. By the time we reached Nong Khai and went to a mall for lunch, they bought me a birthday cake to take to Bangkok.
It was so thoughtful that it definitely turned the birthday that I thought would be the worst to be so special. I think getting sick on my birthday trip became a blessing in disguise for me. And as weird as it sounds, I'm grateful for that.
The Precaution You Need to Do Before Travel Alone Overseas
They said that prevention is the best medication, and that's true. But well, sometimes you just can't help to let bad things happen to you. The best thing you could do is to take precautions that could ease you when the unwanted thing happens.
Here are some things that you can consider before you travel, so that when something terrible happens, you can handle it with a clearer mind.
1. Buy Travel Insurance.
This experience shows me the benefits of having travel insurance with me when I'm on a trip. I paid around $29 for it, but then I spent $300 on the medical check-up. I didn't get the whole money spent back, but at least I got 50% of it reimbursed to my account. Depending on your travel insurance policy, typically you'll also be eligible to claim compensation for any flight delay or cancellation!
2. Write Down the Emergency Contact of Your Embassy.
The emergency contact could be super handy because rest assured, they would try their best to help their citizens abroad. I know this because I met a Dutch guy who lost his wallet on his travel when I was in Bangkok. He went to his embassy to get around $50 USD to cover his expenses before his family sent the money through Western Union.
Mind you, I never had to deal with the Indonesian embassy even though I lived overseas a few times. I simply never got into trouble that required me to contact the embassy at the time.
But now that I experienced this, I know why having the embassy's emergency contact is important. As long as you're not in the government's black book, getting some help from the embassy is easy.
When I got sick, some other staff at the embassy also informed my mom from time to time about my situation.
3. Get Vaccinated.
Not trying to heat the debate about whether or not you should get vaccinated, but if there's an option, I would strongly recommend it to get yourself vaccinated.
During my flying time as a flight attendant, it's mandatory to get myself vaccinated for at least four diseases: Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Meningitis A, and Yellow Fever.
Those are the things I've done when I got sick on my travel that helped me come home safe and sound. Have you ever gotten sick during your trip? How did you cope with that? Let me hear your story below in the comment, and stay healthy! 😉
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