What would you do if you were in Cambodia with your 4-year-old and your 11 month old, on a jam-packed two-week tour of Southeast Asia, and you suddenly noticed your 11 month old had a horrendous thrush infection in her mouth? Would you shriek, “Oh my gosh what the heck is wrong with our daughter’s mouth?!” Well that’s what I did and here is our story of getting sick on vacation.What would you do if you were in Cambodia with your 4-year-old and your 11 month old, on a jam-packed two-week tour of Southeast Asia, and you suddenly noticed your 11 month old had a horrendous thrush infection in her mouth?  Would you shriek, “Oh my gosh what the heck is wrong with our daughter’s mouth?!”  Well that’s what I did and here is our story of getting sick on vacation.

During our last 6 months living in Doha, we knew that we were going to be moving back to the United States soon and we wanted to jam as much traveling as we could into that 6 months.  Neither Keith nor I had been to Vietnam or Cambodia and it sounded like a perfect way to end our crazy stint as expatriates.  Enter Handspan Travel, the greatest travel agent ever for a tour of southeast Asia.  These wonderful people set. us. up.  They took into account that we had two young children with us, made every hotel reservation, every tour booking, including flights and made tons of recommendations on how to get around, gave us tips on local customs, found us restaurants, etc, etc, etc.  I can’t say enough about Handspan Travel.

The one thing missing from our travel plans?  Emergency medical insurance or trip insurance. Something to cover us for getting sick on vacation.  Truthfully, I have no idea why I didn’t think about it for such a long trip.  In the past, whenever I have gone on a long adventurous trip somewhere, I have had trip insurance and, in some cases, emergency medical insurance and evacuation insurance.  Especially for a very third world country such as Cambodia.

When we arrived in Cambodia, we enjoyed the first couple days touring with our tour company and just exploring the town.  We experienced our first fish massage, ate amazing food and got to know the local culture.  On our third day in Siem Reap, Zoe was a little fussy and seemed to be bothered about eating.  Other than that, she seemed fine so we chalked it up to teething and didn’t think too much about it.  On the fourth day, we were touring one of the many temples around Siem Reap and I was holding Zoe on my hip, smiling at her when she yawned and opened up her mouth wide.  I was horrified.  The inside her of mouth, including her tongue was covered in a milky white film.  It was like looking into the mouth of a Cottonmouth snake.  GROSS.  I shrieked for Keith and our guide, who were walking with Max about ten yards away.


The start of the crabbiness


This was my view right before I noticed the horror inside Zoe’s mouth

Quickly I showed them the inside of Zoe’s mouth.  Our guide nodded wisely, which I thought was  bit odd (did our Cambodian guide have a medical degree that he hadn’t mentioned?) and said he knew just the place to go. Remember how I said that Handspan was an awesome company?  They even knew where to take us during a medical problem!

We arrived at a medical facility, which our guide described as not a hospital but not really a “doctor’s office” either…..I understood it to be the equivalent of our Urgent Care facilities in the United States.  I was pleasantly surprised, as it was clean and neat and the only other patients I saw in the office were three or four female backpackers from the United States and Australia.  We were ushered into the doctor’s office after quickly filling out paperwork.  The doctor took one look in Zoe’s mouth and said, “Thrush, ma’am.”  He gave us a mysterious looking cream to put in her mouth twice a day and some mysterious powdered painkiller and, $90 later, we were on our way.  I tried not to stress about the mysterious looking bottles (really, it could have been anything since it was Cambodian script) and the thrush was gone within 24 hours.  Thrush = yuck.

Our experience was easy.  We were lucky.  And not to be a Debbie Downer but it could have been so much worse.  What if Zoe had broken her leg?  What if we had been in a car accident or Max had contracted some sort of violent stomach bug?  We had great, great health insurance because we were expats at the time (seriously this insurance covered us anywhere in the world), but every insurance has limits and in certain countries, you aren’t going to want to stay in certain instances–such as a major accident resulting in surgery.

So what do you do if you experience really getting sick on vacation?  My advice? Get comprehensive trip insurance.

Figure out what you need:

How many people are you traveling with and what are their ages?  Do you want insurance on lost luggage and medical emergencies or flight delays and insurance against having to cancel the trip before you get started?  Or all of the above?  There are so many difference levels of trip insurance.  I highly recommend getting evacuation coverage if you are going to a third world country with kids…..you do not want your son getting surgery in Kenya.  Trust me on this.

Talk to your travel agent or travel guide:

Many travel agencies offer in-house trip insurance or medical insurance at a discount if you are booking with them. They also have knowledge of different levels and insurers.  Travel insurance is very competitive and companies are willing to work with you to get your business.

How to decide if you really need it:

There are some general rules of thumb when it comes to trip insurance. In addition to the one’s below, here are some more tips.

Get it if…..

  • You’re leaving the country–you never know if your medical insurance will hold up in another country..
  • You have a very complicated, long itinerary….if something goes wrong, your insurance can help on in many cases.
  • You have spent over $5000 on your trip.  A canceled flight or a mix up in hotel rooms could be very costly on an expensive trip.

Don’t bother if….

  • It’s a short trip and it’s in your home country.
  • You’ve spent under $5000.  Losing a little bit of money when you haven’t spent that much in the first place is just a part of traveling.
  • If your credit card or medical insurance has an add-on policy that will cover you anyway.  Many credit card companies protect you on vacations.  Inquire with your credit card company.

We’ve been very lucky on our vacations and have not had anything really tragic happen, nor have we had cancelled flights or mix-ups that have resulted in the loss of a lot of money or worse.  But they do happen.

Here are some trip insurance companies with great reputations.

Travel Guard – My favorite.  I used this for a trip to Africa and they have everything from medical and evacuation emergency converge, to covering cancelled flights to covering luggage and other things of value.  And kids are usually covered free of charge.

Travel Insured – Covers similar things.  Again, it’s worth it to price compare.



Ta Phrom, Cambodia

Cheers to adventure travel and no illness! 🙂




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