If you’re like most Americans, the thought of not having health insurance probably seems absurd. Perhaps even terrifying.
It may seem so terrifying that the fear keeps you in a cushy day job that doesn’t really fulfill you. It has full medical and dental after all. Without it, how would you pay for doctor’s visits, medications, flu shots, and all of the other potential emergencies that could happen at any moment?
In fact, one of the most common hesitations people tell me they have when it comes to quitting their day job and traveling the world, is not knowing what to do about health insurance.
What if I told you that it’s not only possible to travel the world without health insurance, but that you will probably even become healthier as a result?
I’ve been traveling the world for nearly four years and I don’t have health insurance at all. Further, I’m healthier now, traveling across the world, than I was for most of my life.
If you’re looking for advice on the best healthcare plans while traveling abroad, I can’t give you that answer. What I can offer you is confidence in knowing that health insurance should not be what keeps you in a job or a life that you don’t want to be living.
I don’t travel with health insurance, I don’t plan to travel with health insurance, and here is why:
I’m Not Down With Western Medicine
No disrespect to my lovely doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other Western medicine practitioners out there, but I have not found Western medicine to be effective, and in many cases I find it detrimental.
Why? It focuses on the symptoms of an ailment rather than the cause. Its goal is to simply relieve the symptoms as quickly as possible. Kinda like draping a blanket over a massive pile of trash. At first you don’t notice it, because you can’t see it. But over time it starts to smell. Then the rats come. And before you know it, your entire house is infested with cockroaches.
Growing up with health insurance, I was prescribed antibiotics for anything under the sun. Cold? Antibiotics. Flu? Antibiotics. Infection? Antibiotics. Cut? Antibiotic cream. I’ve taken more antibiotics in my life than I could possibly remember. In fact, when I first left to travel to Costa Rica, my doctor gave me a prescription for antibiotics to take with me “just in case.”
I took so many rounds of antibiotics that I had seriously disturbed my immune system. With each white pill I made my body less and less able to fight infection. For my first year of travel I had all kinds of problems as a result. This is how antibiotics work, and this is why it’s so important to ONLY take them as a last resort.
Western medicine has its place in extreme circumstances, but by no means should it be our “go to.” Personally, I’d rather rip the blanket off of the pile of garbage and pick up each piece one by one, than to take a pill to pretend it’s not actually there.
I Take Responsibility for My Health
Not having health insurance doesn’t mean not doing anything. In fact, it means that you need to be even more proactive about your health. You need to take responsibility for your health, rather than expecting a doctor to give you the solution.
Since I stopped having health insurance, I’ve invested in all kinds of holistic practices to take proper care of my body.
I stay active and practice yoga every day to keep my blood circulating, my muscles strong yet flexible, and my joints supported. I travel mostly in natural places where I can breathe clean air and be active in nature. I eat a very clean, mostly organic diet with lots of dark green vegetables, healthy fat, and high quality protein, and I avoid all processed foods and most grains. I regularly consume probiotic food and beverages to build my healthy gut flora to combat bacteria (read my post How to Travel the World and Never Get Food Poisoning for more info). I do periodic cleanses to remove accumulated toxins from travel, environmental conditions, and “modern life.”
Perhaps most importantly, I lead a low stress lifestyle, where I feel generally relaxed. I smile more often than I frown, I keep a positive attitude, and I don’t sweat the small stuff. Choosing happiness is the best decision you could ever make for your health.
Taking responsibility for your health is both enlightening and empowering. It tunes you in to your body’s individual needs and teaches you how to respond to them. Which is, in my opinion, the only sustainable health solution.
I Use Natural Remedies When I am Sick
Since adding probiotics to my diet and laying off the chemicals, I’m sick far less often than I used to be. However, there are still times when I get a cold or a stomach bug or a nasty cut. Rather than head to a doctor for a “quick fix” I use an ultra effective natural remedy. Below I’ve listed my go-to recipes, but I also recommend asking locals about plant medicine. In Costa Rica and Indonesia especially, many locals are familiar with the best natural medicine that you can literally pick out of your yard.
For congestion, sore throat, cough, and other cold/flu symptoms, I swear by this ultra medicinal all natural tea used by grandmas in the Caribbean, elders in Indonesia, and my own mother in the USA. Making it is simple. Get a big glass jar and place a big knob of smashed ginger root, a piece of smashed fresh turmeric (if you can find it), two cloves of smashed raw garlic, the juice of two lemons, a few shakes of cayenne pepper, and a big tablespoon of local raw honey. Pour boiling water up to the top and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Drink this tincture constantly, and whatever you had should clear up within 24 hours.
Food poisoning and other stomach problems can usually be solved with some activated charcoal mixed with water. The charcoal works because it absorbs the toxins and allows you to flush them from your system quickly. Important: activated charcoal is different from normal charcoal, so be sure to get the food grade kind from the health store.
Essential oils are extremely effective for any kind of ailment. I use tea tree oil for cuts, scrapes, burns, and even blemishes. Frankincense is great for rashes. Once on an airplane I felt myself getting a sore throat and stuffy nose, so I asked the flight attendant for hot water and I mixed in a few drops of lemon and peppermint essential oils. My cold cleared up by the time we landed simply from inhaling and drinking the liquid.
For more natural remedies, check out what I pack in My Travel Wellness Kit.
Medical Care is Often Cheaper Abroad
I know what you’re thinking. How is lemon juice and tea tree oil going to help when I’ve fallen off a motorbike, been attacked by a wild monkey, or contracted dengue fever?
While I do believe that nature has an answer for everything, there are times, especially when you’re in a foreign setting, where it just makes sense to go the Western medicine route. I’ve been there, and I get it.
First let me say that for me these times have been rare. In four years of travel, there has really only been one time that I’ve actually NEEDED to see a doctor. That was when I was bitten by a stray dog in Thailand. I went to the emergency, tourist, 24 hour clinic (much more expensive than the normal clinic). After a doctor’s visit, some immunizations, and six follow up appointments for more immunizations, I paid a whopping… $250. Seriously? I’ve heard the immunization for rabies in the states (which only delays the spread of rabies, you STILL have to go and get the shots) costs far more than that, and most medical insurance doesn’t cover travel immunizations.
Other times I’ve gone to the doctor while traveling it’s also been extremely inexpensive. In Indonesia, I stepped on a sea urchin and my foot became so infected I couldn’t walk. I tried to treat it holistically for two weeks, but then again I also danced on it barefoot in a dirty beach bar, and it didn’t get better. The local doctor’s visit and a course of strong antibiotics (last case resort, remember) cost $45.
While I don’t recommend doing this, before I went holistic I bought antibiotics over the counter in Costa Rica for $10 without even needing a prescription.
What about dental? Since I stopped using conventional toothpaste (instead I do oil pulling and use a natural paste made from activated charcoal and baking soda) my teeth have never been healthier or whiter. People ask me almost daily if I’ve had them professionally whitened. I do still enjoy a good teeth cleaning, and when I was in Cambodia I had the best, completely fluoride free, teeth cleaning of my life for $20.
I Don’t Worry About Things That Haven’t Happened
Call me idealistic, but I try not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. I don’t focus on the worst-case scenario and I don’t think about all of the things that might go wrong. I’d rather focus on the things that I can control right now that will ultimately lead me to a healthier happier life. To many people, that may seem stupid or naïve, but for now, it works for me. If it stops working for me, then I’ll do something else.
Travel Insurance is a Better Option
Alright so maybe you’re more responsible than me. Maybe you need something more practical and guaranteed. In that case, I recommend travel insurance over health insurance.
Not only does travel insurance cover incidentals like stolen valuables and emergency travel, but it’s more likely to be accepted by clinics overseas than your health insurance from back home.
If you want to get travel insurance, my friend Matt knows far more about this practical stuff than I do. Check out his article, How to Buy Good Travel Insurance.
Would you consider traveling the world without health insurance? Why or why not?