Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What if I break my leg in Europe?

Boomers, You Can Do It! Part 3

"Not only can you travel independently to Europe, but you can do it much more cheaply and easily than you thought possible."

I always hope that sentence will galvanize my listener into action so that he'll race to buy my book, Europe on a Dime: Five-Star Travel on a One-Star Budget, and start planning a trip. After all, the book holds your hand, step-by-step, so you can plan a European experience that is easy on the budget.  Truly, Europe on a Dime practically makes the reservations for you!

But no matter how sincerely I promise to walk people through the process, it's never quite that easy to convince them.  No matter how tantalizing the thought of traipsing down the Champs d'Elysee or cruising the canals of Venice, there's usually a "yes, but...." counter to my promise of cheap and meaningful travel.

So, it's time to face those "yes, buts...." in the next few blog posts.  We're going to take a look at the fears which keep people rooted to their La-Z-Boy recliners when they could be sauntering down exotic cobblestone alleys instead.  We'll confront the objections head-on in hopes that everyone will soon feel confident enough to plan a European trip.

I think one of the fears that keeps people firmly at home is the Heart Attack Fear.  It's an illogical one because all European cities are equipped with excellent hospitals staffed with doctors who can care for you as well, if not better, than the doctors here in the US.  Your chances of perishing from a medical emergency would be far greater in one of the remote areas of the United States with no quick access to a hospital, yet no one avoids visiting Yosemite National Park, hiking in Alaska, or fishing in the remote wilds of Montana. 

In other words, fishing in Montana is far more hazardous than strolling the streets of Rome.  If you would take a trip to San Francisco or New Orleans without a qualm, you can go to Europe with confidence.  And, once again, I know from personal experience that all difficulties can be handled if you remain calm and approach each part of the problem in a step-by-step fashion.

It was about eight miles outside of Venice, Italy, that the bubble gum I'd been chewing lifted off the crown on my back molar and left a stub of a tooth in its place. I was grateful I hadn't absent-mindedly chewed the crown into smithereens or swallowed it, but that knowledge didn't make me feel any better about the gaping void in my mouth.  And I couldn't imagine eating with a missing molar.  That's what upset me the most.  There are plenty of things I was willing to sacrifice, but missing a meal in Italy wasn't one of them.

I asked the desk clerk for help (Since I was only in Venice for two nights, I had a hotel room, not an apartment.), and you won't believe what she told me.  She said that an international convention of dentists was downstairs!

Sure enough, a dashing dentist from Florence who had done some graduate work in New York City, gave me advice in perfect English that got me through supper.  He suggested cleaning and drying the crown as best I could and then using plain old toothpaste as an adhesive.  Because I still had another week in Italy and then ten nights in Spain visiting friends, he suggested that I ask the desk clerk to make an appointment for me in town.  The next dentist, though not as proficient in English as the one the night before, was within walking distance and was able to solve my dental dilemma for €50 by glueing the crown back in its proper place.

Of course, it's not every day you find a dental convention when your crown falls out, but I think you will find that, no matter the problem, there are people all over Europe who are anxious to help you in any way they can.
Dinan, France
Although it wasn't a medical problem when my fiance David and I had a flat tire in Dinan, France (Brittany region), it felt like an emergency nevertheless.  We had to depend on the kindness of the only people we knew--the owners of the apartment we'd rented, and they were wonderful.  They made several phone calls to find a shop with the tire in stock.  Equally important, they gave us clear directions on how to get there.   We hated telling these good people goodbye.
Street in Arles

In Arles, France (Provence region), my friend did indeed break her leg, and we found an excellent doctor who spoke flawless English (This was helpful as my friend's French was nonexistent.), got crutches at the local pharmacie (Look for green crosses.), and rented a wheelchair at the medical apparatus store.   While Mary eventually decided to go back to the States early, it was because she didn't feel comfortable riding in my friends' car for two weeks (They had driven up from Spain.), not because the medical care was inadequate.

The entire story of Mary's leg is much too long for this blog post, but you can read all the details and learn about all the wonderful people who helped us by searching through this blog for the original articles or by getting a copy of my book, Europe on a Dime.

If I've finally convinced you that you can travel in Europe as confidently as you can in the United States, knowing that strangers will always lend a hand and excellent medical and dental care are readily available, you may be left with one question.  Will you be able to pay for it?  If you do not have insurance that is valid anywhere in the world, you may wonder whether you need trip insurance to cover any of those emergencies that might arise.

I would never presume to answer that question for you, but I can tell you that my friend's broken leg cost her less than $100 for X-rays, the doctor's examination and cast, the crutches and wheelchair.  Medical care in Europe, where socialized medicine reigns, is remarkably cheap.  Still, the decision is yours.  I never buy insurance while my fiance won't step foot on a plane without it. 

For another perspective, you may want to read these comments from Paul Terhorst.  Terhorst, who retired in 1984 when he was 35, now spends his time traveling all over the world.  He and his wife spend a year in Paris, six months in Chiang Mai or the winter in Argentina.  Terhorst regularly writes for Kathleen Pedicord, editor of the blog, "Live and Invest Overseas."  This is what he has to say about travel insurance.

So, I hope you're ready to get out of that La-Z-Boy.  You will find a community anxious to welcome you on the other side of the Atlantic offering emergency care that is not only affordable, but first-rate. And exploring Europe is a lot more fun than fishing in Montana!

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