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What To Do If Your Child Falls Ill Abroad

Is it just me or do children have special powers when it comes to falling ill at inopportune times? Like family holidays. They go downhill so fast too that one minute they’re merrily jumping in and out of the hotel pool and next minute you’re asking reception to book you a taxi to the nearest medical centre. (True story!)

Perhaps because we’ve been privileged to travel a lot with our 3-year-old son, we’ve also been challenged by the experience of him falling ill while abroad. Multiple times! We’ve been to friendly doctors in Greece when a 2-day fever wouldn’t shift and, slightly more scarily, we’ve been to a hospital in Singapore when, hours before our return flight to London, we learned Miles had a nasty upper respiratory infection.

Eek.

I’ve always been in two minds about sharing our experience in Singapore as I don’t want to scare anyone off from travelling with children – rather, this site has always been about empowering parents to see the world with little ones. But we learned a lot from our experience, particularly about how travel insurance works in these circumstances, and I think understanding what is and isn’t covered is important.

I also think any parent with toddlers in childcare at the moment are well aware how easy viruses spread between them. So, arming yourself with the knowledge of what to do if your child comes down with anything on holiday that deem them unfit to fly home (such as common respiratory infections, chicken pox or measles) could be helpful.

This post has been written in conjunction with Cedar Tree award-winning travel insurance. All opinions are my own.

Use code 5428X7QW57 at check out for 15% off when booking direct on the Cedar Tree website.

What happened when our son fell sick in Singapore

Our 9-month old enjoying his first Aussie brunch in Melbourne

In 2019, we’d just taken our half-Aussie son to meet his Antipodean relatives for the first time. We’d had a lovely couple of weeks catching up with friends and family in Melbourne and were enjoying a 2-day stopover in Singapore to break up the flight home to London.  Miles seemed a little more tired than usual during the stopover, but who doesn’t when it comes to long-haul travel?

On our last day, we were enjoying one last acai bowl before checking out of our hotel when suddenly Miles’ temperature spiked out of nowhere. He began vomiting the small lunch he’d just eaten and was shaking uncontrollably.  Luckily, we were close to our hotel so we dashed back to our room where he continued to vomit spectacularly, leaving a trail from the door to the bathroom. He finally stopped being sick but he was pale, clammy, lethargic and feverish. He was 9 months old and we were far from home. It was terrifying.

While I comforted Miles as best I could, Justin called hotel reception and asked for details of the nearest medical centre. It turned out there was a private international clinic right next door and our hotel got us an appointment immediately. Miles was in slightly better shape when we saw the doctor but after checking him over he confirmed my thoughts, this child is not well enough to travel.  He diagnosed Miles with an upper respiratory infection and initially said he thought it would take at least 10 days for him to be well enough to fly home. I had no idea if our insurance would cover this but, everyone being in agreement we wouldn’t be flying that day, I turned my attention to what Miles needed and hoped we could figure the rest out later.

Back at the hotel we asked if we could extend our room for another night and put the charge for it on our credit card. The hotel were super helpful and empathetic to our situation. I’ll never forget that.

Hotel Indigo Katong
Hotel Indigo were super helpful during our crisis

Once Miles had had some medication and was getting some rest, Justin got to work at calling our insurance company and explaining our situation. This was the start of a very long and stressful back and forth with our insurance company whose communication (or lack thereof) was so bad they later sent us an official apology and compensation. Needless to say, we are no longer with them.

We eventually learned that our flights, hotel and Miles’ medical bills were covered but additional expenses like taxis to/from the hospital, meals for us, formula for Miles ($50 a tin in Singapore!) were not.

But the main thing was that Miles got better. And while it’s easy to write about with hindsight, it was quite scary at the time. The truth is Miles was very sick with fever, sleeping most of the day & unsettled at night. He developed conjunctivitis and needed eyedrops which made him scream. It was difficult caring for him in just one room. We ran out of clean clothes, formula and baby-friendly snacks. We took turns to leave the hotel room on errands runs. (Miles was too unwell and it was too hot in Singapore for him to go anywhere for several days.) The fact that we had only an estimated timeline of when we could leave – between 7 to 10 days – meant Justin couldn’t tell work when he would be back. We were stuck in a strange kind of pre-Covid quarantine. Funny how we’d probably be much better prepared for it now!

We ended up staying an additional 5 nights before Miles was cleared to fly by doctors. (We spent 8 days in total in Singapore when we had planned for 2.) The insurance company booked us flights home the same day we sent them a copy of the fit to fly certificate. (Upon our insistence, I might add. I remember them asking Justin ‘Where’s the rush?’ We’d been away from home for 3.5 weeks at this point, nursing a poorly baby in a small hotel room in a foreign country. I’m not sure why the caller thought we’d want to stay any longer than necessary!)

There’s so much fine print on a travel insurance policy and of course we read our original one hoping all these things might never happen. But having been through this experience in Singapore I’ve now bought us an annual family insurance policy that offers a lot more reassurance.

What Cedar Tree travel insurance covers

Jewel Changi Airport Waterfall
Checking our Jewel Changi Airport before our flight home

We’re now insured by award-winning Cedar Tree travel insurance who offer comprehensive cover for a range of things (such as travel disruption and catching Covid) that your standard travel insurance policy does not. Every policy they provide boasts the highest level of cover providing you with the confidence to enjoy your trip, even when travelling with littles ones!

It also offers slightly more cover if you have to extend your trip due to medical reasons.

Having dug into our travel insurance policy’s fine print, I am reassured to know in future we’d be covered for transport and accommodation up to the standard of our original booking, taxis to and from medical appointments, and even the cost of calls to/from the Emergency Medical Assistance Service.

If you are spending additional time away from work caring for a sick child overseas, every little bit of reassurance really helps.

Tips for dealing with a sick child abroad

LeVeL 33 Craft Brewery Singapore
There are certainly worse places to be stuck!

So, aside from making sure we have more robust travel insurance, here’s what we learned from this experience.

  • Your child is always your first priority. Focus on caring for them and rest assured that if you have travel insurance they can take care of the medical bills and travel arrangements for you.
  • Call your insurer’s Emergency Medical Assistance Service as soon as possible if your child is admitted to hospital or (as in our case) is deemed unfit to fly and you will no longer make your return flight. If travelling as a family, confirm whether all of you can stay with them.
  • Ask for copies of any paperwork from the hospital and make sure all vital stats are included. In our case we found the insurance company needed more than just a letter from the doctor we had originally been seen by. We had to attend a hospital for a second opinion and detailed notes in order for the insurance company’s medical board to assess our claim properly.
  • You may have to attend hospital a couple of times to get updates for your insurance company. We were told to get Miles checked every couple of days so they could assess his fitness to fly.
  • Take your child’s passport to any appointments as it will be needed to verify their identity.
  • I found getting tips from the local community on Instagram very helpful when it came to saving costs on our extended Singapore stay. People kindly sent us loads of tips about where to shop for baby essentials and how to book cheap taxis.
  • Keep your hotel/ accommodation provider in the loop too. We were very kindly upgraded to a bigger room by our hotel. I’m not sure if was purely benevolent or more to do with trying to protect other guests from hearing our baby crying. (We were put in a corner suite far from everyone else!)
  • Of course, keep every single receipt. Copies of hospital bills, hotel bills, taxi charges, phone calls etc will all be needed as claims evidence.

Save on travel insurance

Cedar Tree have kindly given me a discount code to pass onto readers. Use code 5428X7QW57 for 15% off when booking direct on the Cedar Tree website. Plus join the Cedar Tree loyalty club for exclusive rewards and discounts on the likes of Holiday Extras, Hello Fresh, Kidzania and Eurocamp.

It’s worrying when your little one is sick at home, let alone when you’re far away from everything and everyone you know. We haven’t been put off from travelling with children by this experience but we certainly learned a lot from it. We’ll never travel with just basic travel insurance again, that’s for sure!

Wishing you and your family happy and healthy travels. I hope this has been helpful.

You may also like:

Baby travel essentials

Tips for flying long haul with a baby

Tips for flying while pregnant

Flying to Australia with a baby

About Author

I'm a full time blogger with a passion for travel and interiors. A travel blogger for 12+ years, I took a course on interior styling during the pandemic when travel was not an option. I now run 2 Instagram accounts - @jayneytravels, which covers authentic, affordable luxury escapes and @ourtravelhome which is all about decorating our new build home with a modern rustic style.

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