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Travelers' Advisory

When going abroad this summer, a little advance planning can go a long way to help you sidestep disaster, diarrhea -- and sheer rage.
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WebMD Feature

Italy, Machu Picchu, Malaysia -- it's summer travel season, and the sidewalk cafes, the fabled lost cities, the exotic nightclubs are hard to resist. But travel isn't without its headaches, and life isn't without its medical disasters. Are you prepared for a broken leg in Bangkok? Gallstone surgery in Genoa? A midnight face-off with Montezuma?

Face it: If traveling doesn't get you in your wallet, it'll get you in your head, your heart, your veins, or your stomach. Here's advice to help you circumvent the worst of worst-case scenarios.

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Cover Yourself -- With Insurance, That Is

It's a scenario you think far-fetched, until it happens to a family member. Eileen and a few sorority sisters were in the last days of their Acapulco spring break vacation -- cruising the sites in a rental jeep -- when a truck hit them head on. They were lucky to be alive. She woke up in a local hospital and was told she had two broken arms and a broken collarbone -- though no X-rays or CT scans were taken.

But Eileen has a savvy daddy. Just months before her accident, he bought travel medical insurance for the whole family. It's a special type of policy that can be purchased on an annual or per-trip basis -- and depending on the policy, covers a gamut of travesties including lost luggage, trip cancellations, and medical emergencies.

Type "travel medical insurance" into any search engine, and you'll help find all sorts of similar policies. One offers 13 different variations, including one called ExPatriot-Plus for U.S. Citizens. The policy covers six months of travel, emergency evacuation, and air transport to your home country for $200-$300, depending on the deductible you choose.

But when sizing up such policies, ask lots of questions, says Phillip Morris, executive vice president of MEDJET.

"Will they bring you to your hospital of choice -- say, in your hometown -- or will it be the closest U.S. hospital to the border you're crossing? And if you have a medical emergency in the U.S., will you still have the option of being transported to the hospital back home?"

Eileen got back to her hometown hospital -- her parents' choice -- the very next day. "The other girls had another policy ... they were there until the next week and were evacuated to Houston.

Attacking Montezuma's Revenge

A bad case of diarrhea can be your worst travel nightmare, but here's one possible preventive. A dietary supplement called probiotics is now on health food store shelves, and is widely touted to provide your gastrointestinal system with Lactobacillus reuteri cells -- which might help stave off diarrhea.

Europeans have been taking the stuff for years, says Steven Peikin, MD, of Cooper Health System in Camden, N.J. "If you lived in Scandinavia, you wouldn't think about going anywhere without taking your probiotics," he tells WebMD.

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