For a 55-year old, I’m really lucky. I enjoy unusually good health — I always have. During my working career, I bet I didn’t take more than one sick day every four or five years.

So when we recently left for a six-week holiday in France and Portugal, I simply assumed I wouldn’t encounter even the tiniest health problem.

But I actually experienced some health problems while outside Canada. Nothing major, by anyone’s standards. But now that I’m back at home, I admit I had several gentle warnings over six weeks that travelling without health insurance would be plain dumb. Fortunately, my health is still fine, but let me tell you about the series of minor health warnings my wife and I and our fellow travellers had:

  • I got an eye infection. No big problem, but while I was travelling my left eye got a bit itchy, a bit red and a bit weepy. I didn’t bother getting medical attention, figuring I’d tough it out.
  • I broke my eyeglasses. In my case, toughing it out with that weepy eye actually meant frequently wiping away the tears that were streaming down my face. But while walking down the main street of Porto in Portugal, I gave my eye a wipe and broke my glasses! I really need them: I can’t read, drive or even walk without them. Local opticians in Portugal couldn’t fix them, I was too cheap to buy new glasses and without glasses there’s no way I could walk safely on Porto’s uneven cobblestone streets. So, I got a big ugly red strap (like I used when playing high school basketball … which, come to think of it, was the last time I broke my glasses) that held my glasses on till we returned home and I could get to my optician.
  • My wife chipped her tooth.  While she was biting into some nice, crusty bread with seeds in it, one of her teeth chipped. This is a woman whose teeth are picture-perfect. She’s never had a cavity in her life. So a chipped tooth was really traumatic for her, though it didn’t actually hurt. And because this accident happened overseas, she decided to wait until getting home to get her tooth looked at.
  • My wife lost her prescription glasses. Or rather, she asked me to hold onto her reading glasses for a while, and I lost them. (Uh, sorry about that!)
  • Fellow travellers also had health problems. Our friend Relly stumbled and fell twice on the cobblestones of France. She was left hobbling for a day or so, each time. Another fellow traveller, Boris, lost two days of his vacation to health emergencies. He spent one day tracking down and arranging to courier a piece of lost luggage that contained his wife’s medications and another day in his hotel room, staying very close to … er, the washroom.

Fortunately, none of these health issues was serious. But, piled one on top of the other, these little health issues got my attention. Together, they worried me.

In response, I recently made arrangements to buy supplementary health insurance. It will protect my wife and me in a variety of scenarios, both at home and when we’re travelling. Now we’re feeling more comfortable and a lot less vulnerable.