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5 most common types of accidents on holiday - and how to avoid them

Some holidays are inherently dangerous. Sporting breaks such as skiing, snowboarding and sailing all carry a high risk of injury but in fact, even the most chilled out vacation can land you in a foreign hospital or medical centre.

According to the government’s Travel Aware campaign, if you’re in Malaysia, a simple scan and x-ray for a sprained knee after a football kick-about will set you back £5,000. Hiring a moped to get around in Greece? Treatment and repatriation to the UK after an accident could leave you facing a bill of £25,000.

At Benenden, our convenient and comprehensive travel insurance is designed to give you the freedom to visit the places and people you love - but of course, it’s much better to have a injury-free break. (All travel insurance policies have limitations and exclusions, always ensure you read the policy terms before purchasing)

The Travel Aware site has a useful foreign travel checklist. If you’re heading off, combine the checklist with our guide to the most common accidents on holiday abroad and how you can avoid them.

1.  Slips, trips and falls

Unfamiliar surroundings, slippery poolsides and perhaps an alcoholic drink or two all increase the chances of a nasty fall while you’re away.

It sounds obvious but watch where you’re going. Try not to let even the most amazing scenery distract you from the path ahead and don’t walk along while videoing on your phone or taking photos.

Many hotel accidents are caused by uneven carpets, badly-maintained floors or wet surfaces. Regulations may not be as strict as here in the UK so don’t expect hazards to be flagged up clearly.

If you’re in a hot country, your body will absorb alcohol more easily, so pace yourself and alternate with water or soft drinks.

Finally remember those posters from your local pool - don’t run on wet tiled surfaces. And no bombing into the water, of course.

2. Sunburn and heatstroke

With the UK being less blessed in the sun stakes, Brits abroad can often go mad when it comes to sun exposure - with painful or even life-threatening results.

When it comes to suncream, you need to consider both Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and star rating. The SPF refers to the level of protection against ultraviolet B light and ranges from two to 50. An SPF of two means you can double the amount of sun exposure before you burn but re-applying it doesn’t mean you’re protected for the same time again.

The newer star system denotes UVA protection, from a low of 1 star to a high of 4 stars. Try to find a cream with a high combination of both for maximum protection.

Even if products are waterproof, their effectiveness will be reduced by a dip in the pool or sea, so always reapply after swimming.

Sunblocks, based on zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are applied to sensitive areas such as lips and nose and form a robust reflective barrier against the sun. They’re perfect if you’re going to high altitudes, where the sun’s rays are more intense.

Whatever your skin tone, avoid direct sunlight between 12noon and 2pm (3pm in the tropics) when the sun is at its most fierce.

If you do get sunburned, head for shade, cool the skin with a tepid shower or bath, take pain killers and apply calamine lotion or an after sun cream.

Treatment for heat exhaustion is similar but take special care it doesn’t lead to the more serious heat stroke, which can be fatal. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, confusion and restlessness, dry, flushed skin, a bounding pulse, a temperature of more than 40C and a deterioration in the patient’s response. If you suspect heat stroke, call for immediate medical assistance.

3. Road accidents

The fact that we drive on the left in the UK means most holiday destinations present us with a challenge. And that’s why road accidents are one of the most common causes of injury for British tourists in Europe.

Stay alert, whether you’re a driver, pedestrian or even a passenger. Not knowing your way

around means you might be more focused on following directions than keeping an eye out for danger. Local laws and customs around crossings and traffic lights can also catch out a relaxed and unwary traveller.

4. Food poisoning

Heat, humidity and unfamiliar water all add up to a poorly tummy for many British tourists every year.

Bacteria grow more quickly in warmer climates, so take extra care around riskier foods such as seafood and chicken. Even fruit and vegetables can present a risk if they’ve been washed in local water that we’re not used to.

Vomiting can lead to dangerous dehydration surprisingly quickly so stay alert to this possibility. The NHS recommends you rest as much as possible, eat bland foods such as toast, crackers, rice and bananas when you’re ready and avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and spicy and fatty foods.

Avoid spreading infection by keeping away from others as much as possible and making sure everyone, including yourself, washes their hands regularly with soap and warm water. Clean surfaces, toilet seats, flushes, basins and taps often and give everyone their own towels and flannels.

If you’re vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, take oral rehydration solutions from a pharmacy, to replace salt, glucose and other important minerals.

But remember, severe or persistent symptoms will need a visit to a doctor, who may provide antibiotics or medication to stop vomiting.

5. Sports and excursions

While most excursions go without a hitch, make sure you’re heading off with a reputable company. If you have any concerns, don’t be afraid to ask questions before you hand over your cash - and your safety.

If you’re booking an excursion, such as white water rafting or scuba diving, it’s definitely worth checking reviews and credentials for the company leading the activity.

Simple precautions can actually make a big difference. Wear sensible shoes on days out and avoid commonplace leg and spinal injuries by never jumping into a pool until you know it’s deep enough.

Finally, as well as your insurance documents, always carry your Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) with you in Europe: it will entitle you to free or significantly discounted healthcare.


Please be aware our Benenden Travel Insurance policy is available as different cover levels and additional add-ons may be required to be covered for particular events/activities/situations. The above events/activities/situations stated within this article may not be covered on every policy eventuality. Terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions apply. Please refer to the policy document when choosing your cover.

No personal recommendations have been given on the suitability of this product, if in doubt you should seek independent advice.


About our healthcare

Benenden Health provides affordable private healthcare for everyone. Our 24/7 GP Helpline is available from day one of membership – meaning no matter how busy your day is, you’ve got medical support advice on a wide range of health and medical issues.