We all want to stay healthy, and that’s never so true as when you are planning a big international trip! Nothing will ruin your vacation or business trip faster than a health crisis, and even minor medical issues can put a damper on an otherwise fun and productive trip. With some careful planning, you can prevent a lot of medical problems while traveling.
Read on for our guide to preparing for a healthy trip!
Check Health Issues for Your Destination
When preparing for your trip, one of your first questions should be if there are any special health concerns for your destination. This is especially true if you are traveling to a rural, tropical, or underdeveloped destination, where it is more likely there could be an outbreak of a disease like malaria or Zika virus. Make sure to check out the Center for Disease Control’s website to read up about your destination and find out if there are any current health concerns.
Do You Need Any Vaccinations?
The Center for Disease Control is also your resource to find out if any vaccinations will be needed for your trip.
For most destinations – especially if you are traveling to countries like Canada, Japan, or any Western European nation – you won’t need any special vaccinations for your trip. The standard vaccinations that almost all of us receive in childhood are enough. However, you may want to consider getting a flu shot (particularly for winter travel), and it’s a very good idea to make sure your vaccinations for tetanus and whooping cough are up to date.
Other voyages may require you to get specific vaccinations. Yellow fever is an important vaccination for many travelers. Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne virus that is found in tropical parts of Africa and South America. If you’re visiting a country where yellow fever is endemic, you’ll need to get an immunization from a travel medicine clinic. After your immunization, you’ll be given a small yellow booklet known as an International Certificate of Vaccination for Yellow Fever, which you should keep with your passport. Many countries, such as Ghana and Tanzania, will require you to show this booklet when you enter the country. You may also be required to submit your vaccination certificate when you apply for a visa!
What are Travel Medicine Clinics?
Travel medicine clinics are medical offices staffed with doctors and nurses who specialize in preparing travelers for international voyages. They are best known for providing vaccinations, such as that for yellow fever, and they are capable of issuing the International Certificate of Vaccination that is needed by many travelers. These clinics can also assist travelers with a comprehensive travel medicine consultation. In these consultations, a doctor will go over your medical history and your travel plans, including both your destinations and your planned activities, and will help you come up with a plan for staying healthy on your trip.
No matter where you plan to travel, you’ll want to make sure that you will be financially covered in case you need to seek medical attention outside of the US. If you have private health insurance, check your policy or call your insurance company to find out whether you are covered for urgent medical care while traveling.
It’s also a very good idea to supplement your normal health insurance with a comprehensive travel insurance plan. Good travel insurance plans aren’t just for missed flights or lost luggage! If you get ill or injured overseas, a travel insurance plan will help cover any costs that are not picked up by your standard health insurance. Look for a plan that will also cover medical evacuation and repatriation. This means that if you are critically ill, you can be transported back to the US or to a country with excellent hospitals where you can be treated. The best travel insurance plans will also offer a 24/7 helpline. You can call the helpline anytime, day or night, for English-language assistance in finding medical care in your location. (Our recommendation is Allianz Global Assistance, which offers all these benefits and more at reasonable rates.)
Healthy Traveler’s Packing List
The contents of your suitcase can make a big difference in whether or not you enjoy a healthy trip! Consider all these items as you pack.
- Routine Prescription Medicine. If you take any prescription medicines on a regular basis, make sure you pack enough for every day you’ll be gone, and take some extra, as well! It can be very difficult to get a prescription filled when you’re out of the country, so if you take an ample supply, you won’t have to worry if you accidentally drop a pill down the drain. Make sure to keep your prescription medicine in the original container showing your prescription information! This will show any officials that you are carrying these drugs for legitimate purposes.
- Special Prescription Medicine. Do you take any “rescue” prescription medicines on an as-needed basis, such as migraine pills or an asthma inhaler? You’ll want to bring these medicines along, so you won’t be caught unprepared if you have an attack. Some doctors may also prescribe “just in case” medications, like antibiotics or antimalarial medicines, for you to take with you on your trip to have on hand in case you get sick. Check the CDC’s recommendations and talk to your doctor about whether you should have any special medications for your trip.
- Medical Devices. Do you use any medical devices like a CPAP machine or nebulizer? In addition to packing your medical devices, you’ll want to ensure you have an appropriate electrical converter for any devices you need to plug in.
- Over the Counter Medications. Open up your medicine cabinet, and take a look at the over the counter medications you have on hand. It’s a good idea to take along a supply of basic medications you are familiar with, like painkillers, allergy medicines, antacids, and cold remedies.
- Vitamins. Traveling is fun, but it can also be a strain on your body. A whirlwind schedule, disrupted sleep, and exposure to unfamiliar germs can be a recipe for coming down with a minor illness. Help keep your system strong by remembering to take your vitamins! In addition to your normal vitamins, you may also want to pick up an immune boosting supplement like Airborne, which is marketed to help travelers ward off illness.
- First Aid Supplies. Tuck away a few band-aids, alcohol swabs, and antibiotic ointment packets so that a minor cut or blister won’t slow you down!
- Glasses and contacts. It’s a good idea to bring spare glasses and contacts if you have them. It’s hard to go sightseeing if you are having trouble seeing! Even if you have 20/20 vision, don’t forget to pack your sunglasses to protect your eyes… or cover up the dark undereye circles from jet lag.
- Sunscreen, Hats, and UV Protective Clothing. If you’re heading to a tropical beach, you’ve probably already thought to pack sunblock, but it’s just as necessary if you’ll be spending your vacation on the ski slopes or city streets! Sunburns can happen anywhere.
- Mosquito Protection. Mosquito bites aren’t just annoying – in some places, they can be very dangerous. A number of serious diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, including dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and the latest threat, Zika virus. Bring along insect repellent if you’ll be in a location with mosquitoes. You may also want to get permethrin, an insect repellent that can be applied to clothing. If you’ll be camping or staying in primitive accommodations, a mosquito net is useful.
- Hygiene Supplies. Unless you want to spend your vacation time strolling the aisles of a foreign drugstore, bring along the hygiene supplies you’ll need to keep yourself clean and safe, like hand sanitizer, dental floss, sanitary napkins, cotton swabs, and condoms.
- Comfortable Shoes. If you plan to do a lot of walking, bring along comfortable, supportive shoes. Your feet, knees, and back will thank you! This is also not the time to break in new shoes – you don’t want to wind up limping around with blisters.
- Health Insurance Information. Bring your health insurance card and your travel insurance information.
- Medical Records. If you have a condition that makes it more likely that you’ll need to seek medical care overseas – including pregnancy! — ask your doctor for a copy of your medical records to take with you.
- Emergency Contact Information. Carry a card with the contact information for an emergency contact person in the United States, as well as the contact information for your doctor(s) at home.
Stay tuned for part two of our guide to medical concerns for travelers, when we’ll discuss what to do if you find yourself sick or injured overseas.