Tips for Your Trips

The following is the Healthy Traveler Survival Course– a “crash course” in the basics of travel health before, during and after your trip. Paying attention to these tips will go a long way in making your trips safer and more enjoyable, saving you money and time while offering you a number of health benefits even if you are not traveling. Healthy business travelers can get more done and leisure travelers can have more fun.

Are you obsolete?

First, forget that you are going to travel! Do the things necessary to make sure your body is up to date for just staying home! You don’t necessarily have to be “state of the art” but at least try not to be too far behind the times. You expect your doctor to be up-to-date, your car to be in reasonable shape and your computer to be not too ancient–but what about your basic health? Is your body living in 1993…or 1960? Old vaccinations sometimes lose their effectiveness and new ones are arriving to protect you from a variety of illnesses that can be devastating. For example, if you’ve never had Chicken Pox, Measles or Mumps or if you’re 65 or older and haven’t had a “pneumonia” vaccination, get immunized. Everyone should consider a Hepatitis A shot. At least do the basics. And I don’t mean to nag…but…also take care of any general medical problems and see your dentist now and then.

Don’t be ignorant.

Do a little homework! Remember homework? You didn’t particularly like it much but it made you a better person–right? You’ll be a better traveler if you find out a little about any specific health risks on your itinerary for which perhaps a shot, some take-along medication or maybe just some advice might be recommended. There are two or three ways to learn. You can check with the Centers For Disease Control–by telephone or on the internet or sometimes your family doctor may be able to help. But don’t be upset if she/he doesn’t know everything about every neighborhood in the world–that’s where your friendly travel clinic comes in. Yes, travel medicine is now a specialty in its own right with well-trained, experienced professionals (nurses and doctors) with extensive data for just about anywhere you might go. They can look at your history, destination and activity and tell you exactly what you need to do. Your doctor may be able to refer you to such a clinic.

Be good to yourself.

And be honest with yourself. Are you avoiding getting a vaccination or visiting the travel clinic because:
a. you are afraid of shots
b. you are too much of a tightwad to invest a little in your own well-being
c. you have traveled so much and had so few problems that you are now immortal
d. all of the above (I don’t know if there is any hope for you)

Most shots are not painful these days. Don’t be scared. And don’t be such a cheapskate with your health. Think for a minute about how much you spend on travel in a lifetime or how much you spend maintaining your car and remember that many immunizations last a very long time. So if your health insurance or HMO doesn’t provide travel health benefits seek out reliable advice, take an honest look at your budget and spend a little on yourself. Do the best you can. And find out if medication to prevent potentially fatal Malaria is recommended.

Avoid insect bites.

Bug bites spread an enormous array of diseases, some for which we have no treatment and some which can kill you. When advised, wear proper clothing, use repellents (there are excellent ones for skin and clothing), and sleep under mosquito nets or in well-screened or air-conditioned rooms. Use the malaria medicine prescribed for you before you leave, not what the natives at your destination or your fellow travelers recommend. They usually mean well but their medical history is different from yours. Looking for the right products?

Take Along Your Common Sense!

Most injury, misery and death in travelers is not from exotic tropical diseases but from common things like traffic accidents, falls, and drowning. Alcohol is often involved. Fasten your seat belt, pay attention to swimming conditions, learn how the traffic flows, and where the bad parts of town are, avoid illegal drugs, don’t get drunk, travel with reliable friends and don’t have risky sex. Don’t let the stress of a business trip or the joy of a vacation cloud your judgment.

Have A “Plan B”.

Carry some insurance to help access medical care if you need it and to get you back home if things really get bad. Often the local doctor or hospital will not have mercy on you but will turn you away if you cannot pay cash upfront. If you need a medical evacuation the cost can be $25,000 and up. If you need medical coverage during your trip, you can review online medical travel insurance.

Take a First Aid Kit.

Simple or elaborate, homemade or purchased, whatever you feel comfortable with and want to carry. You may want to bring diarrhea treatment, emergency contraceptive medicine, spare glasses/contacts, a dental emergency kit, etc. Try to anticipate as much as you can. Your travel clinic can usually provide or prescribe medicines for severe diarrhea, motion sickness, altitude, jet-lag, to make your trip more comfortable. For your convenience, you may want to see what we include in our Healthy Traveler Survival Kit.

Beware of sex!

It can happen and it can be fatal (hepatitis and HIV)! Avoid it or do it as safely as possible. Even though you don’t anticipate their need, take along some condoms and perhaps some emergency contraceptive tablets. Alcohol or drugs make sex especially dangerous.