Please check out our tips for staying healthy on travel, and give us your feedback.
My greatest health risk on travel came about by a freak accident. A gangplank broke under my feet as I was joining a small boat for an evening cruise on the Zambezi River. Fortunately, just as I was about to fall into the waiting crocodiles’ jaws, I was dragged by both arms into the relative safety of the boat. Most travelers even to such remote regions are unlikely to be dodging such wild animals but more likely faced with avoiding illnesses. Although the Ebola and Zika Viruses raise concerns, travelers generally face more common diseases and health risks.
#1 Tips for Staying Healthy on Travel:
- Research your destination via Centers for Disease Control and other Internet resources.
- Note whether you will be in a targeted risk area, how long you will be gone and any special circumstances such as whether you will be “glamping” on safari.
- Plan up to 6-8 weeks for shots if you are traveling to the tropics since some injections are in a series.
- Seniors note that some vaccines, such as yellow fever, have a heightened risk of side effects based on age.
In planning ahead, it can be easy to lose perspective however. As I headed out alone to SE Asia, I found Internet warnings focused on marauding monkeys. One (apparently serious?) post cautioned against smiling at monkeys since showing bare teeth could be viewed as being aggressive. The reality? I had to really search hard to find even one monkey for a well-placed selfie.
#2 Tips for Staying Healthy on Travel:
Pack the prescriptions you need, but first check out local laws.
Be sure to “know before you go”. When I visited one country, there were over 100 prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, such as Robitussin that could result in imprisonment. The procedure then in effect required a document signed by the Secretary of State!
- Some countries’ “zero-tolerance” policies against drugs include prescriptions for personal use. Even if they are legal at home, you must research the requirements even for such limited importation. I have found the easiest approach was to go to http://www.state.gov/travel and to the US Embassy of my foreign destination. When I need more information, I have emailed the US consulate in that country.
- Be careful about purchasing local drugs at pharmacies since the content and strength can vary widely from country to country.
- To avoid problems at Immigration, travel with your doctor’s prescription, and keep all pills in their original bottles.
#3 Tips for Staying Healthy on Travel:
Knowing what is safe to drink or eat.
I am fascinated by travel shows where tourists are eating and drinking indiscriminately from roadside vendors and markets. When I tried that in Egypt, I was so sick when I woke up I thought at first that the light from the overhead bulb was the sun rising over the Nile!
- Even in 4 star hotels in some major tour destinations and large cities, the tap water may not be safe. If not, you must only drink water from a sealed bottle and not rinse your toothbrush or mouth with tap water.
- Where water is suspect, coffee and tea also may not be safe as they are generally heated but not boiled for a specific period of time.
- Dishes washed in contaminated water can also carry diseases. Where possible drink directly from the bottle.
- In restaurants, ask for a drink with no ice.
- Drug stores often carry tablets that can be put in water to purify it. However, I was only able to find those that had to wait 30 minutes to be effective. This would not be a good solution if you are running from place to place or a guest in someone’s home!
- Remember if polluted water is a problem, swimming can result in certain severe illnesses.
- If you are looking forward to relaxing in the hotel hot tub, if you don’t smell the chlorine, skip skipping jumping in!
- One problem with open market sampling is that meat or fish may not be fresh. In addition, you don’t know how the food was prepared and whether contaminated water was used.
- The general rule as to raw fruits and vegetables is still: If you can’t wash it, peel it or cook it, don’t eat it! If you eat meat, be sure it is well-done.
- When in doubt, carry cereal bars to avoid the temptation to grab a snack you will regret.
#4 Tips for Staying Healthy on Travel:
Stay clear of airborne risks:
Watch out for insect-borne diseases. While malaria pills are the best prevention, they are not 100% effective.
In addition to malaria, Dengue Fever and other diseases are spread by mosquitoes.
- Be aware that insect repellent only goes so far and can wear off or be washed off.
- The best protection advised when I was on African safari? For dinner outside we wore long pants, long sleeves and socks plus, of course, wore insect repellent.
- On a trip to SE Asia, I swapped out high fashion for “Bugs Away” shirts. You can spray your own clothes with a special solution before leaving home but read the instructions carefully!
- Although some resorts spray for mosquitoes, you may want to check before signing up for dinner by a lagoon in a malarial zone.
- There are new lotions that include sun screen with insect protection. If you tend to get sunburns, this may not be strong enough for you.
- Remember that worldwide one of the biggest airborne hazards is being stuck next to someone with a cough. I have had this happen on trains and buses. Although I have been too timid to don a mask like nurses and doctors wear, that is the surest protection.
This lesson was brought home to me when I went solo to China during the Swine Flu epidemic. There were clever public service signs with a little pig warning of the dangers of uncovered coughs. Unfortunately, seated in the front of my tour bus, I immediately noticed the driver coughed continuously! He must have missed those public service announcements about wearing a mask! Although I didn’t get Swine Flu but a less serious virus, I had such chills I finally wore my coat in my hotel room in Shanghai and on return home took about 3 weeks to recover completely.
#5 Tips for Staying Healthy on Travel:
Avoiding accidents despite jetlag and distractions.
I was surprised to learn in a past trip to Bermuda that annually approximately one moped rider is killed in an accident. Pedestrians, too, are at increased risk, particularly if traffic is on the “wrong” side of the road from what you are accustomed to!
It is easy to see how travel fatigue and lack of familiarity with your destination can lead to accidents. That means having to be even more aware than you are at home.
- For the first 24 hours after you arrive, take it easy and get a lay of the land. That doesn’t mean missing out. I have flown non-stop to Sydney, Australia, dropped off my suitcase and within an hour been on a semi-private day tour. The difference? I didn’t head out in a rental car, driving half awake and getting lost. I let the local guide drive me around so all I had to do was keep my eyes open!
- If you are driving or taking a moped, get a GPS or look at the route before you go. If you are busy trying to find the right road, an accident is even more likely.
- For special activities, like hot air ballooning or taking a small plane over glaciers, research the provider on the Internet. See if they have been in business long and have a good reputation. Consider local issues. For example, in Alaska, small planes may be more common than cars in some areas, but bad weather can set in quickly. In contrast, where I flew several really small planes on African safari, the weather was always clear, and the planes can (and some did) land in the bush with no runway in sight!
Although a friend of mine lost a family member abroad to a lion attack, most travelers will never encounter life threatening crises. The most important of our 5 tips for staying healthy on travel is to start by planning ahead and then relax and enjoy your travels!