People who travel overseas have up to a 50 percent chance of suffering a travel-related illness. While most travel-related illness is minor, some far-reaching infectious diseases are endemic in some parts of the world. All travelers should be prepared for travel and be aware of health problems and measures to protect themselves from sickness.
While going to different places is always a fun experience, traveling can also be tiring and stressful, especially when there is lost baggage, delayed flights, or accidents along the way. The nature of traveling can sometimes take a toll on a person’s health, weakening his/her immune system and making him/her susceptible to different kinds of viruses and illnesses. Because of this possible risk, one must prioritize his/her health and safety while traveling. Keep these travel health tips in mind so you can enjoy your vacation without having to worry about your health.
Prepare for Travel
There are many things you can do to prepare for a healthy holiday, including:
- Have a medical check-up. Make sure you are healthy before you travel.
- Update your vaccinations and ask about other immunizations.
- Pack a medical kit for yourself and any children traveling with you. Make sure you pack enough of any medications you need or take a prescription.
- Organize travel insurance, including cover if you need to be evacuated to a suitable hospital.
- Have a dental check-up.
- Have a vision check and pack a spare pair of glasses.
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You may want to arrange treatments or medications to protect against diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, or malaria. In fact, some countries legally require travelers to have certain vaccinations, such as yellow fever. As you will need to have some treatments weeks or months before travel, it is best to see your doctor six to eight weeks before you go. However, if you have to travel at short notice, you can still have some vaccines.
Your doctor will be able to advise which vaccines are suitable for you depending on:
- Your medical history and age
- Your destination and likely accommodation
- The length of stay
- The type of the journey, for example, bus tour or backpacking.
Tips for Older Travelers
For older people, the risk of death or serious illness while traveling is the same, or even less, than staying at home.
However, planning is necessary, and before going, senior travelers should consider:
- See your doctor for a check-up and discuss your fitness for the trip you are planning.
- See your dentist and optometrist.
- Pack a spare pair of glasses, any medications you need, and a small medical kit.
- Organize travel health insurance with pre-existing illness cover if needed. Make sure it includes emergency evacuation.
- Make sure routine immunizations are up to date and get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.
- Consider your back and joints – use luggage with built-in wheels.
- Take clothes and hats to suit the climate.
- If you are concerned about your health or the health of someone you are traveling with, consider taking an organized holiday.
Tips for Travelers with a Disability
Passengers with a disability will need to make sure in advance that their needs can be accommodated while traveling and should consider:
- Making arrangements for wheelchairs, guide dogs, and seating needs well in advance.
- Finding out about the medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting
- Getting a letter from your doctor detailing your medical requirements or conditions
- Carrying a medical alert bracelet or pendant for specific conditions.
Eating and Drinking While Traveling
The most common travel-related illnesses are gastrointestinal diseases usually picked up from poorly prepared foods or untreated water. To avoid diarrhea, stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting associated with these conditions:
- Use boiled or bottled water, or water purifiers, or tablets.
- Avoid ice in drinks.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk and dairy products.
- Avoid fruit and vegetables that have been washed in the local water.
- Eat thick-skinned fruit and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges, and mandarins.
- Make sure food is cooked thoroughly and eat it while it’s hot.
- Avoid shellfish.
- Don’t buy food from street stalls – hotels and busy restaurants are safest.
- Take care of personal hygiene.
Avoid insect bites when Traveling.
Some serious infectious diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever, are transmitted by insect bites. While vaccines and drugs are available to help protect against some of these diseases, travelers must always protect against mosquito bites.
Some tips include:
- Wear mosquito repellent that contains at least 30 percent DEET.
- Stay indoors between dusk and dawn. The mosquitoes were carrying the malaria parasite feed at this time.
- Apply repellent, such as permethrin, to your clothes and bedding.
- Wear socks, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors.
- Use a bed net.
- Stay in air-conditioned, screened accommodation.
Heat and Sun
When out in the hot sun, we wear a hat and cover up with lightweight clothing. I prefer long shirts and sarongs more than slathering on sunscreen every hour. Be careful not to stay out too long. So many people land in the tropics directly from winter weather and sit outside for hours on end, ruining their vacation. Sit under an umbrella or cover-up.
These days are so light and comfortable that it feels good being in the sun with long sleeves on. Also, make sure to stay hydrated. When it’s hot, you lose a lot of water from sweat, and you may not notice you are dehydrated. This can cause heatstroke and be severe. On a side note, be careful not to over-hydrate. While cycling through Sudan, I sweat faster than I could drink water, and the more I drank, the more I flushed the nutrients out of my system. I developed symptoms of hypohydration, causing my entire body to cramp up; if you sweat a lot, drink liquids containing electrolytes like Gatorade. This will keep you hydrated while giving your system the nutrients it needs.
When you only have a week or two for your vacation, the last thing you want to feel is exhausted for 3 or 4 days of your trip! Jet lag is a tough one as it’s almost impossible to beat thoroughly. But there are ways to ease into the time zone that you are flying to. We have little tricks that we do when we fly.
Switch to local time on your phone on the plane. Do this before you even arrive at your destination, then you’ll already be thinking about the time you are going to. Try to stay up as late as you can. Don’t be tempted to go to sleep at 5:00 pm. If we arrive early in the day, we may have a nap, but only for an hour or so, just enough to don’t feel like a train wreck. We then force ourselves to get up and stay up until a reasonable time at bedtime.
Go outside, feel the fresh air and sunlight and walk around. You’ll feel better, honestly.
Avoid alcohol used to be that we’d go to the airport before every trip and enjoy a couple of beers or glasses of wine before flying. We thought it would help us sleep. But we always felt awful halfway through the flight and when we arrived at our destination. Now we rarely drink on travel days. Instead, we drink plenty of water or juice to stay hydrated. We even avoid coffee, tea, and soft drinks. I rarely feel like a train wreck when traveling anymore.
Sleep on the flight. Both Dave and I are lucky; we sleep like babies on nearly every flight. I can contort up into the tiniest of seats and fall asleep. Not everyone can do that, so try and make it more comfortable and easier to fall asleep by bringing along a face mask, neck pillow, and earplugs or noise-reducing headphones. Pack a cozy sweater and settle in for a night of sleep. It does wonders for when you arrive at your destination.
Don’t be foolish
I cannot tell you how many times we’ve watched tourists be stupid during their travels. Why do people suddenly think they are invincible just because they are on vacation?
Act on vacation as you would at home. When renting motorcycles or bicycles, wear helmets. It may be hot in your destination, but if you are riding a bike, wear jeans and a long sleeve thick shirt. Road burn can be severe if you wipe it out. Don’t over drink and party to the wee hours of the morning. That’s when people get themselves in trouble. And please wear your seatbelt. How many people have seen a pack of tourists driving around in an open-top jeep standing up and laughing and thinking that nothing will happen to them? Wear the usual protective gear that you always would and keep a level head on your shoulders.
Even if you are not a die-hard adventurer, you can easily find yourself in high altitude destinations regularly. Places like Machu Picchu and many ski resorts are at high elevations. Often you’ll fly directly into them from sea level. You are going to feel the effects.
If you are going to be at altitude, ask your doctor to prescribe altitude sickness medication like Diamox. It helps to ease the symptoms. It worked wonders for us while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and even landing in Cusco, Peru, before going to Machu Picchu. In high-altitude destinations, it is important to acclimatize and take your time.
Don’t over-exert; keep hydrated and stay warm. We often find that we lose our appetite when we’re at altitude, but we can eat chocolate for some reason. We always have some chocolate on hand. If you find yourself health suffering, go down to a lower elevation for a day or two.