Travel smart: 5 steps to protect your travel health
Step 1: Learn about your destination. You want to know what food and water quality is like, what medical services are available, what type of accommodations there are, and what, if any other risks exist you need to be aware of (frequent crime, terrorism risk, diseases, etc.). A great place to start is the CDC website and its destinations advice page. There you will be able to choose the country or countries you are planning to visit and view up-to-date information on what vaccinations are recommended and which diseases are most risky there.
Step 2: Visit a travel health clinic or your doctor. Based on the CDC advice you find, and advice from your doctor or the doctors at a travel health clinic, you may need to get appropriate vaccinations or immunizations. Be sure to obtain a “Certificate of Vaccination” or “Yellow Card” that you will carry with your passport. Many countries will not let you enter without proof of vaccinations.
Realize that some vaccinations require a full eight weeks (or more) to complete a series before you are fully protected so be sure to allow plenty of time before your departure. No matter where you are traveling, every adult should have tetanus and diphtheria immunizations every 10 years. Additional immunizations may also be required or just advisable, depending on the country or countries you are visiting or your “style” of travel [such as hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, polio, influenza (flu), meningococcal, yellow fever, cholera, and Japanese encephalitis.]. Check with your doctor or travel clinic.
Step 3: Know how diseases are transmitted. Food and water, insects, other people, or contaminated surfaces may pose a potential health risk to the unwary.
When traveling, it is essential to heighten your awareness about what you eat, drink and touch to ensure travel health.
- Contaminated food and water are the most common ways a traveler gets sick. Severe diarrhea and vomiting (Montezuma’s revenge) may sideline your traveling activity for a few days, but if you contract typhoid fever or hepatitis A (both transmitted by contaminated food or water) things get a bit more serious.
- Watch what you touch. The common cold, flu, measles, mumps, diphtheria, tuberculosis, pneumonia, AIDS, hepatitis B, Ebola, can all be transmitted person-to person.
- Insects such as mosquitoes and ticks can be a serious threat to your health. The mosquito transmits malaria, Zika, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and typhus, to name but a few.
Step 4: Be sure you are protected with appropriate travel insurance that includes strong health and evacuation coverage. We cannot stress this one enough. Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance covers our team but there are many others that are very good. Learn more about travel insurance, its benefits, its limitations, and the importance of good evacuation coverage by starting with our page, Travel Insurance 101.
Step 5: Remain vigilant and take the needed steps to always protect yourself.
We have a series of articles on travel health, below, that will provide you with detailed advice. Refer to them to help you stay healthy during your journey. In the meantime, here are a few short tips to help you on your way:
- Sun – Wear sun-protective clothing with long sleeves and long pants. Wear a hat. Wear sunglasses. Wear sunscreen on any exposed skin and be sure to apply it 20 minutes before you go outside. Always reapply your sunscreen after swimming or exercise or approximately every two hours. Check with your doctor to understand if any medications you are taking may put you more at risk for sun exposure. Understand that even if it is cloudy, you can still get sunburn.
- Heat – Drink plenty of fluids – beer and other alcoholic beverages do not qualify as rehydrating. Stick to water. Talk to your doctor about the need to add electrolytes or salt to your diet, if any. Wear loose clothing and light colors that help protect from the sun and heat.
- Altitude – Acclimatize! Drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol and taking sedatives. Take it slowly.
- Jet Lag – See our article on preventing jet lag.
- Motion Sickness – See our article on dealing with motion sickness.
- Local Foods – We all want to sample the local cuisine, right? But unless you know where the food came from and how it was prepared, be very cautious. Err on the side of being safe. You may want to read this article How to avoid getting traveler’s diarrhea or food poisoning
- Water – Unless you know the water is pure, drink only canned or commercially bottled water (from a bottle you open) or carry a portable water filter. If you are in a country where water quality is suspect, do not allow restaurants to add ice cubes to your glass. Only brush your teeth with bottled water.
- Driving – The World Health Organization reports that the leading cause of death and disability in the world among travelers come from injuries, not illness. Perhaps no surprise is that motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of healthy U.S. citizens living, working or traveling overseas. If you are injured in a car accident, you are more at risk for contracting a more serious illness through blood transfusions and injections. To minimize your risk, always wear seat belts and refuse to ride in vehicles that don’t have working ones. Always wear a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle. Avoid overcrowded public transport if possible. Avoid traveling on unfamiliar roads after dark.
- Wash your hands! — In terms of preventing the spread of viruses and becoming sick yourself, this is essential, basic advice. You may want to read Fear of COVID-19 – traveling in the age of coronavirus and Five tips to guide your travel plans in the time of coronavirus.
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