Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling
1.) Get a water purifier
You’ll obviously need to avoid tap water and ice cubes in many of the places you’re visiting.
- Many travelers resort to buying bottled water or sparkling water in plastic or glass bottles. The problem with bottled water is that many countries do not have an infrastructure in place for recycling. If you consume tons of bottled water during your stay, you’ll end up creating a large pile of glass or plastic waste by the time you leave. Because you probably won’t be carrying all that trash out of the country with you, you’re ultimately causing a lot of harm to the country you came to visit. A better option is to buy a water purifier. I recommend the SteriPEN, a portable water filter that uses UV light to destroy microbes.
2.) Research your destinations
Take the time to learn about your destinations, understand the specific health risks, and prepare for any problems that may arise during your trip.
- Here is a destination tool from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to aid in your research.
3.) Visit a travel doctor
If possible, seek out a doctor specializing in travel medicine, as he/she will be more equipped to make specific recommendations based on your itinerary, the length of your trip, what you plan to do in the region, and any special health issues.
- To find a travel medicine specialist in your area, visit the ISTM Travel Clinic Directory.
- Some of the vaccinations take time to have an effect on your body. Others may require a series of shots before you have maximum protection. For this reason, it’s important not to wait until the last minute. You should make your appointment 4 to 6 weeks before you leave.
- You’ll get the most out of your appointment if you have a general idea of your plans and necessary vaccinations ahead of time. Here’s a handy little article about preparing for pre-travel appointments.
- In addition to vaccinations, you should ask your doctor about the following items: malaria medication (if you’ll be in a malaria risk country), antibiotics to treat cases of severe diarrhea (get a prescription for several doses).
- After you receive your vaccinations, you’ll get a vaccination card. It’s unlikely anyone will ever ask to see it, but it’s a good idea to have it with you just in case.
- Keep in mind that some doctors have never traveled, so they don’t really have first hand knowledge of the countries you’ll be visiting. Often they just print out country specific sheets listing all the recommended vaccinations, not knowing that certain diseases are only a threat in small pockets of the country. Try to be clear about where exactly you plan to be in the country (if you know) and make sure you really need the things they recommend. For example, if you’ll only be traveling to Bangkok and several other large cities during your Thailand trip, you probably won’t need malaria medication.
4.) Stay up to date with annual vaccines
Make sure you have received all your routine vaccinations. If you’re the type of person who gets annual flu shots, be sure to get your seasonal flu vaccine before leaving the country.
- Don’t get your flu vaccine until shortly before you leave (flu strains mutate often, so you want to make sure you’re getting the most current vaccine).
5.) Pay attention to world health news
Stay up to date with travel health notices to see if any pertain to your destinations.
- Here are a few links to travel health notices: CDC travel health notices and WHO travel health notices.
6.) Research weather patterns and natural disasters
Keep in mind that certain natural disasters commonly occur in some areas. Understand when these disasters occur and take special precautions if you’ll be traveling during this season.
- Read the “Special Circumstances” section for each of your destinations listed in the US Department of State Travel page.
- Visit travel-climate.com to get information about average monthly temperatures, rainfall, and other climate information for each of your destinations.
- If you’re traveling during a particularly risky season, know what to do in case a natural disaster occurs. For information about preparing for natural disasters, visit the CDC’s site for Natural Disasters and Severe Weather.
7.) Get travel insurance
Compare various insurance policies to choose one that best meets your needs. Be sure to read all the fine print so you know exactly what your insurance policy covers and what it doesn’t.
- Determine whether you want medical insurance (only covers medical expenses and sometimes medical evacuation) or travel insurance (covers medical expenses in addition to things like lost luggage, stolen items, missed flights, etc.)
- Even if you have travel insurance, you will likely have to pay out of pocket at the time you receive treatment. Your insurance company will reimburse you (hopefully) once you file the claim, but be prepared to pay up front.
8.) Pack a travel health kit
Prepare a basic first aid kit to bring with you on your trip. You can buy a pre-made first aid kit, but it’s more fun to assemble your own and customize it to your needs.
- Here are some things you may want to include: malaria medication (doxycycline), bacterial antibiotic, anti diarrheal (loperamide), antihistamine, decongestant, ibuprofen, antacid, antibacterial ointment, insect repellent, sunscreen, bandages, antiseptic towelettes, gauze, lotion, alcohol based hand gel, chapstick, condoms, earplugs, nylon cord, duct tape, multi tool or swiss army knife (with things like tweezers, tiny scissors, small knife, etc.), small sewing kit (safety pins, needle, and thread), bandana (can be used for many purposes, such as a washcloth, bandage, sling, etc.), small flashlight or headlamp (or both), tiger balm, dental floss, tea tree oil (good for everything - especially bug bites)
- If you require any prescription medicines or allergy medication, be sure to bring those too (and make sure you have enough for the full length of your trip). Don’t forget to pack them (and anything else you can’t live without) in your carry on bag just in case you lose your luggage. And just in case your medicines are a topic in question, it is also a good idea to keep copies of your prescriptions and a letter of explanation from your prescribing physician.
9.) Know your symptoms and what to do about them
It’s important to recognize basic signs and symptoms of illness and to act quickly.
- If you’re in tune with your body, you can usually tell when you’re about to come down with something. Being proactive about it can often keep your illness in check and prevent it from developing further.
- If you know the details about specific illnesses (for example what happens when you catch malaria or dengue fever), you’ll know what to watch out for and you’ll be more likely to take quick action and seek medical attention.
- To learn what to do if you become sick or injured while traveling, read the CDC’s information sheet.
- For information on how to respond in the event of a natural disaster, public health emergency, or extreme injury, visit the CDC’s site for Emergency Preparedness and Response.
10.) Write down important travel information
Before you leave, make note of any contacts you may need in case of an emergency. Make sure both you and a friend or family member at home have this information.
- Write down the number and address of the American Embassy in the cities you’ll be visiting. You can find a list of US Embassies here.
- Write down the contact information of your doctor at home and know where to seek medical attention while you’re abroad.
- Leave a copy of all important documents (insurance policy, doctor’s information, prescriptions, travel plans, etc.) with a friend or family member.
11.) Take care of your health while traveling
The best way to avoid illness is to stay healthy while traveling. Take basic health precautions, maintain basic hygiene, don’t take unnecessary risks, and just use basic common sense.
- Stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet. Carry a bottle of water with you and throw a couple of apples in your day pack.
- Use insect repellent and wear long sleeved shirts and pants. Here’s a link about insect and arthropod protection.
- Use sunscreen
- Get a lot of rest
- Keep feet clean, warm, and dry
- Be careful about the food and water you consume
- Wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible (especially after using the bathroom, after using public transportation, or before eating or preparing food). If soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer
- Always use condoms if you plan to have sex (condoms aren’t readily available in many countries so it’s a good idea to bring them with you).
- Thoroughly clean your wounds. Even a small cut or scrape can get infected if it isn’t cleaned properly (especially in damp, muggy climates).
12.) Eat a Balanced Diet
Sometimes it can be hard to maintain a balanced diet while on the go, but pay special attention to the things you eat. Make sure you are eating the right combinations of things to get all the nutrients your body needs.
Travel Health Web Sites:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
The International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM)
World Health Organization (WHO)
Travel Health Online
Travel Insurance Web Sites:
International Medical Group