Passports with a boarding pass and a map.
August 16, 2016 | by The Polyclinic

Where are your travels taking you next?

Traveling to new and different destinations can restore, invigorate and produce lasting memories. In countless ways, travel is good for your well-being. A recent Harvard Business Review article shows data confirming how planned time off work can yield strong return on investment in energy and outlook, especially when you plan ahead, create social connections, travel farther from home and feel safe.

Yet traveling to new places can also bring fear or concern to some. With recent news of Zika Virus, terrorism and even extensive airport delays, travel can feel cumbersome, unsafe or scary to some. What can you do to stay healthy traveling abroad?

Learn About Your Destination

Find out about the real safety risks in travel, taking into account everything from plane atmosphere to tropical diseases.

“Be educated,” says Dr. T. Tony Trinh of The Polyclinic’s Infectious Disease Department. “The most common ways you pick up things is through food-borne contact, questionable water sources, and insect vectors—mosquitos in particular.”

Minimize health concerns by reading up on your country destination recommends Dr. Trinh, especially if you are going to more remote or exotic places. (Try these tools from the CDC or U.S. Department of State)

Travel Health Essentials

couple planning travel

Pre-trip planning

  • Ensure a full supply of any needed medications. Carry a letter from your physician or have the original prescription with the label clearly visible.
  • Check your insurance plan. Most insurance plans have limited coverage overseas, or, like Medicare, none at all. Consider additional insurance or a Medicare Advantage plan if applicable.
  • Carry your provider’s office information during your trip.
  • Use MyChart with your provider while away.
  • Talk to your provider about a strategy if there are concerns about physical risks during your trip. Consider taking a small first aid kit as part of your key essentials.

Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccinations

“Make sure you and your family are up-to-date on vaccinations,” says Dr. Trinh. He recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations, as both conditions are relatively wide-spread and easily communicable. Other vaccinations and preventative medications include:

  • Malaria
  • Yellow fever
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Rabies
  • Hepatitis B

Discuss with your doctor about which vaccinations are necessary to discuss side effects. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your provider about destination-specific options.

In Transit

While in transit to your destination, whether in a plane, bus or train, Dr. Trinh suggests good hygiene and plenty of rest to reduce your change of catching a communicable disease such as a cold and the flu.

  • Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.
  • Get plenty of rest and hydration to reduce effects of a new time zone. Drink bottled water instead of tap.
  • If you are at risk of blood clots, move around periodically. Try some of the exercises from this 7 minute workout during a long layover or extensive time of waiting.
  • Ensure your food is cooked fully before eating.
  • Wear insect repellent.

Exploring Your Destination

While on the ground during your trip, Dr. Trinh suggests:

  • Wear sensible footwear; in general, avoid walking barefoot (some diseases and organisms can be transmitted in dirt, sand or freshwater lakes, streams and rivers).
  • Wear long pants and sleeves in areas where insect vectors are present (mosquitos, ticks), in addition to insect repellant. Generally, mosquitos are less prevalent in urban areas and higher altitudes.
  • Prevent animal bites. Keep adequate distance from stray dogs and cats. Do not attempt to befriend them. Many wild, stray and even domestic animals carry rabies.
  • Avoid filling prescriptions while abroad. If you must, check the U.S. State Department website to learn if your medication is legal where you are staying. Visit a local consulate or the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, to find an accredited, English-speaking provider. Fill your prescription at a pharmacy recommended by the doctor or attached to a clinic or hospital to avoid any possible contact with counterfeit drugs, which are increasingly common overseas.
  • Contact your provider if you receive medical attention abroad to keep them informed of your medical care. Retain all documentation including receipts.
  • Consider your physical safety.
    • Be aware of your surroundings to prevent opportunistic theft, pick-pocketing, and muggings.
    • Build in travel days to acclimate if traveling at higher elevations.
    • Avoid excessive sun and heat exposure in order to avoid dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion or sunburn: Stay hydrated, wear and reapply sunscreen and reduce activity at the hottest times of the day.

    Regardless of your destination, stay healthy and safe by planning ahead and taking precautions.

    True or False?

    Test your travel health skills. travel health skills

    It's safe to brush your teeth using tap water.

    TRUE. You want to avoid drinking tap water, but the amount you use brushing your teeth or bathing is not enough to cause illness.

    Hotel food is always safer.

    FALSE. Foodborne illness can occur anywhere. Make sure your food is fully cooked and made to order (versus a buffet that has been sitting out uncovered with possible exposure to flies).

    Hand sanitizer replaces hand washing.

    FALSE. While hand sanitizer kills bacteria on your hands, it does not do away with existing dirt on your skin. Nothing replaces the efficacy of soap and water to get rid of topical germs.