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What You Need to Know Before You Leave
Part 2: Healthy Travels Series
Okay, you booked your flights and accommodation, sorted your travel insurance and are looking forward to your dream trip. You’re not done yet. There are some simple things you can do before you leave home to ensure you stay healthy and enjoy your trip.
This is part 2 of a multi-part series. You can find the other posts Healthy Travels What You Need to Know and What you Need to Know About Travel Insurance. Subscribe to the newsletter and make sure you don’t miss other posts in this series and our Planning Your Dream Trip Series.
Traveling to exotic locations may require vaccinations for illnesses not present in your home country. Depending on your age you may also need to receive vaccinations again because they are no longer current. (Much to my amazement, some vaccinations don’t last forever; they need “boosters” periodically to remain effective.)
Check and see if there are any recommended vaccines for your destination. You can visit your doctor or a specialty travel clinic to find out what you will need and to have the vaccines administered. Some vaccines require several doses to be administered over a period of time, so check early to make sure you have enough time. Here are several good sites to check for recommended vaccines:
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- The Australian Government’s Smart Traveler– it has vaccine, healthy and safety recommendations. Just search for your destination. It is applicable for all travelers, not just Australians.
- The US Center for Disease Control– vaccinations and current health notices for travelers.
Organize Any Prescription or other Medicines
At the time of your vaccinations, the doctor can prescribe any other medication required for your trip, for example medication for malaria or altitude sickness. It is recommended to organize these at home before you go. They may be available at your destination but quality, availability, and cost may mean you are unable to organize it at your destination. If you need it, organize it before you go.
Many travel medicine clinics sell a traveler medical kit. This will often include other prescription drugs including a general antibiotic, something for food poisoning, traveler’s diarrhea and other common ailments. Depending on the remoteness of your destination, you may want to organize this and take it with you. If you are headed to an urban area, many of these things can be purchased at a chemist (pharmacy) should you need them. Just be aware, laws governing medicine vary by country. For example antibiotics can be purchased at a pharmacy in Europe without a prescription, but in Australia you can’t buy Naprosin (or any product containing Naproxen) or antibiotics without a prescription.
In some countries vitamins can also be hard to find or language can be an issue to understand what you are buying.
In addition bringing the essentials and medicines/vitamins/supplements you take daily at home in a quantity to last your trip ensures you have what you need during your trip.
First Aid Kit
A basic first aid kit is recommended. We carry a small hiking first aid kit. It contains headache tablets, bandaids, hydration tablets, a couple of water purification tablets and a few other odds and ends. We do use things from this kit regularly when we travel. I like that everything is all in the one place. We toss it in our backpack when we hike as well.
You can create your own first aid kit or find one in a pharmacy. The CDC site has recommendations for first aid supplies by country.
I am a big fan of probiotics as I seem prone to digestive issues. I try to consume some everyday through my normal diet- through eating food with good bacteria (yogurts and fermented foods are excellent sources). Before a big trip I also usually take a supplement, usually for a full month prior to departure.
I also take a probiotic with me that doesn’t require refrigeration. Probiotic supplements vary a lot in quality, talk to your pharmacist or someone at a good health food store if you need advice.
If you have dietary restrictions, it is probably worthwhile to do a little research before you go. What is the cuisine like in your destination? If you are vegetarian and heading to a country where meat is common, or a celiac or have gluten issues and are headed to say Italy, a little advance preparation can assist, especially if the language is not your own.
- Look up the words for both the foods you can eat, and the foods you can’t. Google Translate can help. You may want to both write these down and learn them in advance.
- Staying in accommodation with your own kitchen can help. This will allow you to make some of your meals and provide some variety in your diet.
- Do some online research to identify restaurants or shops catering to your needs.
If you are planning physical activity, including long days of walking, doing some activity at home before you go can make your trip much more enjoyable.
For strenuous activity then being in shape is definitely recommended. If you are going hiking or backpacking, test out your gear, break in your hiking boots and do a few hikes with the pack on your back with the full weight you will be carrying.
Planning a cycling vacation? Then same thing, hop on a bike. If you can do it outdoors, but if not a gym is better than nothing.
If you are prone to gaining weight when you travel (which we will talk about in a future post), then perhaps try losing a few pounds before you go.
Feeling fit and healthy before you start your trip, means you are likely to enjoy it more.
A little advance preparation may help prevent or lessen the severity of jetlag. Beginning about a week before you travel:
- Drink more water. Proper hydration will help lessen the impact.
- Adjust your sleep pattern. Find out the time at your destination, then gradually adjust the time you go to bed or wake up to move your body clock closer to the time at your destination.
Organize any gear or specialty item you may need before you go. If you need a hat, sunscreen, seasick bands or anything else, finding them before you go leaves more time to enjoy your holiday rather than run around looking for these items.
For those of you prone to travel or motion sickness, as I am, I highly recommend you find a pair of Sea Bands. I was a bit dubious (okay a lot dubious!) these would work, but I have been surprised and now I carry them all the time!
Sea Bands are pressure bands working on the same theory as acupuncture. You have places on your body where if you apply pressure it will lesson pain somewhere else, or in this case, ease motion sickness. The bands are worn on your wrists. (They make a children’s size as well.) They begin to work as soon as you begin wearing them.
I have used these on several cruises, ferry trips and curvy mountain roads. They work. We were on a ferry ride in Greece that was crazy. Most of the passengers were sick and I would normally be there amongst them. Thankfully I had my bands and I was fine! I highly recommend them. You can find them at a pharmacy or online.
Part 3 of the Healthy Travel Series: What you need to know to stay healthy on your trip is the next in this series. You can use the form at the bottom of this post to subscribe to our newsletter and never miss a post again!
Do you have any other tips to ensure you have a healthy trip? If so please share them below.
Neil | Joyful Journeying
Thanks for this very informative post for international travelers. We always take probiotics before traveling and believe that they help to keep our tummies happy. We pack our first aid kit in one of those zippered net bags- it makes finding things much easier as you can see into the pack before you open it.
Neil, good on you. You sound very organized. The net bags are great for visibility and being able to quickly locate something. Thanks for your comment.
Great post. As we are very active travellers and love hiking, it’s definitely a good idea to test out your equipment first especially your boots. We will definitely be looking into which vaccinations we will need before we set off on our long term travels.
It amazes me how many people go hiking without proper shoes. It makes my feet and back hurt just to watch them! Maybe they don’t realize they could be comfortable! And on the vaccines, yes unfortunately they are required, maybe someday we will eliminate such diseases!
Harvey (H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke)
I always consult a travel doctor before heading overseas, and yes — among other things, they make sure my vaccinations are up to date. For example, the nurse there told me a few days ago that I need to get a typhoid booster before my trip to Asia that’s coming up this May. And I do make sure I have all my trip-appropriate meds (such as the antibotic cipro in case of foodborne illness, or malaria pills if I’m going to a region where they’re indicated) prescribed for me at home and packed before I leave the U.S.
Harvey, good job. You just never know what can happen at your destination nor what the medical facilities are going to be like. You sound like you are well organized. Thanks for your comment.
You’re totally right on the probiotics. I eat a lot of different foods whilst travelling and sometimes not enough of the right stuff so my tummy can really go out of balance :/ A good reminder to look after yourself before and during your travels!
As well, it is not always possible to control your diet when away from home, even in your home country. We find ourselves more and more staying in apartments so we can cook for ourselves. Thanks for your comment.
This is a useful post. I am travelling to Indonesia next summer, but I’ve got Lyme disease, so I need to prepare for the best! I really found your tips useful. I’m certainly taking probiotics, vitamins and a medicine passport and I’ve checked with my doctor if the vaccinations were okay. I’m glad it is, so I can actually go. I wouldn’t want to come back with more micro organism in me.
Simone, good on you for having thought about it already. A lot of people don’t and then pay the penalty.
I know of one person who just assumed he could buy his very necessary medicine over the counter. But in Australia, they are stricter about medicines and these all required prescriptions. Bottom line is he couldn’t get his medicine and refused to go to a doctor, so he didn’t take it. Not very smart.
Thanks for your comment.
I think dietary restrictions is a tough challenge when travelling. Good tips for prepping as much as you can
Indeed, at least you know what to expect when you get there. Thanks for your comment.
I always think it is important to remember to take an orange- sometimes when you are travelling you can forget to get all those vits!
Hi Louise. Good point. We like fruit with a skin you don’t eat. Thanks for your comment.