There is no doubt that your traveling experience will be far more enjoyable if you stay healthy. By planning for the unexpected before you leave and being prepared while away, you can ward off many health problems and hopefully minimize the severity of those that do occur. Incase you do come down with an unavoidable sickness or injury of some sort, it is important that you are at least somewhat prepared.
Most travelers assume that rare viruses and diseases are the main cause of travelers becoming unhealthy while abroad. Actually, your health is at risk while abroad for the many of the same reasons that can affect you while in your home country: automobile accidents, drowning, falls and other unfortunate accidents. Taking simple precautions like wearing a seatbelt, wearing a helmet when riding scooters or motorcycles and using common sense will help you to stay safe and allow you to enjoy your traveling experience.
While most people know about making sure they eat at clean places and only drink bottled or purified water in foreign countries, there are several other health issues to be aware of. Malaria can occur up to six months after the initial exposure, is easily mistaken for the flu and the worst form of it can kill you. If you are going to do any climbing or going to be at high altitudes you also need to know about Acute Altitude Sickness.
Most really dangerous diseases have been all but eliminated in developed countries. But when you travel in some third world countries, exposure to these diseases is a real threat. If you will be traveling in underdeveloped countries, it is a good idea to look into the assortment of shots that you may need for immunizations. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, cholera, typhoid, malaria and rabies are just some of the 'nasties' that you will want to be protected from.
Well before you leave, have your doctor give you a thorough physical examination. You can also ask for health information about your destination country and any necessary immunization requirements. Any prescriptions that you require should be kept in their original bottles while traveling to avoid confusion at border crossings or other baggage inspections.
Find out as much as you can about the major health risks of the area you are traveling to. Are there insect-born diseases that you need to be protected from? How can you protect yourself from these diseases? Is the country you are going to politically stable (are many countries these days?) or at war with another country or even with its own people? Read what you can about your destination ahead of time to help prepare for your trip or even help you decide whether a country is worth visiting. Web sites like the Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets, The Center for Disease Control (both published by the US government) and the World Health Organization will provide you with plenty of up-to-date information, including health conditions, crime rates and the availability of medical services.
Note: There is no substitute for a professional doctor. Consult a travel medicine specialist before departing. This is the best way to get information for your specific needs.
Avoiding or minimizing health problems while abroad will be easier if you are prepared. Carrying the necessary "tools", whether it is bandages or knowledge of a region, will definitely help you stay healthy.
Do not wait till the last minute to get your immunizations. Some can take up to 6 months to complete (like Hepatitis B). The immunization effect takes time, so it is a good idea to give your body at least a month head start to condition itself before getting on the plane or boat. Another reason to begin your immunization program early is that many of the programs require a series of shots over several weeks or months.
Many diseases are transmitted by the Insect bites, especially the mosquito. Your risk of acquiring these can be greatly reduced by taking some simple precautions such as knowing when mosquitoes are active and using the proper insect repellent.
Malaria remains one of the most serious infectious disease problems in the world, killing up to 2.5 million people a year. It is second only to tuberculosis in its impact on world health. Worldwide, a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable to the disease. The disease is present in 90 countries and infects one in 10 of the world's population!
It is essential that you apply for and carry an extended medical policy for international travel. The general coverage that most people already have will not be valid outside of their country. Check with your travel agent about available extended medical policies and their boundaries.
International Health Insurance.com offers affordable health insurance for individuals and groups of any nationality traveling or living abroad. Let them know about your travel plans and they will design a travel insurance policy for you. There are also some travel cards for students and teachers that will provide you with extended medical as well. Even some credit card plans provide the carrier with foreign medical coverage. With any policy, read the fine print and make sure your policy doesn't exclude some 'high-risk' activities like scuba diving or bungee-jumping if these are things you plan on doing. Check out our Travel Insurance section for more information.
A first-aid kit is an invaluable resource to have in your backpack. From tiny slivers to full-on cuts or other maladies, your first-aid kit should have a little bit of 'everything' to help you out. If you are traveling with a partner, just carry one kit. Assemble it yourself so you have just what you need and you know what it contains. In our Gear & Packing section we have more information and a complete packing list for a medical kit.