pre-departure

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.

Consult Your Doctor
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.

Educate Yourself
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. Or check out our list of useful travel health links provided below.

Health Insurance
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.

First-aid Kit
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. Here's a typical first-aid kit with the basics:

  • tweezers, for slivers and other small pains
  • assorted bandages
  • mole skin (for blisters)
  • medical tape
  • gauze
  • cotton swabs (a.k.a. Q-tips). Cut them in half and stick 'em in a small container to keep them clean.
  • scissors
  • 2 or 3 needles (stuck into a small cork)
  • matches (to sterilize the needles)
  • aspirin or Tylenol for pain relief
  • disinfectant or antiseptic lotion/cream
  • antacids
  • Imodium
  • laxatives
  • travel sickness pills (ie. Gravol)
  • insect repellant with DEET
  • sun-screen
  • water-purification tablets

Keep in mind that you will probably be able to buy anything extra that you might need. There are pharmacy-type stores world wide with similar products to the ones listed above. A Swiss Army knife is a great addition to your first aid kit, and some of them come with tweezers too.

Health Links