Traveling can be an exciting and enriching experience, but it’s essential to prioritize your health and safety. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about staying safe and healthy during your travels, from pre-trip preparations to handling emergencies.
Preparing for Your Trip
Assess Health Risks and Your Health Status
Before you depart, research your destination’s specific health risks and safety concerns. Alongside this, evaluate your current health status. If you’re feeling unwell, consider postponing your trip to prevent spreading diseases. Stay home and recover before setting off on your journey.
Schedule a Pre-Travel Health Consultation
Book an appointment with your healthcare provider at least a month before your departure. Discuss your travel itinerary and planned activities to receive personalized recommendations for vaccines, medications, and advice to ensure a healthy and safe trip. Ensure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) to protect yourself from contagious diseases.
Plan for Health and Travel Emergencies
Evaluate your health insurance coverage for medical care abroad, as many plans do not cover international medical expenses. Consider purchasing travel insurance with healthcare and emergency evacuation coverage, especially for travel to remote areas.
Leave copies of essential travel documents (e.g., itinerary, contact information, credit cards, passport, proof of school enrollment) with a trusted contact at home. Ensure they know how to reach you in an emergency and carry your emergency contacts with you at all times.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Enroll with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive travel warnings for your destination and help the US Department of State locate you in case of legal, medical, or financial issues while traveling. STEP can also help friends and family contact you during emergencies.
Pack a Travel Health Kit
Assemble a travel health kit containing any necessary prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, a first aid kit, insect repellent, sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), aloe, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, water disinfection tablets, and your health insurance card. Ensure you have enough medication for the duration of your trip, plus a little extra.
Staying Safe and Healthy During Your Trip
Choose Safe Transportation
Prioritize safety when traveling by always wearing a seatbelt and using age-appropriate car seats for children. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among healthy travelers, so remain vigilant when crossing the street, particularly in countries with opposite-side driving.
Prevent Bug Bites
Apply insect repellent and take other steps to avoid bug bites, as insects can spread diseases like malaria, yellow fever, Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and Lyme. Be extra cautious during warm weather, when bugs are more active.
Seek Medical Attention for Injuries or Sickness
If you or a travel companion experiences an injury or sickness that requires more than basic first aid or over-the-counter medication, seek medical attention immediately. Visit the CDC’s page on getting healthcare during travel for guidance on connecting with healthcare services.
Opt for Safe Food and Drinks
Choose your meals and beverages carefully to avoid contaminated food that could cause travelers’ diarrhea or other illnesses. Generally, hot, dry, and packaged foods are safe, as are bottled, canned, and hot drinks. Be especially cautious when traveling to low or middle-income destinations.
Practice Sun Protection
Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and protect yourself from the sun even in cloudy or cold destinations. High-risk UV exposure occurs during summer months, near the equator, at high altitudes, or between 10 am and 4 pm.
Maintain Hand Hygiene
Regular handwashing is crucial for removing germs, staying healthy, and preventing the spread of illness. Wash your hands with soap and water; if unavailable, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Exercise Caution Around Animals
Avoid all animals, including pets, local farm animals, and wildlife, as they may carry rabies or other infections. Animal bites also risk bacterial infections.
Prioritize Water Safety
Drowning is a significant risk during travel, so adhere to water safety recommendations, especially in countries with limited emergency services. This includes swimming, boating, and diving activities.
How to Stay Safe from Diseases Discussed
Ensure you’re up-to-date on the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and practice good hygiene, including regular handwashing, to minimize the risk of contracting measles.
Use insect repellent, sleep under mosquito nets, and take antimalarial medication as prescribed by your healthcare provider to protect yourself from malaria.
Receive the yellow fever vaccine before traveling to a region with a risk of the disease, and use insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites.
Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya
Prevent these diseases by using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved clothing, and staying in accommodations with screens or air conditioning to keep mosquitoes out.
Reduce your risk of Lyme disease by using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved clothing, and performing regular tick checks after spending time outdoors.
By taking these steps and following the advice in this guide, you’re well on your way to a safe, healthy, and unforgettable travel experience.