Seasoned travelers have a standard list of tried-and-true necessities to help stay healthy while on the go. Although each person’s list of essentials may vary, there are some basic travel health tips that apply for nearly every trip. For instance, you can prevent many illnesses by simply using hand sanitizer when you cannot wash with soap and water.
With adequate preparation, it is possible to nearly replicate the comforts of home and remain healthy while traveling and being exposed to new pathogens and experiences. Whether your travel is within the United States or abroad, the following tips will help you have the healthiest trip possible.
International Health Insurance
While travel health insurance is essential when traveling outside the United States, you may not need it for a domestic vacation. This is because most health insurance policies cover treatment for accidents and illnesses that occur in another state. However, this coverage does not extend internationally. You may want to purchase travel insurance to have your health issues covered overseas. However, you may find that health care in some countries is actually quite affordable if you pay out of pocket, whereas purchasing an international health coverage plan may cost you a lot of money. You should check to see what average health care costs are where you are traveling before you purchase international health care coverage.
Some travelers stand to lose a lot of money if they cancel a trip or change travel dates. Many travel expenses must be paid ahead of time, and many tickets and fees will not be reimbursed without travel insurance. For instance, you could lose thousands of dollars if you fall ill and have to reschedule an Alaskan cruise you paid in advance.
Medications to Pack
Nothing is worse than waking up sick at 3 a.m. far from home. However, having a variety of medications on hand can help ease your discomfort. Prescription medications will vary according to your health conditions, but it is wise to carry extra in case your trip is extended for any reason. If your luggage space is limited, try not to go overboard carrying OTC medicines. Except in the most remote areas, it is usually easy to find a pharmacy that has what you need in stock.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications
Seasoned travelers usually bring the basics that cover the most common ailments. At minimum, bring a few days’ worth of your favorite type of painkiller, whether it is acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. If you are traveling with children, be sure to bring a liquid or chewable version for them.
Other helpful OTC medications include antacids, anti-diarrhea pills and something for motion sickness, such as Dramamine. Cold and allergy relief tablets and cough drops can help soothe sudden cold or flu symptoms. Cough drops also help to relieve the dry mouth many travelers experience while flying.
You will need an adequate supply of any prescription medications you normally take, such as blood pressure pills or antidepressants. If motion sickness is a problem, ask your doctor for a Scopolamine patch that can provide nausea relief for up to three days. Prescription anti-nausea medications are also good for travel sickness, but they can make you drowsy.
If your doctor knows that you are traveling overseas, particularly to a developing country, he or she will likely prescribe a round of ciprofloxacin (Cipro). This broad-spectrum antibiotic is effective against traveler’s diarrhea and urinary tract infections. It can have side effects, so be sure to discuss these and potential drug interactions with your physician and pharmacist.
Wipes, Ointments, Gels and Lotions
Much of the comfort needed while traveling can be provided through the application of various topical solutions. They serve a dual purpose of helping to keep you healthy when you may not have instant access to soap and water.
Bring a good, wide-spectrum hand sanitizing gel or lotion, antibacterial hand wipes and baby wipes for washing hands and faces. If you are traveling where mosquitos are a problem, bring insect repellant sprays or wipes in addition to after-bite ointment to soothe any bites you may get.
Avoid painful sunburns and chapped lips by bringing a high SPF sunscreen and a lip balm with sun protection. A small tube of aloe gel can provide sunburn relief. Antibacterial ointment and bandages are also good to have on hand for unexpected cuts and blisters. Most retailers sell compact travel first aid kits that fit easily into your pocket or backpack.
Travel Comfort Gear
Adequate rest is a vital ingredient for good health. However, since sleep is notoriously evasive in unfamiliar locations, it is wise to bring some comfort items to help you rest well at night. It is also wise to grab a nap wherever you can while traveling. Fortunately, many of the following items can be used for both purposes:
- Foam, inflatable or foldable travel pillow
- Ear plugs with a high noise reduction rating
- Eye mask
- Travel blanket
- Melatonin or OTC sleeping pills
A variety of health apps for your mobile device can help you stay healthy while traveling. They can help you track your exercise, find healthy dining options and tell you which illnesses are peaking in your new location. Check out these and other offerings on your Android or iOS device:
- HealthyOut – Covers more than 500 U.S. cities and allows you to search for meals and restaurants that fit your dietary needs. Choose from gluten-free, paleo, high protein and other options that suit you.
- SickWeather – Tracks reports of illness on Facebook and Twitter and provides up-to-date information about the prevalence of flu, colds and stomach viruses in a given location.
- TravWell – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created this app to help you stay healthy while traveling internationally. It includes vaccine recommendations, emergency services numbers and health recommendations.
- Can I Eat This? – Also by the CDC, this app allows you to answer a few questions about something you are considering eating and tells you whether it is safe.
Healthy Activities Away from Home
Traveling is actually a good opportunity to take advantage of fitness options that are not always easily accessible at home. Take advantage of your hotel’s exercise room, pool or sauna. Look up walking and hiking trails at your destination or schedule a walking tour through the city.
However, be careful about engaging in high-risk activities, especially abroad. Injuries sustained while participating in high-risk sports are not usually covered under a normal travel insurance policy. These high-risk activities may include:
- Bungee jumping
- Hang gliding
- Wind surfing
- Jet skiing and water skiing
- Scuba diving beyond a certain depth or uncertified
You may purchase special high-risk travel insurance policies that will cover these types of activities. If you are participating in extreme sports in the U.S., your health insurance will usually cover treatment. However, since there is no faster way to ruin a great vacation than by landing in the hospital, you may want to avoid risky activities entirely while traveling.