How to Stay Healthy & Prevent Getting Sick When Traveling on VacationFebruary 22, 2019
Being sick is never fun, but getting sick while you’re on vacation is a special kind of miserable. It can also cost you big time, from last-minute emergency pharmacy stops to missed tours and reservations to the worst-case scenario, needing expensive emergency medical care far from home.
Here are some tips and best practices for staying healthy while on vacation, whether you’re traveling internationally or domestically.
Before You Go
There are a few key things to take care of before you even leave home for your trip. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s better to be prepared for anything ahead of time rather than get blindsided by an issue when you’re on the road and not equipped to deal with it. With that in mind, follow these guidelines to get ready for vacation.
1. Get a Checkup
If you have any kind of health issue or you haven’t been to a doctor in a while, it’s a good idea to get a basic checkup before you head out on vacation. It can help ensure that you’re healthy, have enough doses of all your prescriptions on hand, and are ready to travel. It’ll also give you an opportunity to ask your doctor about any advisories for your destination, including required vaccines.
2. Schedule Any Necessary Vaccines
When traveling domestically, you probably won’t have to get any vaccines other than perhaps a tetanus shot. If you’re taking an international trip, however, you may need a yellow fever, hepatitis, or typhoid vaccine or a round of antimalarial medication.
Even if you’ve gotten travel-related vaccines in the past, most expire after a certain period and are no longer effective. If you can’t remember the last vaccine you had, make an appointment to get up to date. When planning a trip abroad, research vaccines using the CDC website as soon as possible; some require two doses administered months apart. Follow all the guidelines from your health care provider for maximum efficacy.
3. Research Water Advisories
If you’re traveling within the United States, you probably won’t have to worry if the water at your destination is safe for you to ingest — unless you have a very sensitive stomach or a compromised immune system. However, if you’re going to a different country, especially a developing country, you may not want to drink the water and risk contracting waterborne illnesses that can wreak havoc on your stomach and your vacation plans. Do some research to see what is recommended for your destination.
Before I head out on a trip, I like to check what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends on their Resources for Travelers page. When in doubt, I always buy bottled water at my destination, both to drink and for brushing my teeth. If that’s not necessary, though, I don’t want to waste money when the tap water is perfectly fine to drink, nor do I want to increase the amount of plastic waste from disposable bottles that I’m contributing to the local environment.
4. Know Basic First Aid
You don’t have to be a medical doctor to brush up on some basic first aid and pack a few supplies that will save you money and hassle on vacation. If minor injury or illness strikes, it can be useful to know first aid essentials, such as how to disinfect a wound or which medicine is best for various stomach ailments, and to have a few essential emergency kit items tucked into your suitcase.
It’s much easier to have bandages and painkillers with you and not use them than to try tracking them down in a country where you don’t speak the language when you’re in dire straits. The Cleveland Clinic has a handy list of what first aid items to pack when you’re traveling. Feel free to add anything you use at home when you’re hurt or feeling under the weather.
5. Understand Your Health Insurance
Before you head out on a trip, it’s essential to know what your health insurance does and does not cover. For example, if you have to see a doctor who is out of your network, does that require a pre-approval phone call? What if it’s after hours or on the weekend? What’s the course of action for emergency coverage if you’re out of the country? Do you need to alert your health insurance company that you’re going abroad?
Don’t forget to look at any benefits you may have through your employer beyond your health insurance. Many companies offer various perks through employee assistance programs, including companies that can help you coordinate emergency medical care and transport if you need it. Again, it’s better to know what benefits you’re entitled to and never need them than to be far from home and facing an emergency you’re not prepared for.
6. Consider Travel Insurance
Depending on your situation and existing coverage, travel insurance from Allianz Travelcan either be a good investment against bad luck or a waste of money. By researching travel insurance and considering whether you really need to buy it, you can save yourself money and headaches while traveling.
If you think your homeowners insurance might cover hassles like lost luggage and rental car scrapes, make sure you understand your policy’s coverage before you leave for your trip so you don’t end up wasting money on extra insurance you don’t need.
What to Bring
In case you do get sick on a trip, it’s important to bring the right items with you instead of having to track them down in a foreign locale. For starters, it’s hard to figure out directions on proper medicine dosing if you’re looking at a label in a foreign language. Second, it’s often more expensive to buy something in a rush, even if it’s something as innocuous as a bandage. Here’s what to pack for your trip to stay healthy — and to care for yourself if you do get sick.
7. Take Your Medications & Vitamins
If you take any daily medications, bring those with you in your carry-on luggage or purse so you’ll have them on hand in case your checked baggage is lost by the airline or stolen in transit. It’s also a good idea to bring a few extra days’ worth just in case travel mishaps delay your return home.
If you take a daily vitamin, allergy nasal spray, or any other over-the-counter medications, bring those as well. Try to think of anything you take at home to stay healthy, from your multivitamin to antacids, and bring those with you on vacation.
8. Use Hand Sanitizer
Even if you don’t usually use hand sanitizer, it’s a good thing to have tucked into your purse or backpack when you’re on the road. If you’re out sightseeing, taking public transit, or just interacting with more people than you usually do, it’s always smart to keep sanitizer handy in case you can’t wash your hands properly with soap and water before you eat. If you’re traveling in a country where the water is iffy, you can use hand sanitizer after you wash your hands with soap and water just in case there are any lingering germs or bacteria on them.
When you’re traveling, your immune system is bombarded with all kinds of new germs and stressors, so you may find yourself more susceptible to getting sick than you usually are at home. Using hand sanitizer before you eat or after you get off a public bus is like giving yourself extra insurance against these bombardments.
While You’re There
It can be tempting to pack your itinerary, run yourself ragged, and overindulge while you’re on vacation, but fight those urges and you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Taking care of your body while you’re traveling is essential for staying healthy and enjoying your trip.
9. Get Plenty of Sleep
It’s fun to stay up late sightseeing and enjoying the nightlife in your destination, but try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night while you’re traveling. Sleep is when your body repairs itself, and staying up way too late multiple nights in a row or skipping ZZZs altogether can be a recipe for disaster. You’ll be tired, disoriented, and more vulnerable to illness.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider natural remedies like melatonin or taking prescription medication. If you can squeeze in a nap while you’re in transit, take that opportunity as well to get as much rest as you can while also getting the most out of your vacation.
10. Combat Jet Lag
Crossing multiple time zones faster than your body can adjust is a recipe for jet lag. Most of us have experienced it before: that feeling of being out of sync with the time at your destination or exhausted long before the sun goes down. If you can train your body to slowly adjust to the time zone in your destination before you even leave home, you can ensure you get quality sleep and avoid feeling crummy and tired while on vacation.
First, slowly adjust to the time at your destination before you depart. You can do this in the days leading up to your vacation by gradually adjusting your bedtime and wake-up time to your destination’s time zone.
Drink plenty of water on the flight to your destination, and adjust your watch and cell phone to the new time right away to mentally prepare for the new time zone.
Finally, when you arrive, stay awake and alert until it’s bedtime there, at which point you can promptly tuck yourself in and try to get a good night’s sleep, perhaps with an eye mask and earplugs if necessary. Finally, set an alarm to wake up with the sun, and you’ll be on your way to beating jet lag and staying healthy.