You’ve planned and packed – you’re all ready for your trip – but you may have overlooked one of the key ingredients for a great vacation: taking the necessary steps to make sure you and your family have a safe and healthy trip.
The healthier your body is, the easier it will be for you to adapt to the effects of jet lag. If you plan a few days ahead, however, even the most out-of-shape may be able to head off the misery of jet lag. Several days before you leave, try going to bed a little earlier or a little later (if you are flying east or west, respectively), and start a stretching regiment. Hydrate yourself and eat lightly the day you travel. The headache, light-headedness and nausea associated with jet lag should lessen significantly when such measures are taken.
Common Travel Ailments
Motion sickness is an unpleasant problem for many travelers; however, there are some over-the-counter and prescription medications available. If you wish to combat motion sickness on your own, try the following:
When traveling by car, try to sit in the front seat and, if you can, avoid reading as it only heightens the feeling of motion sickness. When traveling by boat, sit as close to the middle of the vessel as possible and look straight ahead at the horizon, a fixed point that will not move. Today’s high-tech cruise ships are built for comfort, with stabilizers for smooth sailing, and most passengers experience little or no motion sickness. When flying, try to sit near the wing of the plane, or the side where you are accustomed to driving. Ear plugs also may help.
Extremes: Heatstroke and Hypothermia
To avoid heatstroke, stay out of the sun for prolonged periods of time. By the same token, try to avoid unusually cold water to prevent hypothermia.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a vacation and get dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you even more.
People who suffer from allergies should take the same precautions on vacation as they do at home. Bring any medications used on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to bring an antihistamine in case of accidental exposure to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction. It also may be helpful to pack your own pillowcase for use in hotels, and to request a non-smoking room.
The inflammation of the joints that occurs with arthritis may be especially troubling during long trips that restrict movement. Taking frequent breaks to walk around and relieve stiff joints and muscles can make car, plane and cruise trips more enjoyable. Remember to pack aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or any prescription medications you normally use for arthritis.
There’s nothing more miserable than getting sick while on vacation. For most destinations, the major health risk to travelers is diarrhea, which may be easily avoided. In general, common sense prevails. When in doubt, steer clear of uncooked meat, raw fruits and vegetables and unpasteurized milk products, and drink only bottled water (although the tip of the bottle may be contaminated, so wipe it clean before drinking from it) or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes. If you begin to feel sick or develop a fever, rest and drink tea or purified water. Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea clear up within a few days.
Overactive Bladder and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you suffer from an overactive bladder or irritable bowel syndrome, you may require frequent bathroom visits during long trips. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications are often helpful for the latter, and there are prescription medications available for people who may experience more severe symptoms. Avoiding stress, caffeine, and certain types of high-fat foods can help keep these conditions under control.
Animal and Insect Bites
If you are bitten by a wild animal, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Many animal bites require a tetanus shot and, in certain cases, a rabies shot. If bitten by a snake, lie as still as possible so not to spread the venom that may be present; then send others to get help immediately. Check your body for ticks. Remove any with tweezers and watch the area for rash over the course of the next few weeks. See your doctor if you develop abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, rash, cough or weight loss.
FIRST AID KIT
It’s a good idea to keep a first-aid kit handy for any emergencies that may arise during your trip. It should include:
| A first-aid manual
|| Throat lozenges
| Bandages, gauze and tape
|| Anti-diarrheal medication
|| Motion sickness medication
|| Water purification tablets
| Antibiotic ointment
|| Insect repellent
|| Calamine lotion
|| Cortisone cream
| Cold and flu tablets
|| Health and vaccination records
Personal Safty Tips
Work with your travel agent to get as much information as possible about the destination, especially if you will be traveling alone.
Stay in hotels on well-traveled streets in safer areas of any city. The more expensive hotels usually have better security. Stay on lower level floors in case of fire or other need to evacuate quickly. Avoid the first floor, as it may not be safe from burglars. When returning to your hotel at night, use the main entrance. Be observant before entering parking lots.
Close and lock your hotel room door at all times. Check sliding glass doors, windows and connecting room doors. Acquaint yourself with the location of stairways, fire escapes, exits and alarms.
Do not answer your hotel room door without verifying who it is. If someone claims to be a hotel employee, call the front desk to verify. Never invite strangers into your room.
If you see suspicious activity or suspicious object, contact someone in authority immediately.
Your travel agent can arrange for transfers from the airport or port, if necessary. Taxis or private car hires are recommended, as you are more insulated. Most airports, ports and train stations have areas clearly marked for taxis and car service pick-up. Do not enter any vehicle that does not have a proper license or does not pick you up from the designated area.
If you will be renting a car, get maps in advance and clearly write out the directions from the airport to your hotel. If you need to stop for directions, go to well-lit public areas. Keep the phone numbers of your destinations with you. Lock your car doors while driving. Do not pick up strangers or stop for people you don’t know. Police cars will have blue and red lights; do not stop for cars flashing their high-beams.
Keep a low profile
Do not discuss your travel plans or itinerary publicly. Vary your schedule, if possible. Vary travel routes when possible.
Maintain a low profile. Dress down, if possible, and leave the expensive jewelry and watches at home. Do not display large amounts of cash or travelers checks. Look like a person of modest means. Do not leave your itinerary or other sensitive business information in your hotel room. Blend in with the locals as best you can so you do not want to stand out. Cultural and racial differences may make this impossible, but you can still make yourself look like a person of modest means. Be alert for surveillance, especially in high-risk countries. Kidnappers and extortionists identify their targets and then watch their potential victims to determine daily patterns. Avoid disturbances and civil demonstrations, as they may become violent. Seek safe shelter away from the disturbance as quickly as possible.
Out and about
Keep your valuables, including passports, etc., in a money belt concealed under your clothes. Or, use the hotel safe to store valuables. Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times, but separate from where you are carrying your passport. In high-risk countries, it is a good idea to check in with the American Embassy and provide them with a copy of your passport in case you need to have it replaced. Pickpockets and thieves operate widely in many cities around the world, but especially near tourist attractions. Whenever you use your credit card, keep an eye on it until it is returned to you. Always verify that it is your credit card before storing it again. Check credit cards when they are returned. If you are unfamiliar with the local language, carry a card or matchbook with the hotel’s name and address. You can show the card or matchbook to a cab driver or police officer if you get lost. Before leaving the United States, make up several pocket cards with key phrases in the local language. (i.e., “Which way is the airport?” and “Where are the restrooms?”)
Be careful when out on the town at night. Watch your drinks being poured and never accept a drink from a stranger. Get advice from your hotel concierge or other trusted source about reputable restaurants and other entertainment. Avoid being out on the streets late at night. Have your hotel arrange for car service or taxi service and know the addresses and directions before getting in the car.
Blazing Your Own Trail Safely
If you’re charting unknown territory, you’re going to want to take extra precautions to avoid putting yourself in harm’s way. Plan for the worst. Pack a survival kit that includes your first aid kit, a map, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof firestarter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, sturdy hiking boots, rain wear, high-energy food and water. Ask your doctor about necessary immunizations. Take a first aid course before you leave and learn the ABC’s of treating emergencies. Learn to recognize medical emergencies and respond to them immediately and appropriately, comforting the victim until help arrives. As common sense would dictate, avoid areas of natural hazards such as avalanche, rock fall, floods, and hazardous plants and animals, and check for potential hazards of terrain, sanitation (including infectious disease) and climate.
Finally, the best thing you can do for yourself to keep healthy and happy while on vacation is to purchase travel insurance. Neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for care outside the United States, and most health insurance plans don’t, either. Travel insurance is advisable, especially since the odds are you or someone in your family will need to seek some type of medical assistance while away. Talk with your travel agent to help you decide what coverage you’ll need based on your type of travel (developing country, adventure safari, Disneyland, etc.). Be sure to examine different policies, make careful inquiries and always read the fine print. Two features are essential: a 24-hour, toll-free, English-language phone assistance and a plan that provides direct, immediate payment to the medical provider. Although you can’t anticipate every contingency, these are steps you can take to ensure a healthy vacation. For travelers with special needs, your travel agent can assist you with any personalized services.
For additional information, visit these Web sites:
US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Fodor’s health tips
A Guide for People with HIV Infection: Preventing Infections During Travel
Food and Water Precautions and Travelers’ Diarrhea Prevention
Health Insurance and Overseas Travel
Find A Travel Advisor