June 5, 2019

How to stay healthy while traveling outside the U.S.

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Following healthy travel tips can lead to happy travel experience like this woman posing in front of a cathedral in Spain.

Prevention is half the battle. Here are some healthy travel tips to note before your trip.

The best way to stay healthy on an international trip is to make sure you follow some healthy travel tips before you leave – and take some important steps to prevent travel sickness.

The Vanderbilt International Travel Clinic offers appointments to travelers at least six to eight weeks before they leave the country, to ensure they have the right immunizations for their destinations and planned activities.

What to do before your trip to prevent illness or deal with emergencies:

  • Fill and take the necessary quantity of your daily prescriptions with you.
  • Be sure you have all recommended and required immunizations.
  • Pack a smart travel kit so you can deal with minor illness or injury.
  • Contact your medical insurance company about specific requirements for treatment abroad.
  • Contact your insurance provider to identify all your options and coverage for medical evacuation from your intended destination. You may need to buy additional medical evacuation insurance. This is important because you never know when a medical emergency may occur.
  • Learn the symptoms of the diseases that are prevalent in the area to which you are traveling. There are many sources for this information: for example, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
  • Be aware of any travel alerts the U.S. State Department may issue. These are meant to warn travelers of any widespread situations that could threaten your safety.
  • Identify the U.S. embassy closest to your destination and know how to contact that embassy in an emergency.

What to do while traveling to prevent illness:

  • Keep taking your prescription medication on your normal schedule.
  • Use insect repellent to avoid insect bites.
  • Use caution and common sense to avoid animal bites.
  • Use sunblock and wear a hat to prevent sunburn. Sunglasses protect eyes from bright glare and from pollen or air pollution.
  • Be aware of the food you are eating and the water you are drinking. Carry your own safe drinking water with you.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Use hand sanitizer if water and soap are not available.
  • The World Health Organization offers these tips for recovering from jet lag and getting onto a healthy sleep schedule quickly.

The mode of transportation or your destination itself may cause other ailments. These can be merely annoying or quite debilitating. Keep these in mind before you travel and prepare to manage them if they strike:

  • Altitude sickness. This affects some people when they travel to high elevations, where the oxygen content of the air is lower than it is at the lower elevation at home. Early symptoms may include nausea and headache. These symptoms may progress to significant illness requiring medical attention. It is very important to evaluate your medical history with a health-care provider before deciding to travel above 4,000 feet.
  • Cruise ship illnesses. No, the ship doesn’t directly cause illness. However, in recent years there have been widely publicized viral outbreaks – mostly the kind causing digestive tract upset — on cruise ships. The germs spread easily because thousands of passengers are traveling together in close proximity to each other on these large vessels. These illnesses can be very serious for some travelers, such as the elderly. Frequent hand washing is the most important factor in decreasing the spread of these illnesses.
  • Motion sickness. If you have a history of suffering from nausea or vomiting from motion sickness, there are over-the-counter and prescription medications to help ease the misery.
  • Air travel. Flying can pose health risks for some passengers. There is an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis or blood clots during long flights. If you have a history of blood clots you should speak with your physician about your travel plans to learn how to prevent problems.

Thinking ahead can help keep you and your family avoid these illnesses and symptoms, to stay healthy and safe during your adventures.

A woman takes a selfie of herself and a man standing on a bridge.

The Vanderbilt International Travel Clinic can help you learn which vaccines you should get before your trip. Call 615-936-1174 for an appointment six to eight weeks ahead of your trip.