My biggest worry about spending a summer studying abroad in Asia was getting sick. I feared food poisoning in Korea, allergies in China, and motion sickness on all of the boats, planes, and buses. Annie (my best friend and loyal travel companion) and I decided to prepare for the worst and we spent an afternoon at Walmart buying every medicine we could possibly need during our trip. We also went to the doctor (yes, we even have the same doctor) and got full checkups, vaccinations, and precautionary prescriptions for our trip.
We felt a little ridiculous but it was worth it to be overly cautious. Luckily, Annie and I only needed a few of the medicines but our little traveling pharmacy helped out several of our classmates who were less prepared.
I’m sharing five travel tips for staying healthy while traveling. These tips are mostly focused on international travel but much of the advice can be applied to any trip. While you can’t always prevent illness when away from home, following these tips will help you be prepared should you get sick.
5 Travel Tips for Staying Healthy
1. Bring needed prescriptions with you. Pack your regular prescriptions and anything you may need should a health problem flare up on a trip. Make sure you have enough for the length of your stay and keep all medications in their original containers. Keep these in your carry-on in case your checked luggage is lost. For more information on packing prescriptions, read these recommendations from the CDC.
2. Practice basic hygiene and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Wash your hands often and keep hand sanitizer with you. Make sure to wash or sanitize after touching germ hot spots such as hand rails, ATMs, public transportation hubs, public bathrooms, or anywhere that is touched by a lot of people. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth as much as possible. It’s also helpful to keep wet wipes and disinfecting wipes in your purse or backpack.
Take care of yourself. One of the biggest issues when traveling is dehydration which can lead to headaches, fatigue, nausea, constipation, and just feeling lousy. It can be hard to remember to drink water but keep water bottles in your hotel room and force yourself to drink them while you are resting or before going to bed.
The stresses of travel (jet lag, long flights, foreign cuisine) can be hard on your body. Do what you can to be kind to your body – get enough sleep, don’t drink too much, exercise, and eat nutritiously. It’s tough but finding a balance will help you get through a long trip. Listen to your body – it’s okay if you need to go to bed early one night or sleep in a couple mornings.
3. Pack a small travel first-aid kit. Put together a small travel kit of medicines that might come in handy while you’re on the road. Even if you don’t regularly take these medicines, it’s helpful to have easy access to them while you are away from home. Your body can respond to travel in strange ways so it’s best to be prepared for all situations. It may seem like a bit of work but once you make the initial investment, you can keep the kit and use it for future trips. The CDC provides a complete list of recommendations but here is a list of what I usually include:
- Antidiarrheal medication
- Allergy medicine
- Cold medicine
- Anti-motion sickness medication
- Pain reliever
- Mild laxative (consider fiber pills or senna tablets)
- Pepto Bismol
- Anti-gas/bloating pills
- Nasal spray
- Antibacterial ointments
- Insect repellent
- Hand sanitizer
- Eye drops
- Sleeping pills or melatonin
- Feminine care items (tampons, yeast infection medicine)
4. Get a check-up and a dental exam prior to leaving on a long trip. Your doctor can provide any needed vaccines and talk to you about the health risks involved with your travels. I also suggest asking your doctor about any prescriptions that might come in handy while away. For example, my doctor has prescribed me an antibiotic and an anti-diarrheal to use in case I get sick abroad. Before my trip to China, I had to get vaccines for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid. It wasn’t fun but my doctor recommended them and I felt better taking the precautions. You can get vaccine and travel health advice here or talk to a travel-medicine physician who specializes in keeping travelers healthy.
I can’t think of many things worse than a trip being interrupted with a dental problem. Visit the dentist before your trip to try to prevent any dental emergencies from occurring when out of town.
**Some vaccinations are given in stages and require several weeks between doses. Be sure to plan in advance so your vaccines are completed in time for your trip.
5. Consider travel insurance. While there are many different options and plans, travel insurance isn’t right for every person or every trip. Research your options and make an informed decision. Sometimes credit cards include minimal coverage and your existing insurance may include some international coverage. It’s worth knowing what resources you have available. While I don’t typically purchase travel insurance for short trips, I did purchase additional health coverage for my extended trips in Asia and France. The fee was reasonable and the coverage provided peace of mind for both me and my family.
Helpful Travel Health Resources:
CDC Travelers’ Health – Travel health advisories, vaccine recommendations, etc.
International Association for Medical Assistance for Travelers – international directory of English-speaking doctors
American Dental Association Advice for Dental Care Abroad
Health Map – virus and contagious disease tracking
Trip Health Online – health advice and destination planning guides
Troubleshooting Health Issues While Traveling
If you’re looking for more travel tips, check out these articles:
Five Travel Tips for Going Abroad
The Hungry Traveler Interview with Jess Chen
Do you have any travel tips for staying healthy? Please share them in the comments below.
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