There are several steps you can take to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible while traveling.
Before You Travel
Plan ahead. Visit your doctor and find out which vaccines you should receive before you travel. If you're traveling to an area where a particular disease is prevalent (malaria, for example), ask your doctor for prescriptions to prevent the disease or combat its symptoms. Find out about health risks, including contagious and insect-borne diseases, weather-related health issues and current health alerts before you leave home. Be sure to learn about which medications you can carry into your destination country by checking with its embassy.
Make sure you have not only your prescription medications in original bottles, but also any over-the-counter medications you might need while on vacation. If you're traveling overseas, bring copies of each prescription and ask your doctor to write a letter describing any controlled substances and / or injectable medications on his or her letterhead so that you can bring these items with you.
Insure yourself. If you are a U.S. citizen and Medicare is your only health insurance, you definitely need to buy travel health insurance if you plan to leave the U.S. If you have other health insurance coverage, check with your provider to find out whether you're covered for medical care and medical evacuation if you become ill while on vacation.
If your policy does not cover these situations, purchase an emergency medical coverage plan before you leave home. To get the maximum possible coverage, do not purchase this policy from your airline, tour operator or cruise line; use a third-party provider. Read the entire policy carefully before you pay for it to be sure you're covered for pre-existing conditions, health care while you are away and medical evacuation if you need to return home for treatment. To learn more, read the U.S. State Department's country-specific medical insurance information.
Pack defensively. Your travel medical kit should include prescription medications, health insurance cards, proof of immunization (if needed), travel insurance documents and emergency medical supplies. Depending on your destination, also bring:
- Insect repellent
- Anti-diarrheal medication
- Pain / fever medication (e.g. ibuprofen)
- Antihistamines and / or decongestants
- Antacid tablets
- Motion sickness medication
- First aid supplies
During Your Trip
Choose your food and drink carefully. If you're visiting countries that spray crops with insecticides, wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. Boil water before drinking or washing if you are staying in an area where water is not properly treated or where cholera and other water-borne illnesses are prevalent. Skip the ice cubes. If in doubt, avoid uncooked foods and anything that might contain tap water, including fountain (soft) drinks. If food is served at room temperature, particularly buffet-style, and you don't know how long the food has been sitting out, skip it. Eat hot or very cold foods instead.
Wash your hands often. Wash before eating, after touching your face, after handling money or items that have been in contact with the ground and after traveling by public transport. Carry antibacterial hand wipes or gel cleanser for situations where hot water and soap are not available. Washing your hands frequently is the best way to avoid catching a communicable disease.
Protect yourself from insect-borne illnesses such as malaria and Lyme disease. Carry insect repellent and use it frequently. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when hiking or while visiting countries where malaria is prevalent. Sleep under mosquito netting in malaria-prone areas, shaking out the netting each night before going to bed.
Use sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn. Wear a hat with a brim to protect your face and neck.
Avoid touching animals, including birds, both wild and domestic. Do not try to remove animals, particularly bats, from your room, tent or vehicle; call animal control authorities instead. Rabies is always a risk, particularly in developing countries. If an animal bites you, wash the bite area well with soap and hot water and seek medical attention immediately.
Don't overdo things. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and avoid extreme heat or cold. You don't have to see every single monument or museum in every city or country you visit; it's far better to travel at a relaxed pace and enjoy your trip.
After You Return
Monitor your health. If you should become ill, be sure to tell your doctor that you were on vacation recently, particularly if you visited a malaria-prone country.