International Travel: Tips for Staying Healthy

International travel is fun and exciting. However, every traveler should be aware of certain things that can ruin your trip. From vaccinations to poor water quality, there are a number of things to consider.

Path to improved health

Before you travel, plan ahead.

  • Check to see if you need immunizations or vaccinations for the areas you are visiting. See your doctor at least 6 weeks before you leave. Some vaccines don’t reach the highest protection until about 6 weeks after you get the shots.
  • Have medical and dental check-ups before your trip. Be aware of health problems you may have. Find out about medicines you might need to take with you.
  • Find out what your health insurance will pay for if you see a doctor while you’re in another country. Carry enough of your regular medicines in their original containers. Carry extra prescriptions for the medicines, as well. Bring your eyewear prescriptions. Wear a medical information bracelet, if needed.
  • Take a first-aid kit. Not all items listed below are necessary. You can customize your kit based on what you might need for a specific location. It may include:
    • Your prescription medicines, in their original containers.
    • Medicine for diarrhea and upset stomach.
    • Prescription antibiotic you can take in case you get traveler’s diarrhea.
    • An over-the-counter medicine for upset stomach.
    • Antacid for indigestion.
    • Cough and cold medicines.
    • Pain medicines (aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen).
    • Decongestants and antihistamines for allergies (non-drowsy formula).
    • Antibiotic ointment.
    • Adhesive bandages.
    • Hydrocortisone cream.
    • Moleskin for blisters.
    • Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and lip balm.
    • Medicine for motion sickness (dimenhydrinate).
    • Other medicines for nausea and altitude sickness (promethazine and acetazolamide).
    • Scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, pocket knife, thermometer, and a mirror.
    • Hand wipes and hand sanitizer.

Things to consider

Your doctor will review your travel and decide whether you need any vaccines. The vaccines you got when you were a child also may need to be updated if you are not fully protected. Vaccines that you may need include the following:

  • Hepatitis A or hepatitis A immune globulin.
  • Hepatitis B.
  • Influenza (the flu).
  • Japanese encephalitis.
  • Measles-mumps-rubella.
  • Meningococcal meningitis.
  • Pneumococcal.
  • Polio.
  • Rabies.
  • Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids.
  • Typhoid fever.
  • Varicella (chickenpox).
  • Yellow fever.

Sometimes, the amount of a certain vaccine cannot keep up with the number of people who need it.

While you’re traveling:

  • Eat carefully if you’re going to a country with an increased risk of traveler’s diarrhea. Steaming-hot, well-cooked food is usually safest. Avoid eating foods from street vendors, unpasteurized dairy products, and raw or uncooked seafood. Peel fruits yourself. Drink water from commercially sealed bottles, or drink carbonated beverages. Avoid ice. Use bottled water when you brush your teeth.
  • If you’re going to a country with an increased risk of mosquito-borne disease, protect yourself against insects. Insect repellents that contain DEET work the best. Wear permethrin-coated clothing, and use bed nets while you sleep.
  • If you’re going to a country with a risk of malaria, your doctor may prescribe preventive medicine for malaria. Start taking your malaria medicine before you leave on your trip. Take it during your travels and keep taking it for 4 weeks after you get home.
  • Avoid swimming and other water activities in freshwater lakes and streams. Schistosomiasis (also called bilharziasis) is a disease you might be exposed to in some African streams and lakes.
  • Try to avoid taking overcrowded transportation. Try not to ride in vehicles without safety belts. Wear a helmet if you’ll be riding a motorcycle. Try to avoid driving at night or in unfamiliar areas without local help and directions.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What should I do if my trip is last minute and I don’t have time to get vaccinations?
  • I have type 2 diabetes. What advice can you give me about eating abroad?
  • Are children at an increased risk of illness when traveling to other countries?
  • Is air pollution a problem in some countries, and can that impact my asthma?


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