Simple Tips for Healthy Travel
Jul 07, 2023 | Family Medicine | Share:
Got big plans for a summer vacation this year?
Whether you’re headed a few hours south to the Alabama gulf coast or you’ve got plans to head overseas, no one wants their travel plans interrupted by illness.
And while it’s impossible to control the future, there are some things you can do to stay healthy when you travel. Check out our guide for healthy travel tips - and what you can do if you do get sick while on the road.
Tip #1: Give Your Immune System a Boost
You can’t make yourself immune to any illness you might encounter, but you can prime your immune system to fight. There aren’t any magic tricks involved in immune support: these are basic practices that can help you stay healthy all year round.
To support your immune system before you travel, make sure you:
- Get plenty of sleep: Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep to feel their best. Sleep also helps your body fight off infection. If you begin your trip sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to get sick if you’re exposed to illnesses such as the common cold.
- Exercise regularly: Although you’re probably busy getting ready for your trip, that doesn’t mean you should skip out on exercise. Moderate, consistent exercise such as walking, jogging, or biking improves the effectiveness of your immune system.
- Reduce stress: We hope your vacation will be a retreat from your daily stressors. But before you go, try to manage your body’s stress responses to lower the stress hormones in your body, which can make it harder to fight off illnesses.
- Consider supplements: Vitamins C and D are supplements that are proven to support immune function. Talk to your primary care doctor about supplements that may help you stay healthy when you travel.
Boosting your immune system can help you stay healthy throughout your trip, especially if you plan to use mass transit or visit crowded locations. And if you do get sick on your trip, priming your immune system can help reduce the duration of your illness.
Tip #2: Get Your Medications in Order
When you’re making your packing list, don’t forget your medications. If you take prescription medication, make sure you have enough to last you for the duration of your trip. Emergency out-of-town refills can be a headache, and no one wants to worry about where their nearest pharmacy is when they could be spending time relaxing or sightseeing. But don’t wait until the last minute to check on your prescriptions; you may need to get a vacation override from your insurance company if you need to fill your prescription earlier than usual.
It’s also wise to pack over-the-counter medications when you travel. Pack any medications that you regularly use for over-the-counter needs, such as headache or allergy medicine. But you may also need additional medications based on your travel plans.
For example, if you’re planning to eat at a lot of restaurants, you may want to pack some antacids. It’s also a good idea to pack First-Aid supplies such as bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, and antibiotic ointment. Some countries may require proof of certain vaccinations, so make sure to pack these as well.
Once you have your medications in order, don’t forget to pack them! If you’re flying, you’ll want to keep medicines in their original container and pack them in your carry-on bag in case your checked bags go missing. You should also keep a list of all medications on your phone or on a list in your wallet in case you do get sick while you're traveling.
Tip #3: Check Local Travel Guidelines
You’re probably used to checking the weather before you travel so you know what clothes to pack. It’s also important to check travel guidelines, especially if you’re planning to travel overseas. Before you travel abroad, check CDC travel guidelines for your travel destination. These guidelines are searchable and provide valuable information that can keep you healthy while you travel.
Before you travel anywhere, you should always make sure to be up-to-date on all of your regular vaccines. But if you’re traveling to another country, you may need additional vaccines to help you stay healthy. For example, if you’re traveling to the Bahamas, you may need additional vaccines for illnesses such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Yellow Fever.
The CDC travel guidelines also provide other information about healthy travel in your chosen destination. If there are specific, time-sensitive travel health notices, these will be listed at the top of the page. You’ll also find other warnings and general advice, such as drinking only bottled water that has been sealed or packing mosquito nets when planning to sleep outdoors.
Even if you’ve traveled somewhere before, it’s always a good idea to check these travel guidelines. Review these once when you make your travel plans and again shortly before you leave to ensure you have the information you need to plan for safe travel.
Tip #4: Wash Your Hands
While washing your hands may seem basic, you don’t want to forget to wash your hands frequently while traveling. Proper handwashing is proven to reduce the risk of infection from both gastrointestinal illnesses and upper respiratory infections.
Proper handwashing requires more than a quick dip under the water with a squirt of soap. To adequately wash your hands, you need to scrub the entire surface of your hands, including the backs of your hands and your fingernails, for at least twenty seconds. Rinse thoroughly and dry your hands with a clean towel when you’re done.
You don’t need antibacterial soap or even hot water to wash your hands effectively: the friction and rinsing will get rid of the germs for you. And while handwashing is always best, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will work in a pinch if you don’t have access to soap and water.
You can’t control every germ that you’ll encounter while you’re traveling, but you can commit to washing your hands. Wash your hands whenever you would at home, like after using the restroom or before you eat; it’s also helpful to wash your hands when you come home from a busy day of sightseeing or disembark from a plane.
Tip #5: Schedule an Appointment with Your Primary Care Doctor
If it’s been more than a year since your last wellness visit, now is the perfect time to schedule that appointment. Regular checkups are key to helping you stay healthy, both at home and while you’re on the road. But even if you’re up-to-date on your wellness visits, it can be helpful to schedule another appointment with your primary care doctor if you’re planning to travel out of the country or for an extended period of time.
By visiting your primary care doctor before you travel, you can:
- Ensure you have the medications you need. Your doctor can update your regular prescriptions as well as prescribe new medications that you may need to support your travel plans.
- Address health concerns. This is the perfect time to talk with your doctor about new health concerns such as sleep disturbances, anxiety, or changes in your bathroom habits. Your doctor can help you get to feeling your best before you leave.
- Obtain relevant travel advice. The CDC is a great resource for travelers, but your primary care doctor can provide specific advice tailored to your personal health needs and your travel itinerary.
- Develop a personalized plan for healthy travel. Your doctor can help you know exactly what you need to have a healthy trip, whether it’s updating your vaccines or just helping you know exactly where to go if you do get sick.
Your primary care doctor is your partner for better health, no matter where you are in the world. Schedule that appointment at least a month before you plan to travel.
Tip #6: Have a Plan
You can follow all of these guidelines and still get sick while traveling. And while that can be disappointing, it doesn’t have to completely derail your trip. Having a plan in place can help minimize the stress associated with getting sick or hurt on vacation.
When you’re packing your medications and First Aid supplies, make sure to also pack a copy of your health insurance card and any supplemental insurance you may have. Travel insurance may also be beneficial. Travel medical insurance usually covers the cost of emergency medical treatments while you’re traveling, while trip protection insurance will cover you from other losses from traveling. Both can be beneficial for travelers.
You should also know your options for healthcare if you do get sick. Identify urgent care clinics and hospitals at your destination before you leave; this is especially important if you’re traveling out of the country. Your doctor can help you identify where to go if you need healthcare while you’re away.
Your primary care doctor may be able to provide telehealth services while you’re traveling, so ask ahead of time if this will be an option for you.
Travel plans are exciting, and we don’t want to see anyone’s plans derailed by illness or injury. As you plan your itinerary, take the time to plan for your health as well. And remember, you don’t have to make these plans on your own: your primary care doctor is here to help. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, doctors at MedHelp are currently accepting new patients at all five of our Birmingham locations.
Add an appointment with your primary care doctor to your travel to-do list. Your primary care doctor can help you plan for a safe and healthy trip, no matter where you're headed. Primary care doctors at MedHelp are accepting new patients at all five Birmingham locations.