How to Stay Healthy While Traveling Abroad – 7 Tips

World travel lends incredible exposure to new ideas, diverse cultures, and beautiful places. But for the unprepared, an unexpected stomach bug can leave you feeling vulnerable. You probably know not to trust water quality and that you need to wash or peel your fruits and veggies, but that’s really just the basics.
Visiting the travel clinic is an important step in educating yourself and preventing illness abroad.

Karol Josselyn, RN, MA, travel clinic supervisor at the UVM Student Health Center, shares how to  stay healthy while traveling to make the most of your adventures.

Do your homework. Not every region requires a visit to the travel clinic, so check with faculty or visit the CDC website to see if it’s appropriate. If you do need to visit the travel clinic, it’s a good idea to bring your travel itinerary with you. Figure out what regions you’ll be visiting and how long you’ll be staying in each area. This will help the travel clinic staff know if you’ll be exposed to specific health risks and help you to prepare by suggesting appropriate precautions.
Plan Ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to visit the travel clinic. Schedule your visit at least 6-8 weeks before your departure date so you can receive appropriate immunizations or have the time to decide which immunizations you’d like to have.  Don’t wait until you’re stressed or anxious about school or preparing for your trip. Plan your visit when you’ll have the time to process information and ask questions. Consider talking with your physician about getting a “travel override” for trips longer than one month so you can bring sufficient supplies of your prescription medications with you.
Ask Questions. Call your health insurance provider and ask if you should visit the travel clinic on campus or if you should see a provider within your network.  This simple question could save you a lot of money when it comes time to pay for immunizations.  If going abroad, make sure that your insurance adequately covers international health care, including medical evacuation, and be sure that the program has access to local health care.
Pack Well. Depending on where you’re going, you may not have access to a pharmacy on every street corner.  It’s a good idea to bring:
  • Prescription Medications – Plan to bring the full supply of any personal medications you’ll need during your trip. You may not be able to fill a prescription abroad or the medicine may not be available. It’s best to bring it with you in your carry-on bag. Also, it’s a good idea to know the generic name of the medication, in case you lose your medicine or need an emergency refill.
  • Malaria Medications – If malaria is a concern for the region you’re visiting, be sure to fill the prescription for the full time that you’ll need it. Some varieties require you to start and end a number of days before/after you leave the malaria-prone region.  You should also use preventative measures, like DEET and Permetherine –insect repellent for clothing and bed nets.
  • Altitude and/or Motion Sickness Medications – Be sure to plan ahead for the transit portion of your trip. Whether you’re on a plane or hiking from point A to point B, you won’t have access to a pharmacy.
Keep Records. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or it’s your first time on a plane, it’s a good idea to keep a record of your prescriptions and immunizations with you when you travel. In fact, in some countries, official documentation of your immunization (which can be obtained at the travel clinic) is required for entry and exit of the country. Even if you don’t need immunizations for your trip, it’s a good practice to you keep the name and phone number of your primary care physician and insurance company with your passport, so you have it when you need it.
Make Smart Choices. Some illnesses are avoidable, so do what you can to prevent getting sick during travel. In fact, most travel injuries are related to automobile accidents – so while you may be traveling, don’t let your sense of physical safety go on vacation, too.  Know your surroundings, don’t walk alone at night, wear your seat belt, check that your driver is qualified, and stay aware or road rules and conditions in the area you’ll be visiting.
Stay Connected. Keep up with local and regional news and use social media to prevent exposure to unnecessary environmental or public health risks. Register with the Embassy and keep your contact information up to date. If you do get sick abroad, you may want to ask the Embassy to recommend a hospital or health center so you know you have a qualified physician.
In such a globalized world, the speed of travel is often faster than the incubation of diseases. The only way you can really make a difference combating travel sickness is through immunization and preventative actions.
By visiting the travel clinic on campus and following these recommendations, you’ll be better prepared to prevent illness and deal with unexpected travel sickness.
As a message to students, Josselyn says, “My ultimate advice to you is to be excited and prepared for everything.”  By educating yourself in advance about risks and travel health precautions you can follow, you’ll be better able to take care of yourself and make the most of your experience abroad.