This blog post was updated on August 4, 2021.
Cheap airfare, open borders in countries like those of the EU, and rising prosperity have got the world traveling like never before. But while we all love to be exposed to colorful and exotic cultures, we don’t want to be exposed to germs that might make us sick, as colorful and exotic as they may be (wink). Yet with so many things to think about as we plan our next adventure or business venture, we can sometimes take our health for granted, especially if we’re usually very healthy. And let’s face it, even thinking about the possibility of getting sick is, well, kinda sickening. So we’ve taken the pain out of it for you by putting together some wellness tips and advice to help you stay healthy while traveling.
See if Your Uncle Sam Is OK with Your Trip
At the risk of stirring up feelings about a “nanny state,” we recommend you check out what the government is saying about where you’re thinking of jetting off to. We do, after all, pay taxes to monitor situations worldwide, including health related ones, that could affect us, and so we should use its services. It takes just a few minutes to review official websites like:
► the travel advisories page of the U.S. State Department;
►the Centers for Disease Control (CDC);
►the vaccines for travelers page of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
► and the U.S. Embassy page for your destination.
You can get important information from them such as the nature of any travel advisories, advice on vaccinations, and changes in a country’s entry requirements like Papua New Guinea’s decision to temporarily suspend its Visa on Arrival program as a preventative measure against COVID-19.
Consult with a Travel Clinic
“Aren’t you really being overprotective now?” you may be asking us. “Isn’t it enough to let my doctor know where I’m heading?” you may say. Well, it’s a good idea to discuss your trip with your primary doctor, especially with a view to managing any existing health problems as you travel. But while your doctor can ensure you’re up-to-date on routine vaccinations, like the dreaded diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis one and provide some wellness tips, your doctor may not have the pulse of some of the current health issues at your destination. Travel clinics, however, specialize in knowing what’s going on on the ground where you’re going, have deep inventories of medicines and vaccines to help protect you, and can even help you obtain all of your necessary travel documents – like while your taking your shots, for instance.
Furthermore, travel clinics can be your passport to maintaining your health while you’re on the road since many have multinational networks.
You can use the clinic directory of the International Society of Travel Medicine to find one.
Don’t Skip Any Recommended Travel Immunizations
Of course we just told you to get your shots. But if you’re anything like us you probably need a little nagging. There are vaccinations that are required before you can even enter a country and ones that are recommended. It’s the latter that we make all kinds of excuses to avoid, if we’re even aware of them. “Why get a bunch of strange shots for strange germs that I’ll probably never get anyway?” some may say. But the whole point is to fortify yourself as much as possible to stay well. A little pain now can save you from a world of pain later on. Or others may say “I’m going to a beautiful island to tan up. I don’t want to be seen on the beach with a bunch of puncture bruises and band aids on my body.” We agree. That would be unbecoming. Just get your shots well ahead of your trip; some of them have fairly long lead times anyway. Or there’s “I don’t want to make a special trip to the doctor. And anyway, my health insurance doesn’t cover them and we’re already spending an arm and a leg on this trip.”
Well, the point is to get vaccinated no matter what the extra cost so that you can keep that arm and leg. And getting at least some of your shots might be as easy as visiting your local CVS or Walgreens when you next shop there. Still, we do like the idea of killing two birds with one stone at the travel clinic.
Consider Purchasing International Medical Insurance
If you’re a Medicare recipient who’ll be taking international airline flights, Medicare won’t cover the costs of health care you may need, including prescriptions, while you’re outside of the United States, though there are some rare exceptions. (Medigap policies may very well cover you, however.) If you’re enrolled in a corporate health plan, you should find out whether or not it covers you for health care abroad. But even if it does, it may not be designed to easily help you while you’re overseas. Travel medical insurance, however, specializes in doing so.
It can provide advance medical payments to a medical provider, help you locate the best care, provide translation services, and, very importantly, arrange for and cover the cost of your evacuation and return to the states.
Make sure you get a policy with a pre-existing medical exclusion waiver for any chronic health condition such as diabetes that you may have so that any related care won’t be denied by the policy. And remember that travel medical insurance is different from trip insurance, the one insures you for the costs of medical care while the other insures the cost of your trip and any inconveniences or interruptions to it.
Take Pandemic Precautions
If you’re considering traveling during a pandemic, like COVID-19, there are some ways that you might reduce your chances of exposure. First and foremost, see if you fall into a high risk category for whatever is going around. If you do, you probably shouldn’t travel at all. Uh, it’s time to duck and cover. But if you don’t, check the current travel restrictions so that you avoid areas with outbreaks.
Taking direct flights may also help you limit your potential exposure. Changing your type of trip, if you can do so, may also be a good idea. For instance, you’ll definitely want to avoid crowds in enclosed spaces. So, for instance, instead of museum hopping in Paris, you can do something that’s off the beaten path or outdoors, like seeing Monet’s gardens in persons. And use common sense: Avoid people who are obviously sick, wash your hands frequently, try not to touch your face much, wear disposable face masks, and keep up your nutrition and energy.
Be aware of the symptoms of the global illness so that you’ll know to seek the proper medical care immediately.
When it comes to reducing your chances of being a part of the pandemic, it’s important to remember that knowledge is power in any rapidly evolving situation.
Protect Yourself from Microbial Hitchhikers When You Fly
You’re finally in your plane seat! Whew! With all the preparing and security we go through, it can seem like such a job getting there. At least now you can recline and relax. But WAIT! Before you press that recline button or the play icon on the video screen, you might want to go over them with a disinfectant wipe. Despite the best efforts of airlines to clean and sanitize, planes are not known for being the most microbe-scrubbed places. So make sure to include travel-sized hand sanitizer and wipes in the toiletries bag of your carry on.
Other things you’ll want to wipe down on the plane are your food tray and arm rest. If you’ve got an aisle seat, you might ask to move to a window seat if one is available to limit your contact with people. Other precautions you can take are to don your well-fitting face mask when you move about the cabin; bring your pillow and blanket; and use extra care in the bathrooms.
Watch Your Diet and Get Exercise
One of the best courses of preventative action is to make sure that you nourish your body with the right nutrients. It’s important to drink plenty of liquids while traveling, especially when flying for long periods of time, to avoid dehydration. While you’ll want to indulge in the sweets and decadent foods of the place you’re visiting, be sure to also eat fruits, vegetables, and plenty of immune-boosting supplements and vitamins.
Just because you’re away doesn’t give you an excuse to abandon your regular exercise routine. Making an effort to work up a sweat will help you to boost your immune system, give you energy, and keep you feeling your best. You can get a little on the plane by taking frequent breaks to walk up and down the aisle. (Remember to wear your mask though.) In your hotel room, there’s plenty of stretching and yoga exercises you can do to keep the blood flowing. Or find the hotel gym and hit the treadmill to get the blood really flowing.
Respond Quickly to Signs You’re Ill
If you think you’re coming down with an illness or you get hurt, it’s vital that you do not delay getting care. You can certainly treat symptoms with appropriate remedies from your first aid travel kit, but its a good idea to seek the advice and treatment of a local doctor as quickly as you can. Especially if you’re traveling overseas, since you don’t know what you may have picked up in your travels. While it’s important to not panic, you should also resist the urge to soldier on because you don’t want to disappoint your travel companions or you don’t want to miss a moment of your trip. By doing so, you may risk getting others sick while worsening your own health problem. It’s always hard to bench yourself, but sometimes you’ve just gotta do it.
Obviously, you can’t plan for every possible health concern, and you definitely shouldn’t avoid travel altogether. The goal here is to be aware and – most of all – be prepared.