International travel has become an increasingly popular pastime for Americans. In 2014 alone, over 68 million Americans traveled abroad, with hot spots in Mexico, Canada, and Europe topping the popularity list. While most travelers focus on creating an exciting itinerary, preparing for potential health issues is a key part of planning an international adventure. Whether you’re embarking on a mission trip or backpacking through your travel “bucket list,” follow the tips below to ensure your experience is memorable for all the right reasons!
Before You Go
- Get a travel medicine checkup – it’s a great way to evade potential health nightmares overseas. From catching up on vaccinations to stockpiling necessary prescriptions, discussing your itinerary with a travel health professional can help you take the right steps to avoid unpleasant or even life-threatening illnesses abroad. Make sure to book your appointment for 4-8 weeks before your trip to allow time for multiple vaccinations and to address any current health issues.
- Buy travel health insurance if your US plan offers few or no international benefits. While none of us expects to have a health emergency during a vacation, even common ailments like traveler’s diarrhea can land unsuspecting tourists in the hospital. Without insurance, seemingly minor conditions can result in staggering bills and quickly drain your travel budget – or worse, leave you with debt long after the trip is over.
- Identify local healthcare facilities for each leg of your journey. This simple tip can save time and frustration if you become ill. After all, no one wants to be frantically searching for a doctor in the midst of an illness or injury! Keep in mind that if you don’t speak the local language, you may also want to determine whether any English-speaking facilities or medical translators are available nearby. The US Embassy may also be able to provide referrals.
During Your Trip
- Stick to bottled or boiled water and drinks. Even in the most metropolitan destinations, local water can contain bacteria or contaminants that wreak havoc on tourists’ systems, simply due to lack of exposure. To play it safe, only drink beverages that have been boiled or bottled, and bring along water purification tablets if you plan to travel to remote locations.
- Use common sense in sanitation. The best advice is sometimes the simplest! Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating. Don’t eat at stands or restaurants that look unsanitary, and avoid raw, undercooked or easily contaminated foods (such as buffets). If possible, stay away from areas with poor sanitation where the risks of exposure to disease may be greater.
- Monitor your health during and after your trip, and if you start to develop unusual symptoms on the road or once you’ve returned home, visit a medical professional as soon as possible. Even apparently minor issues like skin rashes can be symptoms of much more serious conditions. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with common illnesses in your travel region so you can recognize important symptoms if they occur.
For more information about planning a healthy and safe international trip visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel resources site.