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General Health Articles
Travel can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of life, but it takes planning and avoidance of illness to keep from being a disaster. Follow our tips and you will have a safe and enjoyable trip. Air and other travel can be a real source of illness - sometimes very serious. It's best to know what to look out for in advance and how to avoid it. Most problems can be avoided by simple precautions and often have simple solutions.
A key question when considering travel is always whether or not you are fit and in good enough health to do so. If you've recently recovered form a serious operation or illness, it may be best for you to wait until both your health and stamina are back up to par: don't put yourself at risk. Being sick far from home and your regular doctor can be very challenging!
• Make a Personal Travel Checklist: read through these tips and other advice and make yourself a travel checklist that's specific to your needs. Talk to people who have gone to the places you're planning to go to. If you have a health condition, find people with the same condition who have gone to your destination. You know your health situation better than almost anyone else, so think about what you'll need when away from home.
Some things to add to your list:
• Transportation to the airline, ship or train
• Who’s going to take care of my pets?
• Is my passport (and any inoculations) up to date?
• Should I get travel insurance?
• Stop or forward the mail
• Make a copy of your passport and any immunization papers, and keep them separate from your passport
• If it is winter at home, will someone shovel/plow my walk and driveway?
• Will my cell phone, Blackberry, or other electronic device work where I am going?
• If you are planning to take a laptop, remember that Homeland Security has the right to investigate what’s on it. You may want to strip out your data and put it on a flash drive or use some encryption programs that are available.
• Check the weather where you are going, and be prepared
• Alert your bank and credit card companies that you will be making purchases abroad. “Suspicious” foreign charges may be denied, which could leave you in an embarrassing position. If you have a recent credit or debit card, make sure it works and you know your pin number. (Editor’s note: I had gotten a new debit card for an old account, but had not used it prior to my trip. At my destination I was unable to use it – my main source of funds! Luckily I was able to rectify the situation over the phone, but I had a personal contact at the bank who helped – otherwise it might have been impossible, and my trip would have been ruined.)
Immune System Health
In all cases your body can fight off most germs it encounters - when your immune system is working efficiently. When it's compromised, you get sick. See our Immune System section for supplements that will give it a boost. It’s good to start the process several weeks before your trip, depending on what supplementation you are already taking.
One recurring problem, especially of air travel, is getting sinus or other upper respiratory infections. The air in planes is re-circulated throughout the trip– we leave it to your imagination what else is circulating with perhaps several hundred people on board. The air is also very dry, which, in turn, dries out the mucous membranes in your nose and mouth, making you all the more susceptible to germs.
One solution to this is to take SSKI (potassium iodide) approximately ½ hour before boarding, and repeat every three or four hours during your flight. Take 10 to 15 drops in a glass of water. Limit to 10 drops if you are going on a flight of 12hours or more, and don’t take more after you have landed. The SSKI will kill or inhibit most of the germs that may be circulating in the airplane. Of course, if you are allergic to iodine, don’t use this remedy.
Another solution to the infection problem is to use a natural nasal spray that will moisturize your sinuses.
Stress harms the efficiency of the immune system, which makes you more susceptible to any kind of infection.
• Do as much preparation as you can ahead of time and do your best to remain calm.
• Also plan ahead as much as possible; pack your suitcases a day or so in advance and put all your travel documents in one place, such as your carry-on, where you can find them quickly. Go over your checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten something.
Avoid unnecessary physical strain both before and during your flight and travel. Lifting or carrying heavy suitcases can cause back, shoulder and neck problems – don’t over do it, and seek assistance if your luggage is too heavy for you. This can be the direct source of discomfort and pain immediately after landing and possibly during your trip.
• Take advantage of any chance to save excess exertion. Most suitcases now come with wheels, something that only pilots and airline crew, the most frequent travelers, used to have.
• Get up and walk around at intervals during your flight; this can prevent general muscle fatigue and also more serious conditions like DVT - deep vein thrombosis- which occurs when blood clots form in the legs, break off, and go into the lungs, which can be fatal. This can be easily avoided by getting up and walking, though some travelers find that flexing the calf muscle by pushing up the leg with the ball of the other foot is sufficient.
• If in doubt simply get up, stretch and move around.
Basic hydration is essential to the human body, which is largely composed of water. A lack of water can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, chills and fatigue. Also, dry sinuses become irritated, which opens them up to attack by germs.
• Drink enough water before you get on the plane and take more with you and drink as needed.
• Remember that both caffeine and alcohol cause dehydration and should be avoided on flights.
• Water in foreign countries can have bacteria, parasites and other forms of contamination. It is best to drink bottled water and use it for brushing your teeth. If, however, you need to drink local water, you can kill the pathogens by using grapefruit seed extract. Eight-ten drops in a glass of water will do the trick. It’s pretty bitter, but getting Montezuma’s revenge or other ailment from the water is certainly no fun!
• As a rule, avoid things you’re not sure about before your trip. Many foods are safe for people who are used to them but not a good idea for a short-term visitor to try.
• Different regions of the world have different germs and bacteria, and your body deals best with ones it has encountered before. Diarrhea is not uncommon, and some probiotics can help and in some cases cure any problems. One such is Lactobacillus GG, found in Culturelle, and other similar products.
• Washing hands is essential, especially after using the toilet, because most germs are spread by hand contact.
This is one situation that affects nearly all travelers, at least on one leg of the trip. Read our Jet Lag section for more information.
Immunization and Health Insurance
• Depending on where you're going, make sure the necessary shots are up to date.
• As far as insurance goes it's a good idea to know what you're covered for when abroad - call your agent or insurance company to find out. This goes for health and automobile insurance.
Existing Medical Conditions
This should not stop extended travel or travel abroad if there are specialists for your condition in the area you intend to travel to. Find out before you leave.
• Some hospitals offer travel health services, which provide medical information for travelers to help prepare for their trips ahead of time
• Find the names and addresses of specialists and keep them with you
• If traveling to non-English speaking countries, find hospitals that have English speaking doctors and staff in case of an emergency
• Take double supplies of the medications/remedies you need with you, and pack them in different suitcases in case one gets lost
• Make a list of your medical information for emergencies (see below)
List of Personal Information
Make a list of medical and other information in case of emergency.
• List your conditions
• The medications you take for them
• The names of your doctors
• How to find your medical records
• Who to contact first in case of emergency
• A living will if you have one
• Note your blood type
• Note any medications, such as aspirin or sulfa drugs, that you are allergic to
• Any other information you think someone treating you medically needs to know about you
Do you have a tip that we should ad? Please send it to us. Many thanks!