HOW TO REALLY GET READY TO TRAVEL IN 2017:
Preparation and Travel Tips
So what bad things are really most likely to happen to you when you travel? Do you acquire a strange tropical disease or get eaten by a lion? Not likely. The real answer is actually quite boring. You get traveler's diarrhea, have your possessions stolen, are involved in a car accident, drown while drunk or perhaps get a (curable or incurable) sexually transmitted disease! You can spend hundreds of dollars immunizing yourself against every conceivable illness and die from not fastening your seat belt in a taxi. Ironically, some of the most frequent causes of inconvenience, illness, injury and death can be avoided for a cost of nothing but some common sense--common sense that often flies right out the window while we travel. The stressed businessman and the leisure traveler to a warm sandy beach both often seem to somehow feel that the cautions and judgment used at home are no longer necessary while on the road. If I had to bet on who would return safely from a trip--an alert, unvaccinated traveler or a stupid, well-vaccinated one I would bet on the alert one every time. Knowledge is the best vaccine!
That's not to say you shouldn't get vaccinated--you definitely should get the right shots and medications. But another of our jobs as travel medicine specialists is to remind travelers of the risks of not using your head in your decisions both before and during your trip. The laws of nature are not suspended while you are on vacation. Below are a few tips on staying safe and coming home with all your body parts intact.
Alcohol: I'm not some old, prissy, prudish, lecturing, goodie-goodie (trust me on this) but I'll offer you rule No. 1 in travel safety in big blue letters: DON'T GET DRUNK! Alcohol, and some other drugs, can be enjoyable but they can cloud your judgment and cause you to crash your car, walk in front of a truck (especially in those countries where they drive on the "wrong" side of the road), sleep with the wrong person or wander into the wrong part of town. Thieves love drunks. The smell of alcohol runs deep through many of the stories I know of travelers who come home sick, robbed, pregnant, injured and dead.
Accidents: Think hard about whether you really want to drive in unfamiliar places. Generally, the less you know about the language, road conditions, rules of the road, condition of the vehicles, etc. the less wise it is to drive there. Choose your transportation and activity carefully. Is that bus a wreck? Does that cab have seat belts? Does that ferry-boat have life preservers? Does my hotel room have a fire escape? Am I in good enough shape for that hike? Can I really swim (surf, dive, wade, kayak etc,) safely in those waves?
Sex: O.K. In case you don't already know--people have sex. And they especially have sex when they travel. Why? They are in a new place, they are meeting new people, they are relaxed, they have a tan now and feel nice, they have free time, it is warm and nobody is wearing very many clothes, they are away from: (work, children, parents, spouse, room mates). Sometimes we just get lonely. If you've traveled very much you've probably had those feelings. Don't blush,it's human nature. Think very honestly about this before you go. You can make several choices: Don't have sex (best choice). Practice safer sex guidelines--If you don't know what this means, contact us and we will get the information to you. Buy some condoms--even if you don't think you will need them. Women may want to seek medical advice immediately (best within 24 hours) about emergency contraceptives if the unplanned happens. There are now two of these medications available in the U.S. You may want to consider carrying one of these with you. Remember that alcohol/drugs and sex can be a dangerous combination. (A special note to teens, twenty-something, high school and college students about to travel--read this article over twice!)
Immunizations: Yes, get your shots. Choose wisely based on information from your travel medical specialist (like the Healthy Traveler Clinic), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), your family doctor, or other informed and up-to-date source. They should be able to help you analyze your travel situation, itinerary, health history, budget and your own tolerance for risk. Try to get your immunizations as far ahead of your trip as you reasonably can. And a word about rabies. This is a fatal disease, spread mostly through animal bites and saliva, and is common in some developing countries. Rabies vaccines are available but are needed only by some travelers at moderate to high risk. Avoid animal bites and saliva by not touching, petting or going near animals, especially dogs. If bitten, wash the wound very thoroughly with soap and water and get medical help immediately.
General Health: The longer you will be away and the further from good medical care you may be, the more important it is to be prepared. Make sure any health concerns, chronic problems and treatments are taken care of before you go. If you are taking medications be sure you carry enough with you for your whole trip and some extra. Carry these in your carry-on bag as they won't do you any good if you are in Hawaii and your pills are in Tibet. Carry a list of your medicines with both the trade name and the generic name of each and instructions on how to take them. For legal reasons, always carry your prescription medications in their original prescription bottles. If you take drugs classified as controlled substances, eg. some pain killers etc. carry a note from your doctor outlining the need for you to carry these.
And don't forget to pack a small first aid kit. Healthy Traveler Clinic has some very good choices, such as the Healthy Traveler Survival Kit or see the section of our site about how to make your own.
Another useful kit that we carry at Healthy Traveler is a Sterile Syringe Medical Kit. This contains an assortment of syringes that are individually sealed. Numerous travelers have found this kit very useful when sterility of local supplies in a foreign country is questionable.
About traveler's diarrhea: Carry diarrhea treatment medicine with you. There is controversy about whether medicines like Immodium or Lomotil do any good by themselves. We recommend that you carry a "fluoroquinolone antibiotic" to use along with Immodium type medicine (only for 18 year olds and older) if you do get sick. Children and adolescents may use azithromycin (Zithromax) which is available as a liquid or capsules. Don't take these medications to prevent the problem but only if you get serious diarrhea.
The Dentist: If it's been a while since you've had a checkup, do this before you leave. You might want to seriously consider taking an Emergency Dental Kit with you. Finding a local dentist on the midnight hour at a foreign city can be challenging at best!
Security and Safety: Be aware of what's happening at your destination by checking news sources. You can even find online copies of many foreign newspapers through links on this site. Check the Department of State advisory for each country you will be visiting--again you can do this through links here. If you have special concerns, you may be able to contact the Regional Security Officer at the US embassy at your destination from information on our site.
We hope you have a rewarding, memorable, safe and healthy trip. A visit to your travel physician and some thought and planning ahead can be the most valuable investments you can make toward this goal
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