The last thing you want to happen on your vacation or while you are traveling--or even when you return home--is to get sick. That's no fun at all.
So it pays to be prepared...before and during your trip.
Here are a couple of tips that can help keep you healthy and happy:
Before you go...
Make sure you're up-to-date with routine immunizations. If you don't believe in vaccinations, that's certainly your choice. But if you do, now is a good time to make sure you're current with routine immunizations like measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, poliovirus vaccine, etc. You may also want to consider getting vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and--depending what country you are moving to--yellow fever.
Courtesy of Jason Holland, InternationalLiving.com
One resource for health care recommendations for travelers and those planning an extended stay overseas is the website of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
While your chances of getting Yellow Fever are low unless you travel deep into jungled areas, some countries--such as Costa Rica, where there is no risk--require proof of yellow fever vaccination if you are traveling there directly from other countries where the disease can be found. If you get a Yellow Fever vaccination, ask for an International Certificate of Vaccination and keep it with you when you travel. And note that the vaccine is to be given 10 days before travel to an endemic area.
What about malaria? Malaria is endemic in the tropics, there's no doubt about that. But in most countries visited by casual tourists, you'll find little risk. Again, the CDC offers helpful information at its website.
We personally have traveled extensively in the tropics of Latin America and somewhat in Southeast Asia, and we've never taken any malaria treatment nor ever felt the need to do so.
A bigger risk in the tropics is dengue fever, another mosquito-borne disease for which there is no vaccination. Primarily prevalent during rainy seasons, your best prevention is to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Use repellant and take other precautions, such as having screens on windows. Learn more here.
We also recommend that you make decisions beforehand about how you will pay for any health care needs that might arise while traveling. Do you have health insurance that will cover you overseas? Now's the time to find out. If you're not covered, you may want to purchase a supplemental travel policy that includes evacuation insurance.
Have an emergency plan. Be sure your travel partner or family and friends back home know how to access your health information and/or contact and financial information if you should become incapacitated in any way.
A helpful tip: Before you leave home, stock up on prescription medications you may be taking...while you may be able to find local equivalents, what happens if you can't? And be aware that not all medications are the same. Our son had an allergic reaction to antibiotics he once bought in Mexico. His doctor back in the U.S. told him the reaction was probably not due to the medication itself, but to a different coating used on the tablets. A handy website to look up comparable medications available in various countries is Drugs.com.
While you are traveling...
Wash your hands often. This goes without saying. We always have a small airline-size-approved hand sanitizer or (better yet) wipes tucked into our carry-on bags and backpacks.
And while it may make you look paranoid to wipe down the armrests and tray table, it may save you from illness. Those are where the largest amount on bacteria are found on airplanes. And when it comes to your health, who cares what anyone else thinks?
Similarly, in airplane, airport, and other public bathrooms, we never touch those other common bacteria vectors...door handles...with our bare hands. Use a paper towel or your forearm or elbow to open them.
And surely you've heard the term "filthy lucre?" It's true, money is literally filthy, and you touch it often while traveling. So learn to wash your hands far more frequently, before meals and after you've paid the bill.
Be careful about drinking the tap water. We've learned to ask for bottled water even when traveling in countries where tap water is deemed safe. And even in the U.S. Every municipality has different water treatment systems. And you never know what shape the pipes are in any particular neighborhood or building.
And we learned this the hard way: if someone tells you the water they are serving is purified, don't just take their word for it. Be sure you get water in a bottle (not a glass) with a sealed cap.
Follow the crowds. Watch and see where the locals eat. If you are eating at a roadside stand or cart, eat at the places that look the cleanest and where the largest crowds of locals are. They know where the best, freshest food is and the places with the best sanitary practices. Follow their lead.
Use common sense. In the tropics, food can spoil quickly. Don't eat food that appears to have been sitting out a long time...including salsas and other common condiments left on tables. Don't eat in places with lots of flies or other insects. Check and see if the food service workers have clean clothes and hands.
And for goodness sake, keep your wits about you. If you go out partying, be extra careful. Don't accept drinks (or anything else) from strangers and don't think you can stumble home drunk alone at night. Call a taxi. And remember, sexually transmitted diseases are everywhere. Protect yourself at all times.
Once you get home...
Sick? Tell your doctor where you've been. If you become ill after returning home and you can't seem to shake what's ailing you, go see a doctor. Be sure to tell him or her where you've been. There are some diseases that are endemic to certain locations, such as Valley Fever, common in the desert southwest of the United States.