6 Tips for Travel Health - Before You Go

If you've ever been really sick in a strange land, you know that this is one area you should take seriously. It is at best uncomfortable and at worst, extremely expensive and sometimes frightening.

So, before you stuff your bikini or iPod into that backpack, make sure you've also looked after the really important stuff. There is a great deal you can do before you set off to be prepared.

Here's Sensible Sanchez’s 6 top health tips:

1. Vaccinations

Make sure you're up to date with standard immunisations like tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles and rubella. Check with your GP or specialist travellers medical centre for any additional vaccinations or medications required for your destination. Seek advice at least six weeks before your departure, since some vaccinations don't take effect for several weeks and/or require a series of injections.

2. Malaria

Find out if you'll be travelling through a malarial area and ensure you have the correct anti-malarial medication for the particular region (this varies according to the destination and the mozzies' resistance levels).

3. Prescription Medicines

When traveling with prescription medication, carry it in your hand luggage, along with a copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor. The letter should include the name of the medicine, the dosage, how much you need to travel with, and state that the medicine is for your personal use.  Also remember your optical prescription if you wear prescription glasses.

Some drugs, particularly those classified as drugs of addiction (like ones containing codeine or strong painkillers) should not be transported into another country, even if you have a legal prescription for them.  Check with the consulate of the country you are visiting to see if your drugs are considered legal. If they are not, you will need to travel with a customs clearance from the country concerned.

If you take medication that is administered by self-injection, you should also check with the embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting to make sure you can travel with your own needles or syringes. Also inform your airline that you will be traveling with these medical items and arrange a letter from your doctor explaining why you need to carry them.  If you buy needles or syringes while overseas, ensure the packs are sterile and properly sealed.

4. Dental

Don't forget to get a dental check up before you leave as well!  Depending on where you're going, dental services may be few and far between.

5. Your General Health

It can be hard to look after your health whilst you're doing rounds of endless farewell parties held in your honour.  Those few beers probably look better than the idea of a vigorous jog, a healthy meal and an  early night. But it’s all about balance – you’ve got to keep the long term goal of actually starting your Big Trip on par with the damage you can do to yourself just celebrating the idea of it.  

It's fair to say that if you've come down with pneumonia after all this partying, then suffer 20 hours on a cramped flight only to emerge in Kathmandu in mid-winter, your Big Trip isn't really starting out too well.

Combine a bit of common sense here (if it's only a head cold, it will probably go away in a few days) with proper advice from your GP (how will your asthma be affected if you climb that mountain?).

6. First Aid Kit

No matter how big or small your trip is, always pack a first aid kit.  There's a lot to say about what's required in different parts of the world and for different travel styles, so we've posted a whole story about it here.

And finally, whilst we offer tips for your travel health and safety, please be aware that you need to make decisions based on your own circumstances and the local laws of the countries you will visit.

It is best to check with your Foreign Affairs/State Dept and the World Health Organization for the most up to date information in this area.