by: Ken Ripp, M.D.
Spring break in the northland often equates to travel for those of us looking to escape winter weather for a week or two. While travel destinations and itineraries may vary, there is one thing that every traveler wants to accompany them on vacation: good health. It doesn’t matter if you are on the beach or a cruise ship, if you are sick, vacation is not a vacation at all.
The good news: there are proactive steps you can take to make sure your next vacation is a healthy one.
Before departure, make sure you are up-to-date on vaccinations. Consider your destination and consult with your physician. Getting a flu shot is recommended for people traveling in a group, on a cruise or to developing nations. Make sure your tetanus and hepatitis vaccinations are up-to-date. In addition, find out whether there are any specific vaccination recommendations for your destination – for instance some areas of the world have high rates of malaria or yellow fever.
Check your health insurance to make sure you have coverage in the area where you’ll be traveling. If your coverage doesn’t extend to your travel destination, you may want to consider purchasing supplemental insurance.
Wherever you are traveling – near, far, within the U.S. or abroad, it is always a good idea to bring a travel health kit with you. Items in the kit will vary, depending on your destination, but in general, here are items the American College of Emergency Physicians suggest travelers consider.
• Prescription meds, packed in your carry on luggage (in case your checked luggage is lost) and a list of all the prescription medications you take stored in a different location from the medications themselves (in case you lose your meds)
• An EpiPen if you have a history of severe allergic reaction
• Diabetic equipment if you are diabetic
• Over-the-counter medications for pain, fever and inflammation – aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
• Medications for stomach upset - Pepto Bismol, or a generic equivalent, immoduim for diarrhea, an antacid and a mild laxative
• Medications to treat upper respiratory tract discomfort – antihistamine, decongestant, cough medicine and cough drops
• Medication for motion sickness
Basic first aid
• Topical products – hydrocortisone cream, antibacterial ointment, antifungal lotion, insect repellent with DEET concentration of about 35 percent, sunscreen with at least 15 SPF, an antiseptic solution such as hydrogen peroxide, chapstick and alcohol-based hand sanitizer
• Materials to cover wounds such as bandages of various sizes, gauze pads or rolls and adhesive tape.
• First aid tools – tweezers, small scissors (note: scissors are not allowed in carry-on luggage) and a medical thermometer
Other items – rehydration solution packets, saline eye drops and nose drops
There may be other items you want to include, based on your individual needs.
When traveling and after arriving at your destination, you’ll want to engage in healthy travel behaviors.
For airplane travel
• If you have a long flight, make sure you get up every hour or two to stretch your legs and move around. This decreases your risk of blot clots.
• Stay hydrated (while traveling and throughout the duration of your vacation).
• Chew gum – it can alleviate the uncomfortable feeling of clogged or popping ears.
When at your destination
• Wash your hands (always, when traveling and when at your destination).
• Depending on your location, you may want to drink only bottled water and avoid ice.
• Wear protective gear when doing adventure activities – life jackets for water sports and a helmet for biking or motorcycling.
• Avoid touching or petting animals such as stray dogs or cats.
• Eat well cooked, rather than raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
• Have fun, but make time to get enough sleep.
Despite your best efforts, there is a chance you will become sick or injured while on vacation. Some situations, like mild diarrhea or mild allergies can be treated with your travel first aid kit. However, you will want too seek medical attention if you: have diarrhea and a fever above 102º F, bloody diarrhea, are bitten or scratched by an animal, are in a car accident, are sexually assaulted or are visiting a malaria-risk area and become sick with a fever or flu-like illness.
A vacation is a good thing. It is a time to relax, have fun and engage in the activities we like best. No one wants to spend even one moment of it feeling ill. Make your next trip a great one by practicing safe vacation behaviors and healthy habits and you’ll find yourself wishing you never had to return home.
Dr. Ripp is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.