International Travel: 6 Tips for Staying Healthy

May 1 • 2019
International Travel: 6 Tips for Staying Healthy

Six Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling Abroad

International travel gives millions of people the opportunity to explore new places, experiences and cultures each year. In fact, nearly 42 million Americans traveled abroad to places, such as Mexico, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and other regions, in 2018. If your family plans to travel abroad, it’s important to take steps to prevent travel-related illnesses and ensure an enjoyable experience.

Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease consultant and epidemiologist for the Baptist Heart Transplant program, offers six recommendations to help you prepare for a fun, safe vacation abroad.

1. Get vaccinated.

International travel can expose travelers to rare illnesses—but vaccines offer protection. Immunizations can keep travelers safe on vacation and prevent them from bringing infections home.

“Hepatitis A and typhoid are the most common vaccinations people need if they’re going to an underdeveloped country,” said Threlkeld. “Preventive medications for malaria are also very important for many travelers in the tropical latitude.”

Travelers can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website to learn about required travel vaccinations by country. It is important to fully understand what vaccines you need—and when.

“Remember—some vaccinations for international trips can take three to four weeks to become effective in the body,” said Threlkeld. ”Patients who get a last-minute vaccine may go on a trip and return without having been protected by the vaccine. Make sure to get immunizations in advance.”

2. Consider existing health conditions.

Think about underlying medical problems you might have and if they require you to modify your activities, destination or other elements of your trip.

“Plan your trip in terms of your health,” said Threlkeld. “What medical conditions might limit you on a trip? For example, you don’t want to go to the Grand Canyon for a hiking trip if you have a serious heart condition.”

3. Take medications and supplies with you.

“The world is a smaller place than it used to be—you can FedEx items anywhere you need them,” said Threlkeld. “However, make sure you take your prescription medications. It may not be easy to get those filled if you forget them.”

Many travelers also choose to carry over-the-counter medications. Threlkeld recommends taking an antidiarrheal medication, such as Imodium; antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Claritin; and medicines for cough.

In addition to medications, pack a first-aid kit with antiseptic washes and bandages. These items can be helpful, particularly if you’re hiking or engaging in activities where you might fall or suffer minor injuries.

“Another thing people don’t think about is taking a thermometer,” said Threlkeld. “When a patient calls me from Nigeria and they have a 103-degree fever, that temperature can help inform my assessment and recommendations.”

4. Pay attention to travel health advisories.

Health notices inform travelers about health issues, such as disease outbreaks and natural disasters. It’s important to follow recommended precautions.

“Know what is going on in the country you’re visiting,” said Threlkeld. “A few years ago, my family had to change wedding plans because of the Zika virus. We had several pregnant members of the wedding party, and it became impractical for them to go to the affected destination. We changed the destination because of the health risks. Be sure to do your research and learn about events that can impact healthy travel.”

5. Stay hydrated and avoid contaminated water. 

“Long flights can be tremendously dehydrating because of the recirculated dry air on the plane,” said Threlkeld. “Dehydration can hamper the first few days of vacation, so make sure to drink plenty of water on the flight and for the remainder of your trip.”

Drink bottled, filtered or boiled water, if necessary. In countries with poor sanitation, water is often the source of gastroenteritis and severe infection.

“Travelers might already know not to drink a glass of tap water in a country where contamination is an issue—but they still consume ice cubes or brush their teeth from the tap,” said Threlkeld. “In these cases, you might as well drink a glass of tap water because that little bit of water can be just as harmful.”

6. Finish prescriptions when you get home.

“When you return from your trip, remember to pay attention to your health,” said Threlkeld. “For example, you may need to take a malaria prophylaxis for a week or so after you return home. The biggest mistake people make is not finishing their prescriptions. Always take the full course of the medication, even if you’re feeling fine. If treatment stops too soon, you could get sick.”

Learn more about infectious disease prevention. Find a doctor by visiting our Find a Doctor page.