Always Be Prepared: 5 Ways to Stay Healthy During Your Trip

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Medication, hospitals and doctors, oh my. Unless you’re visiting some historic attraction, these are probably the last things you want to think about when you’re traveling, right?
If you have a chronic medical condition, you’re probably already aware that your trip planning might include a few extra steps. Even if you’re not, and the only medicine you take is your daily vitamin, there are still some issues of concern that you might want to address before you head out to catch your flight.

5 Consider Getting Travel Insurance

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If you’re unlucky enough to need a hospital while you’re traveling, insurance can help. Of course, in most other countries health care costs infinitely less than it does in America, but it can still add up. Many travel insurance plans do not pay up front: you pay your bill, submit a claim to them and get reimbursed as per their fee schedule. Still, better late than never, right? The good news is that you can procure basic travel insurance for under $30 per year. For Americans, an International Student, Youth or Teacher Identity Card offers basic reimbursement insurance for international trips. If you’re not eligible for an ISIC, IYIC or ITIC, membership with Hosteling International USA is open to all and provides similar coverage. You might want one of those memberships anyway, since they come with perks and discounts that can stretch your travel budget.

4 Pay Attention

This is another caveat that applies to everyone, not just those with medical conditions: pay attention. Bring and use the appropriate clothing and supplies for the weather and conditions in the area in which you’re traveling. Don’t ignore local health warnings. This sounds like a Captain Obvious statement, but every year travelers end up getting hurt because they decide that it’s fun to ignore the need for insect repellent in endemic areas (look up “dengue fever” or “botfly removal” on YouTube for possible results), dress inappropriately for the weather, or drink that water that was labeled “non-potable.” Don’t let that be you.

3 Prepare Your Meds for Customs

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You will probably be tempted to throw your vitamins and medications into convenient little travel containers. Don’t. Keep everything the original bottles with the original (prescription or not) labels. If you have something that came in a box such as an asthma inhaler, either cut the label off and bring it with you or fold the box down and stick it in your luggage. Along with this, if you’re under the care of a doctor, get a note on official letterhead. This is especially important if you’re carrying anything that requires needles, such as insulin or an Epi-Pen. A doctor’s note will make customs and security easier, and will also help if you somehow lose your medication overseas and need to get it replaced.

2 Get Those Shots

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Depending on where you’re traveling, you might require vaccinations for endemic diseases or malaria preventatives. The Center for Disease Control’s travel website (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/) can help you figure out what you need. Start early: some vaccines, such as the one for yellow fever, might only be available from the health department. Malaria prophylaxis generally has to be started before you enter the infected area and vaccinations take some time to kick in.

1 Check the Laws

Unfortunately, you cannot assume that the medicines you take, be they prescribed or over the counter, are legal in the country you’re about to visit. In some places travelers have been imprisoned for possession of cold medicine and common supplements like melatonin, so this is not even remotely a joke. In most countries you won’t have much to worry about, but you don’t want any nasty surprises at Customs. The State Department’s consular information sheets have a lot of detailed information on every country, including where to find their lists of banned medication. If you still have any doubts about something you’re bringing with you, call the country’s embassy. Spending ten minutes on the phone is a hell of a lot easier than spending four years in jail because you didn’t know the laws.

There’s a lot to see and do out there in the world — make sure you’re prepared for it.

Denise Reich is a lifelong traveler: she moved 14 times and went to 10 schools before she turned 15. As an adult she’s traveled solo through five continents and lived on three. Her essays, fiction and non-fiction have appeared in publications across the USA, Canada and Bermuda.

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