3 tips for safer, healthier international travel


Plan ahead at least six weeks for a safer, healthier international trip.

Although the busy summer travel season is coming to an end, it’s never too late to think about and plan for future travel. In 2017, 87 million people from the U.S. traveled abroad, and this number is expected to increase every year.

Many people plan for months or years for international travel. Making such trips is always exciting, even if crossing multiple time zones can be hard on our systems. That said, there’s no reason to avoid travel even if you have chronic medical problems such as diabetes, asthma, or kidney disease. With a little bit of preparation, you can have an enjoyable and safe trip.

It’s best to prepare for an international trip well in advance, even if you’re healthy. Knowing how to prevent illness and having the necessary immunizations and medications on hand can help you avoid complications and make your trip more enjoyable. Here are three things to consider as part of your preparation.

1. Optimize your health

It’s wise to plan a consultation with your doctor at least six weeks before you travel. This will give you enough time to respond to immunizations. Some immunization series may require longer. If you have concerns about chronic medical problems and need to make specific arrangements, such as dialysis, you might need to start planning much earlier.

If you are going on an adventure tour, it may be physically challenging and you may need to start training ahead.

Your doctor might want to know about your:

  • Accommodations
  • Itinerary
  • Medical history
  • Planned activities, such as scuba diving, climbing, or visiting friends and relatives
  • Planned trip length, including the time of year during which you’re traveling
  • Travel history
  • Vaccination history – the doctor can provide recommendations for additional vaccinations depending on your health history, destination, and length of stay

Bring all your immunization records and current medication list with you to the appointment. If you’re pregnant, talk to your obstetrician about your upcoming trip.

Planning a trip? Request a travel health consultation.

2. Pack smart

Carry your medical information, copies of your prescriptions, essential medicines, and other medical supplies in their original containers with clear labels in your carry-on luggage. Bring enough medication to last for your entire trip, as well as extra, just in case. Some medications, such as certain narcotics or Adderall, might not be allowed in other countries. Check with the embassy or consulate to make sure your medications will be permitted. You also can consult the listing for your destination with the International Narcotics Control Board

If you are on oxygen, call your airline in advance to learn its policies and procedures. Also, make multiple copies of your passport and travel documents to leave at home with a friend or relative. 

We also recommend packing a travel health kit for emergencies and acute illnesses. Consider including these items:

  • Antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer
  • First aid kit
  • EPA registered insect repellant with 20% DEET
  • Medications to prevent altitude sickness and malaria, as prescribed by your doctor
  • Over-the-counter medications, such as fever or pain relievers (Tylenol, Advil, etc.), allergy medication, hydrocortisone cream for rashes, antifungals and antibacterial creams (especially for adventure travel), or medication for yeast infections
  • Pepto-Bismol and antibiotics prescribed by your doctor for self-treatment of diarrhea or urinary tract infections
  • Sunscreen with SPF 30% or more and that has UVA and UVB protection.

3. Plan for your personal safety

Take time to research the country to which you are traveling. Enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to make informed decisions about your travel plans. 

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury among healthy travelers, and car crashes are a common cause of medical evacuations . Always wear seatbelts and put children in car seats. Additionally, wear protective gear when participating in adventure travel activities. 

Before your trip, create an action plan in case of an unexpected illness or emergency. We recommend checking with your travel insurance provider to determine whether you’re covered for chronic medical problems and emergencies, and, if not, shop around for the best deal. Here are a few travel safety resources to help you plan:

Foreign travel can be exciting, and with proper medical planning before the trip, you can limit complications and illness. Safe travels!

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