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General Health and Safety Tips

You’ve planned and packed – you’re all ready for your trip – but you may have overlooked one of the key ingredients for a great vacation: taking the necessary steps to make sure you and your family have a safe and healthy trip.

The healthier your body is, the easier it will be for you to adapt to the effects of jet lag. If you plan a few days ahead, however, even the most out-of-shape may be able to head off the misery of jet lag. Several days before you leave, try going to bed a little earlier or a little later (if you are flying east or west, respectively), and start a stretching regiment. Hydrate yourself and eat lightly the day you travel. The headache, light-headedness and nausea associated with jet lag should lessen significantly when such measures are taken.

Motion sickness is an unpleasant problem for many travelers; however, there are some over-the-counter and prescription medications available. If you wish to combat motion sickness on your own, try the following: When traveling by car, try to sit in the front seat and, if you can, avoid reading as it only heightens the feeling of motion sickness. When traveling by boat, sit as close to the middle of the vessel as possible and look straight ahead at the horizon, a fixed point that will not move. Today’s high-tech cruise ships are built for comfort, with stabilizers for smooth sailing, and most passengers experience little or no motion sickness. When flying, try to sit near the wing of the plane, or the side where you are accustomed to driving. Ear plugs also may help.

There’s nothing more miserable than getting sick while on vacation. For most destinations, the major health risk to travelers is diarrhea, which may be easily avoided. In general, common sense prevails. When in doubt, steer clear of uncooked meat, raw fruits and vegetables and unpasteurized milk products, and drink only bottled water (although the tip of the bottle may be contaminated, so wipe it clean before drinking from it) or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes. If you begin to feel sick or develop a fever, rest and drink tea or purified water. Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea clear up within a few days.

If you suffer from an overactive bladder or irritable bowel syndrome, you may require frequent bathroom visits during long trips. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications are often helpful for the latter, and there are prescription medications available for people who may experience more severe symptoms. Avoiding stress, caffeine, and certain types of high-fat foods can help keep these conditions under control.

To avoid heatstroke, stay out of the sun for prolonged periods of time. By the same token, try to avoid unusually cold water to prevent hypothermia.

People who suffer from allergies should take the same precautions on vacation as they do at home. Bring any medications used on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to bring an antihistamine in case of accidental exposure to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction. It also may be helpful to pack your own pillowcase for use in hotels, and to request a non-smoking room.

The inflammation of the joints that occurs with arthritis may be especially troubling during long trips that restrict movement. Taking frequent breaks to walk around and relieve stiff joints and muscles can make car, plane and cruise trips more enjoyable. Remember to pack aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or any prescription medications you normally use for arthritis.

First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to keep a first-aid kit handy for any emergencies that may arise during your trip. It should include:

» A first-aid manual
» Bandages, gauze and tape
» Scissors
» Tweezers
» Thermometer
» Antibiotic ointment
» Antiseptic
» Antihistamine
» Aspirin
» Cold and flu tablets
» Throat lozenges
» Anti-diarrheal medication
» Motion sickness medication
» Water purification tablets
» Antacid
» Insect repellent
» Calamine lotion
» Cortisone cream
» Sunscreen
» Health and vaccination records

If you’re charting unknown territory, you’re going to want to take extra precautions to avoid putting yourself in harm’s way. Plan for the worst. Pack a survival kit that includes your first aid kit, a map, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof firestarter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, sturdy hiking boots, rain wear, high-energy food and water. Ask your doctor about necessary immunizations. Take a first aid course before you leave and learn the ABC’s of treating emergencies. Learn to recognize medical emergencies and respond to them immediately and appropriately, comforting the victim until help arrives. As common sense would dictate, avoid areas of natural hazards such as avalanche, rock fall, floods, and hazardous plants and animals, and check for potential hazards of terrain, sanitation (including infectious disease) and climate.

If you are bitten by a wild animal, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Many animal bites require a tetanus shot and, in certain cases, a rabies shot. If bitten by a snake, lie as still as possible so not to spread the venom that may be present; then send others to get help immediately. Check your body for ticks. Remove any with tweezers and watch the area for rash over the course of the next few weeks. See your doctor if you develop abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, rash, cough or weight loss.

Finally, the best thing you can do for yourself to keep healthy and happy while on vacation is to purchase travel insurance. Neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for care outside the United States, and most health insurance plans don’t, either. Travel insurance is advisable, especially since the odds are you or someone in your family will need to seek some type of medical assistance while away. Talk with your travel agent to help you decide what coverage you’ll need based on your type of travel (developing country, adventure safari, Disneyland, etc.). Be sure to examine different policies, make careful inquiries and always read the fine print. Two features are essential: a 24-hour, toll-free, English-language phone assistance and a plan that provides direct, immediate payment to the medical provider.

Although you can’t anticipate every contingency, these are steps you can take to ensure a healthy vacation. For travelers with special needs, your travel agent can assist you with any personalized services.

For additional information, visit these Web sites:

Fodor's health tips (fodors.com)
A Guide for People with HIV Infection: Preventing Infections During Travel (WebMD.com)
Food and Water Precautions and Travelers' Diarrhea Prevention (CDC.gov)
Gastrointestinal Illness While Travelling (Health Canada)
Health Insurance and Overseas Travel (WebMD.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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