Tips for Healthy Travel
During a recent trip to East Africa, I spent a miserable week in a fan-cooled hotel room battling high fever, body aches, and severe sinus congestion. My only pain relief was an ineffective generic antihistamine from a local pharmacy. Luckily, I bumped into two Toronto-based physicians traveling on a medical volunteer mission. They were able to allay my immediate concerns about malaria and swine flu, but for what ailed me, they were unable to prescribe anything more than sensible advice: “Get some rest and drink lots of fluids.”
After I finally recovered, it occurred to me that I had learned a valuable lesson about staying healthy on the road. With the current concerns over the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) pandemic, it’s more important than ever for travelers to be proactive about staying well. Before heading overseas, visit your doctor for a checkup and then check the Centers for Disease Control travel health page for updates on infectious diseases—cholera, tuberculosis, yellow fever, influenza—that are particularly endemic in outlying destinations. Click the CDC’s Travel Safe podcasts for in-depth trip advisories. The World Health Organization also has detailed information on pandemic vaccines and international health issues.
It’s important to be aware of potential pitfalls not only when you arrive at a destination, but when you’re in transit. Wipe your hands often with antibacterial wipes or sanitizers. Use them to clean your environment, from your airplane seat to your hotel room. Don’t forget the taxi to the airport.
An airport terminal is where you are most likely to experience new regulatory precautions enacted to prevent the spread of highly pathogenic viruses. You may be asked to have your temperature checked by passing through a thermal scanning device, or with an oral or ear thermometer. In recent months some international airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, have prevented passengers from boarding who exhibit flu symptoms. In countries such as China and Japan, immigration officials are boarding planes upon landing to assess passenger health. If a fellow traveler manifests an illness while airborne, others onboard may now face quarantine.
If you do become ill overseas, contact the U.S. Consulate for assistance in obtaining local medical attention. The International Society of Travel Medicine maintains a directory of health-care professionals in nearly 50 countries. Or join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, which has a directory of English-speaking physicians, hospitals, and clinics for any member who requires care abroad. Consultation rates usually start at $100. And don’t discount TLC from hotel staff, who may make all the difference when you’re unexpectedly bedridden. At the Hotel Connaught, a butler once served me hot milk and chicken soup after I caught the sniffles in cold, rainy London.
Even if you are just traveling to Peoria, easy preventive measures are important to practice while away from home. Here are more tips for keeping you sneeze free.
Take Your Vitamins
In recommended doses, immune-boosting complex vitamin formulations can help to counter stress, which is known to lower your resistance to common ailments. And these days, we all know how stressful travel can be, especially with long lines at security checkpoints, grumpy TSA officials, and departure delays.
T+L Recommends: Berocca and Airborne are popular effervescent tablets ideal for packing in a carry-on. The Mayo Clinic also offers useful information on the efficacy of supplements and herbal remedies, as well as healthy lifestyle tips about nutrition and stress management.
Get Prescriptions in Order
Bring prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as copies of all prescriptions, including generic names for the same. Pack a note from your prescribing physician regarding controlled and intravenous substances. Check with the Department of State or American Embassy to ensure that your medication is permitted into the country you’ll be visiting. For travel in remote areas where health clinics are questionable or few and far between, consider asking your doctor for sterilized syringes as well.
Here’s what else belongs in your travel medical kit:
- antidiarrheal medication (bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide)
- anti–motion sickness medication
- pain medication, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen
- mild laxative
- cough suppressant/expectorant
- cough drops
- antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
- one-percent solution hydrocortisone cream
- insect repellent containing DEET (30–50%) or picaridin (up to 15%)
- lubricating eye drops
Be a Clean Freak
Channel your inner Howard Hughes and wipe your hands often with antibacterial wipes or sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol, the minimum that will kill most germs on contact. It doesn’t hurt to also sanitize your environment, whether it’s your hotel room, airplane tray table, or the back seat of a taxi. (Just consider how many people touch the plasma TV screens installed in many cabs these days.) After checking into a hotel room, swipe surfaces such as remote controls, telephone cradles, doorknobs, and light switches. Remember that those pretty throw pillows and comforter covers on the guest bed are not always changed or washed regularly. On many airlines, the same is true of standard-issue blankets and headrest covers.
T+L Recommends: JetBlue sells a fleece throw and neck pillow combo for $7 on most routes. It’s worth every cent, and you get to keep them.
Check Your Temperature
As we all know, normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Centigrade. Even the slightest elevation (1.8–3.6 degrees F) in the body’s thermoregulatory set point indicates a fever, which is actually your immune system’s first mechanism to neutralize bacterial and viral infections. Fever, in short, is a response to disease and indicates it’s usually time to seek medical attention.
T+L Recommends: Buy your own digital thermometer.
Get Your Shots
Before leaving on an extended trip or traveling in areas where there is risk of contracting a life-threatening disease, make sure your vaccinations, especially for influenza, are up to date. Whether you are planning to visit Antarctica or Zanzibar, the Centers for Disease Control provides a detailed list of health risks and advice for almost every international destination.
When in Doubt, Wear a Face Mask
When they’re not feeling well, Japanese regularly don face masks in public, because it’s considered rude to spread germs. In fact, on Japan Airlines, masks are available on request. In business and first class, the JAL amenity kit includes a special moisture mask to help passengers breathe easier. With extremely low humidity levels onboard aircraft, travelers may often experience discomforting dryness in their nose and throat, especially during long-haul journeys. And, if you simply can’t get your head around the idea of wearing a mask, at least cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze. In fact, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth altogether: this is how most bacteria and viruses enter your system.
Rough travel and extreme sports can quickly dehydrate your body, especially in hot, dry climates such as the American Southwest or East Africa. Stock up on purified, bottled water in areas where a safe source may not exist. As a backup, carry oral rehydration solutions (ORS), which typically contain salts and a simple sugar such as glucose, to counter intestinal disorders and heat exhaustion.
T+L Recommends: Eastern Mountain Sports sells oral rehydration salts and portable ultraviolet water purifiers. On flights, skip sugary, caffeinated soft drinks from the beverage cart for healthier green tea, which contains immune-boosting, detoxifying polyphenol compounds.
Get Your Rest
Carrying heavy luggage, walking long distances between terminals, being stuck in a traffic jam with a minivan full of antsy children during a road trip—it all takes a toll on your body. Look for hammocks on the beach or curtained cabanas around the pool—or just climb into your bed for a guilt-free nap.
T+L Recommends: In the city that never sleeps, YeloCab is a midtown Manhattan cocoon where shoppers can take a load off during 20- to 40-minute sleep therapy sessions in private cabins with zero-gravity chairs and simulated sunrise wake-up calls.
Call the Doctor
If you do feel ill, the best hotels can get you to a doctor. Some will even pay “house” calls. Four Seasons New York and Mandarin Oriental New York refer their guests to travel specialists. Forgot to pack a prescription drug (malaria pills, for instance)? Explain to the concierge at the Berkeley Hotel in London and he can refer the hotel’s physician for basic medications that will be delivered to your room from an apothecary around the corner on Knightsbridge Street. You can also contact the U.S. Consulate for assistance in obtaining local medical attention. The International Society of Travel Medicine maintains a directory of health-care professionals in nearly 50 countries.
T+L Recommends: Join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, which has a directory of English-speaking physicians, hospitals, and clinics for any member who requires care abroad. Consultation rates usually start at $100.