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Travel Tips on Healthy Travel

Jet Lag

  • Our bodies are programmed to experience peaks and valleys throughout the day and night. Adjust your travel plans accordingly:
    • Two periods of maximum sleepiness are at about 3-5 a.m. and 3-5 p.m., ďhome time.Ē
    • Two periods of maximum alertness are at about 9-11 a.m. and 9-11 p.m., ďhome time.Ē
  • The use of sleep or alertness medications-prescription or over-the-counterómay be most useful when you are in transition, adapting to the new time zone. Follow these rules:
    • Know what you are takingóread labels.
    • Test medications at home, first.
    • Use the lowest effective dose.
  • Canít sleep in a strange bed? Donít toss and turn in bed for more than 30 minutes; you canít force yourself to sleep. If you havenít fallen asleep within that time, get out of bed until you feel you are ready to fall asleep.
  • The effects of caffeine can last three to four hours, so donít use it too close to a planned sleep time.
  • Light is the most powerful time cue to set your bodyís circadian clock. Sunlight can help reset the body clock to the local time Ė a good argument for arriving before sunset.
  • Hereís another tip for countering jet lag. Go direct to your hotel on arrival (on east-west trips, this may entail planning for early check-in), close the shades in your room and leave a wake-up call for two hours. On rising, open the shades and stand in the sunlight if itís still daytime. Youíll have taken a big step toward resetting your body clock to local time.
  • Overeating on airplanes can exacerbate jet lag. Consume about the same size meal as you normally would. Realize that everyone gets somewhat drowsy about 90 minutes after a meal.

Motion Sickness

  • Donít remain in a stuffy cabin if seasickness strikes on a cruise ship. Instead, head up to the deck for some fresh air and sunshine. Concentrate on a faraway object such as a cloud or a passing ship.
  • Did you know that ginger capsules and peppermint are considered natural preventatives for motion sickness? Consider trying out one of these before your next short trip where you expect to experience mild discomfort. (Obviously donít try out this cure on an extended trip, where if it doesnít work youíll be miserable for a long time!)
  • Do you suffer from motion sickness? Drugstores sell wristbands that can reduce the problem by targeting pressure points on the wrist, employing a principle similar to acupuncture. Another highly effective solution to motion sickness is simply to lie flat Ė easier done on a boat than an airplane.

General Health Tips

  • When traveling to China, donít forget a Hepatitis B shot. If you become ill and require medical care and you are in the middle of China, there may be a less than acceptable standard for sterility. The shot is especially important for adoptive parents traveling to China to bring home their baby. Hepatitis B is transmitted via bodily fluids and is an occupational hazard of parenting. The baby may be a carrier, and hence be infectious to you. It would be wise to consider vaccinating siblings and grandparents waiting back home.
  • If traveling to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage, a meningitis shot should be considered because of the overcrowded conditions in Mecca and Medina. A few years ago, an outbreak of meningococcal disease among returning pilgrims and their families resulted in 60 deaths.

  • When eating fruit that needs to be peeled abroad - wash your hands, then wash the fruit, peel the fruit, and then wash your hands again before eating the fruit. This way, your hands wonít transfer any lingering bacteria on the peel to the edible portion of the fruit.
  • Eating spicy foods from street vendors can be hazardous. The spices may mask the fact that the cooking oil is rancid.
  • For trips to exotic locations such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Amazon basin in South America, or places that have yellow fever and malaria it is a good idea to see a specialist in travel health. Most primary care providers are not as familiar with all of the health risks as a travel health specialist. WTA strategic partner, Passport Health provides not only health advice, but also security information on foreign destinations. Visit WTAís Travel Health Program for more information.

  • Yellow fever vaccinations have to be administered by an official vaccination center. Most travel medicine clinics are considered official vaccination centers.
  • If you require medical attention in a third-world country, watch to make sure hospital workers arenít cutting costs with used supplies. If possible, have a friend stay by your side and keep an eye out for questionable practices.
  • In some countries (like Nepal and India), empty water bottles create an environmental problem because they have no way of disposing of the plastic. Bring a water purification system instead.
  • According to a London researcher, people who have had orthopedic surgery within the past three months should not take trips where they must sit for more than three hours. Dr. Ander Cohen of Kingís College Hospital in London found that the risk of developing leg clots, possibly leading to a pulmonary embolism, increases three-fold for this group. To read more about preventing leg clots while traveling, click here.
  • A surgical mask or scarf is a handy item to keep in your luggage, especially in areas of high pollution.
  • Hotel rooms are notoriously dry. Increase the moisture in the room by placing wet towels near the bed while you sleep, or lightly sprinkle the carpet with water.
  • The FAA issued information regarding post-9/11 security measures as they relate to air travelers with disabilities. Click here to read the article.
  • Keep a stash of antiseptic towelettes on hand for you and your family whenever you travel. Not only will they come in handy at mealtime, they can be of use during a medical emergency as well.
  • On a hot day in a theme park, don't forget to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. The cost for a bottle may be higher than you'd normally pay, but the benefits to your body will make you glad you did!
  • Beginning a few days before overseas travel, eat light meals. The less you eat before and during a long flight, the better youíll feel when you arrive.
  • Take along some moisturizer on long flights. Use it every couple of hours to combat the dry, recirculated air in plane cabins.
  • When traveling through desert regions, regardless of the time of year, bring warm clothing and blankets in case you become stranded. Even in summer, the temperatures can dip below freezing at night. Also, bring plenty of water and a supply of nutritious food for energy.
  • We canít stress enough the importance of sunscreen! Even if you wear sunscreen daily (as you should), increase the SPF if you are traveling to a tropical destination. Donít forget to cover areas you donít normally think about: scalp, ears, eyelids, hands, as well as the tops and soles of feet.
  • Get a head start on your beach vacation by using a sunless tanning product for several days before your trip. This way you wonít be tempted to bake yourself to get some quick color.
  • If you need to take preventive medicine on a trip (such as malaria pills), begin several days before the trip to check for possible side effects.
  • Donít forget to pack at least one extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses when you travel. You may want to bring your prescription as well.
  • If you are planning an active vacation, do regular extra exercise ahead of time to get into shape. If backpacking were the activity, a good idea would be to walk up and down stairs for 15 minutes each day, wearing your hiking boots and a pack. At first, walk with a small load, and then increase your load each day until you are carrying your estimated pack weight. Not only will you get in shape, this will motivate you to pack lightly!
  • Before booking an international cruise ship, check out the vesselís sanitation rating using this link: The Centers for Disease Control and National Center for Environmental Health run the Vessel Sanitation Program, performing unannounced inspections at least twice yearly. The goal is to decrease gastrointestinal illnesses onboard by inspecting the drinking water supply, pools and spas, food service practices, employee hygiene habits, and employee training programs related to environmental and public health issues.
  • When bringing medications along on a trip, carry part of the documentation that includes the generic name rather than the brand name. This may make getting a replacement easier.
  • If you have a serious medical condition, discuss your travel plans with your doctor. Travel conditions (altitude, heat, cold, stress, etc.) not only affect overall health, but also the effectiveness of medications.
  • As a precaution, donít travel for a couple of weeks after changing medicationóyouíll need that time to see if adverse reactions occur.
  • Unless your doctor recommends not traveling, people with pacemakers can generally participate as much as others. Be prepared for a manual security check at the airport, as the device will activate the electromagnetic metal detectors. Donít walk through the detector if it is blocked; standing in the detector might cause the heart to skip several beats.
  • To relieve stress when youíre traveling, set aside a little time for exercise. If your hotel doesnít have its own exercise room, ask if they have an arrangement with a local health club that you can take advantage of.
  • Although the correlation is still being studied, scientists have found that exercise can help set the circadian clock.
  • Here are some of the areas of the world whose water supply you should not drink without treatment: Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, Russia and former USSR countries, Indian subcontinent.
  • Although smoking is allowed on most international flights, if you are bothered by smoke you can request a seat far away from the smoking section to get some relief.
  • When filling shampoo or similar bottles, only fill part way and squeeze out any excess air as much as possible. If you fill them all of the way to the top, pressure could cause them to explode. Place all bottles in a plastic bag inside of your toiletry bag to avoid spillage into your luggage.
  • As a precaution, have your doctor check your young children for ear infections before flying.
  • Beginning a few days before an airplane trip, drink 8-10 glasses of water each day and reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol. This will help offset in-flight dehydration.
  • Did you know that drowning is one of the leading causes of death for Americans in the Caribbean? While enjoying these exotic beaches, go in the water only if thereís a lifeguard on duty. And always bring along a pair of sneakers. In some areas, sea urchins can make wading a painful experience!
  • As you do your final check of the house before leaving home, unplug all the electronic items that you can. Unhook your phone line from your computer modem to prevent surges from destroying your computer. Disconnect your automatic garage door opener so it canít accidentally open. If you must leave something plugged in while youíre away, use a surge protector.
  • If there is a chance of getting your feet wet on a trek, put your feet in plastic bags before slipping into your shoes. At the end of the day, your feet and socks will still be dry and you can use the bags for some other purpose or dispose of them.
  • If you like to get some peace and quiet during a flight, bring along a pair of disposable earplugs. They can block enough of the noise of the cabin to let you read or sleep in peace.
  • To stay healthy while abroad, drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. Don't eat food purchased from street vendors.
  • Repellents and bed netting are your two best protections when traveling in high mosquito populated areas.
  • Sleeping Sickness is a potential hazard in tropical Africa, particularly in the game parks of East Africa and northern Botswana. Only a few cases have occurred in American travelers. Wearing long shirts and pants may decrease the risk of bites. There is no vaccine for Sleeping Sickness.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), persons born in or after 1957 should consider a second dose of measles vaccine before traveling abroad.
  • While abroad, donít eat or drink dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized.
  • Travelers' diarrhea, the number one illness in travelers, can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting, fever, or liver damage. Make sure your food and drinking water are safe.
  • Swimming in contaminated water may result in skin, eye, ear, and certain intestinal infections, particularly if the swimmer's head is submerged. Generally for infectious disease prevention, only pools that contain chlorinated water can be considered safe places to swim. In certain areas, fatal diseases have occurred following swimming in warm dirty water. Swimmers should avoid beaches that might be contaminated with human sewage or with dog feces. Biting and stinging fish and corals and jellyfish may be hazardous to the swimmer. Never swim alone or when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and never dive head first into an unfamiliar body of water.
  • A traveler going abroad with any preexisting medical problems should carry a letter from the attending physician, describing the medical condition and any prescription medications, including the generic name of prescribed drugs. Any medications being carried overseas should be left in their original containers and be clearly labeled. Travelers should check with the foreign embassy of the country they are visiting to make sure any required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics.
  • Available from the U.S. Government Printing Office is Health Information for International Travelers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This contains a global rundown of disease and immunization advice and other health guidance, including risks in particular countries. For additional health information, the CDC maintains the international travelers hotline at 1-888-232-3228, an automated faxback service at 1-888-232-3299 and a home page on the Internet at
  • Some countries require foreign visitors to have inoculations or medical tests before entering. Before traveling, check the latest entry requirements with the foreign embassy of the country(ies) you plan to visit.
  • Prescription drugs have different names in different countries. Be sure you have the generic name of a pharmaceutical if there is a chance you will need to reorder it abroad.
  • Travel tummy is less likely to be the result of unfriendly bacteria than of unfamiliar enzymes. One way to avoid nausea from that cause is charcoal, available for this purpose from any pharmacy. Nearly flavorless and with no side effects, charcoal suppresses enzyme activity until the food has moved further down the digestive system.
  • On long trips, blood tends to "pool" in the lower part of the body as the result of immobility, producing fidgety legs, discomfort, and sometimes even pain. Extreme cases can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the cause of multiple deaths each year. To avoid this, periodically exercise the legs with a stroll up and down the aisle or by walking in place beside your seat. If driving, stop and walk for a bit every couple of hours. Keep hydrated. Click here to read a thorough article on steps to take to prevent blood clotting while flying.
  • Dehydration can be dangerous, and you donít have to cross a desert to be at risk. Air travel can dry out your sinuses, causing discomfort and increasing susceptibility to germs. The same thing can happen in a car. Dehydration is also a serious challenge to the health of your kidneys. Drink lots of water, avoiding carbonated beverages and alcohol. Some travelers take along a washcloth that they dampen and place over their face before snoozing on long flights.
  • Itís wise to carry written information about any medical condition or allergies you may have in case you are unable to give instructions yourself. A Medic Alert bracelet or an information card explaining your condition and required treatment can save your life.
  • When packing medications, pack them in more than one place in case a bag is lost. Be sure to keep some in your carry-on bag.
  • Insulin can be damaged by extreme temperatures, like those possible in the unpressurized baggage area of a plane. It travels best in a carry-on bag. Always inspect your insulin before injection.
  • A cool thermos or insulated bag can help keep insulin from being affected by hot weather.
  • Take more medical supplies on a trip than you expect to use. If some are damaged or lost, you should still have enough.
  • All travelers should carry some healthful snacks on flight in case meals are delayed or cancelled. This is especially important for diabetics, who need to eat at regular intervals.
  • Changing time zones can wreak havoc on a diabeticís meal schedule. Always carry snacks and supplies with you while touring in case your groupís scheduled mealtime doesnít coincide with your needs. But do try to keep your medication, meal, and snack times as regular as possible, based on your home time zone.