Staying healthy while traveling abroad

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Traveling abroad as part of your gap year, medical training or volunteer work is exciting. It’s not only a learning experience, but an adventure as well! Nothing ruins an adventure faster than becoming ill or not feeling well, but there are things you can do both before you leave and when you arrive at your destination to increase your chances of staying healthy.

Predeparture preparations

Gap Medics student Charlotte spends time with a local boy in Tanzania Before you pack your bags, do a little research on the country you will be traveling to. Determine if certain diseases are prevalent or outbreaks of specific infectious diseases are occurring. Travel health notices can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  

Once you have an idea what you may be at risk for, speak to your doctor about vaccines that may be recommended. Keep in mind, some vaccines may need to be administered weeks before you leave to provide immunity.

If you are taking some type of prescription medication, make sure you have an adequate supply for your trip. Since mosquito borne illnesses are common in some countries, pack an insect repellent that contains at least 30 percent DEET. 

Once you arrive: staying healthy

In some developing countries, the tap water may be contaminated with parasites or bacteria, which could cause diarrhea and other illnesses. If you are unsure tap water is safe, avoid it completely. Instead of tap water, drink bottled water and water which has been boiled or treated. Avoid washing fruit or vegetables with tap water and use bottled water to brush your teeth.

Although you don’t have to be in a developing country to get a foodborne illness, you should take extra precautions. Don’t eat or drink dairy products from small vendors. Larger commercial dairies are more likely to have health and safety inspections. Stick to meat that has been thoroughly cooked. Pork should be well done. 

Find out where medical facilities are located close to where you are staying. Modern hospitals may be easy to locate in some countries. In developing countries, you can always contact the United States embassy in your host country to find healthcare. Knowing where you can get reliable medical help before you need it will take the stress out of the situation should the need arise.

More tips for staying healthy

Be sure to get enough rest while you are traveling abroad. Although there may be a lot to do and see, getting proper sleep is important. If you don’t get enough rest, you can become rundown and are more likely to get sick.

Keep the altitude in mind when traveling to another country. Higher altitudes can make breathing more difficult. If you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma, you need to pay special attention to altitude. If you go above 10,000 feet, give yourself a day to get used to it before doing any strenuous activity. Also, make sure you stay well hydrated on your travels. The sun is more intense in some parts of the world, and it is easy to become dehydrated.

Lastly, continue to maintain all your normal health and safety measures while you are abroad and enjoy the adventure! 

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