How to Travel Smart: A Checklist to Stay Healthy
June 14, 2023
With summer travel heating up, some advance planning is the key to having a great vacation. University Hospitals infectious disease specialists Keith Armitage, MD, and Robert Salata, MD, share their global travel tips to keep you and your family healthy.
What Happens to Your Body When You Fly?
Before you even get to your destination, air travel brings its own set of challenges. Understanding what happens to your body when you fly and taking steps to protect your health can get your trip started on the right foot.
Air circulation and infections. Modern airplanes are equipped with air circulation systems with HEPA and other high-efficiency filters that trap infectious agents. However, air circulation is less active during boarding and departing than in-flight, so infectious transmission is more likely to occur during those times. Wear a mask during takeoff and landing if you’re concerned about airborne germs.
Dehydration. The air in a plane is pressurized, which means it’s very dry, making it easy to get dehydrated. Bring an empty reusable bottle or purchase a large water after you’re through security, so you stay hydrated before and during the flight. And when the beverage cart comes by – it’s best to avoid sugary juices, soda and alcohol, which only accelerate dehydration.
Ear pressure. Just as hydration helps your body adjust to changes in air pressure, swallowing helps relieve the pressure in your ears. Drink fluids, chew gum or suck on candy to keep your ears clear. Or, pinch your nose and blow gently to relieve ear pressure. It’s perfectly safe.
How to Prepare for a Smooth Trip
The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is especially true with travel. You’re on vacation to enjoy yourself, but if you get sick, you may not have access the same type of health care products and services, especially if you’re traveling somewhere unfamiliar. Here is Dr. Armitage and Dr. Salata’s trip preparation checklist.
Vaccinations are an essential part of traveling smart. Seek pre-travel advice from your doctor for the right vaccines, based on both your health and your destination.
“Every vaccine other than yellow fever – common in parts of South America and Africa – is just a recommendation. However, to prevent some important illnesses from food and water, hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines are frequently recommended. Hepatitis A, a virus that infects the liver, is the most frequent infection that we can prevent,” Dr. Salata says.
Both doctors agree that global travel is a good reason to review any standard vaccines that should be updated. These include tetanus, measles, polio, meningitis and others. Some vaccines that are less common may be recommended depending on your health and destination.
Insects and Animals
Educate yourself on illnesses you can get from insects where you’ll be traveling. Prepare by getting the necessary repellants, medications or vaccinations.
Rabies is carried by animals – including domestic dogs – in many parts of the world. Even a small bite by a puppy can bring rabies, so don’t ignore any animal bite. Rabies is easily managed and getting medical care within 7–10 days after a bite is highly effective in preventing illness.
To reduce issues with allergens, educate yourself on the potential exposures that are common where you’re going. For environmental allergens, be prepared by taking your regular allergy medications with you. To reduce issues with food allergens, you should be able to communicate about any foods you’re allergic to.
“Carry a card with your food allergy information written in the language people can read to ensure you aren’t served something that will make you ill,” advises Dr. Armitage.
Contaminated food and water are the most common reasons travelers get sick. Water is the most common cause of illness. Travelers’ diarrhea affects 4 in 10 travelers. Plan to drink bottled water in locations with questionable tap water and be sure to pack anti-diarrhea medication. Boiling water is one of the most effective ways to remove harmful bacteria from water, so your daily coffee should be ok when you’re traveling abroad. Keep in mind that boiling water may not remove other potentially harmful substances.
And don’t forget to hold the ice – unless you know it’s made from filtered water.
Make A Travel Kit
Dr. Salata advises that because pharmacies aren’t the same around the world, it’s important to take your own prescription medications as well as pain relievers, antibiotic ointment, steroid creams and the like. He doesn’t recommend anything to boost immunity because the science is unproven. University Hospitals Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health can provide a list of commonly used over-the-counter items to take, based on the location you’re traveling to.
With these tips, hopefully you and your travel companions are on your way to a fun, safe and healthy vacation.
The board-certified infectious disease specialists at the University Hospitals Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health can help ensure that travelers of all ages stay healthy and safe during their journeys.