Traveling comes with a whole new set of things to think about. The following can help you stay healthy and enjoy your trip as much as possible.
Tips for flying
Flying isn't always fun. But you can take steps to make it easier and to feel better during and after your flight.
- Pack anything that may cause problems at security-such as gels, liquids, sharp scissors, or pocket knives-in the luggage you plan to check. For an updated list of what isn't allowed in carry-on luggage, see the Transportation Security Administration website at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
- Wear roomy, comfortable shoes that slip on and off. These are easy to remove when you go through security at the airport. They will also be more comfortable if your feet swell on the plane.
- Walk around the plane during flights to prevent dangerous blood clots during long periods of travel. Sitting still for 4 hours or more slows down the blood flow in your legs and raises your blood clot risk.
- Take steps to prevent jet lag, such as drinking plenty of liquids and changing your sleep schedule to the new time zone.
Water and food safety
Contaminated water and food are the most common cause of illness in travelers.
- Don't drink tap water if it may not have been properly treated.
- Don't brush your teeth with tap water.
- Drink beverages made with boiled water, such as tea and coffee. Canned or bottled carbonated beverages (including bottled water and soft drinks), beer, and wine are also usually safe.
- Don't accept ice in drinks. It may be contaminated.
- Dry the opening of wet cans or bottles before taking a drink.
Travelers to backcountry areas of North America should also take precautions with water. Even though the water in high mountain lakes looks sparkling clear, it may be contaminated with Giardia intestinalis, the parasite that causes giardiasis. Take simple precautions to avoid this illness, such as boiling the water.
- Avoid raw fruits (unless you wash and peel them yourself), raw vegetables, and raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
- Try to eat steaming hot, well-cooked food.
- Don't get foods or drinks from street vendors.
- Make sure dairy products have been pasteurized.
To learn more, see the topic Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.
Swimming and water sports
Swimming in contaminated fresh water, such as ponds or rivers, can expose you to diseases. Even swimming pools with inadequate chlorination pose a risk. Talk to your doctor if you plan on doing recreational water sports-such as white-water rafting, adventure racing, or kayaking-in tropical and backcountry regions.
To prevent fungal or parasitic infections and injuries, do not go barefoot. Try to keep your feet as clean and dry as possible.
Although sea water is usually safe from disease, swimming or diving in sea water can still be dangerous. Avoid swimming or wading in sea water near a river, estuary, or other outlet from inland. Swimming when you have an open cut or sore can also increase your risk of getting an infection. In developing countries, sea water around big cities and other populated areas may not be safe. For more information, see the topic Marine Stings and Scrapes.
Malaria is the insect-borne disease of most concern to travelers in tropical and subtropical regions. Although antimalarial medicines kill the malaria parasite in the bloodstream, this protection isn't complete. Take protective measures along with taking antimalarial medicine.
Ticks inhabit many regions, including Europe, Canada, and the United States. Although it is rare for travelers to contract diseases from ticks, some of the diseases are serious. For information on how to prevent tick bites, see the topic Tick Bites.
Here are some tips that can help you avoid mosquitoes and other insects:
- Use DEET or other insect repellents on your skin.
- Sleep under a bed net to prevent insects from biting you while you sleep. Permethrin or deltamethrin insecticide sprayed on bed nets will protect against mosquitoes for weeks to months.
- Use mosquito coils. The smoke from these slow-burning coils repels mosquitoes.
- Wear light-colored and loose-fitting long pants and long-sleeved shirts. This is especially important from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes that spread malaria bite. Insect repellent applied to clothing is effective for longer than it may be on the skin.
Do not use home remedies like eating garlic, rubbing garlic on your skin, or taking vitamin B. They do not prevent bites.
Sun and heat exposure
- Before you travel to a hot environment, you can improve your ability to handle heat. Start by exercising for a short time in the heat. Then for the next 2 to 3 weeks, slowly increase the time you exercise in the heat.
- If you are not used to the heat, limit the amount of time you are out in the hottest part of the day.
- Drink plenty of water. Losing 2% to 3% of your weight through sweat increases your risk of a heat-related illness.
- Do not drink alcohol. It increases your risk for dehydration.
- Some medicines can make a heat-related illness more likely. If you take medicines regularly, ask your doctor for advice about hot-weather activity and your risk for heat-related illness.
Although disease is a big risk while you are traveling, you should also be aware of the risk of injury.
Motor vehicle accidents. They are a leading cause of injury among travelers. Bad roads, poor driver training, and crowded roadways can make driving dangerous in other countries.
- Learn local driving customs and road signs.
- Try to travel during daylight.
- Always use seat belts.
- Ask taxi drivers or other hired drivers to slow down or drive more carefully if you feel unsafe.
- Wear helmets and protective clothing when riding motorcycles or bicycles.
- Animal bites. Take care around dogs and other animals. Dogs in developing countries may bite, and rabies is a concern. If you are bitten by an animal, wash the bite with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
- Wounds. Most wounds sustained in developing countries carry a higher risk of becoming infected. If you get even a minor wound, clean it as soon as possible with large amounts of warm water and soap. Apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage.
If you haven't had a tetanus shot in 10 years, you should get a booster dose before you leave on your trip. But if you don't get a tetanus shot before you leave, you should get one after an animal bite or an injury that results in a break in the skin.
Altitude sickness happens when you can't get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache and loss of appetite. The best treatment for altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude. But if you have mild symptoms, you may be able to stay at the higher altitude and let your body get used to it.
Steps to prevent altitude sickness include eating breads, grains, and pasta and not flying directly from low altitudes to high altitudes. You may also be able to take medicine to prevent altitude sickness.
Scuba diving safety
You will learn about safety in your scuba diving certification class. If you plan to get certified while traveling, find an experienced, certified teacher that you feel comfortable with. Several groups, including the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), certify instructors and dive shops all over the world.
If you are a new diver, it is best to go with an experienced guide, also called a dive master. Most accidents and problems occur when divers ignore the rules and push their limits. Here are some general diving rules:
- Only dive if you feel comfortable.
- Use equipment that you are familiar with and that is in good repair.
- Know what to do if something goes wrong.
- Always dive with a buddy.
- Go down and come up slowly. Don't hold your breath.
- Know and follow recommended depths and time limits.
- Allow enough time between your last dive and your flight home.
- The motion of cars, planes, trains, boats, or ships can make some people sick. If you know that you get motion sickness, pack medicines to prevent it. To learn more, see the topic Motion Sickness.
- Air pollution can pose a serious threat to those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. When air quality is poor, avoid the area or stay indoors as much as possible.
- Sexual activity can lead to sexually transmitted infections. Practice safer sex and use condoms to prevent infections.