No matter where you're traveling, one thing should go with you, stay with you, and come home with you: your health.
While travel, whether domestic or foreign, broadens one's mental horizons and refreshes a zest for life, it is also fraught with chances for illness and injury. So the best advice is the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Follow these four steps.
Step 1: Plan Ahead for Health
Most of us have busy lives. We all have a lot to do before we can leave for vacation. But many of us don't do these things until the last minute. The resulting frenzy of activity leaves us exhausted - just when we'll be needing our physical and emotional strength for travel.
If this sounds like you, try something new this vacation. Using a calendar for the month before you leave, plan just one task for every day. Sure, there will be some last-minute details, but you'll have so much more done.
Step 2: Check Your Prescriptions
If you need any kind of prescription medicine, either on a daily or as-needed basis, make sure you've got enough to last the length of your trip. Make a list of all of these medicines and take it with you in case your luggage gets lost. Keep this list separate from the medicines themselves, in case your luggage is lost or stolen.
If you're traveling to another country, you'll want to take extra precautions:
- Carry prescription medicines in their original, labeled bottles.
- Your medicine list should include the generic name of each drug. That's because some drugs have different brand names in other countries. (All drugs, even those not sold over the counter, have generic names. If you don't know the generic names of your medicines, ask your pharmacist.)
- The U.S. State Department advises travelers to check with the foreign embassy of the country they are visiting to make sure any required medications they carry are not considered to be illegal narcotics.
- If you have pre-existing medical problems, it's wise to carry a letter from your doctor describing the condition and any medicines used to treat it.
Step 3: Check Your Travel Insurance Coverage
Be sure to take your insurance policy identify card and a claim form with you. If you're traveling to another country, check with your insurer to see whether you will be covered if you fall ill or get injured while abroad.
If your insurance does not offer coverage, you may want to purchase supplemental insurance that does. Even if your insurer covers "customary and reasonable" hospital costs overseas, few companies pay for medical evacuation back to the U.S. The U.S. State Department estimates the cost at "$10,000 and up."
Note that Medicare does not cover hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. The American Association of Retired Persons has information for senior citizens about foreign medical care coverage with Medicare supplement plans.
Step 4: Check Your Packing List
The following is based on packing lists from the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Emory University TravelWell Clinic. You may not need every item on this list. Note that the first thing to avoid when traveling is back strain. Pack light! If you're traveling to a major city, you'll be able to buy just about any supply you can buy at home. If you have any doubt, take it along.
- Prescription drugs, with a separate list in case you lose your luggage
- Aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen.
- Pepto-Bismol or a generic equivalent
- Motion sickness medicine such as Dramamine or Transderm patches
- Imodium for diarrhea
- Sunscreen with at least 15 SPF, and a crushable, broad-brimmed hat
- Insect repellent with DEET concentration of about 35%
- Rehydration solution packets
- 1% hydrocortisone cream
- Water purification tablets
- A mild sedative/sleeping pill such as Ambien
- An anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax
- A medical thermometer
- Bandages of various sizes
- Gauze pads and/or rolls
- Adhesive tape
- A small, sharp scissors with rounded tips (note: scissors are not allowed in carry-on luggage)
- Tweezers to remove splinters or ticks
- Antiseptic solution
- Mild laxative
- Cough medicine such as Robitussin-DM or a generic equivalent
- Antifungal lotion such as Lotrimin
- Antibacterial ointment such as Bacitracin
- Antibiotic for severe traveler's diarrhea
- Antimalarial drugs, if prescribed by your doctor
- Altitude sickness preventative such as Diamox
- Hydrogen peroxide to disinfect and clean wounds
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer