Here are my top travel health tips published in Independent Traveller online magazine
Watch out for
- Ice cream – notorious in countries where freezing may not be efficient due to poor electricity supply
- Salads – anything that may have been washed in untreated water
- Buffets – eating freshly cooked food from a street stall is better than eating food which has been lying around on the table all day – possibly in warm temperatures too
- Shellfish – avoid if in doubt: if it looks stale or underdone, leave it. Peel shellfish yourself if possible
- Drink bottled water- even when the local water is fine its composition of minerals will be different from what your body is used to – and you don’t want to spend a few days with an upset stomach while you adjust
- Always wash your hands carefully. Carry hand cleansing gel.In humid climates wounds can take longer to heal.
- Use gauze dressings under a bandage and change daily, washing the wound and applying antibiotic cream. If the bandage gets dirty or wet change it immediately.
- Always carry a roll of toilet paper – toilet facilities may be limited and paper is not always provided
- Watch out for signs of dehydration: thirst, dry mouth and throat, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, dark coloured urine. If your mouth feels dry you are already dehydrate
- Before flying, use a protective nasal spray to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold through the terminal or plane’s air conditioning system
- Take a supply of cough and cold relief medication, and some paracetamol. Likewise laxatives and constipation remedies
- Take some exercise before long haul flights, both to relax you and to counteract a long period of sitting still
- Once through security, buy a bottle of water to sip during the flight
- Before a long train journey, pack wet wipes and toilet paper into your travel bag, as toilets are not always well stocked and sometimes the water supply doesn’t work
- At least six weeks before you leave, check up on what vaccinations you need and/or that yours are up to date. It’s also a good idea to visit your doctor if you have any medical prescriptions that may need renewing before you travel.
- Take insect repellant and sunscreen, and antiseptic hand cleaning gel.Use the gel frequently: it’s very important to have have ultra-clean hands pretty much wherever you are
- Read up about what diseases are emerging in your destination. There’s no need to be paranoid, but it’s worth being aware. For example, did you know that there are cases of tuberculosis in Moscow now?
- Many infectious diseases start with ‘flu-like symptoms, so don’t ignore them or write them off as a bad cold without checking a few things first.
- Skin infections often start from a bug bite or scratch. The skin will redden, then swell and throb. Antibiotics may well be necessary to prevent it spreading and/or turning into septicaemia. Start by cleaning the wound carefully and if it doesn’t clear up quickly go to a clinic.Thanks to Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, travel health consultant for Wanderlust magazine, for the above.
- ‘Tummy bug’: most will settle down after a day or two but it is wise to get checked if they continue beyond. After contracting amoebic dysentery during an overnight bus journey I spent three days in La Paz, took a train to Cusco and walked the Inca Trail, rested in Lima for a day, then flew across the Atlantic, so it was nearly three weeks before I saw a doctor. Needless to say the infection was by then very difficult to clear!
- If you are unlucky enough to suffer from travellers’ diarrhoea I suggest having nothing to eat or drink except for bottled water (and if you must, a plain dry biscuit or two) for 24 hours. The idea is to starve the nasty bug to death. If your condition persists longer than 24 hours see a pharmacist for an antibiotic such as Ciproflaxin. Better still, get some from your own doctor before you depart so you don’t have to waste time finding a chemist’s.
- Before flying, take doses of echinacea and vitamin C three days before your trip, and take a decongestant the day before to shrink your nasal membranes. There are more germs circulating in the air on planes than you can shake a stick at. Put a little Vaseline cream around your nostrils to ‘catch’ any nasties before you inhale them.
- Always make sure you have plenty of bottled water for your journey, and use hand disinfectant regularly, especially before and after every meal or snack.
- On flights, wear flight socks to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. Take off your shoes before take-off to give your feet room to expand. Some airlines provide flight slippers or a pair of soft socks to keep your feet from getting cold.
- I always take a pashmina or shawl to wrap up in as most aeroplane air conditioning is fierce! You can use the one the airline provides for your legs and your own for your shoulders.
- On boats / cruise liners don’t forget to use a high factor sunscreen. The sun will burn you more quickly on water.
- Finally, if you take Juice Plus capsules as part of your regular diet, I suggest doubling up your dosage while you are travelling, to boost your immune system naturally.
- Children need to be watched constantly. Don’t depend on others: even if a pool has a lifeguard, make sure you know where your children are and what they’re doing in the water. Swimming aids, such as armbands, are great for playing in the water but can easily slip off. You still need to keep an eye on your child. Actively supervise all young children near water, choose pools that are fenced with locking gates. It’s a good idea to let children take swimming classes while on holiday; it’s a great way of gaining water confidence and learning essential water safety skills.
- Use at least a factor 15 sunscreen and choose a “broad-spectrum” brand that has a four- or five-star rating. Apply it to areas that cannot be protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet and backs of the hands. Choose sunscreens that are formulated for children and babies’ skin. Apply sunscreen before children go outdoors. It can easily be washed, rubbed or sweated off, so reapply it often throughout the day. Keep babies in complete shade, such as under trees, umbrellas, canopies or indoors. Protect a baby’s skin with loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat that shades their face and neck. Make sure children drink regularly.
- Early symptoms of motion sickness include hot flushes, dribbling and paleness. Try giving your child ginger biscuits as ginger helps relieve nausea. Sit over the wing of a plane or in the middle of a boat
- Finally, a look at a major health hazard!
- Remember that almost 100% of passengers involved in air crashes survive
- Watch and listen to the safety demonstration
- Read the safety card carefully and make a mental note of exit positions and door opening instructions
- Look around for the nearest emergency exit to your seat. If you can, when you’re locating your seat, count the number of rows from your seat to the nearest exit. It may be pitch dark when you need to find it.