How can I prepare
to travel overseas
It's always important to take care of your health, whether you're at
home or on the road, but there are some additional concerns that are important
to keep in mind when you're traveling.
Whether you're taking a trip with your family or plan to live abroad
for several months for a study program, it's easier to get sick when you're
in a new place because your body hasn't had a chance to adjust to the food,
water, and air in a new environment. Traveling can bring you in contact with
things that your body isn't used to. Continue reading for tips on keeping
your travel experience as healthy as possible.
Don't Take a Vacation From
The stress and excitement of travel can make you more likely to get
sick, but if you follow a few simple tips, you're more likely to stay healthy
throughout your trip - and your trip will definitely be more enjoyable.
The good news is that as a teen, your immune system is as strong as
an adult's, but lack of sleep and a poor diet can make it easier for you
to become sick.
The first thing you should do if you're heading overseas is to find
out what kinds of vaccinations you'll need in advance because different countries
have different requirements. In the United States, contact your doctor or
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a list of necessary
vaccinations. You'll want to allow plenty of time for this step in case you
need to get vaccines that require more than one dose.
Three of the most common health problems that you may experience when
traveling are jet lag, altitude sickness, and diarrhea.
Jet Lag: When you fly
across time zones, the differing amounts of light can change your internal
body clock, resulting in a condition known as jet lag. Jet lag may cause
some symptoms that are bummers on a fun trip, including upset stomach, insomnia,
There are some things you can do to combat jet lag; for example, if
you're traveling from west to east, you should stay out of the sun until
the day after your arrival. If you're flying from east to west, go for a
brisk walk as soon as possible after you arrive.
Altitude sickness is
caused by dry air, a decrease in oxygen, and low barometric pressure when
you travel to a higher altitude than you're used to. As a result, you may
have problems, such as headaches, dehydration, and shortness of breath. Some
people are affected at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), but others aren't affected
until they reach altitudes of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) or more. Find out
what altitude you're traveling to before you go to see if altitude sickness
could be a problem.
The best prevention for altitude sickness is to gradually increase your
altitude every day to get used to it. That is not possible for most people,
so instead, talk you your doctor before you leave home. There
are medications you can take that will relieve and even
prevent symptoms of altitude sickness.
Diarrhea: Talking about
diarrhea may seem gross, but it can be a serious problem. Traveler's diarrhea,
known as turista, often occurs when a foreign type of bacteria enters your
digestive tract, usually when you eat contaminated food or water. The best
way to prevent turista is to be very careful of the food you eat and the
water you drink on the road.
Safe Eats and
So what foods are safe to eat? Any foods that have been boiled are generally
safe, as well as fruits and vegetables that have to be peeled before eating.
Avoid eating uncooked or undercooked meat or meat that is not cooked just
prior to serving. Stay away from foods that require a lot of handling before
A popular favorite food at home is on the safe list on the road - pizza!
Pizza dough, sauce, and cheese are foods that are less likely to spoil than
others, and the high heat of a pizza oven tends to kill any harmful bacteria
in the food.
You've probably heard that you shouldn't drink the water in some foreign
countries, but did you know why? Water supplies in many developing countries
are not treated in the same way as water supplies in developed countries;
various bacteria, viruses, and parasites are commonly found in the water.
Many experts suggest you drink only bottled water when traveling. If you
need to use tap water, you should boil it first or purify it with an iodine
tablet. Even if you're brushing your teeth, rinsing contact lenses, drinking
a small glass of water to wash down pills, or adding ice to your drink, first
take precautions to ensure the water is safe.
You Can Take It With
When you're packing, you'll want to include any medications and other
medical supplies you use on a daily basis because they may be hard to find
in another country if you run out. Even if you can find them, there's a good
chance the formulations will be stronger or weaker than the ones you're used
to. These may include any prescriptions you already take, such as inhalers,
allergy medication, and insulin, as well as contact lens cleaners and vitamins.
Don't be tempted to buy foreign medicine, regulations that keep you safe
in the USA do not exist in most countries.
Packing an over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen and diarrhea
medication is also a good idea. It's a good idea to pack some over-the-counter
allergy medication even if you don't take it at home. People sometimes
unexpectedly develop allergic reactions to the pollens and other allergens
found in a new environment. Those with asthma or other allergies can unexpectedly
react to these new substances.
Write It All
Even if you watch what you eat and drink and get enough rest while you're
traveling, you may still get sick. The good news is that you'll probably
be able to find competent medical care. The key is knowing where to go. Most
travel guides suggest you go to a hospital where English is spoken or
U.S.-trained doctors can be found. For this reason, it's a good idea to always
carry a written copy of your medical history with you.
Having such important information available in one place can help health
care workers make appropriate decisions, and you won't have to worry about
forgetting important information at a time when you're likely to be upset
and not thinking clearly.
Before you leave your home sweet home, create a medical history form
that includes the following information:
Your name, address, and home phone number
as well as a parent's daytime phone number
Your blood type
Your doctor's name, address, and office and
emergency phone numbers
The name, address, and phone number of your
health insurance carrier, including your policy number
A list of any ongoing health problems, such as
heart disease, diabetes, or AIDS
A list of current medications you are taking and pharmacy
Name and phone number
A list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
A prescription for glasses or contact lenses
The name, address, and phone number of a relative
other than your parent
It also helps if you have some basic emergency medical knowledge, not
only for yourself but for helping others you may be traveling with. A great
way to prepare for your trip is to take a first-aid or basic life support
course before you go; if you're traveling with a group, you should know where
the first-aid kit is and what's in it.
It's easy to let your guard down when you travel. After all, you're
more relaxed and there are so many new sights to focus on. In addition to
paying attention to your personal safety (avoiding secluded places and not
walking alone after dark), you'll need to reset your thinking when it comes
to traffic safety, too.
The rules of the road aren't the same overseas as they are at home.
In some countries, people drive on the opposite side of the road and you'll
need to be aware of this before you cross the street - look in the opposite
direction from the one you're used to. Pedestrians don't always have the
right of way overseas, either. Be sure there are no cars coming when you
step into the street: If there are, they may not stop for you!