Stay healthy while travelling
Whether studying abroad, going on vacation, volunteering on a mission trip or traveling with friends and family, more and more college students are leaving the good old U.S. of A to travel internationally. But with global travel come some special health considerations. Vaccinations, insurance, checkups, prescriptions, stress, disease — it’s a lot to handle. Here, we break it down to make sure you get there and back in one piece.
Travel Health Tip No. 1: Learn About Your Destination
The health risks of a student traveling to South Africa are vastly different from those of a student who’s studying abroad in Paris for a semester, so it’s important to prepare for your specific destination by:
Going to orientation. Most colleges conduct on-campus study abroad orientation sessions for specific programs. This is a good forum for addressing health concerns. “Orientation is required,” says Marina Markot, associate director for education abroad at University of Virginia’s International Studies Office. “It’s important for students to learn about the unique culture, language and geography of the place or places to which they are going.”
Knowing the language. In the event of a medical emergency, you’ll need to communicate with foreign personnel, as well as be able to locate health care facilities. “I’m traveling to England, so I know I’ll be fine language-wise,” says Jordan Gelband, a rising junior at UVA who is spending the summer at the University of Oxford.
Doing your own research. Cheryl Benner, communications manager for Michigan State University’s Office of Study Abroad, also refers students to the U.S. Department of State’s Travel.State.Gov website. Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which sends alerts if there is a crisis where you are traveling.
Travel Health Tip No. 2: Check Your Current Health Status
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises travelers to keep in mind the current status of their health before leaving the States. Ask yourself if you are well enough to travel, and take note if you have any special health needs by:
Getting a checkup. “We highly recommend students who are going abroad see a physician prior to leaving,” says Benner. “They need to be honest with their doctors, keeping in mind any recent health issues or surgeries, as well as bad allergies.”
Asking about immunizations. Loop your doc in on your travel plans, so he or she can address any specific concerns. Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital offers a travel medicine consultation and immunizations service, a comprehensive 45-minute examination that gives travelers input based on their previous health records and anticipated travel activity. “It’s a great opportunity for anyone traveling overseas to get important instructions and tips tailored to their destination,” says a Johns Hopkins rep. “Our goal is to cut down illnesses abroad and inform people about their own personal health and safety.”
Going for a post-trip follow-up. “I saw my doctor before and after the trip,” says Stetson University senior Gray Bockhold, who studied abroad in Kenya the summer after his sophomore year. “It was crucial to make sure my body was perfectly healthy before I left, and that it was also in good shape upon return.”
Healthy Travel Tip No. 3: Take Precautions as You Go
Getting checked out by a doc before you leave is one thing, but ensuring you’ll stay healthy during your trip is another ordeal. To stay in tip-top shape:
Pack smart. The CDC advises putting together a travel health case, containing items like over-the-counter medicines, antibacterial hand wipes, eye drops, basic first aid items, aloe gel — as well as potential useful stuff like mild sedatives, water purification tablets and altitude sickness medicine.
Pack prescriptions. “Students should also obtain and pack any prescribed medicine in bulk,” says Benner. “Other special prescriptions, like malaria medicines and antibiotics, might be required, and a copy of your health insurance card is also very useful.”
Get insurance. Find out from your health insurance company if your policy applies when you’re outside of the United States — and whether your school requires study abroad candidates to enroll in a mandatory short-term health insurance plan prior to departure.
Healthy Travel Tip No. 4: Don’t Forget the Obvious
Sometimes, we can get so wrapped up in the details of planning for a trip that we don’t even remember the basics. Don’t let that be you.
Observe standard health precautions. Use sunscreen and bug spray when needed, wear seat belts, and limit the amount of drinking you do. Duh. But still, good reminders courtesy of the CDC.
Be prepared. Go to CDC.gov/Travel for great tips in case you become sick or injured on your trip. Fever and flu-like illness, diarrhea, skin rash, a severe cough or serious injury are all signals to get to the doctor straight away.
Be happy! Of course, nothing relieves stress and promotes good health like embracing the adventure. “This is only going to be my second time out of the country, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to go abroad,” says Gelband. “I’m just going to worry about having fun.”