Staying healthy was my number 1 concern about taking a long, RTW, international trip. If you research diseases online you will start to feel frightened, however if you plan accordingly, prepare well and take comfort in the fact that many people have traveled before you and will continue to do so, it may help you to feel more courageous. Here’s a brief guide to get you on your way and staying healthy RTW.
Visit a Travel Health Clinic and getting vaccinated.
If you are going to multiple destinations, it may be daunting to figure out what you need to prepare for. Yes, you can research online and read many books, however the short cut and quickest, easiest route is to visit your local Travel Health Clinic. Your primary care physician can recommend one that takes your insurance. A good online resource / travel clinic is Passport Health with locations throughout the US.
Nurses at the travel clinic are trained to understand all the health risks of traveling in any country. On a consultation they will ask you what countries you are going to, for how long, where you are staying, etc. Then they will create a travel health plan designed just for you and your trip. They will recommend what precautions and vaccinations you should take and talk about options and costs.
Visit a travel health clinic about 3-6 months before your departure date. Some inoculations may take up to 3-4 months to complete a series of shots. Some shots are typical and may be covered by insurance under preventive care. Others may incur additional fees depending.
In addition, you can check the CDC website (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) although reading through this site may cause you to hyperventilate if you are already worried about health. So I recommend just the travel clinic, they will soothe your worried mind and have all the same information that is up to date.
Get travel trip and health insurance.
If you are worried typically, than having an insurance plan should help ease your mind. We had a plan with Travelex as part of buying flights through Airtreks. They offer a very affordable option with up to 6 months of coverage on your trip to multiple destinations. It covered lost baggage, delays, had a help line and covered basic health and emergency evacuation. Luckily we didn’t need to use it, but it was comforting to have. There are other options online.
If you are into extreme sports, or want to dive and snorkel, most plans do not cover these activities so you may need to purchase additional insurance. We did not get extra insurance and we snorkeled a lot, we took a risk, but luckily we were fine.
Make a small travel first aid kit with basic meds you might need. If you go to a hiking or camping supply section at an outdoor store, they have a variety of kits. I used a pack for 1-2 persons because it was small. It came in so handy. It was probably one of the most important things we bought and packed. We used it all the time. However along with basic supplies for cuts and scrapes, you will need to add in meds for cold and tummy issues
Don’t worry about bringing not enough, you can buy similar meds overseas but it’s best to have some on hand just to begin with and if you use them just replenish as you go.
Here is what was in our first aid kit supplies:
Tip: To save space, we threw out most of the packaging on mess and took the blister packs, but we also cut out directions and labeled the blister packs so we had clarity of what it was, and proper directions on how to use it.
Tummy Issues: pro biotics (worked wonders! Take every morning!), pepto bismol (bismuth) helps combat bacteria, antacids, Imodium and anti-constipation meds. In addition you can bring charcoal tabs and re-hydration tablets. We were prepped for traveler’s stomach, but no one told us to prep for constipation too, which was uncomfortable. We mostly replenished these items along the way because we used them the most.
Headache and pain: ibuprofen, aspirin, midol
Allergy and cold: benedryl and common cold meds
Cuts and blisters: bandaids, alcohol pads, neosporin, moleskin and blister pads.
Other: A digital thermometer, vitamins and any other essential meds or prescriptions you need, airborne, a small flight kit: ear plugs, eye mask, inflatable neck pillow, a small roll of duct tape, large safety pins, tweezers and a tiny sewing kit. Hand sanitizer.
Mosquito repellant lotion with Deet if you are really worried, but for long term we switched over to natural mosquito repellent balm by Badger – because the deet is toxic. The Badger natural balm seemed to work okay without eating through our skin. In India they use fans and burn incense, the mosquitos hate both of them. If you are in a region that is mosquito-prone they usually have mosquito netting above the beds, these are great, but I don’t think you need to bring it. Our travel nurse gave us malaria meds but we didn’t take them. Wear light colored clothing that covers arms and legs, this also helps.
A Steri-pen: this is a water purifier, UV water zapper. Kills 99.9 percent of germs and protozoa. Yuck! Expensive device but better than getting ill. We brought it to Thailand, Vietnam, India, but we never felt like we needed to use it. In most cities and tourist locations you can buy bottled water, make sure it is sealed before you drink it. Bring the steri-pen if you are traveling in the countryside where you may not have access to clean water, like a jungle, forest or desert. But if you are staying mostly in cities and tourist destinations you should be fine.
While on the road: Most illness stems from tainted food, water or lack of cleanliness.
Eat clean food: The basic rule is to eat fresh, piping hot food to avoid bacteria. In areas with questionable food prep, it may be better to avoid meat and go vegetarian. Try not to overdo it with too much food or spicy food if it tends to upset you. Eat at restaurants or food carts that are busy with high turnover so food is not stale.
Drink clean water: make sure it’s safe to drink the water in the area you are traveling to. Make sure bottled water is sealed before you drink it. Bring a steripen and also boil water if worried there may not be a reputable drinking source if staying in the wilderness. Do not brush your teeth with tap water or swallow water in the shower. Always keep bottled water near your bed and definitely on the bathroom sink so it’s a reminder to use it.
Always wash your hands and stay clean. Use hand sanitizer.
Carry tissues in case there is no toilet paper and a handkerchief to dry your hands.
Make sure to get plenty of rest every night. Try not to over do anything whether it is walking, eating, partying, drinking, etc. Moderation will keep you healthy and energetic on a long trip.
Ear plugs can be useful in places that are quite loud and full of sensory overload. We often used them while in Tuk tuks.
Stay hydrated all day, especially in hot climates.
Prepare for the weather in your location: hat, gloves, scarf, extra socks for cold climate. Sunglasses and sunscreen are important for hot climate. You can always buy an umbrella wherever you go and can often buy these accessories at your location if you don’t have room in your bag to pack them. They make a nice souvenir too.
Sensible shoes: you will always be walking a lot. Bring shoes that are sturdy and comfortable for all day walking. Preferably ones that are broken in so you don’t get blisters.
A light, compressible jacket was one of the best and most useful things I bought. It kept me warm in cold snaps and folded down to a small ball that didn’t take up much space in my bag.
This is all we brought for one person on an 8 month, round the world trip. Less is more, skimp on clothing, but don’t skimp on your healthcare supplies. Staying healthy is the most important thing.
Hope you have a safe, happy and healthy voyage.