Traveling Abroad? Be Sure to Cover Your Medical Bases Before Taking Off!

Travel Health Checklist

Recently, a friend was visiting Paris and broke her ankle on a staircase leaving a restaurant. Needless to say, her vacation came to a screeching halt and she was soon on a plane back to the U. S. to see an orthopedic doctor. I would guess that ranks high on the list of travelers’ worst nightmares! It made me think about the whole health and wellness aspect of traveling and consider ways to prepare for a safe and healthy trip. The U. S. Department of State offers these guidelines:

  • Read up on your destination at travel.state.gov. Learn about medical care in the countries you are visiting.
  • Find out about health precautions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide recommendations for vaccinations and other travel health precautions for your trip abroad.
  • Get a letter from your doctor for medications you are bringing. Some countries have strict laws, even against over-the-counter medications, so read about your destination before you go.
  • Make sure you have health insurance whenever you are traveling abroad. If your U.S. health care plan does not cover you overseas, consider buying supplemental insurance to cover medical costs and emergency evacuation. Foreign hospitals and doctors often require payment in cash, and Emergency medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000. Social Security and Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States.
  • Read more at Your Health Abroad.

Dr. Shilpa Vaidya of Houston Methodist Hospital adds these recommendations:

  • Schedule an appointment with your physician about two months before your departure date.
  • Get the necessary immunizations for your destination.
  • Obtain a letter from your physician regarding your health history, medications, allergies, and immunization records.
  • Have an ample supply of medication in original, labeled containers. Do not use pill cases or an unlabeled container. (I admit, I do this all the time for convenience!)
  • Carry along the generic names of your medications—pharmaceutical companies overseas may use different brand names from those used in the United States.
  • If you wear glasses, take an extra pair with you. (I would think the same goes for contacts, and it might be wise to also have a copy of your prescription with you.)
  • Pack your extra glasses and medication in carry-on luggage in case checked baggage is lost.
  • Consider wearing a “medical alert” bracelet if you have allergies or reactions to medications, insect bites, certain foods, or other unique medical problems.
  • Pack a traveler’s first-aid kit for emergencies.

Source: Vaidya, S. (Spring 2016). Have a Safe Trip! Vacationing Abroad? Don’t forget to pack good health. Leading Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital, p. 7.

Basic Items to Include in a Travel First-Aid Kit:

  • Anti-diarrhea medication (Imodium, etc.)
  • Antihistamine and/or Decongestant
  • Cold medicine
  • Antiseptic Wipes
  • Anti-motion sickness medication
  • Pain Reliever (acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
  • Mild laxative
  • Cough suppressant/expectorant
  • Cough drops
  • Antacid
  • Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
  • Hydrocortisone (anti-itch) cream
  • Bandage strips in various sizes
  • Gauze pads and medical adhesive tape
  • Moleskin (for blisters)
  • Tweezers
  • Small scissors
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray

The following web sites offer additional travel health and first aid information:

International Travel Health Guide 2016 Online Edition

Travel Health Journal: How to Assemble the Perfect Travel First Aid Kit 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travel Health Kits

Lonely Planet: How to Make a Top-Notch Travel First Aid Kit

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Traveler’s First-Aid Kit

World Health Organization: International Health and Travel, General Precautions

Safe and healthy travels to you!

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