American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

How to Prepare for Your Next Trip Abroad

airport.jpgGetting ready to travel abroad? International trips require more than just a passport. Whether you’re traveling for work or vacation, it always helps to have a checklist that includes resources to safeguard your health. While there is no way to completely guarantee an ailment-free trip, Shari Glynn, DO, MPH, MBA, an AOA board-certified occupational and environmental medicine specialist from Chicago, provides tips that can lessen your risk and keep your next trip on a course to good health. 

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

Pre-Trip Vaccinations

Before embarking on your international trip, consult your physician or schedule a visit with a local travel medicine clinic. “You want to make sure you’re aware of the vaccination guidelines for your destination and are up to date on routine vaccinations like influenza, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, etc.,” says Dr. Glynn.

Since many travel vaccines require multiple shots and adequate time to become fully effective, Dr. Glynn recommends visiting a physician at least four to six weeks before traveling abroad. “Moreover, some vaccines provide partial protection after a single dose, your physician can counsel you on other ways to reduce your risk of illness,” she adds. While reactions are typically minor and require only a pain reliever for low grade fevers or cold compress to relieve soreness at the injection spot, sometimes serious adverse reactions, such as shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, body swelling or rash, can occur. In this situation, Dr. Glynn recommends seeking medical attention immediately. She also advises travelers to take the time to educate themselves by visiting the following websites:

“These sites will provide current and detailed information as well as highlight any alerts in place for your travel destination," Dr. Glynn noted. 

What You Should Pack

“While you can’t predict what will happen on your next trip, you can prepare for minor health issues that may arise,” says Dr. Glynn. She recommends packing the following key items:

  • Prescription medication in the original bottles and in your carry-on luggage. Some countries do not let visitors bring in certain medications. Check with the American Embassy or Consulate to make sure that your medicines will be allowed into the country you are visiting. 

  • Copies of your passport and travel documents. Place a copy in each piece of luggage in case you lose the originals and leave a copy at home with a friend or relative.

  • Photocopy of most pertinent medical information, including a copy of vaccinations record since some countries require it for entry.

  • Health insurance card (regular plan or supplemental travel)

  • Three-inch Ace-type bandage and regular bandages

  • Disposable or digital thermometer

  • Insect repellent (with at least 30% DEET for tick and mosquito protection) or picaridin (up to 15% for mosquito protection only)

  • Pain/fever reliever (aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol)

  • Topical antibiotic cream and hydrocortisone cream

  • Antidiarrheal medication (i.e. Pepto-Bismol, Immodium)

  • Antihistamine and/or decongestant

  • Water purification tablets

  • Antiseptic towelettes or hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol)

  • Sunscreen, preferably with sun protection (SPF) of 15 or higher, which protects from UVA and UVB exposure

  • Aloe gel (in case you get sunburned)

  • Oral rehydration packets

“Don’t let lack of preparation derail your travel plans,” advises Dr. Glynn. “Having the right resources at your disposal for common ailments can keep a minor health issue from spiraling out of control.”

The Road to a Healthy Trip

“Staying informed and following proper health guidelines are essential to keeping your next trip on course,” says Dr. Glynn. Travelers with a chronic medical illness should seek travelers insurance with assistance and evacuation coverage. For this type of insurance, she recommends the following resources:

Dr. Glynn also advises travelers experiencing unusual symptoms following a trip to visit their physician as soon as possible. “Preparation and immediate action are key points of defense against common travel ailments.”


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