The peak summer travel season will soon be here. If you're thinking of taking a trip this year, make travel health part of your planning. I'm glad I did.
When I recently paid my first ever visit to a travel medicine clinic, here is what I thought would happen: the doctor would warn me about the health risks of travel to far-off destinations and give me lots of shots and prescriptions.
This is what actually happened: the doctor asked about my travel plans and gave me just a few shots and prescriptions. As he points out, "Not every problem is preventable through inoculation or pills. In fact most are not. There are many conditions, however, that are largely avoidable through changes in your personal behaviour. Another term for this is COMMON SENSE!" So he gave me sensible advice about how to deal with the most common travel health issues, such as jet lag, motion sickness, food and water borne illnesses and sun exposure.
What medical information you need before you travel depends on your destination. A good place to start is the CDC Travelers' Health site. Search by destination to find out what vaccines and medications are required and/or recommended for each country, or search the Disease Directory to learn about illnesses.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also has a good Travel Health site. There are fact sheets about general concerns, such as eating and drinking safely while travelling. The Travel Health Notices page lists countries currently experiencing outbreaks or natural disasters and rates the risk of travel to each one.
The government of Canada also publishes an excellent booklet, Well on Your Way: a Canadian's Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad. It has information on:
- what to look for in travel health insurance
- travelling with young children, or while pregnant
- concerns for older travellers, and those with pre-existing medical conditions or disabilities
- how to avoid common travel illnesses and accidents
- what to do in the case of a health emergency
What I learned from my visit to the travel medicine clinic is that, while it's important to assess the risks and prepare for them, the best way to protect yourself from the most common health issues while on vacation is to pack your common sense!
Want to learn more? Here are some books to get you started:
Wherever your travel adventures take you this summer, I hope you have a safe and happy trip.