If you’re anything like me, then you think the far corners of the globe are there to be discovered. There are so many hidden gems to absorb and cultures to embrace, however you don’t want any hitchhikers along the way putting your health, and even your life, at serious risk.
Yep, I’m talking about getting your vaccinations – the necessary evil of every long-haul trip of a lifetime. In my day-to-day life I rarely take any medications (it’s been a good fifteen years since I last had an antibiotic) but when it comes to travel, I make an exception as so many things are simply not worth the risk. Then there are the things to remember when you’re away like avoiding mosquito bites, staying safe in the sun and keeping hydrated and nourished.
Vaccinations & Travel
According to medical professionals, it is important to prepare for your vaccinations well in advance of a trip, with some jabs needing 8 weeks in advance to work into your system whilst others – such as tuberculosis – require up to a whole 3 months before you travel. If you’ve already had quite a few vaccinations in the past, you may still need a booster jab or two to keep you protected. All in all, depending on where you’re heading, you may come out of your doctors feeling like a pincushion.
It can be slightly confusing knowing which vaccination(s) you need for each location. Whilst some are essential in certain areas, others are recommended but not necessary. But why are they on the list in the first place? And should you take the “sometimes recommended” vaccinations regardless?
Recommended vaccination confusion
In terms of the ‘not essential but advised’/’sometimes recommended’ vaccinations, this merely applies to those spending a prolonged amount of time abroad in countries of high risk. However, this also applies if you happen to travel frequently.
So if your trip is merely a holiday for a few weeks, you can avoid these particular vaccinations but if it is a few weeks a few times a year your level of risk will be higher. It is always advised to ask your GP or a medical professional to clarify, and for your peace of mind.
With booster jabs, this applies to those individuals that haven’t had a dosage in over 10 years. The three main vaccinations you need to keep updated when travelling is diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
Vaccinations vary depending on the part of the world and specific country you are heading to but also bear in mind that different regions of the same country can have different requirements. Check out the World Immunization Chart from the IAMAT which shows the key areas where a vaccination is necessary.
The most common vaccinations you might need before travelling:
- Hepatitis A
If you’re thinking “that’s a lot” then never fear – diphtheria, polio and tetanus are a combined booster shot and hepatitis A can be combined with typhoid or hepatitis B so you could possibly walk away with just two shots.
The above are free vaccinations on the NHS if you are in the UK, and the below are paid-for vaccinations:
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Japanese encephalitis
- Tick-borne encephalitis
The cost of each of these vaccinations can be quite pricey. It’s something you never really think about when planning a holiday to a remote location, but keeping back a few hundred pounds means you’re well covered just in case. I got the rabies vaccine about five years ago because I knew on my trip to Mongolia I could be a few days drive away from the nearest hospital and that even then the facilities might not be sufficient.
In some parts of the world, there is no getting away from these nuisance critters. Naturally I want to let them live on and do their own thing, but I also want to keep them as far from me as possible. I tend to be particularly attractive to mosquitoes and often have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites which is pretty much the worst combination possible!
This should be the first and foremost plan of action. Some things to consider:
- Cover up – especially in the evening, long sleeves and long trousers will prevent most mosquitoes or other insects from reaching your skin
- B vitamins – this is one of those things that hasn’t been full proven but seems to work for some people. If I take B vitamins when I’m away it cuts down the number of bites I get dramatically
- Citronella oil – the smell of this can help keep mosquitoes at bay
- DEET – this is a heavily debated substance and not something you would want to use everyday. However, if you are in an area with a risk of dengue then, in my opinion, short-term use is most likely better than being bitten and contracting something much worse.
Combating malaria comes in the form of an oral tablet and can reduce your risk by approximately 90% according to the NHS. The type of tablet and dosage will depend on the age of the traveller and where you are travelling to.
The most important thing to know is how long before travelling you would need to start taking them. Doxycycline is the most popular form of tablet as it can be taken just 2 days before you travel whilst its rival Mefloquine needs to be started 3 weeks before. Malaria tablets are available online, so you needn’t waste your time at the doctors for something so straightforward. Again, taking the tablets is better than contracting malaria.
Natural Bite Remedies
You might already be feeling like the list of travel-related meds is more than can be healthy, so if you have been bitten there are a couple of natural remedies you can try that could be effective:
- Ice to numb the area, offer some cool relief and reduce swelling
- Tea-tree oil is an old and reliable favourite that will stop the scratching and can be applied multiple times when the itching flairs up again
- Papaya soothes the inflammation caused by the insect venom
- Sugar breaks down the venom soothing itchiness, in the same way salt water can help a cut.
Staying safe in the sun is just as important whether you are sitting on a beach, hiking at high altitudes or exploring a city. In fact, the latter two can be worse since you might not consider sunburn or heatstroke as a risk. Here are some things to consider:
- Cover your head – wear a hat or headscarf this protects your hair, eyes, and skin
- Choose your suncream wisely – prickly heat can often be caused by suncreams since many are full of skin irritants (check out this useful post by Lifestyle Maven)
- Wear long lightweight clothing – this is especially important if you are doing something active.
Hydration & Nutrition
The hydration part might seem simple but in hot weather you will need to drink much more than you would at home. Also consider, if you are travelling to an area with unsafe tap water, taking a good quality water bottle and purification tablets so you are not creating unnecessary waste.
Nutrition on holiday can be tricky if you follow a vegetarian or fully plant-based diet. You can find some useful tips for vegetarian travel here but also consider:
- Take healthy snacks with you – for a shorter trip, these will keep you going in between meals if you don’t have much access to fruit and vegetables
- Carry nuts or seeds with you – this is a good strategy for a longer trip as you should be able to stock up from time to time and they can be sprinkled over any meal for a nutritional boost
- Opt for fruit that needs peeling – these will travel better in your bag over long journeys and don’t need washing if local water isn’t safe to drink.
How do you stay healthy when you travel?
This information is intended as a guide only and not medical advice. This is a collaborative post – please see my disclaimer for more details.