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Tips for a safe and healthy vacation

A little bit of common sense, some advanced planning and checking in with medical professionals should insure a healthy and safe vacation.

Scene of a run-through for a new safari ride attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure.  (Photo courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure).
Scene of a run-through for a new safari ride attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure. (Photo courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure).Read more

Whether it is avoiding monkeypox in Nigeria, measles in Japan, or norovirus on a cruise ship, travelers want to be sure nothing gets in the way of a healthy, accident-free vacation.

A little bit of common sense and planning before you head out will go a long way to make sure the memories from an upcoming vacation will not involve trips to a hospital emergency room.

To get advice before departing on an international trip, check with a travel medical clinic to talk about preventive care and safety tips, said Stephen Gluckman, professor of medicine at Penn Medicine and medical director of Penn Global Medicine.

“There is a lot to talk about and it is not merely what vaccines do I need,” he said.

Whether you are a first-time traveler or a seasoned pro, here are some tips from the Aerospace Medical Association, AAA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Penn Medicine, and Pest World.

Packing reminders:
  1. Bring enough prescription medication for the entire trip and add in a few extra doses. Keep the drugs in the original prescription packages and pack them in your carry-on case. If you are traveling with medical devices such as needles or oxygen tanks, bring along a copy of your doctor’s prescription.

  2. Pack an extra set of eyeglasses or contacts.

  3. Bring sunscreen, protective clothing, and hats to avoid overexposure to the sun. If you are going off the beaten path, bring a first-aid kit and insect repellent.

General health tips:
  1. Consider buying a short-term traveler’s health insurance and medical evacuation insurance policy, especially if you have any existing health conditions.

  2. Schedule a medical checkup before you leave, especially if you have a chronic illness.

  3. Make sure you are up-to-date on all recommended vaccines including measles and tetanus.

  4. Check with a dentist to make sure your teeth are in good condition.

  5. Flu shots are recommended for nearly everyone, but you really want one if you are headed to an area with an outbreak or before taking a cruise.

  6. Before you unpack, check your hotel for bedbugs by pulling back the bed sheets and looking at corners of the mattress for telltale signs of bedbugs including tiny blood spots or feces. Change rooms or hotels if necessary.

Air travel:
  1. To help reduce the impact of jet lag give yourself 12 to 24 hours to adjust to your new time zone. Exercise and exposure to sunlight will help. Before the trip, try gradually moving wake up and bedtimes closer to the time zone you are visiting.

  2. To help avoid developing blood clots during long flights, get up and walk around the cabin or stretch and bend your legs to stimulate blood flow. Compression socks can also help with circulation — and keep you warm on chilly planes.

  3. Drink about eight ounces of water for each hour you’re in flight and limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks to avoid dehydration.

  4. If traveling with an infant, offer a pacifier or bottle during takeoff and landings — sucking on either can help equalize the pressure in their ears.

  5. Wait at least 24 hours before boarding a plane if you have been scuba diving to avoid decompression sickness.

  1. Motor-vehicle accidents are a major cause of injury and death in developing counties, said Gluckman. He suggests hiring drivers, if financially feasible, and letting them know you are not in a hurry to get to your destination. Always wear a seat belt and put kids in car seats.

  2. Avoid driving through rural areas with poorly lit streets at night. You run the risk of getting in a collision with a cow or other large animal, Gluckman said.

  3. Just as you would at home, make sure the vehicle you’re driving — and the tires — are in good shape.

  4. Have a number for local roadside assistance available and make sure to keep a charged cell phone available. Carry extra water in the car.

  5. If you must ride a motorcycle or scooter, wear a helmet.

  6. Vacationers can get so absorbed in the sights, they neglect to watch out for traffic. Be especially aware in countries where they drive on the opposite side of the road. Know the traffic laws of the countries you are visiting -- especially if you are driving.

Food and water:
  1. When it comes to eating or drinking in developing countries, Penn Medicine recommends “boil it, peel it, cook it or forget it."

  2. Wash your hands often with soap and hot water, particularly before eating, or use an alcohol-based hand gel.

  3. When in doubt about the water supply, stick with bottled water or canned drinks. Make sure the cap is on and the bottle has not been refilled. Travel guru Rick Steves offers up some advice on drinking water in Europe.

  4. Make sure all food is thoroughly cooked and served piping hot. If the restaurant looks sketchy, skip it.

  5. Avoid raw food or street food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions against eating certain fish from the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

  1. Don’t hike alone, and before setting out into nature, check travel warnings and weather reports. If you are hiking in an unfamiliar area, leave an itinerary with someone, carry plenty of water and snacks, bring a map or GPS. Check for ticks when you are finished.

  2. Do not swim alone and watch children closely. Do not dive in shallow or unfamiliar water. Watch for rip currents. Ask about sea urchins, jellyfish, coral, and sea lice. Do not swim in contaminated water.

  3. Wear life jackets while boating.

  4. Avoid petting unfamiliar dogs, cats, or wild animals. If you get bitten or scratched, seek immediate medical help.