Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1998;58(2):401-402

See related article on travel medicine.

Here are some tips to help you stay healthy when you travel to other countries:

Before you go:

  • Plan ahead. See your doctor at least 6 weeks before you leave. Some vaccines don't reach the highest protection until about 6 weeks after you get the shots.

  • Have medical and dental check-ups before your trip, to be aware of problems and to find out about medicines you might want to take along.

  • Be prepared. Find out what your health insurance will pay for if you see a doctor while you're in another country. Carry enough of your regular medicines in their original containers, along with extra prescriptions for them and also eyewear prescriptions. Wear a medical information bracelet if needed. Take along a first-aid kit (see following page).

While you're traveling:

  • Eat carefully if you're going to a country with an increased risk of traveler's diarrhea. Steaming-hot, well-cooked food is usually safest. Avoid eating foods from street vendors, unpasteurized dairy products, and raw or uncooked seafood. Peel fruits yourself. Drink water from commercially sealed bottles or drink carbonated beverages. Avoid ice. Brush your teeth with bottled water.

  • If you're going to a country with a risk of malaria, take preventive medicine for malaria as prescribed by your doctor. Remember to start taking your malaria medicine before you leave on your trip, take it during your travels and keep on taking it for four weeks after you get home.

  • Avoid swimming and other water activities in freshwater lakes and streams. Schistosomiasis and bilharzia are diseases you might be exposed to in some African streams and lakes.

  • If you're going to a country with an increased risk of mosquito-borne disease, protect yourself against insects. Insect repellents that contain deet work the best. Wear permethrin-coated clothing and use bed nets while you sleep.

  • Try to avoid taking overcrowded transportation. Try not to ride in vehicles without safety belts. Wear a helmet if you'll be riding a motorcycle. Try to avoid driving at night or in unfamiliar areas without local help and directions.

Things to include in a first-aid kit for traveling:

  • Your prescription medicines, in their original containers.

  • Medicine for diarrhea and upset stomach. Talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for an antibiotic you can take in case you get diarrhea. Pack bismuth subsalicylate (brand name: Pepto Bismol), loperamide (brand name: Imodium) and antacids.

  • Cough and cold medicines, pseudoephedrine tablets, cough syrup.

  • Pain medicines, such as acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol), ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) and aspirin.

  • Decongestants and antihistamines for allergies. The kinds that don't cause sleepiness are better when you're traveling.

  • Antibiotic ointment, adhesive bandages, hydrocortisone cream, moleskin for blisters, sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, and lip balm.

  • Medicine for motion sickness, such as dimenhydrinate (brand name: Dramamine), and an antinausea drug like promethazine (brand name: Phenergan). Acetazolamide (brand name: Diamox) may help prevent altitude sickness.

  • Scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, pocket knife, thermometer, and mirror.

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Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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