A New Twist on Travel Planning: Plan Ahead for Traveler Health

Jun 15, 2012 | Travel Planning

This article was updated on May 19, 2015.

I’ve supported traveling executives for most of my administrative career. I’ve done my own share of international and domestic travel as well. Thankfully, I have never had any health issues while I was traveling, and neither have my executives, but not everyone is always that fortunate. As I was sorting through the mail a couple weeks ago, I noticed a free seminar being offered by our local hospital on international travel health. I’d never heard anyone talk specifically about this aspect of travel, so I registered. And I’m glad I did! It was one of the most educational evenings ever. Since travel has been such a hot topic among my readers recently, I wanted to share the travel planning tips, resources, and strategies I learned for staying healthy as you prepare yourself or your traveling executives for their next big trip!

Please Note: The notes I’m sharing came from Dr. Abualfoul’s presentation and handouts provided as part of the St. Luke’s Hospital Live Well Events series. I am not a doctor nor do I practice medicine, so as with any medical related issues, each person should consult with his/her doctor on the best course of treatment.

Before You Travel

  • Learn about your destination.

Find out what diseases are common for the countries and locales you will be visiting on your trip.  Is the area prone to natural disasters or pests that can pose a health risk? Are there currently any safety or security warnings in effect?  What local laws or cultures do you need to be aware of?  Does your health insurance provide international coverage?  Some online resources to assist with your research include:

  • Locate contact information for local U.S. (or your respective country) embassy and consulate.
  • See a travel medicine specialist or doctor familiar with travel health.

The best time to see a doctor is four to eight weeks before your trip because some vaccinations require time to build up the immunity within your body. However, frequent travelers may not know that far in advance, so they may need to consult with their doctor on the best plan of treatments and prevention for their specific travel situations. When you go to the doctor’s office, be sure to take your current vaccination record, current list of medications, and your travel itinerary with the details on destinations, accommodations, and activities you’ll be participating in.  These specific details may impact your doctor’s recommendations.

  • Pack smart!

Secure your passport and travel documents. Be sure to have extra copies of your passport and travel documents in your luggage and leave a copy with a trusted source at home also.  Prepare a travel health kit including your regular prescriptions (packed in original containers), other prescriptions recommended by your doctor (if needed for the areas you are traveling to), and over the counter medicines for stomach issues, motion sickness, pain relief, coughs, allergies, etc.

 There are a few key supplies to pack for preventing illness or injury such as insect repellent with DEET (30-50%) or picaridin (15%), sunscreen (SPF 35 or greater), and alcohol-based hand sanitizer (>60% alcohol).  A first aid kit is also recommended.

During Your Trip

  • Watch for blood clots.

Airplane travel, especially flights longer than eight hours, may increase the risk for blood clots. Tips for preventing issues during the flight include staying hydrated, wearing loose-fitting clothes, walking and stretching your legs and arms at least once an hour. Your doctor may also recommend wearing special stockings to reduce leg swelling and encourage blood flow or prescribing medication if you are at a higher risk.

  • Avoid stomach and digestive issues.

Poor hygiene in restaurants is a large contributor to traveler health issues – even in 4- or 5-star facilities. To be proactive, consider taking probiotics to maintain the healthy balance in your system.  For international travel, it’s advised to only drink bottled water. Use bottled water for brushing your teeth also. Wash your hands often, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before eating. Avoid raw foods. Seek out foods that are freshly cooked or served piping hot. Avoid ice in your drinks. Alcohol does not kill illness-causing organisms in ice. One last tip: pack your own straws.

  • Avoid mosquito and other insect bites.

Use insect repellent (with DEET or picaridin) on uncovered skin when outdoors, especially during the day.  Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors at night in areas with malaria. Clothing may also be sprayed with repellent that contains Permethrin (not for use on skin). If possible, stay in hotels that are well screened or air conditioned. Lots of diseases are carried by mosquitos and other insects, so be proactive.

  • Minimize jetlag.

If you will be staying at your destination for 48 hours or less, consider staying on your home time cycle. Get enough rest before you fly. Try to adjust your sleeping and eating schedule times an hour or two towards your destination in the days before your flight. After takeoff, adjust your watch; then try to sleep and eat according to the time of your destination. Drink water and juices. Avoid caffeine and alcohol to stay hydrated. Limit yourself to a single nap of 30-40 minutes or less. Go to be and wake up at the appropriate time for the new time zone you’ve traveled to.

  • Other general tips.

Do not go barefoot where there may be animal waste due to fungal and parasitic infection risks.  Only swim in chlorinated pools or salt-water. Do not swim in freshwater in developing areas or where sanitation is poor. Allow 24 hours between scuba diving and flying as the extreme change in altitude is dangerous. Purchasing medications overseas is not recommended.

After Your Trip

  • Pay attention to your health when you return home.

If you are not feeling well, you should see a doctor and mention that you have traveled recently.  If you have visited a malaria-risk area, it’s important to continue taking your antimalarial drug for a period of time depending upon what your doctor may have prescribed for you.  Symptoms may appear up to a year after you’ve traveled to a malaria-risk area, so seek immediate medical attention if any symptoms appear even after you return home from your trip.

Traveling is stressful enough – especially on long trips – without having to worry about getting sick. To help your executives prepare, do a little research on the destination they are headed to. Present your findings so they can be proactive in addressing any potential concerns with their doctor, if necessary. And you’ll help your executive travelers be as prepared and proactive as they can possibly be when it comes to staying healthy and productive before, during, and after they travel.  Now that’s value-added!

©2015 Julie Perrine International, LLC


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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.

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