Health Break | Published July 24, 2006 | Written by Marlene Stetson, RN, CIC, director of infection prevention and control, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Healthy Travel Tips

Whether you're planning a trip across the state border or a trip abroad, traveling with a family can present some unique health challenges. A little planning and a lot of common sense are the keys to a successful trip.

Safety First

Accidents pose the single greatest danger to travelers. Visitors find themselves with more free time than usual. They participate in more sports and other rigorous activities, drink more alcohol and generally take more chances than they would at home. These simple safety rules can make your trip safer and more enjoyable:

  • Don't walk barefoot

  • Don't swim alone

  • Avoid wild animals

  • Don't mix alcohol with driving or sports

  • Always wear a seatbelt or helmet

  • Check the safety of rented equipment

  • Don't use local medications unless you're familiar with them

  • Wear sun block and sunglasses in the tropics and at high altitudes

Be Prepared For Little Emergencies

Colds, bumps, scrapes and other minor injuries or illnesses do happen, even on vacation. Being prepared for medical emergencies can make it easier to get through them and back to the fun.

Finding a doctor in an unfamiliar place can be difficult. If possible, get the name of a physician near your destination before you leave. This is especially important if you have a chronic medical condition. While away, the best sources for physician information include your hotel and the American Consulate.

Packing a first-aid kit is also smart. Add your own supplies to the following list of general remedies:

  • Bandages in all shapes and sizes, gauze and adhesive tape

  • Non-aspirin painkiller, cold remedies, and nose drops

  • Electrolyte fluid and formula for fluid replacement

  • Thermometer

  • Motion sickness medication

  • Any prescription medications in their original containers

  • Waterproof sunscreen and lip balm

  • Insect repellent

  • Antibacterial cream or ointment

  • Rubbing alcohol or antiseptic

  • Antihistamine

Traveling Abroad

When planning travel outside the country, visit a travel medicine specialist or your family physician. Schedule an appointment up to eight weeks in advance of your trip to allow sufficient time to update any recommended vaccinations. Although formal requirements for leaving the U.S. may not exist, the destination country may require specialized vaccines. Your physician will be able to tell you more about what is required based on your destination. Some immunizations need to be staged, so do not wait until the last minute to set up vaccinations.

Up-to-date routine immunizations are important for adults and especially important for children. Children are at greater risk of being exposed to contagious childhood diseases, which are more common outside the U.S.

Jet Lag

Almost every airplane trip involves crossing time zones. International travel can even include crossing the dateline. This can cause that out-of-sorts feeling you get upon arrival, commonly called jet lag. Symptoms of jet lag include a feeling of extreme tiredness during the day, loss of appetite, irritability, insomnia, restless sleep, stomach and bowel distress, sensitivity to light and sound, and reduced problem-solving ability and attention span. Adults generally have a hard time getting their body clocks back on track, making it difficult to focus on the business at hand. Children generally recover from jet lag more easily.

Although there is not a single effective cure for jet lag, several things that might help include:

  • Setting your watch to the destination time zone when you depart

  • Eating and sleeping at the local times right away

  • Adjusting your body clock before you go by altering your bedtime.

Your next trip can be more enjoyable if you are prepared and know what to expect and avoid while traveling. Have fun!

Marlene Stetson is a registered nurse and coordinator of infection control at Mount Nittany Medical Center.