Healthy Travels to You

Has one of your vacations ever quickly progressed from "Wish you were here!" to "Wish I was home!" because of a travel-related health ailment? If you're preparing for a summer vacation, the tips below can help you guard against common health problems when traveling.

Jet Lag

Healthy Traveler Packing List
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications in your carry-on bag.
  • Insurance ID card.
  • Immunization record.
  • Names and phone numbers of your pharmacist and health care providers, and emergency contact phone numbers.
  • List of allergies to medications, food, insects and animals; any ongoing health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes; and your blood type.
  • Glasses and contact lenses in a carry-on bag.
  • Prescriptions for medications and corrective lenses.

Jet setting across two or more time zones can disrupt your body's internal clock, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Jet lag is temporary, but can put a damper on your activities if there's something you want to be awake for but are too tired to enjoy.

Symptoms: Trouble falling asleep, early waking, extreme sleepiness during the day, difficulty concentrating, stomach problems, muscle soreness.

Prevention: If you have an important event scheduled at your destination, arrive a day or two earlier to give your body time to adjust to the new time zone. Get plenty of rest before your trip, and, if possible, change your bedtime a few days before you leave ­— earlier if flying east and later if flying west. If you fly east, get plenty of sun exposure (which helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle) in the morning after you arrive. Sun exposure in the afternoon is best if you've flown west.

Traveler's Diarrhea

Ingesting contaminated water or food can result in diarrhea. This health ailment is more likely to happen in areas of the world where the water is not clean.

Symptoms: At least three loose stools in 24 hours, fever, vomiting, stomach cramps, bloody stools.

Vaccinations for Travelers

Vaccines are recommended to protect travelers abroad from acquiring illnesses during their travels and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In some countries, vaccines are required for entry. If you are traveling out of the country, you may need vaccinations four to six weeks before your trip. Follow these tips if you plan to travel outside the U.S.:

  • Consult your doctor to determine if you'll need additional vaccines before you travel. The vaccinations you may need depend on a variety of factors including your destination and the time of year when you will be traveling. Learn more at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for travelers at
  • Check your medical history to make sure that your routine vaccinations and immunizations are up-to-date. The vaccines you will need for your trip are affected by your previous immunizations.
  • Set up an appointment with your doctor four to six weeks prior to departure. Some vaccines are given in a series of shots over a period of time, while other vaccines take some time to become effective.

Prevention: Don't drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth. Use bottled water that has not already been opened. Do not use ice unless it's made with purified water. Do not eat raw fruits or vegetables unless they are peeled by you. Don't eat lettuce or other leafy greens. Don't eat food sold by people on the street. Don't consume unpasteurized milk or dairy products. Choose food and drinks that are served hot. If you do get diarrhea, drink clear liquids (such as bottled water opened by you) to replace lost fluids.

Altitude Sickness

Going up? Reduced air pressure, dry air and lower oxygen levels can affect your body when you quickly travel or climb to a higher elevation than you are used to. People at risk include hikers, skiers, mountain climbers and travelers to destinations higher than 8,000 feet (some people can be affected at 5,000 feet).

Symptoms: Mild symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, rapid pulse, shortness of breath, fatigue and trouble sleeping. Severe symptoms include chest tightness, confusion, bluish discoloration of the skin, coughing up blood and inability to walk. If severe symptoms are present, call 911.

Prevention: If possible, gradually increase your altitude to get used to the changes. Drink plenty of fluids, eat regular meals and avoid alcohol to keep your body hydrated and well-balanced when engaging in high-altitude activities. If you start to experience symptoms of altitude sickness, descend to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as you can. If you know you are at risk for altitude sickness, talk to your doctor before your trip about medication that can help improve breathing and reduce symptoms.

Relaxation Is in the Cards

Learning all you can about your destination and how you can stay healthy before you go can make your summer vacation one to remember ... in a good way!

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