Travel Planning, Part 3 – Health

A First Aid kit is an essential addition to your suitcase

A First Aid kit is an essential addition to your suitcase

Whereas the boxing ring was once considered to be the great leveller of man, a dose of diarrhoea is definitely the great leveller of travellers. If you haven’t had a dash of Delhi-belly, consider yourself lucky. Your experience may be just around the next corner (after the seafood stall).

Colourful tales of sickness are legend among travellers everywhere. They make for great conversation starters, simply because it’s happened to everyone at one time or another. For most of us it’s mild diarrhoea, but there are other, more worrying diseases out there. Most can be easily prevented, but the wider we travel the more we’re exposed. It’s a simple formula: the more exotic the destination, the more exotic the disease. And often, the cheaper the destination, the more you’ll wind up spending on immunisations before you go.

Before you go

This man can keep you healthy

This man can keep you healthy

As soon as you know where you’re heading, and preferably at least six weeks before departure, go see a doctor. Good news: they should know what vaccinations and preventative medicine you’ll need. Bad news: getting an armful can cost an arm and a leg.

On your first trip your arm or backside will see more needles than a sewing convention. Everybody needs to be covered against hepatitis A, tetanus, polio and other childhood diseases. Depending on your destination you may also need to be protected against hepatitis B, meningitis, rabies, typhoid and yellow fever.

Don’t forget to take a record of your immunisations when you go travelling, especially your yellow fever certificate. Thankfully, after a complete course of injections you’re often covered for several years. It’s an investment for the future: literally short-term pain for long-term gain.

Malaria poses a concern for travellers. World-wide, the mosquito-borne disease claims one million victims every year. You should do everything you can to keep well away from it.


If you’re not travelling to a malarial zone and don’t need to worry about it, great. If you’re going to Africa, Asia or parts of Central and South America you probably do. Ask a doctor to run through the main options – Malarone, Lariam, Doxycycline and the Chloroquine and Paludrine combination. The bottom line is this: which treatment is right for you depends on your health, destination and, to an extent, budget.

Of course, if you don’t get bitten, you don’t get malaria. Cover your arms and legs, invest in a decent protective net – preferably one soaked in DEET, and make use of repellent.

On the road
Your day-to-day health on the road is just as important as what you do before you go.

Here are a few basic things you should do to keep on your feet:

  • Avoid sunburn: a hat, sunscreen and sunblock are essential.
  • Keep hydrated: drink plenty of water – though discard any plastic bottles thoughtfully
  • Know your destination: not everywhere has a risk of bilharzia or hungry mossies. Risks are generally low, but make sure you know them.
  • Fast food: the safest food is well-cooked in front of your eyes. Street markets do this, and offer cheap, tasty local food.
  • Getting help: if you do get sick ask your hotel to recommend a local clinic. Make sure you’re properly insured and declare this before you see a doctor.

There’s certainly an impressive selection of tropical diseases on offer, but with any luck you’ll dodge the worst of them. It may be that you are privy to nothing more than an inconvenient but close relationship with your toilet. On the bright side, you can wax lyrical about your Delhi-belly experience with fellow travellers – a nice ice breaker. So get your jabs, pack your pills and hit the road. Just don’t forget the toilet roll.

What’s in your first aid kit?

You could fill a rucksack with everything you might need, but make sure your kit contains these essentials:

Scissors Band Aids
Tweezers Gauze swabs and adhesive tape
Non-adhesive dressings Bandages and safety pins
Antiseptic wipes Multivitamins
Sunscreen and lipsalve with sunblock Anti-diarrhoeals
Oral hydrations sachets Paracetamol
DEET-based insect repellent Water purifying tablets
Chewing gum Sterile kit: needles, syringes, suture kit etc.

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