Travelers lay a lot of groundwork for vacations by researching locations, airfares and the best hotel deals, Consumer Reports notes. But planning how to stay healthy (and what to do if they get sick) usually isn’t part of their preparation.
Consumer Reports offers these strategies for staying well while you’re away from home.
• Check your insurance coverage. Emergencies such as broken bones or heart attacks are usually covered outside of your network or area, but doctor visits may not be.
In foreign countries, you might have no coverage at all. If you have a chronic health condition or you’ll be doing something that could conceivably lead to injury, consider buying travel health insurance.
Avoid commission-driven policies sold by tour operators, cruise line representatives and travel agents. Instead, check out an online broker, such as InsureMyTrip, that sells coverage from multiple companies.
• Download your health records. If your doctor has a patient portal, you can access portions of your medical record, such as medications, allergies and other vital pieces of information. Download it to a thumb drive and take it with you to give doctors instant access in case of an emergency.
• ID where to get medical help. Knowing the quality of health care you’ll have access to is especially important if you have a chronic condition, are traveling outside of the U.S. or will be taking a cruise.
According to international maritime law, cruise ships aren’t even required to have a doctor onboard; a crew member with medical training is sufficient. For anything serious, you probably will have to disembark at the next port of call.
• Stash meds in your carry-on. Even if you don’t have to take a dose during your flight, it’s best to have medications with you instead of in your checked bags, in case the luggage is lost. Be sure to pack enough of any prescription medication to last the entire trip, plus a little extra.
• Outsmart germs. From norovirus to colds and flu, certain infections spread easily where large numbers of people congregate – planes, hotels, cruise ships. Your best defense is to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as often as you can. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
• Don’t sit still. Research shows that long-distance air travel can increase your chances of developing a blood clot in your leg. A similar risk has been found with traveling by car, bus or train.
If you can’t get up from your seat, Consumer Reports recommends flexing and extending your feet at least hourly. When driving, stop the car every two hours to take a walk or stretch.
• Drink a lot of water. That sluggish feeling you get while flying may have nothing to do with jet lag. Being dehydrated, even mildly, can cause fatigue. The air in planes is very low in humidity. That can lower fluid levels in the body and dry out your eyes, skin, mouth and nasal passages. Not only is that uncomfortable, but a dry nose is the perfect incubator for a cold virus.
• Watch what you eat and drink. Enjoy the local cuisine, but don’t overdo it. Studies have identified that the highest likelihood of sudden cardiac death occurs on holidays associated with overindulgence, such as Thanksgiving. Eating your way through Italy, for example, could create the same conditions in your body.
• Prevent travelers’ diarrhea. Sticking to bottled water and hot, freshly prepared foods is your best defense.
But bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol and generic) has a mild antibacterial effect, and taking it may cut in half your odds of getting diarrhea. Take two tablets four times per day throughout your trip. It contains salicylate, an ingredient in aspirin, so check with your doctor if you have ulcers or other medical conditions.