Health

Before you go

 

Your top priority will be to stay safe and healthy as you travel, which means you also have to make some decisions before you leave.

GPs and travel clinics

Before you leave, visit your GP and advise them of your plans. In the UK, your GP will often then refer you to a nurse at the clinic, who will assess you, administer the recommended vaccinations and provide prescriptions for any other recommended medications. The advice and the basic vaccinations are covered by the NHS.

 

The other option is to visit one of the growing number of private travel clinics; however, this is often a more expensive option, especially if you only need the basic set of vaccinations that you can get from your GP.

 

However, there are also a range of non-standard vaccinations that you may want. These will incur a cost at both the GP and the travel clinics, and they aren't cheap, especially when there are four or more of you to pay for.

 

There aren't really any hard-and-fast rules about which of these vaccinations you should get, and it's really up to you to make a decision based on the likely risk of contracting the diseases and the potential health issues that they pose, and, of course, the cost.

 

Travel clinics typically charge an initial assessment fee, which they often then subtract from the cost of any vaccinations you have. Before you start paying for any non-NHS vaccinations, do some calculations to see which ends up cheaper.

 

For our overland trip from the UK to Australia via Russia, Mongolia, China and Southeast Asia we were immunised against tetanus, Hepatitus A and B, and typhoid. We also stocked up on anti-malarials. However, we decided not to fork out the immense additional cost for vaccinations against rabies, tick-borne encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis.

 

Anti-malarials

We took malaria tablets for our time in Southeast Asia. We shopped around and saved a significant amount of money by asking for the prescription to be made for the generic anti-malarial drug, rather than a specific brand, such as Malarone.

 

It's worth ringing around the supermarket pharmacies to compare prices, and to check whether they have what you need in stock. We found that paediatric anti-malarials weren't always in stock and we had to have them ordered in, so make sure that you don't leave this to the last minute.

 

Another option is to buy the tablets in your destination. While this can be risky, as the quality of the drugs is impossible to guarantee, it can make things a lot cheaper and removes the need for carrying the medication with you until you need it. We met other families who had bought their tablets in Asia - many from Boots stores in Thailand. 

 

Consider taking mosquito nets if you plan to rough it. Many hostels and guesthouses now provide them, but they are often not in terribly good condition, and nets don't weigh much or take up much space, so it's worth taking them.

 

First aid kit

A basic first aid kit is essential. You can get many items in pharmacies around the world, but at the very least, it's worth carrying:

  • antiseptic cream, band-aids and bandages;

  • paracetomol and anti-diarrheals;

  • rehydration salts;

  • tampons (can be difficult to find in many developing countries).

 

Travel insurance

Don't even think about travelling without adequate insurance. Check the fine print to make sure that you're covered for all of the countries that you plan to visit and all of the activities that you plan to undertake.

European Health Card

If you're from the UK and are planning to travel in Europe, make sure to get your European health cards.

Staying healthy on the road

Prevention is better than cure. It's very important to ensure that you and your family err on the side of caution when it comes to the basics.

 

Be cautious

  • Cross roads with care. In the developing world, traffic can be chaotic and busy and may not be coming from the direction you expect.

  • If you hire a car or motorbikes/scooters, always wear seatbelts/helmets and drive with caution. You're not in a hurry. 

  • Wear helmets and other safety equipment when you undertake sporting activities.

 

Eat well

  • Ice in drinks is less of a risk now in many countries as commercially produced ice is starting to become more prevalent. However, it isn't all safe and salads are still a high risk for ingesting contaminated water.

  • Eat fresh, hot food that has been cooked to order. Don't eat from buffets where the food has been sitting in warming trays for extended periods.

  • Eat at places that are popular and have a high turnover of food.

  • Buy plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables that can be peeled or that you can wash with bottled water. 

 

Keep clean and protected

  • Ensure that you and your children wash your hands regularly, especially before you eat. Anti-bacterial hand gels are also a good option.

  • Be sure to keep your regular routine of brushing and flossing teeth but make sure to use bottled water.

  • Shower regularly, especially after swimming in waterholes and public pools.

  • Attend to any minor scrapes and cuts, and scratched insect bites immediately to ensure that they don't get infected.

  • Don't forget to use insect repellent, mosquito nets, hats and sunscreen.

  • If you want to soak or wash clothes but your hotel sink doesn’t have a plug, use a plastic shopping bag.  

 

Pharmacies

For minor ailments, local pharmacies will be able to provide you with the basics, and in some countries, stronger treatments than you would be able to buy over the counter at home. In most cases, the pharmacy should be your first point of call. Be aware, however, that there's a real problem with counterfeit drugs in the developing world.

 

Doctors, dentists and hospitals

For more serious conditions, ask your contact at your accommodation to recommend a doctor or local hospital. You can also get recommendations from your embassy.

 

Keep receipts for any treatments as you will need these to claim on your insurance. 

 

Other contacts

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers offers impartial health information and access to a worldwide network of English-speaking doctors. Membership is free for the first 12 months and from then on by donation.

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