02 June 2008

Independent Travel 101: Safeguarding Your Health

This is the seventh of a series of entries about independent travel. Note that this is not professional advice: these are simply subjective opinion of the author, who happens to be an independent traveler.

So, I believe that many people will agree with me that a vacation can be ultimately spoiled if you end up sick while in the middle of your vacation. After all, months of planning will go to waste, if you just spend your hours lying down in your hotel room, trying to make that fever go away, instead of seeing the sights.

So, this entry will try to give tips on how to prevent that.

First, let me describe the things that one can do even before boarding that plane, in order to keep oneself healthy during the trip.

One should read on the peculiarities of the destination. Most of the developed world are sanitized, and so this is not a worry of the people who go to Europe. There is no health requirement to enter most European states. However, not all of the world is like that. There are places that are, should I say, more exciting, with regard to that.

Let me start with the legal stuff first. There are certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America that require travelers to be vaccinated from yellow fever. There is actually an internationally-approved yellow fever card that travelers will get once they get vaccinated. I have done this myself, and although it costs a little bit, it is valid for ten years. Carry it with you at all times, so that you won't get any surprises from Immigration at certain airports, since some countries will actually not let you in if you do not have one.

Aside from this, there are malaria-endemic areas. Anti-malarial drugs can be purchased and should be taken some weeks before the trip, and also some weeks after the trip. I have not experienced this one yet, so consult health authorities for more details.

There is also this thing such as traveler's diarrhea. This is when one eats food that one's system is not used to. I always carry some anti-diarrheal medicine, just in case. I haven't had the chance to use them yet, since I take precautions not to be in that situation.

Read on whether tap water is drinkable in your destination or not. If not, always carry bottled water with you, and avoid eating fresh uncooked foods, say, salad, whose contents may have been washed with non-bottled water. Watch out for your water that you use to brush your teeth.

Do not impulsively buy street food. Watch out first whether people do patronize it or not. South America may have amazing juices, but they may not have the most sanitized way of preparing it. Taiwan may be selling exotic skewered meat, but see whether they have prepared it clean enough for your consumption. To be extra safe, hepatitis vaccines are also available in clinics.

Aside from things eaten, there are other aspects of your health that you should take care of. If you will head to the jungle, forest, or other exotic locale, you might need to bring a mosquito net, in order to prevent the spread of insect-borne diseases. Aside from that, and this is something I always forget, bring sunblock, especially if you plan on being out in the open air for quite a while. The fact that it is cool does not mean that the sun is weak, as I personally learned. Sunburn can be painful as well.

What else? Having proper gear is also important. If you plan on trekking, hiking, or mountain-climbing, have the proper equipment, such as having the right boots for the occasion. Do not hike using your running shoes: they might not have the right grip, and you might slip and roll from the mountain slope and die. You obviously do not want that.

Oh, and another thing, follow directions. If the sign says, no entry, and there is a low fence protecting people from a cliff, then do not enter. That pretty picture that you may be able to take by going closer is not worth your neck.

So there, I think this covers most ground on what precautions one can take. As always, read and research about your destination, its highs and lows, and the things that you need to be aware, in order to fully enjoy yourself.

(The Rocky Cliff, from my Watkins Glen Series)


  1. I think I've been pretty lucky when traveling so far. Sure, I got sick: colds, flue, the odd small injury but no big deal. A lot of it is commonsense... I saw both ways: people totally dismissing danger and people scared of doing everything.

    Good advice!

  2. Zhu,

    I know what you mean of people scared of doing everything. It's like they have this bubble and they are so afraid of getting out of it.