Travel tips: staying healthy

Last but not least in the travel advice series: staying healthy.

Don’t bring:

  • An obsessive fear of illness.  You may be slightly more likely to get sick in an low income country, but ultimately if you have the money to travel then you have the money to stay healthy.  It’s an object lesson in public health.

Do bring:

  • Sunblock (which you should be wearing every day anyway!).  I like Neutrogena’s SPF 30 facial sunblock, which is unscented and non-greasy.  If you’ll be outside for long periods, get waterproof sunblock in a higher SPF and reapply frequently.
  • Hand sanitizer. Get the alcohol-based type, which are more effective than those containing triclosan or other antibacterial agents and won’t promote the growth of resistant bacteria.
  • DEET-free bug spray.  DEET is effective, but it’s inconvenient to wash it off before bed every night, and isn’t recommended for use with small children.
  • Anti-malarial medication.  Malarone and doxycycline are commonly available in the US.  Mefloquine is no longer available by its brand name, Lariam, but is still sold as a generic.  All of them have a non-negligible prevalence of side effects (with mefloquine being known for being hallucinogenic, doxy for causing sun sensitivity, and Malarone for milder effects), so discuss the choice with your doctor.  It is sometimes possible to purchase brand-name anti-malarials like Malarone in low inome countries, but it’s not always available and is sometimes counterfeit, so it’s preferable to get them before departure.
  • Extra doses of prescription medications, and copies of prescriptions.  Check with your pharmacist if any of your medications might be known by another name outside of your home country.
  • Iodine tabletsUseful for times when you can’t buy bottled water or boil your own.  The taste-neutralizing tabs have gotten much better since I first started using them.
  • An extra pair of glasses, if you wear them.  Keep your last pair as back-up when you get a new prescription.

Do get:

  • The rabies vaccine.  There’s a very low risk you might contact rabies, but it does exist almost everywhere, and is nearly 100% fatal if you’re exposed and are unable to get treatment rapidly.  Getting the prophylactic vaccine before departure will buy you several extra days to get help if you’re bitten by an animal.
  • Deworming pills at a local pharmacy.  Only important if you’ve been exposed to water or food in places where open defecation is common.  Most local pharmacies will have them.

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