We’re at the height of summer, so you may be scrambling to pull together that last vacation before school starts back into session. No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, a perfect vacation can be turned upside down if you’re not prepared. Getting ready for a vacation can be time-consuming, between packing and organizing an itinerary. It can be easy to neglect the most important thing, your health. When preparing for your next vacation, here are a few things to keep in mind to achieve a healthy travel season this summer.
Prevent blood clots. If you’re taking a long-distance trip, make sure you move your legs around frequently and take a break to walk around every 2-3 hours. Sitting for long periods – particularly in confined spaces such as when traveling in a car or airplane – puts you at an increased risk of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Risk factors for developing blood clots include age over 60 years old, obesity (BMI over 30), surgery within the past three months, pregnancy, active cancer or cancer treatment. Talk to your doctor to check if you’re a candidate for the use of aspirin and compression stockings when traveling.
Prevent heat illness, stay hydrated. When traveling to locations with hot and humid weather, your body temperature can rise to dangerous levels, putting you at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If you feel tired, fatigued or dizzy, take a break, cool down and drink fluids. Vacations are busy, with lots of outdoor activities in the sun, so keep a bottle of water with you to ensure you stay hydrated. If you’re exercising outdoors, or sweating heavily, drink water along with an occasional sports drink that contains electrolytes to help your body refuel, rehydrate efficiently, and keep body salts in balance.
Apply sunscreen. You’ve heard it a thousand times before, but don’t forget to apply sunscreen before going outside, even on a cloudy day. Taking the extra few minutes can prevent skin cancer and skin damage in the long term. Use SPF 30 or higher, and make sure to use a shot glass-sized amount to get proper coverage. Don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours, or more frequently if swimming/sweating!
Keep your hands clean. Hand hygiene is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and is especially important when traveling on an airplane or cruise ship, visiting public restrooms, and eating out at restaurants. The CDC recommends that if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.1 Make sure to pack some hand sanitizer and wipes and use them at critical times, like before you eat; after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing; after touching something that could be contaminated; and of course, after using the bathroom.
Check in with your doctor. Make sure you have a medical home – someone who knows your medical history and family health history – and don’t just visit them when you’re sick. Health screenings, vaccinations and annual wellness exams are an essential part of preventative medicine. Before you travel, also make sure you and your family are up to date on all routine vaccines, such as the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Beware of international travel advisories. If you’re planning an international trip that may require additional vaccinations, visit your primary care doctor at least one month prior to departure. The CDC is a good source for international travel health notices. As there are several measles outbreaks throughout the United States and globally, being up to date on your MMR is essential.2 If you’re traveling outside the U.S. with an infant 6 to 11 months old, they should receive an early dose of the MMR vaccine for temporary protection from measles infection. Once they turn a year old though, they will still need the two-vaccine series for long-lasting protection. Measles is a highly contagious disease, so also remember to practice good hand hygiene when traveling through airports.
Stay well this summer and make taking care of your health part of your travel checklist! Please make sure to talk to your primary care doctor with any questions or concerns about your health prior to travel.