You’ve made your travel plans and are ready to take off on your much anticipated vacation. And while you may be thinking of what you need to pack and what you want to do when you arrive, it can also be helpful to consider how to stay healthy while traveling.
There are a few things you can do before and during your trip to make it as smooth as possible when it comes to your health. We asked Dr. Darren Larsen, Chief Medical Director at TELUS Health Care Centres for advice.
1. Visit a travel health clinic: The ideal time to go to a travel clinic is at least 6 weeks before you travel. The healthcare professional at the clinic can provide you with personalized advice based on your destination, the length of your trip, and your activities while you're there, and administer any vaccinations if needed.
“Hepatitis A shots are advised for foreign travel,” Dr. Larsen says, noting that some countries may have other specific vaccines or treatment for malaria that’s required before you arrive. He also recommends checking your destination country’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements before leaving, as they may not be the same as Canada’s.
TELUS Health Care Centres provides travel vaccines - contact your local Care Centre for more information.
2. Pack a travel health kit: A travel health kit can help when you’re in a pinch while away. Dr. Larsen recommends including items such as:
- Pain relievers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (in original bottles)
- Bandages in various sizes
- Cleansing wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- A set of vinyl gloves
- Skin tape
Depending on where you are going, it may be worth including items like sunscreen and insect repellent, the latter of which is especially important for areas known for mosquito borne illness.
Last but not least, make sure to pack any prescription medications you may need while away.
“Make sure to travel with all medications in your carry-on baggage,” Dr. Larsen recommends.
3. Bring the right clothing and gear: Planning on walking a lot or going on a hike? A sturdy pair of shoes and even hiking poles can help ensure you maximize your vacation while minimizing the chances of preventable injury.
4. Stay hydrated: It can be easy to become dehydrated when traveling, so it’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough water at regular intervals. Taking a water bottle with you may help - but make sure the water you are filling it up with is clean.
“Food and water safety is very important to avoid ruining a trip with intestinal issues,” Dr. Larsen says. “Make sure the water you drink is clean and food is well cooked, and purchase from street vendors with care.”
5. Get enough sleep: Jet lag can impact your sleep, but not getting enough sleep can take a toll on your immune system. Remember to rest up when you need to and do your best to acclimatize to a new time zone quickly by eating meals and going to sleep at the ‘new’ time.
Check with your doctor to see if a time change will impact when you should take your prescription medications.
“Ask your doctor if it’s better to delay a dose by some hours or take a dose early for each type of medication you’re on,” Dr. Larsen says.
6. Know your coverage and how to find medical care while away: Make sure you understand what is and is not covered by your travel insurance policy. If you have a health insurance plan, check to see if it provides coverage for medical expenses incurred while traveling.
Your health coverage may be different – even within Canada
When traveling within Canada, it’s generally recommended that you get supplemental private health insurance just in case you face extra expenses that may not be covered by your province.
Healthcare professionals are provincially regulated, meaning they are unable to provide care to existing patients if said patients are out of the province or abroad. They also may not be able to provide you with virtual care.
You may find it helpful to research healthcare options that are in close proximity to the area you’ll be staying before you leave on your trip. This way, in the event you do need to see a doctor while away, you’ll have a plan in place before the situation arises.
“If you have a complicated medical history, it’s worth asking your doctor for a copy of your clinical profile,” says Dr. Larsen. “Scan this to your phone or consider recording important information in a secure health app that you and your family can access in an emergency.”
And when it comes to family, Dr. Larsen also suggests keeping them in the know for your travel plans. He recommends sharing your travel itinerary with your family and putting at least one if not two family members on speed dial in your phone in case of a medical emergency.
Staying healthy and knowing what your options are for care before you go can help you make the most of your time away. If you have questions before you go, please contact your local Care Centre for more information.
Written in consultation with Dr. Darren Larsen, MD.