It wasn’t until monkeys started swarming our tuk tuk that I started to think about a rabies vaccine.
Fortunately the boldest topped short of landing on my lap, opting instead to plunder a bag of fruit left on the seat. The incident, while we were touring Siem Reap in Cambodia, underscores the scouts’ motto, ‘be prepared.’
With summer holidays upon us, it’s time to plan ahead. With help from Dr. Suni Boraston, travel clinic director for Vancouver Coastal Health and Sara Holland, senior communications director for the BCAA, here are 10 tips for a healthy holiday.
1. Travel Health Clinics
If you’ll need vaccinations for travel it’s best to visit a travel health clinic six weeks before you leave, but Boraston says even if you’ve left it to the last day, it’s better to get vaccinated then than not at all. Travel clinics’ services and products extend beyond vaccinations; they’re a good place to start regardless of where you’re travelling.
Online sources can give you recommendations on vaccinations and other medicines based on the area you are travelling in and the length of your stay but check with your travel clinic. Anyone born after 1970 who doesn’t have a documented second dose of measles vaccine should get one, said Boraston. Babies don’t get their first measles vaccine until age one, but Boraston said they can safely get the vaccine from six to 12 months, and she recommends that no matter where you’re travelling with a baby. Another must-have for every traveller is a Hepatitis A vaccine. Hep A is spread by food and water and it’s a global issue. Expect to pay for travel vaccinations, although some, like a tetanus booster, are free in British Columbia and others may be covered by extended benefits plans. It can add up: A rabies vaccination, for example, is $200 per dose and there are three doses, probably why I opted not to get that but useful if you’re spending an extended time in areas where rabies is still prevalent. Boraston said E. coli is the most common ailment for travellers. She suggests packing antibiotics prescribed by your doctor, only to be used if you have “think you’re going to die diarrhea”.
When shopping around for insurance, make sure you know what you need and what your policy covers. Holland recommends travel insurance that covers medical and/or hospital expenses, prescription drugs, ambulance service, emergency dental care and pre-existing conditions. Some extended benefits plans include travel so you don’t have to buy extra insurance or you can just top it up; check with your provider and check for age limitations. Read the fine print on travel coverage you may have through your credit card. Holland also reminds us that travel insurance isn’t just for travelling outside the country. Some medical expenses aren’t covered by the B.C. medical plan when you’re in other provinces.
4. Questions to ask before you buy travel health insurance
- Does the insurance provider protect spouses or children? If not, can they be added?
- Does it cover trips of any length? Some policies have a limit on trip length
- What’s the limit on coverage for medical expenses?
- What is the policy around pre-existing conditions? Are they covered and to what degree?
- Did the travel have to be purchased on the credit card in order to be eligible for coverage?
5. Packing a first aid kit
When it comes to packing your first aid kit, your destination will help determine what’s on the list. Here is a list of basics that you can adapt depending on where you’re going.
- Over-the-counter medication for pain and fever
- Gravol, Boraston points out as well as being good for nausea it can serve as a sleeping pill.
- Hand sanitizer
- Imodium and if you’re travelling in developing countries, an antibiotic to treat diarrhea.
- Antibacterial cream
- An antihistamine
- Pads or moleskin for blisters are useful if you’re going to be doing a lot of walking
- Consider compression socks for long flights
6. Prescriptions and other medication
Don’t pack just enough of your prescription medicine to cover your expected time away, carry extra in case you’re delayed. Make sure your medications are in your carry-on bag and take a copy of your prescription, including the generic name, in case your bag gets stolen or lost.
Spare cheater drugstore specs may be enough to get by if your glasses are lost or broken but if you’re totally dependent on you’re glasses to see, take spare prescription glasses or contacts and your prescription. Take a copy of your health insurance documents.
7. Area-specific additions for your packing list
- Depending on where you are travelling, you may need extras such as antimalarial medication, or Diamox for altitude sickness
- Carry repellent when you’re travelling where there are ticks and mosquitos, even in malaria-free countries. If you’re backpacking or sleeping in the open air, consider adding mosquito netting to your packing list.
- Water purification tablets
8. Reduce your travel footprint
Boraston recommends taking your own water bottle when you travel and refilling it from taps. In developing countries or where you are unsure about water quality, use water purification tablets and leave the water for 30 minutes to kill organisms. Carry a reusable cup and avoid using plastic straws, another source of plastic waste, by carrying a reusable stainless steel straw.
9. What not to take
The legalization of cannabis in Canada doesn’t mean you can take it across the border. The Canadian government warns on its website that: “Taking cannabis or any product containing cannabis – even for medical use – across the Canadian border is illegal.” Plus cannabis is still illegal in most countries. Even if you’re travelling to a state in the United States where cannabis is legal, it is illegal under United States federal laws and it is illegal to cross the border with it.
10. Online sources
Check out health-related travel advice at:
Government of Canada Travel Health and Safety: A comprehensive site that offers advice on everything from finding your nearest travel clinic to a mobile Travel Smart app for Apple and Android devices.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: It has a lot of useful information and resources, including advice for travelers and clinicians that can be customized to your destination and type of travel. Along with recommended vaccinations and health advice, it has packing lists tailored to your travels.