Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling this Spring (and Summer, and Fall)

By Marcy Adler, CRNP, contributing writer
Image of bottled water being poured into drinking glass

Consume only sealed beverages, like bottled water, while abroad.

Spring is here again, and with it come scientific meetings and spring vacations. Some of the scientists and staff at NCI at Frederick will be traveling across the globe in the next few months, so Occupational Health Services would like to share a few tips for staying healthy while traveling.

Before You Go

Promptly see your healthcare provider to get refills on your medications and receive any necessary vaccines for your destination. For employees going on work-related travel, Occupational Health Services can provide vaccines.

Pack all of the medications you need, including your prescriptions and any over-the-counter medications, in your carry-on luggage. Always pack extra medication in case of airline or security delays or in case you need to stay longer at your destination.

Make sure your health insurance can cover you while abroad. If you become ill while traveling, contact the U.S. Embassy for the names of healthcare providers that can help you. If you are traveling for NCI at Frederick–related work and you come to Occupational Health Services to be cleared for travel, you will be given an SOS card, which is a resource for worldwide medical, security, travel, and emergency assistance.

While En Route

Long flights and car rides can increase your risk of developing blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE). These are serious and can be life-threatening. You also have an increased risk for DVT/PE if you smoke, are pregnant, are taking hormones, already have a history of DVT/PE, or have restricted movement. To lower your risk, stay hydrated, wear loose-fitting clothes, and—if necessary—wear special support hose. If you’re on an airplane, you should walk or stretch your legs every hour, and if you’re driving, take regular breaks to pull over and stretch.

There are a lot of germs on airplanes, trains, buses, and other forms of public transportation. Wash your hands with soap and water and/or use an alcohol-based hand gel often.

While You’re There

Once you’ve reached your destination, continue to wash your hands with soap and water and/or use an alcohol-based hand gel often.

Developing countries may have poor water sanitation and undercooked or uncooked foods that contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances, all of which can cause illness. Therefore, you should consume only sealed beverages and avoid drinking tap water, having ice, or eating uncooked food and fresh fruit. If you develop diarrhea, stay hydrated. If needed, you can take over-the-counter Loperamide (Imodium) as directed. However, if your symptoms persist or worsen, see a healthcare provider.

No matter where you’re traveling, take measures to protect yourself from sunburn. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen that has SPF-15 or higher and that blocks UVA or UVB rays. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially if you’re being exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time. Reapplication is also needed after getting out of the water or after increased sweating.

Insect repellent can also help protect your health and should be applied as directed on the bottle or can. If you are using both insect repellent and sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first.

When You Return

Despite the best precautions, it is still possible for you to contract an illness while traveling. See a healthcare provider right away if you develop a fever or flu-like symptoms during or after your trip.

For more tips, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel page before your trip to learn about current disease outbreaks, recommended vaccines, and malaria prophylaxis for your destination.  If your travel is work-related, please schedule an appointment at Occupational Health Services (301-846-1096) for evaluation and medical clearance before you go.