Penn Medicine's Travel Medicine and Immunization Services provide comprehensive immunization and counseling services for those planning to travel abroad.
These useful tips and reminders will help you stay safe and happy in your travels.
- Jet Lag occurs with east and west travel by airplane, at great speeds, across time zones. To help reduce the symptoms, allow 12 to 24 hours per time zone for your body to adjust.
- To reduce motion sickness, sit in the most stable spot of the car, (front seat), boat (midship), or plane (over the wing) and focus your eyes on the horizon.
- Be sure that your teeth are in good condition. A dental abscess can ruin your trip.
- Ultraviolet (UV) light rays of the sun damage the skin and the eyes. Use sunscreen with SPF 30 on exposed skin every 3 hours and wear sunglasses that absorb UV rays up to 400 nm. Be sure to apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure to sun, because it takes that long for it to begin working.
- Glasses or contact lens wearers should take at least one extra pair.
- A medical check-up prior to travel is advisable, particularly if you have a chronic illness. Ask your provider to write a medical problem list on a prescription blank or other letterhead stationary.
- Take enough medication to last through your trip and some extra. Carry it with you on the plane and not in checked luggage to reduce the risk of losing it. Always carry medications in the original containers.
- Consider getting a flu shot before taking a cruise. Outbreaks of influenza on cruise ships are common.
- During long plane flights it is a good idea to get up and walk around the cabin or stretch and bend your legs to stimulate the blood flow. This activity decreases the tendency for forming blood clots. Clots tend to form when the legs that are kept still for hours on a long flight.
International Travel Tips
- Your passport is the most valuable document you will carry abroad. It confirms your U.S. citizenship. Guard it carefully. The U.S. Department of State (USDOS) recommends that you do not use it for collateral for a loan or lend it to anyone. If you do not carry it, lock it in the hotel safe. Carry a photocopy of your passport, along with an extra set of passport photos. Give another copy of your passport to someone in the U.S. that you could reach in an emergency.
- Those traveling with minor children should be aware of laws requiring specific documents for the entry of a minor. Single parents should be prepared to provide documentation that they have sole custody of the child, or permission from the other parent to travel with the child.
- Consider leasing an international cell phone for the trip. Know how to make telephone calls. Carry the right change for a telephone call. Important numbers to carry include U.S. Embassy or Consulate, police, hotel, taxi, medical assistance and fire.
- Beware of foreign drug laws. The USDOS warns that in some countries you can be arrested for possession of tranquilizers and amphetamines that are not purchased in the United States for personal use by prescription. Carry all medications in their original containers!
- Know your health insurance. Almost all medical insurance carriers do not cover illness, injury, or treatment, when you travel abroad. Medical care outside of the U.S., particularly in developing countries, is unpredictable. For a list of the best health care, call the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. International The Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) is also a good reference for English-speaking physicians. The website is www.IAMAT.org. You should consider purchasing good medical evacuation insurance. The cost to have you medically evacuated out of a country can be $50,000 or higher. Evacuations occur only if payment is guaranteed up front without exceptions. The Evacuation insurance costs around $100 for most short trips. Good evacuation insurance also provides phone access to competent medical professionals.
- If you rent a car, fasten your seatbelt and drive with caution. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for travelers to developing countries. US-type trauma care is practically non-existent in developing countries and limited in most other countries.
- In developing countries, food and water precautions can be summarized as follows: Boil It, Peel It, Cook It or Forget It!
- Always wash your hands before eating.
- Purchase bottled water from a reliable source. It is well known that street vendors sell bottles of water, which have been refilled from the tap.
- Recommended insect repellents are permethrin and DEET. Permethrin can be sprayed on clothing and netting, and is effective for two weeks or longer. Standard preparations of 35 percent or long-acting preparations (Ultrathon™ or Sawyer Controlled Release™) are very effective. Life threatening insect-borne diseases including malaria, yellow fever and/or dengue fever are common in many developing and some industrialized countries.
- Travelers to high altitude, above 8000 feet, are at risk for acute mountain sickness.
- Hepatitis A is the leading vaccine-preventable disease contracted by international travelers from the U.S. It is predominantly transmitted via food and water. At the least, every traveler to developing countries should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes recommendations for the safety of U.S. travelers on immunizations, medications, insect repellents and other medical concerns, specific to the region of travel. CDC recommendations are often different than country entry requirements, which are imposed by the country, for the safety of their citizens. Current recommendations can be viewed on the CDC website: www.cdc.gov.
- Medical pre-trip planning should begin 10 weeks before you depart for a trip of three months or less. For a trip longer than three months, medical pre-trip planning should begin six months prior to departure. This allows time for multiple immunizations and other medical preparations.
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