by Grace I. Chen, MD
Planning an exotic getaway this spring or summer? Before you pack your bags – or, better yet, before you even choose a destination – keep these healthy travel tips in mind.
Consider physical limitations when choosing an itinerary. For most people, this does not mean that traveling to certain destinations is off limits, but it may mean forgoing some activities at the locales. For example, if you have significant heart disease or difficulty walking long distances, hiking Machu Picchu while visiting Peru is not recommended. Take into account altitude and climate changes that may affect your health. If recovering from jet lag or motion sickness has become harder with aging, consider giving yourself more time to travel to your various destinations and build in rest time upon arrival so you can actually enjoy the sights before heading to the next destination.
Schedule a pre-travel doctor’s visit. All travelers, but especially seniors, should see their doctor for a travel health appointment, ideally four to six weeks before departure. This visit is an ideal time to review the status of chronic health conditions, current medications and any active symptoms while also planning for restrictions during the trip. For example, if you are dependent on oxygen, you should make arrangements to ensure an adequate supply of oxygen tanks will be available at your destination.
Ask about travel vaccines. Another reason to see your physician four to six weeks before traveling is to update your vaccines. It usually takes at least two weeks for your body to build an adequate immunity to vaccines. Keep in mind that traveling to more exotic destinations may require vaccinations or prophylactic medications against diseases, such as typhoid, hepatitis A and malaria, not typically seen in developed countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) lists recommendations for each country. Depending on the complexity of your travel plans, your physician may refer you to a travel medicine expert. Remember that many travel vaccines are not covered by health insurance, so you’ll need to add them into your overall trip budget.
Plan for an adequate supply of your prescription medications. You may need to ask your physicians for earlier refills depending on the timing of your trip. Plan to bring extra doses in case your return plans are delayed. Your medications may not be available at your destination and counterfeit drugs are a major problem in many developing countries. Always pack your medications in the original container AND in your carry-on bag – not checked luggage – in case your luggage gets lost in transit. Review with your physician the timing of your medications while away. For some medications, the next scheduled dose may correlate to when you last took it, not the local time.
Make note of key health information. Carry this information, including your health conditions, current medications and food or drug allergies, with you at all times. If possible, get it translated into the destination language.
Pack a travel health kit. It should contain anything you need to manage your chronic conditions.
Verify coverage with your health plan. Make sure you are covered while traveling outside the United States. If not, consider purchasing travel insurance to cover any unexpected medical expenses.
Other important considerations:
Be careful about food and water.
Use sunscreen and insect repellant.
Limit alcohol intake and do not drink and drive.
Wear a seatbelt.
Wear protective gear when going on outdoor adventures.
Follow local laws and customs
Plan ahead and healthy, happy trails to you!
Dr. Grace I. Chen is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call (310) 319-4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.