Travelling tips: Staying healthy abroad

Our health is something we all take for granted and occasionally this can lead to a nasty shock. It’s even worse if you have health problems abroad; but if you take the right precautions you can minimise the risk.

You never know when you'll be caught out! ©The Yorker; Image credit: Alan Belmore

When you speak to many travellers, they will often tell you that one of the things they learnt when travelling is just how lucky we are. When you’ve seen children begging on the streets of Bangkok, people working in the fields of Vietnam for less than £1 a day or people who have lost limbs owing to landmines in Cambodia, your own troubles seem a lot less important.

The reason many travellers will talk so passionately about these things is not because they have seen them like you can through a TV or online, but because they have lived alongside people struggling. There is no doubt that your life as a traveller is a lot easier than that of the poorest people in the countries you visit, but you also have to recognise that the healthy environment that surrounds us in the UK may not be in place abroad.

I certainly remember travelling to Nong Khai in Northern Thailand to stay at one of the few guesthouses in the area. It was a quirky place, which used an honesty system for food and drink and you didn’t have a check-out date – you simply stayed until you want to move on. It was one of the most interesting communities I experienced whilst abroad, but it also had its pitfalls.

Upon entering the room we realised it was fairly basic with a small fan on the roof, a toilet which was flushed by pouring a bucket of water into it and a shower which although enclosed by a wall had no floor – just stones to protect us from the dusty ground below. Most importantly there were just two small mosquito nets protecting each bed.

Considering this was prime mosquito country, with the hotel sat on the banks of a slow-flowing part of the Meekong, it was less than ideal protection from the insects which are the main carriers of malaria in the region. However, because we had visited our GP beforehand, we had got the anti-malarial tablets which meant that we didn’t need to make that a major worry and could enjoy our time in this unusual community.

This proved to me the importance of that initial trip to my GP – most clinics already have the ability to help you plan what you need before you go if you give them sufficient notice. On top of that, the NHS have a great website http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/travelhealth/Pages/Travelhealthhome.aspx which gives advice to travellers on how to protect their health abroad.

As soon as you start thinking about your trip, it’s important to research the health risks for your destination and if necessary contact your GP. Sometimes it can take a few weeks to set an appointment and some vaccinations need several doses over the course of a few weeks. So as with everything, a bit of planning beforehand can save you a lot of trouble abroad.

There’s really good advice on the aforementioned NHS website about using sunscreen too – skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, so protecting yourself abroad is vital. It’s also crucial to use sun-block, even when it seems unnecessary.

I remember whilst travelling that despite experiencing 100 degree heat in Malaysia, the only place I got sunburnt on my trip was in Alaska! It was a warm summer’s day and we took for granted the heat and ended up regretting it at the end of the day. The same careful use of sunscreen we used in Asia would have saved us a lot of pain over the next week!

Health is one of the main things travellers can ignore when planning a trip and it’s crucial that you don’t, particularly when travelling to countries with very different health problems to our own. If you take the right steps early, then you will be glad you did by the end of the trip!

For more info about how to prepare for trips abroad, go to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.fco.gov.uk/travel and follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Alan Belmore is Brand Ambassador for the Foreign Office’s Know Before You Go campaign and is Financial Director of The Yorker.



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