How to avoid getting sick on vacation, from vaccines you might need to medicines to pack

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Summer’s here, which means it’s time to pack your bags for some well-deserved downtime. But whether you’re traveling alone, with a partner or the extended family, there’s one thing you won’t be able to avoid: germs. As people travel, they carry, pick up and leave behind all kinds of things that can cause illness. And yes, despite the warmer weather, there are still plenty of bugs going around.

But it’s not just the risk of coming home with a cold — or spending your entire beach getaway in the bathroom — that you should be concerned about. Vacation time also often means letting your guard down about everyday safety practices — or letting your healthy sleep, diet and hydration habits fall by the wayside.

So what’s the best way to stay safe and healthy while traveling this summer? Here’s what experts advise.

Yes, your phone charger is important, and you don’t want to leave home without that new swimsuit. But those items are easily replaceable, unlike the prescription medications you rely on or other health items you might not have easy access to during your travels. This is what experts suggest to keep handy.

“In general, you want to carry any personal medications in their original bottles with clear, easy to read labeling and indications,” Dr. S. Wesley Long, medical director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. And if you use any medications that may be considered a controlled substance, Long recommends thoroughly researching local laws at your destination. If you’re unsure about the rules, he also recommends contacting the U.S. Consulate for guidance.

As experts previously told Yahoo Life, taking along prescription medications might require extra planning, should you expect to run out of your supply mid-trip. In most cases, you can make arrangements with your doctor and pharmacist to get an advance refill, but it’s best to not leave that until the last minute.

If you’re traveling to a region where malaria is a concern, your doctor may prescribe malaria pills, which, in many cases, you will need to start taking weeks before your trip.

“Wherever you are traveling, you will likely want to take common over-the-counter medications like anti-inflammatories or fever reducers, anti-allergy medication, anti-diarrheal medications and things of that nature,” Long says.

Dr. William Queale, an internist, also recommends discussing the possibility of obtaining an antibiotic from your doctor to treat traveler’s diarrhea if that is a concern in the area you’re planning to visit.

Accidents happen, and you don’t want to find yourself unprepared. Queale recommends packing a travel first aid kit that includes things like bandages, an antibiotic ointment, gauze, tweezers, hand sanitizer and more.

Lack of sleep can have a direct impact on your immune system, so maintaining good sleep habits is just as important while on vacation. Queale recommends packing items like a sleep mask, ear plugs and supplements like melatonin or magnesium to help with disrupted sleep or the effects of jet lag.

Depending on where you’re traveling, Queale suggests bringing along an insect spray with DEET to avoid tick bites that can cause Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. The Red Cross offers additional tips for avoiding bug bites, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and even tucking pant legs into socks and boots.

Poor diet can also negatively affect your immune system, so making sure you’ve got healthy snacks is always a good idea. This can be especially important for those with special dietary needs, including individuals with food allergies and those at risk of hypoglycemia.

“It’s very important to stay hydrated with water, plus a high-quality electrolyte solution, especially if you are active outdoors,” says Queale. This is vital for anyone traveling to a higher altitude than they’re accustomed to due to changes in fluid retention and potential electrolyte imbalances. Not all tap water is safe to drink, so opt for bottled water while traveling. It’s also a good idea to avoid ice in beverages if you’re unsure of the origin of the water.

Sunburns and even sun poisoning are a real risk, which is why sunscreen is always recommended, especially if you’ll be spending lots of time outdoors. Choose a high-quality sunscreen with high SPF (30 or above), and reapply as needed (about every two hours, or more frequently if you’ve been in the water or sweating a lot).

Our experts recommend being up to date on all routine immunizations, including Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and polio, as well as the most recent flu and COVID boosters.

“Hepatitis A vaccine is also a good idea if traveling to remote areas where food and water contamination are possible,” adds Queale. “Certain regions require specific vaccines, such as yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, meningitis and Japanese encephalitis. You should check with your physician or a travel medicine clinic before traveling to any area outside the U.S.”

It’s worth noting that over the past year, measles outbreaks both in the U.S. and abroad (notably England) have led to health experts emphasizing the importance of getting that vaccine if you haven’t already. And just this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged travelers to Saudi Arabia to be up to date with their meningococcal vaccines.

Experts recommend checking for any travel health notices on the CDC’s website, which contains up-to-date travel information. If COVID-19 is a particular concern, the World Health Organization has a global dashboard tracking recent case counts.

“In addition, the CDC Yellow Book is a wealth of information for travelers, including information for specific populations or traveling with pets and a wide variety of topics,” says Long.

While you may have read some horror stories regarding Airbnbs and hotels and their overall cleanliness, Queale says most travelers probably don’t need to worry too much. However, he does recommend the use of antiseptic wipes for high-touch surfaces such as remote controls, bedside lamp switches and sinks. You should also wash or avoid in-room glassware altogether.

Be aware that there have been a number of cases regarding carbon monoxide poisoning in Airbnbs due to a lack of detectors. While these instances aren’t common, it’s always possible to travel with your own personal carbon monoxide detector for peace of mind.

“Most public means of transportation (planes, trains, buses) are safe and clean, but if you have a respiratory condition you might want to wear an N95 mask to minimize exposure to virus particles and air pollutants,” says Queale. You can always opt to travel with a personal air purifier.

“No matter what mode of travel, the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands frequently, especially before and after eating, using the bathroom, traveling in a vehicle or [visiting] public spaces with many high-touch surfaces (door handles, handrails, etc.),” adds Long.

Don’t want a bug to spoil your time off? Avoid large crowds, and avoid standing or sitting near obviously sick individuals whenever possible.

And if your vacation involves a pool, beach or any other body of water, remember to follow water safety rules. This includes using floatation devices as needed, avoiding excess alcohol prior to swimming and watching for rip currents.

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