Monday 10 December 2018

10 ways to avoid holiday health mishaps

If you're packing for your annual trip, make sure you're properly prepared

It's a good idea to book an appointment with your GP or a travel medicine specialist a few weeks before a big trip
It's a good idea to book an appointment with your GP or a travel medicine specialist a few weeks before a big trip
Take steps to ensure an incident-free holiday

Julia Molony

It's the time of year when we pack our bags and head abroad in our droves search of sun and fun. Make sure you're making the right kind of holiday memories this year by following these simple tips for a healthy, happy and incident-free trip.

1 INSURANCE, INSURANCE, INSURANCE

It sounds obvious, admits Sarah Slattery, a former travel agent and founder of thetravelexpert.ie, "but still about 25pc of people travel without it. A lot of people put the emphasis on cancellation," she says, "so if it's a cheap holiday or something they don't tend to get it out. Whereas actually, the biggest issue is medical."

Don't assume you are covered for everything in Europe through your European Health Insurance card either. "That only covers you in public hospitals. If you have to go to a clinic or you need to go to a specialist or get an air ambulance home or anything like that, none of that is covered," she warns.

Slattery knows too well the folly of travelling without insurance. "Over the years as a travel agent and even now as a journalist, the amount of people I've seen who have to use [fundraising platgorm] Gofundme to get their kids home because it's €200,000 to get an air ambulance and things like that. With prices for insurance on multitrip.com starting at about €15, there's no excuse for leaving home without it."

2 CHECK YOUR MEDS

Carrying certain common over-the-counter and prescription medications - which are perfectly legal at home - could get you in trouble with the law, or even land you in jail if you have them in your luggage when visiting particular destinations, according to the British Foreign Office.

Decongestants such as Sudafed and Vicks are controlled drugs in Japan. Over-the-counter remedies for coughs and colds are controlled in Qatar, while codeine is a controlled drug in both Greece and the United Arab Emirates.

If you need to take medicines away with you that are controlled in another country, you will usually be required to also carry a letter from your doctor as proof that they have been prescribed to you. Or if you are travelling for three months or more, you may need to apply for a licence to carry them. Some substances are outlawed outright. Always check with the embassy of the country you are travelling to for more information.

3 DON'T LET THE BUGS BITE

Many types of biting insects are vectors for disease, spreading illnesses such as dengue, Lyme diseases and the Zika virus. Always pack a high-strength insect repellent containing at least 20pc Deet, experts recommend, and take care to cover exposed skin.

Awareness about the Zika virus is particularly important for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. "It is essential that pregnant women, or those considering becoming pregnant, discuss any travel plans to affected areas in advance with their healthcare provider," says the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who "strongly recommend that pregnant women consider postponing their travel to affected areas, and in particular to areas classified as having an increasing or widespread transmission of the Zika virus." Visit hpsc.ie for more information about high risk areas.

4 CARRY A SMALL BOTTLE OF SUNSCREEN IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE

"What people do, inevitably, when they go on holidays, especially if they have an early flight, is they arrive, they see the sun, they dump the bags and they go straight to the pool and jump in, and they burn on the first day," says Slattery. "This happens to so many people. You're white on the first day of the holiday and then you're a write-off for three or four days because you're burnt."

She recommends carrying a small bottle of sunscreen in your hand luggage. "And put it on straight away, don't wait. Because if you're going to the bar to have a drink, before you know it you haven't put it on. In holiday mode you tend to be in a different kind of atmosphere and you let your guard down."

5 SCAN YOUR IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS

Photocopy your passport, your tickets and your travel insurance documents, advises Slattery. Either carry the hard copies with you, "or else, better still, save them somewhere online in your Google Drive or Dropbox, so that you can always access a copy if you need them," she says.

6 GET APPY

There are lots of apps which can provide invaluable advice and services which are worth downloading before you take off. The Department of Foreign Affairs has created the Travelwise app, which provides security ratings for over 200 countries, destination-specific advice and allows users to register with the nearest embassy, so that they can track you in the event of an unforeseen crisis.

Slattery also gives the thumbs up to Google Translate, "because what you can do is put your phone up to the signpost or menu, take a picture of it and it will translate it for you." And for taxis she reminds Irish people that even though Uber isn't big in Ireland, "abroad it is still alive and well," and it often saves the hassle and worry of haggling over a fare.

She also recommends that travellers outside the Eurozone "download the currency apps before you go because they work offline. XE Currency is probably the best one".

7 WATCH WHAT YOU EAT

Traveller diarrhoea affects between 30pc to 70pc of holidaymakers every year, according to the 2018 edition of the Yellow Book published by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US, which also states that high risk areas include most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America.

We all know that drinking tap water should be avoided in most developing countries, even in cities. Don't swallow water in the shower and use bottled water to brush your teeth. It's also important to take care drinking freshly-squeezed juice if you haven't prepared it yourself, as the fruit may have been washed in tap water. Avoid ice in drinks, as this has likely been made with tap water.

Other high-risk food includes raw foods. "Raw fruits or vegetables may be safe if you can peel them yourself or wash them in safe (bottled or disinfected) water," advises the CDC, who also warn that salads are "especially problematic".

8 SEE YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE YOU GO

It's a good idea to book an appointment with your GP or a travel medicine specialist a few weeks before a big trip, especially if you are travelling to far-flung locations or for an extended period of time. They can advise you about what travel vaccinations are required, prescribe antimalarials if necessary and provide general advice about staying well while away.

9 BUCKLE UP

Some of the risks travellers might face receive a lot of airtime, even though they're statistically pretty rare. We're hyper alert to the risk of terrorism for example, but the chances of being caught up in an attack are low. According to registers in the US, the biggest cause of mortality amongst Americans abroad are vehicle accidents. Many foreign countries have much higher rates of road traffic accidents than Ireland. Familiarise yourself with the road laws in the country you are visiting, and always wear your seatbelt.

10 BE THEFT RESISTANT

Some destinations have a reputation for petty crime. "There are key places that people talk about," says Slattery, "A lot of the big cities are renowned for pickpockets - but actually, it can happen anywhere."

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