How to Stay Healthy on Your Summer Vacation
Vacation is known to be a tension reliever, but travel can also cause stress if you are unprepared or run into unexpected health issues. Check out this list of health tips before you travel to make sure that your summer vacation runs as smoothly as possible.
What to Do Before Your Trip
Make Sure You Are in Good Shape Ahead of Your Vacation
“If your trip involves lots of activity (like walking), start a walking program several weeks before you go to get in shape,” suggested Dr. Susan Besser, a family physician in Baltimore, Md.
Ask your doctor if you are fit enough for the activities you want to try while you travel. If you have any chronic conditions or recent injuries, this is especially important.
If You Have a Serious Condition, Check in With Your Doctor Before Your Trip
“If you have chronic health issues, it wouldn’t hurt to check with your doctor, especially if you need medications,” said Dr. Besser. This is especially important if you have not had a check-up in a while.
Your physician can let you know if it is safe for you to travel and provide scripts for any extra medications that you may need. Ask your doctor if they have any special health tips for you based on your diagnoses.
What to Do Before Traveling to a Foreign Country
If you are traveling to a foreign country, you may need vaccinations before your vacation. Call your doctor to make sure your immunizations are up to date.
“If you are traveling overseas, check on whether you need any immunizations or treatments for potential illnesses,” said Dr. Besser. “The CDC has a section for travel medicine on its website that discusses medication needs for overseas travel.”
Health Packing Checklist
Pack a First Aid Kit
“It never hurts to take some basic supplies like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, and maybe an antacid for those gastronomic overindulgences,” said Dr. Besser. “If you are camping or out in the wilderness, you may want to also have some basic bandages and an antibiotic ointment for those minor cuts. Remember your sugar meter if you are diabetic.”
Learn more about how to properly stock your first aid kit.
Bring Enough Medication
“Make sure you take all your medications in labeled bottles,” said Dr. Besser. “Take at least one week more than you need. You never know if you will have a delay.”
You can also take pictures of your medications to store on your phone, just in case. Having that information available can come in handy if you need to seek medical attention or if something happens to your luggage.
Create Lists With Important Health Information
“Make sure you have a list of your medications, diagnoses, and allergies readily available,” Dr. Besser recommended. “Also have a list of all your doctors and their office phone numbers.”
You can print out a couple of copies of the lists to store in your wallet and first aid kit. Additionally, keep a digital copy on your phone, tablet, or laptop — save it in your notes or an email folder where you can easily find it and pull it up if you need medical attention while traveling.
“You never know when you might end up in an ER, and that kind of information is important,” Dr. Besser said.
Bring Appropriate Apparel and Travel Gear
“If your travel involves walking, take good walking shoes,” Dr. Besser advises. “Don’t buy them just before the trip, buy them several weeks in advance and wear them!”
Make sure your clothes are appropriate for the climate of your destination and activities you’re planning to undertake. You don’t want to be doing any hiking in flip-flops or encounter any unexpected cold weather in higher elevations without having warm layers so you can bundle up.
Prepare for a Health Emergency
Know What to Do in Case of Emergency
If you face a medical emergency while traveling in the US, go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center. You may also need to call 911. Learn more about how to determine whether you need to go to the emergency room.
“If you are not sure if it really is a go-to-the-ER emergency, you can always call your doctor and get directions. Even after hours, there is someone on call at the doctor’s office who can assist you.” This accessibility is why having your doctor’s number on hand will be useful.
If you are planning to travel abroad, look up local emergency numbers and save them in your phone ahead of time.
“If you are overseas and don’t know where to go, you can call the U.S. consulate or embassy,” Dr. Besser suggested. “They generally have a list of local English speaking doctors who can help. Your hotel may have a similar list as well.”
Bring Other Supplies That Can Help in a Health Emergency
“If you are out in the wilderness, take an extra phone charger/battery,” said Dr. Besser. “You need to be sure you can contact someone if something unfortunate happens.”
Other helpful supplies include flashlights or headlamps, a roadside emergency kit for your car (if you are on a road trip), and a GPS navigation device, because your phone may not get data reception everywhere for your maps app.
Other General Travel Health Tips
Stay Properly Hydrated
It’s imperative to drink enough water when you’re traveling, especially in hot summer climates. Know the signs of dehydration: headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, constipation, and dry skin. Learn more about how to tell if you are dehydrated or overhydrated.
“You might want to take a water bottle with you,” said Dr. Besser. “It may help you remember to stay hydrated.”
Protect Your Skin From the Sun
“Don’t forget sunscreen — use it several times a day if you are going to be in a sunny zone,” said Dr. Besser.
You should also bring protective layers such as a thin bathing-suit cover-up, light-colored clothing, sun umbrella, and wide brim hat.
If you have fair skin, don’t spend more than 10 minutes outside in the sun without taking precautions. After that, you should use sunblock and wear protective clothing. If you have a darker complexion, no more than 30 minutes of UV exposure is recommended before using sun protection. Learn more about how to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Be Aware of Eye Safety
If you are going on a long drive or extended road trip, you should consider your eye health. You might want to get your eyes tested if it has been a while.
“It’s key to remember clear sight is imperative for safe driving. Almost 90% of our reaction ability while driving relies on our vision, and the ability to see clearly decreases at night,” said Ryan Parker, OD, of Ardmore Premier Eyecare in Ardmore, Okla “Night driving affects many aspects of vision, including depth perception, color recognition, and peripheral vision. One of the top issues associated with night driving is glare.”
Dr. Parker recommends Crizal lenses, which are no-glare glasses lenses that allow you to drive more comfortably at night.
You can also get yellow lense night driving glasses. For eye safety during the day, a quality pair of sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and help you see better without squinting while you drive or walk around.
Be Mindful of Your Mental Health
“Stress is an unfortunate side effect of vacation. Try not to add to it by overscheduling or doing everything to prepare for the trip at the last minute,” said Dr. Besser.
Try to pace yourself in what you eat and drink as well as in what you do, Dr. Besser added. Remember to schedule some downtime for relaxation. Plan to stick with your regular sleep schedule and be sure to get plenty of exercise and rest.
Consider the Effect of Interrupting Your Regular Daily Routines
“Vacations benefit us by breaking up our routines,” said Michael McGee, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of The Haven at Pismo, an addiction treatment center in Arroyo Grande, Calif. “They let us get outside our regular lives for a bit to have respite and develop perspective. Yet breaking up our routines can be a double-edged sword, for it can also mean breaking essential health-maintenance routines, such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular sleep, regular exercise, and attending mutual-help recovery meetings if you suffer from an addiction.”
“If you are going on vacation, plan ahead to set up a schedule to maintain essential health routines,” said Dr. McGee. “For people with addictions, this might include looking for mutual help meetings to attend where you will be traveling and ensuring you have ways to contact recovery supports if cravings arise. People suffering from addictions should also plan their vacations so as to avoid potential triggers of re-addiction.”
It can be especially challenging to eat healthy on vacation. It’s harder to keep track of what you eat if you’re mostly dining at restaurants or stopping for fast food on the road.
“Try not to change your diet too much," said Dr. Besser. "Those dietary indiscretions lead to bellyaches, diarrhea, or constipation,”
If you are going on a road trip or a long flight, remember to pack healthy snacks, such as trail mix, whole wheat sandwiches, fresh fruit, raw veggies, and hummus. If you are staying with family or in a kitchen-equipped vacation rental, try to cook healthy meals sometimes instead of always eating out while traveling.
Learn more about eating healthy on the go.
About the Experts
Susan Besser, MD, is a Primary Care Provider specializing in Family Medicine with Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea. Dr. Besser serves patients and families of Eastern Baltimore County, including Overlea, White Marsh, Perry Hall, Parkville, and Carney. Dr. Besser is a family practitioner Board Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She provides comprehensive primary care for the entire family. Her practice is focused on ongoing, patient-physician relationships. She works together with patients over time to achieve their health goals and develop long-standing lifestyle choices.
Michael McGee, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of The Haven at Pismo, an addiction treatment center in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He is Board Certified in General Adult Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, and Psychosomatic Medicine. Dr. McGee is also the author of “The Joy of Recovery: A Comprehensive Guide to Healing from Addiction."
Ryan Parker, OD, is the director of professional services at Essilor of America (EOA) where he works to help educate eye care professionals and their patients about products that can protect the eyes. Prior to taking this role in 2018, Dr. Parker served as a consultant to EOA and ran his own practice, Ardmore Premier Eyecare in Ardmore, Okla. Dr. Parker regularly lectures at many of the schools and colleges of Optometry.
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