Traveling abroad can present certain health risks. You can protect yourself by taking a few precautions and simple steps.
Safe eating and drinking
Even food that looks fresh and tastes delicious can carry germs. Follow these guidelines to ensure you remain well while away:
- Wash hands with soap and water before handling any food.
- Be sure that crockery and cutlery is clean.
- Try to eat well-cooked food that is hot all the way through.
- Food eaten immediately after cooking is the safest. Food that is left to stand after cooking and food from street stalls is more likely to be contaminated.
- Stick to bottled or canned drinks rather than drinks such as fresh juices that may be diluted with tap water.
- Do not use ice in drinks as this is usually made from tap water which may be contaminated in some destinations.
- Salads and fruit if washed in tap water may also carry contamination. It is generally best to eat only food that is thoroughly cooked, or peeled.
Insects and animal bites
Insect and animal bites can be painful, set off allergic reactions, or become infected. Some also spread diseases such as malaria and rabies. Avoid insect and animal bites while you travel by obeying a few simple rules:
- Choose accommodation with screens in the windows.
- Use insect repellents on exposed skin.
- Use knock-down / residual insecticides in your room before going to bed.
- Avoid outdoor activities between dusk and dawn.
- In areas where scorpions, snakes, spiders etc are found, check your shoes before putting them on your feet.
- Do not go near or play with animals.
When traveling to destinations several time zones away, the delay between the new time and the body’s own internal circadian clock may result in a condition called jet lag. The body however is able to reset itself at a rate of about one day for every time zone traveled. Most people have fewer problems with westward travel (lengthening day) than eastward travel (shortening day). Jet lag can be worsened by insufficient sleep before the journey.
The most common signs of jet lag are tiredness, headaches, difficulty in falling asleep, and appetite problems. There is no cure for jet lag, but its effects can be reduced by avoiding caffeinated beverages for at least 4 hours before bedtime to avoid interrupted sleep.
To reset your internal clock when you travel across time zones, try to rest the first day after you arrive and do what the locals are doing:
- Take a walk in the sunshine on the morning after your arrival if you have traveled eastwards as sunlight can help reset your body clock more quickly.
- Eat at the new meal times and avoid caffeine after 4pm.
- Try to sleep at the new times and only have short naps during the day if you are very tired.
- Eat light regular meals. Also, some foods may promote sleep better such as carbohydrates and milk, whilst high protein foods will improve alertness.
- It is best to avoid alcohol as although this can promote sleep it can disturb the normal sleep patterns by reducing REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
The aircraft cabin equivalent altitude is generally 6000 to 8000 feet and this increases your risk of decompression sickness compared to being at sea level.
- Be generous with safety margins on the dive tables.
- Do not dive when you are feeling unwell.
- Leave at least 12 hours between your last dive and your flight home. If you have had more than one dive per day, you will require even more time before flying in order to avoid decompression sickness.