Americans spent over $600 billion last year on leisure travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Visiting relatives was the number one leisure travel activity for domestic travelers, followed by shopping, visiting friends, fine dining and rural sightseeing. If you’re planning on being one of the millions of Americans who will be traveling this summer, be sure to take certain precautions to avoid coming home less healthier than you were when you left. One thing you can do is leave your work at work. A 2002 study by a Dutch psychologist found that 3 percent of people come down with “leisure sickness” on vacation. The symptoms included nausea, headaches and muscle pain. Many of those surveyed shared similar personality traits, professionals who were obsessed with work and preoccupied with achievement. The research team attributed many of the symptoms to changes in eating and sleeping habits as well as changes in brain activity.
Ocean cruises can be very relaxing for vacationers. They can also expose you to certain health hazards, so take care if you’re planning on taking a trip on the ocean blue this summer. For one thing, you should be up to date on your routine vaccines, like measles/mumps/rubella and seasonal flu. Crew members and fellow travelers often come from countries where these diseases are more common than in the United States and where vaccination is not routine. As a result, outbreaks of chickenpox and rubella have been reported on cruise ships. Respiratory diseases are common on cruise ships. Frequent handwashing can keep you from getting sick, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue, not your hand, can prevent you from spreading germs. And if you are, or think you might be, prone to seasickness, talk to your doctor about medicine to decrease your symptoms. Many common medications can worsen the nausea of seasickness.
First aid kit
It’s a good idea when you’re traveling this summer, whether it’s for a short trip or a long vacation, to pack along a first aid kit, particularly if you are going to be outside of the country, where such items can be expensive or in short supply. This kit should include all of your prescription medicines, in their original containers, as well as medicine for diarrhea and upset stomach. Talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for an antibiotic you can take in case you get traveler’s diarrhea. Cough and cold medicines and pain medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen should be included, along with decongestants and antihistamines for allergies. Antibiotic ointment, adhesive bandages, hydrocortisone cream, sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and lip balm is also recommended. Medicine for motion sickness, such as dimenhydrinate, and an antinausea drug like promethazine, may be necessary if you are flying or traveling by boat.
Avoid ice in drinks
If you plan on traveling outside of the country this summer, it wouldn’t hurt to check to see if you need immunizations or vaccinations for the areas you are visiting. See your doctor at least six weeks before you leave. Some vaccines don’t reach the highest protection until about six weeks after you get the shots. Find out what your health insurance will pay for if you see a doctor while you’re in another country. Carry enough of your regular medicines in their original containers and carry extra prescriptions for the medicines as well. If you plan to partake of any local delicacies, steaming-hot, well-cooked food is usually safest. Avoid eating foods from street vendors, unpasteurized dairy products, and raw or uncooked seafood. Be sure to peel any fruit you eat yourself. To avoid the risk of traveler’s diarrhea, drink water from commercially sealed bottles, or drink carbonated beverages. Avoid ice in drinks and when brushing your teeth, it’s best to use bottled water.
Get some sleep
Getting enough sleep is always important but it is critical for travelers. Sleep is often neglected by people on vacation, but too little sleep leads to poor concentration and judgment. Being sleep deprived may lead to trouble dealing with common travel situations and changing circumstances, like a delayed flight, traffic jams or choosing safe and healthy meals. Being well rested will help you plan and carry out healthy behaviors while on the road, where there are distractions, temptations and the opportunity to indulge. Jet lag is another sleep concern for travelers crossing multiple time zones. Jet lag is often more severe for eastbound travelers, because their days are shortened and it’s harder for the body to adapt to a shorter day than a longer one. Plan to give yourself some time so your body adjusts to the new time zone if you can. It’s also a good idea to avoid scheduling meetings or activities that require critical decision-making on your first day of arrival.
Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.