Healthy travel this summer
How to avoid getting sick on holiday
28 November 2023
With the holidays just around the corner, you might be getting ready for an overseas adventure. Whether you’re heading to a sun-drenched beach, exploring a new city or braving a European winter, we’ve compiled some tips to help your travels go off without a hitch this holiday season.
Firstly, plan ahead!
As well as building excitement for your trip, careful planning can help to keep you safe and healthy. Head to Smartraveller to read up on the latest travel advice, information on local laws and culture, and any health risks or security situations.
Check the essentials
While clothes and shampoo are easy enough to buy when you’re away, there are some essentials that you can’t leave home without. Don’t forget to check your:
- passport – make sure it’s valid for at least 6 months after your trip will end
- visa – confirm you’ve got the right one for any countries you’re visiting or transiting through (including any entry and exit requirements)
- travel insurance – get the right cover for you, your belongings and any activities you’re planning on doing
- driving licence – if you’re going to drive while you’re overseas, check if you need an International Driving Permit as well as your Australian licence (plus brush up on local driving rules)
- International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate – confirm if the country you’re visiting requires it.
Organise travel insurance
We all hope that the unexpected won’t happen while we’re overseas, but it’s best to be prepared just in case. Travel insurance can offer cover for minor things like a delayed or lost suitcase, or significant things like a trip cancellation or overseas medical emergency.
See your GP
Visit your GP or travel clinic before you go to find out if you need any vaccinations or boosters. Remember you might need more than one dose or time for your body to develop full immunity, so try to see your GP at least eight weeks before you go. Some countries also require proof of immunisation before you enter. If you’re pregnant and travelling, get advice from your obstetrician or midwife before you leave.
Pack a medical kit
If you take regular medication, make sure you pack enough or organise a prescription to take with you (and note that it’s illegal to take PBS medicines out of Australia unless the medicine is for your personal use or someone travelling with you). If you’re taking medication with you:
- check that your medicine is legal in your destination and available to buy if you’re taking a prescription (remember that availability and prices can vary overseas, and finding your medicine could be inconvenient, so packing enough might be the best solution)
- carry copies of your prescription and a letter from your GP stating that the medicine is for your own use or that of a person travelling with you, what the medicine is for and how much you’ll be taking
- leave the medicine in its original packaging so it can be easily identified.
Up, up and away!
The seatbelt sign is off and it’s time to relax. But don’t forget some important tips for staying healthy during your flight.
Flying can be exhausting and if you want to hit the ground running on holiday it’s important to reduce the fatigue caused by travelling across time zones. During the flight remember to:
- sleep on the plane when you can (and get enough sleep before you leave)
- drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, and eat small, light meals
- wear loose and comfortable clothing
- walk around the cabin (when the cabin crew says it’s okay to do so).
Did you know that taking a westerly route can help to reduce jetlag? Your body clock is less confused if you travel west because it prolongs the body clock’s experience of its normal day-night cycle. When you arrive at your destination, it’s important to spend time outdoors so the daylight can help to ‘reset’ your internal clock.
If you’re thinking about using sedatives or sleeping tablets during your flight then always talk to your GP first.
Deep vein thrombosis
A deep vein thrombosis or DVT is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the leg. You can reduce your risk of developing one by drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding alcohol and caffeine (as these can add to dehydration), moving around the cabin whenever possible, and remembering to do calf stretches or heel lifts while you’re sitting down.
While you’re away
Holidays are precious so it’s important to avoid illnesses or sickness that could significantly impact your health (and fun!). Here are some reminders for avoiding getting sick while you’re away.
Eating and drinking
The most common travel-related illnesses are gastrointestinal. You can catch them from contaminated food or water so avoid:
- drinking tap water (stay hydrated using boiled or bottled water with a sealed lid)
- brushing your teeth or washing your face with tap water
- eating food washed with tap water
- eating food that’s been prepared with poor hygiene practices
- eating uncooked or undercooked food or food that’s been left sitting for a while
- eating fresh salads and raw vegetables (choose thick skinned fruit and veggies that you peel yourself)
- unpasteurised milk or dairy products.
Colds, flu and other viruses
Coming into close contact with a person who’s coughing, sneezing or is unwell, or touching something that an infected person has touched can lead to what’s known as ‘contact, droplet and airborne diseases’. To help avoid things like COVID-19 and influenza, remember to:
- stay up-to-date with vaccinations
- wash your hands regularly with soap and water (or use sanitiser)
- avoid close contact with people who are showing symptoms
- practice good personal hygiene.
By protecting yourself against mosquito bites you may be avoiding some potentially serious infections. It’s a good idea to:
- wear mosquito repellent (at least 30% DEET) – apply it after sunscreen and to your clothes and bedding
- cover exposed skin with light-coloured long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- stay indoors between dusk and dawn (when mozzies generally feed)
- stay in air-conditioned, screened accommodation and use a bed net
- consider taking anti-malarial medication.
Staying sun safe
Whether you’re heading overseas or staying at home this summer, it’s important to protect your skin from UV radiation. Remember the old Slip Slop Slap as recommended by the Cancer Council:
- Slip on sun-protective clothing (that covers as much skin as possible)
- Slop on broad-spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ sunscreen or higher (20 minutes before you go outdoors and reapply every two hours)
- Slap on a broad brimmed hat
- Seek shade
- Slide on sunglasses that meet the Australian Standards.
Heading to the Northern Hemisphere? Snow reflects a lot of UV radiation and exposed skin is at risk even on cold and cloudy days, so you’re still at risk of sunburn and skin damage if you’re skiing or snowboarding.
Back on home soil
Hopefully it’s only souvenirs and wonderful memories that you bring back with you, but if you do feel unwell when you get home, visit your GP and don’t forget to tell them where you travelled.
Travel and holidays - Better Health Channel
What you need to know before you go | Smartraveller
Preventing skin cancer | Cancer Council
Travel health | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care
How to manage your PBS medicine overseas - Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme - Services Australia