I’m passionate about travel, both in my personal and professional life, and I’m particularly drawn to vibrant cultures and locations that many tourists would find daunting. Recently, I participated in my third mission to Nepal with Himalayan HealthCare, whose mission is to provide medical care and education to local villagers in remote areas. I teamed up with 100 volunteers, including 15 other doctors, to provide clinical care in two villages, traveling 10 hours by bus and hiking for several days to reach each community. This incredibly fulfilling work allows me access to the locals and enables me to experience how they live.
The trip is no vacation—it’s a tough journey, and I’ve learned many lessons about how to stay healthy even in the most remote of environments. Here are some tips for how to pack, what to eat, and where to find all the information you need to make the most of your next trip to a developing nation.
Get your vaccinations, and get them early. Some vaccinations require a series of shots and should be done in advance. The immunizations you need depend on your age, health, where you’re headed, and which vaccines you’ve already had. Regardless of your destination, you’ll need to be up to date on all your routine vaccinations, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and your annual flu shot.
For more detailed information specific to your destination, be sure to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel site.
You’ll need to stock your suitcase with all the essentials, including proper medications and supplies. If you’re bringing along prescriptions, be sure to talk to your provider in advance to ensure you have enough to get you through your trip. Pack at least a week’s supply in your carry-on luggage. Here’s a list of medications and other essentials you may need.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications:
- An anti-inflammatory like Motrin and Advil for pain and fever reduction
- Tylenol for fever reduction
- Kaopectate for heartburn, upset stomach, indigestion, nausea, and diarrhea
- Pepto Bismol for upset stomach and diarrhea (you can also bring Immodium, but know that it can cause constipation)
- An antihistamine like Benadryl for any allergic reactions, insect bites, or contact dermatitis
- Probiotics to help support proper digestion (helpful when you’re eating unfamiliar foods)—Align, Culturelle, and Florastor don’t require refrigeration
- Ambien or a similar sleeping pill for the airplane and for the destination. Talk with your provider to determine whether the medication is safe for you to take and determine proper dosing.
- Dramamine or a scopolamine patch for motion sickness.
- Antibiotics such as Zithromax for upper respiratory infections and ciprofloxacin for diarrhea. Work with your provider to determine the best medication for your trip, as some parts of the world require different antibiotics to treat drug-resistant bugs.
- Check the CDC website to see if you’re traveling to an area that is at risk for malaria. If so, discuss with your provider what medical prophylaxis is right for you. Remember, it’s imperative that you take the whole prescription, even after you return.
- Any other prescription medications you typically take. Remember, certain pills, like birth control, must be taken at the same time every day. Be consistent by following the schedule of your home time zone. If this requires you to take the medication at an inconvenient hour, prepare by adjusting the time you take the medication by one hour every day leading up to your trip until you are on a new schedule.
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- Earplugs to block out sound on the plane and at your destination
- Sanitizing wipes and gel to disinfect your hands and any items, like water bottles, that you come into contact with
- A copy of your passport to keep in your luggage or around your neck (also email yourself a copy of your passport)
- Traveler’s insurance including evacuation insurance
- A first-aid kit that includes Band-Aids, gauze, antibacterial ointment, and other essentials
- Nutrition bars and sealed snacks that you can take with you on the plane and during your travels in case safe food is not available
- Proper sun protection, including sunscreen and glasses
It’s essential to taking careful precautions with food and beverages in order to stay healthy and avoid illness. Despite detailed instructions, many travelers breach protocol and consume unsafe foods or beverages within 24 hours of arrival. It’s easy to avoid the risks and resist temptation:
- Assume anything fresh is unsafe—always eat cooked foods.
- If you must eat fresh, foods that can be peeled may be safer (e.g., a banana is likely safer than a whole apple).
- Make sure water is bottled and sealed securely. Clean the top with an antibacterial wipe before drinking.
- Bottled water isn’t just for drinking—be sure to brush your teeth with it, and don’t open your mouth in the shower.
- Bring a SteriPEN, which uses UV light to purify water. This is an easy way to sterilize hotel water for teeth brushing or even drinking.
- Iodine pills can also sterilize water, but they take about 4 hours to start working and can give the water an iodine taste.
- As tempting as street food may be, don’t assume it’s safe.
- Even in the nicest hotels, don’t drink beverages with ice.
- Always bring healthy packaged snacks like nutrition bars from home so you’ll have a safe option. Don’t assume you will always be able to get food you can eat.
Check out these links for more detailed information, and be sure to discuss your journey with your provider.
- The CDC travel site: Find the most up-to-date information, including which vaccinations are required for your trip.
- One Medical Travel clinic: Work with a provider to review your itinerary and medical history and get detailed information on the necessary vaccinations, prescriptions, and must-do tips to stay healthy.
- The World Health Organization (WHO): Read the top international health news stories and learn more about your destination.