Pre-trip medical planning
Consult a travel doctor
Anyone considering how to travel for a year or long-term should address any medical issues before leaving. Before departure meet with a medical professional who also has training in travel medicine. Larissa’s doctor also specialized in travel medicine so we met with her. Prepare your expected itinerary for the doctor to review. Their recommendations will depend on where you are going and the possible health risks of each country. Basic issues to discuss will be recommended vaccinations, medications and general health. Along with your regular meds the doctor may prescribe others based on where you’re going.
Also get a dental checkup. You may be traveling to countries without Novocaine so it’s better to take care of any work now. At the last minute we found out at that we each needed costly dental work. We were glad we prevented the problems from cropping up while were at some remote location.
Get a year’s worth of your routine medications before you go
The few regular medications that we take are generics that major pharmacy chains offer at discounted prices. We asked our doctor to write a prescription for a year’s worth of each, and were able to have them filled for about $40 for each 1-year script.
Anticipate needs for specialty medications
Our doctor determined that two specialty medications we should bring were ones to treat stomach bugs and malaria. She recommended the antibiotic ciprofloxacin for potential tummy trouble and prescribed enough for 21 days. This was also generic and not expensive.
Guarding against malaria proved more costly. Medication must be taken before, during and after potential exposure to the malaria parasite, so it is important to know how long you’ll be in a malaria region. There are a few options for malaria prophylaxis: some older, quinine-based drugs are generic (i.e. cheap) and effective, however there are some nasty side effects associated with them. In addition, two distinct malaria strains exist in different parts of the world, and these older drugs may work against one strain and not the other.
Malarone, a newer drug, is indicated to work on both strains and does not have the same side effects, but is non-generic and very expensive, about $8 per day per dose. For a one-week trip this would not be a major expense, however our tentative itinerary had us traveling to malaria-prone countries for three months. We were concerned about the side effects of quinine, but we didn’t want to spend over $1,500 for Malarone. We adjusted our itinerary to be in areas with malaria risk for less time.
Get the necessary vaccinations
A travel medicine specialist will recommend certain vaccinations based on your journey. In addition to boosters on some of the more standard vaccines such as DTaP and flu, we got shots for polio and yellow fever. Our doctor also provided us with an International Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, which is required in some countries before you can enter. NOTE: It is important to schedule an appointment a few months before your departure date to allow enough time for the vaccines to take effect.
Plan ahead. . .Stay healthy. . . Have fun!
All this medical planning makes an around-the-world journey seem more hazardous than it is. When we were planning our trip we were a bit overwhelmed by all this information, and a little surprised that we had to get shots for yellow fever and polio. But this is one area where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, you can go forth and enjoy your travels with a healthy dose of peace of mind.
We’ve been on the road for ten months now and, knock on wood, haven’t been sick. Heck, we haven’t even had to use our emergency roll of toilet paper. It’s important to be aware of these issues and plan accordingly, but don’t let them keep you from traveling.
Travelers’ health links
Check the Centers for Disease Control for comprehensive travelers’ health tips.
Can I drink the water? This web site provides water safety data by country.
Is the country safe? The US State Department’s updated safety and security report for travel to every country.
Is the country safe? The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office travel advice by country.
Do I need a shot? The CDC’s vaccinations advice for travelers.
Solo female travel advice – A woman’s safe-travel guide from the Canada Foreign Affairs Department. (Available in PDF)
Show me where the major disease risks are – World health Organization’s interactive disease map.