Holiday time has finally arrived. After a hard year’s work, most people choose to take off to exotic locations and embark on new adventures. As exciting as these trips are –and we’ve certainly waited long enough for them!– there are certain things we must always take into account even before booking the flight in order to stay safe. Whether we’re chasing the sun or hitting the slopes, we should check to see what are the specific hazards and risks we are getting exposed to and plan our journey so we have the items that will keep us healthy once we’ve reached our destination. No one wants to be exposed to health risks that can turn a dream adventure into a trip to the hospital or, even worse, endanger our lives.
Destination-specific health risks
The world is a wonderful and diverse place, and that’s why millions of people travel each to see every corner of it. Nevertheless, there are places on earth that have extremely hot or cold climates, limited drinkable water supplies or venomous creatures crawling or flying dangerously close to travelers. There are also territories under military conflict and areas where certain disease outbreaks occur more frequently than in other places. The vast majority of hazards can be easily discovered by learning the essential climate facts of the desired location. Nowadays there are plenty of resources to learn about health hazards, and services such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide up-to-date information of infectious disease outbreaks throughout the world. It is best to ask your doctor’s advice at least six weeks before the trip, informing him or her of the destination of your journey, especially if you have a special condition or disability. Specific vaccines are required to avoid particular diseases, but also common sense precautions can be best suggested by a specialist.
Warm climates health risks and food and water hygiene problems
Simply put, all warm climates – not only tropical countries, but also sunny Greece or Spain – act as perfect environments for insects, some of which can transmit serious, sometimes fatal diseases. As specified by the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination is a highly effective method of preventing certain infectious diseases that result from insects or animal bite. The WHO also specifies that “there is no single vaccination schedule that fits all travelers. Each schedule must be individualized according to the traveler’s previous immunizations, countries to be visited, type and duration of travel, and the amount of time available before departure.” Prevention measures for travelers to risk areas include vaccines against Hepatitis A, Cholera, Japanese encephalitis, Meningococcal, Rabies, Tick-borne encephalitis, Typhoid fever or Yellow fever. Once you arrive to your destination, there are ways to avoid insect bites. Indoor exposure to insects can be limited by the use of air-conditioning, plug-in vaporizers that release insecticide or, simply, building an insect bed net. Insect repellant creams, sprays or lotions should always be applied on the full surface of the body, not only on exposed areas, before going outside.
According to UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) between 20 and 60 per cent of people that travel across exotic locations suffer from “traveler’s diarrhea”: three or more loose stools in a day, fever, nausea and stomach pain. This is picked up from contaminated food and water and is therefore more frequent in areas with underdeveloped sanitary systems, such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South and Central America. To avoid the risks of traveler’s diarrhea, the traveler should only eat food that has been cooked at high temperatures and drink pre-boiled water or sealed beverages. Ice cubes, salads, raw fruit and vegetables should be avoided.
Winter sports, large events and festivals
Certain adventures bring specific risks, which must be taken into account before making the necessary arrangements, as there are extra costs involved. In fact, winter adventures like skiing or snowboarding and other “extreme” activities are not covered by standard travel insurance policies. This is not surprising, as sports in general have a higher risk of injuries requiring medical assistance abroad, from muscle strains to fractures. It is very important that you plan the adventure properly, from making sure you’re adequately covered to wearing the right sporting equipment. Also, events where large numbers of people are present at the same time can bring extra risks. Firstly, excessively loud sounds can alter your hearing, and you should avoid being located next to the sound source or using earplugs, especially if you have a known sensitivity. Secondly, exotic community events sometimes include open fire or smoke, which can be obviously dangerous. However, the most frequent injuries when it comes to big events are related to the crowd movements, which are totally unpredictable. You should generally avoid crowds as much as possible.
Assistance for traveling with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions
For most people, traveling doesn’t require special efforts. Basic planning skills, standard travel insurance and a credit card will get you almost anywhere nowadays but when you have a disability, every detail of your life looks different, and life is usually more expensive although your income is lower. However, even in countries with advanced social care systems, the majority of financial help options for the disabled regard their living expenses, and not costs for travelling outside their country of residence. For instance in the UK, the government offers tax exemptions and direct payments for day to day living or adapting your home, as explained by money.co.uk. In the US, the system is equally –if not more– advanced, and citizens can apply for a range of grants, loans and benefits from the state, depending on their medical condition, age and financial situation. All these are forms of helping disabled people with the costs of their everyday life.
When it comes to travelling with disabilities, however, Travel.State.Gov (service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State) highly recommends citizens to get health insurance that covers private medical treatment abroad and medical evacuation to the United States in the case of an emergency. “Medical treatment and hospital care abroad can be expensive, and medical evacuation to the United States can cost more than $100,000.” The cost of travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions depends on the medical screening – a set of in-depth questions about your medical conditions– and the risk factor; it also depends on the duration of the trip and destination of your journey, as the some countries have more expensive medical care systems. Financial help, although indirect, is also given by some hotels that give discounts for guests with disabilities.
Planning the adventure
If not planned properly, traveling can become an unfortunate and unnecessarily expensive adventure. From finding the right type of medical travel insurance to booking comfortable accommodation, the planning part should be one of the first stages of the adventure. Things get more complicated when you have specific conditions or disabilities but fortunately, there are plenty of travel agencies that have done all the research for you. Holiday packages are designed so they can meet all of your needs – including disabled-friendly travel and accommodation options- and come with an overall lower price.