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How to stay healthy while traveling

Follow these commonsense rules, and you’ll likely return from your trip with pleasant memories and not an illness.

Before you go:

1. Maximize your insurance coverage.

Review your health insurance policy to make sure you’ll be covered while traveling. Most plans don’t cover medical costs incurred outside the United States. Also, take proof of health insurance while traveling. 

2. Buy travel insurance to cover what your regular insurance doesn’t.

Often, that's emergency medical and medical evacuation coverage. If you travel frequently, consider yearlong coverage, which is offered by companies such as Allianz Global Assistance USA and Travel Guard. 

3. Check with your doctor about your travel plans.

If you’re under a physician’s care, bring a letter from your doctor describing your medical condition.

4. Join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers.

The nonprofit organization provides a free directory of English-speaking doctors in countries around the world. 716-754-4883; iamat.org.

5. Learn about health conditions at your destination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers information for travelers, including health warnings and vaccination requirements. 800-232-4636; cdc.gov.

6. Visit a travel health clinic for recommended immunizations.

The staff can provide immunizations and medications, plus health and safety help.  Malaria is a frequent risk while others such as yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis are rare; all are potentially fatal but preventable, according to Dr. Brian Terry of the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena, California. 

7. Pack your medications in carry-on bags.

Make sure they’re in their original, labeled containers. Also pack copies of prescriptions, including your vision prescription, along with recommended dosages and the medications’ generic names. Check tsa.gov for packing rules and tips.

While you are traveling:

8. Wash your hands thoroughly and often. 

Pay extra care before eating. Don’t rub your face with dirty hands.

9. Carry antiseptic wipes.

Use alcohol-based antiseptic wipes or an alcohol-based gel when soap and water aren’t handy. 

10. Clean objects in  your hotel room.

Use antiseptic wipes to wipe down the TV remote, phone, and similar objects. 

11. Drink water, but don’t drink the water.

It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when flying. But on planes and trains, make sure your drinking water comes from a sealed bottle. Also, use bottled water to brush your teeth. When traveling in developing countries, avoid ice and drink water only from sealed bottles and drinks only from cans or bottles. 

12. Eat right.

When you’re in developing countries, stick to cooked foods and avoid raw fruits and vegetables.

13. Everything in moderation.

Enjoy dining and trying new cuisines and beverages, but try not to overindulge. 

14. Be bug-free.

In the woods or in rain forests, use an insect repellent that contains deet (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and don’t use perfumes and fragrant body lotions, which can attract insects. 

15. Don’t wear bright colors.

Khaki is a good choice—your clothes might look dull, but they’ll be less likely to attract insects.

16. Take an N95 mask.

According to Terry, an N95-rated mask is effective in filtering bacteria and viruses, and it helps block dust, pollution, and germs from the sneezing passenger sitting next to you on the plane.

17. Sleep tight and germ-free.

In hotel beds, make sure the sheet—not the blanket or bedspread—is next to your face when you go to sleep. The sheets will likely be freshly laundered; blankets and bedspreads tend to be cleaned much less frequently.

18. Don’t use the hot tub in your room.

The housekeeping staff cleans tub basins, but stagnant water left in the pumps is not treated and can be filled with bacteria. If you want to hot-tub it, use those by the swimming pools, which are typically highly chlorinated. Observe safety recommendations, such as limiting your time and avoiding hot tubs that appear murky or slimy.

19. Buckle up.

Know the rules of the road and practice defensive driving no matter where you are.

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