last-minute travel: healthy tips on the go

David Frickman
March 12, 2024

Traveling for vacation, such as going on a cruise, can be fun. You’ve had time to make all of your pre-travel plans, including plotting out everything you need to stay healthy on your trip.

But what about travel at the last-minute? Business or family could call you away from the islands with no notice and very little time to prepare.

It’s not an easy situation, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tips to help you stay as healthy as possible during last-minute travel.

Check in with your doc
The World Health Organization defines the last-minute traveler as anyone departing for an international destination on short notice, typically in two weeks or less. But even if your travel is only to the Mainland, there are a number of things the CDC suggests you do, including adding a doctor consultation in your pretravel itinerary if at all possible. Even if your departure is hours away, it’s not too late to talk with your primary care provider.

The consultation should include a review of your vaccination status. You should go over questions such as:

  • What vaccinations are required or recommended for travel to your destination?
  • How long before post-vaccination immunity is achieved?
  • What do you do for vaccinations that require multiple doses? Can you get these vaccinations on an accelerated schedule, where the doses can be given in a shorter amount of time?
  • Do you need booster vaccinations to complete an unfinished vaccination series?

If a multiple-dose vaccine can’t be given on an accelerated schedule (or there isn’t enough time), the CDC recommends getting the first dose of certain vaccines to at least get some protection. These include hepatitis A, Japanese encephalitis, and rabies vaccines.

For doctors consulting with patients, the CDC recommends that they:

  • Consider each traveler’s itinerary, trip activities, risk for infection at the destination, and cumulative risk associated with repeat travel.
  • Educate travelers about the value and safety of vaccinations.
  • Emphasize preventive behaviors for travelers who might not be adequately protected if they’re vaccinated immediately before travel or who don’t have sufficient time to complete a vaccine series.

There may not always be time to make an in-person appointment with your primary care provider or to visit your regular clinic. In these cases, consider telehealth options such as HMSA’s Online Care®.

Gather the necessities
Before you head to your destination, pack a travel health kit, which includes all of your prescription medications in their original containers.

For international travelers, the U.S. State Department has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to notify the U.S. embassy or consulate of your trip and for help in case of an emergency.

A little more advice
Finally, the CDC recommends these additional travel tips:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and clean water or use hand sanitizer (made with at least 60% alcohol) if clean water isn’t available.
  • Choose safer food and drink options. Contaminated food or drinks can make you sick with travelers’ diarrhea and other diseases.
  • Wear EPA-registered insect repellent to prevent mosquito and other bug bites.
  • Consider if your destination means you need to prepare for extremely hot or cold weather. Bring multiple loose layers and a warm jacket for cold weather or light-colored clothing and sunglasses for warm weather.
  • Avoid animals when traveling. In addition to the risk of rabies, animals can spread other diseases to people.
  • Pack a travel health kit with your prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Bring enough medicine to last your whole trip, plus a little extra in case of delays. Also, pack sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and EPA-registered insect repellant and other supplies.

Staying healthy while traveling is not always easy, especially when you’re heading away unexpectedly. But take a little time during your hurried preparation to consider your health to help make your trip safer and more enjoyable.

Read about coordinating with your doctor when making travel plans in the spring 2024 issue of Island Scene magazine. 

Amwell is an independent company providing hosting and software services for HMSA’s Online Care platform on behalf of HMSA.

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