Before you go
Health is a big factor in both domestic and international travel. If you’re travelling overseas, it’s important to keep in mind that some diseases that have been eradicated in New Zealand may still be present at your holiday destination.
Before taking to the skies, make an appointment with your GP to discuss the potential health risks in the country you are travelling to and receive the necessary vaccinations. The most common destinations requiring preventative vaccinations include countries in Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
In addition to protecting yourself from certain viruses abroad, some countries actually require you to be immunised before visiting. It’s a good idea to carry your vaccination certificates from your doctor.
Some diseases that are still active in foreign countries you may need immunisations against include encephalitis, yellow fever, typhoid fever, malaria and influenza.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) provides information for travellers on its website who.int/ith. Another useful website is safetravel.govt.nz which details recent health alerts for destinations around the world and related travel health advice for travellers.
Travelling with medications
Prescription medicines available at home are not always legal in other countries. If you do need to travel with medication, it’s important to check that your medicine is legal by contacting your GP or the embassy of your destination.
You may need a letter from your doctor certifying your medical condition and the medication required as well as stating how much medication you are carrying and confirming it is strictly for personal use. Medication should be taken in your carry-on baggage, but remember that liquids, gels and aerosols must not exceed 100ml if you’re going to take them in the cabin with you.
Children’s medicines and non-prescription medicines (‘over the counter’ items such as low dosage pain killers, cough mixtures and allergy tablets) are generally fine to take to other countries, but medication containing substances such as codeine or pseudoephedrine can sometimes cause problems.
Always keep your medication in its original packaging with any pharmacy labels attached.
Do I really need travel insurance?
The old credo ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’ is still appropriate when it comes to travel insurance. Imagine you’re overseas, have an unfortunate accident or fall ill and need to be taken to hospital. Receiving medical treatment abroad can be extremely costly, sometimes leaving you out of pocket up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Travel insurance protects you for a number of different things depending on your policy, including medical expenses, theft, lost luggage and even trip cancellations.
Flight Centre’s Cover More has more than 20 year experience with travel insurance and offers a range of helpful features including 24-hour emergency assistance and rental car excess insurance.
Chat to your Flight Centre consultant about adding travel insurance to your holiday plans and travel with peace of mind knowing you’re safeguarded against things that could potentially turn your holiday sour.
During your flight
When flying, particularly long-haul, it’s important to maintain your wellbeing on board. A number of factors can impact on your health when you’re on the plane for several hours at a time, including the cabin pressure and inactivity. Although there is only a very small chance of a health of safety risk when flying, you can arrive at your destination feeling a little worse for wear with stiff muscles after sitting for a prolonged period.
Some exercises you can do in-flight to alleviate muscle ache and improve circulation include:
- Foot/ankle circles – lift your foot and draw small circles with your toes for about 15 seconds per foot,
- Knee raises – lift your leg with your knee bent and squeeze your thigh muscle. You should feel this in your lower back as well.
- Neck and shoulder rolls – very gently raise your shoulders up, back and down. Loll your head forward and slowly rotate it around.
- Go for a little walk down the aisle every hour or so.
How to avoid DVT
DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis is a condition where blood clots form, usually in the legs, after long periods of sitting still. Studies have shown the risk of DVT can double on long-haul flights over four hours. DVT isn’t just restricted to flying, however – people can experience DVT in cars, trains or even sitting at their desk.
Blood clots mean the blood vessels are packed together, making it harder for the blood to pump back to your heart and can result in fatigue, backaches and swollen feet. If you have a history of blood clots in your family or are at an age where DVT is a risk, chat to your GP about some preventative measures.
You can purchase compression socks or stockings from most pharmacies which gently squeeze the legs and promote blood circulation.
Combating travel sickness
If you suffer from motion sickness, flying can sometimes be a bit of a bumpy ride (especially if there is turbulence involved!). Around 30 per cent of people suffer from some form of travel sickness, causing them to become nauseous, sweaty and dizzy.
Our expert tips for combating motion sickness:
- Keep your head still as much as possible
- Sip cool water and make sure your fan is on you
- Take travel calm tablets or ginger lollies
- Stick to light meals and avoid alcohol
- Keep that travel sick bag handy – just in case
Passengers with sinus problems or who have recently had a cold or flu can also experience discomfort when flying due to the changes in cabin pressure, particularly when the aircraft begins to descend. Some ways to help with sore sinuses or blocked ears include using saline nasal sprays, taking antihistamines around 30-minutes before descent or sucking on medicated lozenges.
Aircraft cabins have a very low humidity level (usually less than 25 per cent) because of the low humidity in the air outside the plane. This can cause your nose, throat or eyes to become slightly irritated and your skin to feel especially dry.
Drinking plenty of water or juice in-flight is highly advised, but coffee, tea and alcohol should only be consumed in moderation as they have a tendency to dehydrate your body. If you wear contact lenses, it’s recommended you take them out when flying. Passengers are encouraged to use skin moisturisers to keep feeling fresh and comfortable, but be sure your moisturiser is an acceptable size to be taken on board (100ml or less).
Tips for beating jet lag
The dreaded ‘jet lag’ is the bane of many traveller’s existence. Not everyone experiences jet lag; it depends on how many time zones you cross during your journey which disturb your biological clock and make it hard to get back into day/night patterns.
Jet lag symptoms include insomnia, lethargy, loss of or erratic appetite, headaches and irritability, and can affect adults and children alike. Generally speaking, it takes approximately one day per time zone crossed for the body's clock to readjust.
Our expert tips for combating jet lag:
- Get a good night’s sleep before you fly
- Exercise lightly when you arrive (go for a walk or use the hotel gym)
- Read before going to bed to help relax and aid sleep
- Avoid alcohol and coffee when flying
- Fly direct or at night where possible
- Don’t sleep too soon after you arrive at your destination
- Try not to book anything too full-on for your first day after flying
Foreign food, drink and hygiene
Depending on where you’re travelling to, there may certain health precautions to keep in mind. In many countries the water is not safe to drink and you will need to buy bottled water at all times. Tea, coffee, soft-drink, juice, beer and other alcohol are usually safe to drink but try to avoid dairy.
High risk areas for unclean drinking water that can carry diseases like e-coli, cholera and salmonella include Mexico, many parts of Central and South America, India, many countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East.
Freezing water does not kill bacteria, but boiling is effective at killing most parasites.
'Cook it, wash it, peel it, or forget it'
Be aware that safe food practices are not the same everywhere or may not be present at all. Sometimes just eating food you are not used to can wreck havoc on your digestive system. You don’t have to miss out on trying different cuisines – that’s one of the best parts of travelling to different countries – but you should be mindful about what you consume.
Food that is often at a higher risk of contamination includes cold meat platters and buffets, dairy products like cheese and yoghurt, seafood, eggs and meat that is undercooked. Go with your gut feeling when it comes to food vendors or restaurants – if it looks unclean or unkempt, avoid it.
Stick to freshly cooked food, fruits that you can peel yourself and sealed foods if you are worried about getting sick overseas. One of the best ways to travel healthy is by washing your hands as much as possible and carrying hand-sanitiser or antibacterial wipes with you.