Destination: A Healthy Holiday

Vacations are all fun and games, right? Beware these hidden health hazards so you come home in one well-rested piece.

If the goal of vacation is to feel better, why are nasty injuries, icky infections, and added kilos such common souvenirs? Why, when we go on holiday, do we think we're in a parallel universe, where we have superhero powers and are immune from harm? With our tips, you'll have an excellent adventure...and still return in one piece.

Before you leave

Pack Your First Aid Kit

A basic first aid kit checklist might include:

  • Bandages in different shapes and sizes
  • Antiseptic solution
  • Tape & gauze
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Scissors (sharp/blunt) 12.5cm
  • Disposable gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • Sterile saline tubes/sachets
  • Stop itch cream
  • Pain medication
  • Diarrhoea medication
  • Nausea medication
  • First aid booklet

Once you have assembled a basic first aid kit, you can customise it according to its intended use. For example, if it is:

  • For the car or caravan, add a highly reflective (day/night) safety triangle and vest as you may be near a road and traffic.
  • For camping and boating, add heavy crepe bandages, instant cold packs, disposable poncho, plastic bags, whistle, compass, torch, glow stick and some vinegar for stings (especially marine stingers)
  • For babies, add extra items such as a digital thermometer, basic pain reliever medications and a plastic syringe for accurate dosing
  • For mountaineering have the kit roped. You may need to lower it to a ledge!

Make sure that the bag is instantly recognisable as a First Aid Kit: You may just be the one who needs the attention and someone else must be able to identify it.

Check Your Health Insurance

Not all medical insurance covers travel abroad. Break your leg while hiking in the jungle and a medical evacuation could set you back R100 000 or more. So ask your insurer about exclusions before you go, and consider buying a supplemental policy.

Getting There

On a Cruise

That long awaited cruise is finally happening, but, unfortunately, multitudes of stowaways—i.e., germs—will likely tag along. But despite the fact that cruise ship outbreaks of Norovirus, which causes stomach flu, have made headlines, hospitals, schools, and day care centres are where 9 out of 10 such outbreaks actually occur.

On an Airplane

Whenever you're in a small, crowded place, you're at increased risk of contracting germs. Planes are often packed, and there's also the issue of the very low humidity level on aircraft. Your nasal membranes become dehydrated, which makes you more susceptible to infection from passing germs.

Aside from the obvious precautions—drink lots of water, use saline nasal spray, and keep your hands off your face—turn the overhead vent above your seat to medium flow and direct the nozzle slightly in front of your face. Then, if someone sneezes, those 30,000 airborne droplets are less likely to rain down on top of you. Also, if you have a choice, sit at the front of the plane, which typically has the best ventilation. Finally, bring along an     alcohol-based hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes to clean your hands, tray tables, and armrests, which can be teeming with germs.

(Leg) Room For Improvement

Blood clots or life -threatening pulmonary embolisms can happen to anybody who sits in a cramped space for a long time. To keep clots from forming during long flights, periodically raise and lower your heels while seated and walk up and down the aisle a few times. If you feel calf pain when you flex and un-flex your foot, call a doctor upon landing.

When You Arrive

Get In The (Sleep) Zone

Between the hours you spent getting to your destination and the double time you put in at the office the week before, you're even more tired than you were before your vacation started. What's a sleep-deprived traveller to do?

  • DO take melatonin. It's not a sleeping pill, but it helps reset your internal sleep clock. Take it in the early evening before you leave on your trip; once you arrive, take another one an hour before bedtime.
  • DON'T order alcoholic drinks on the plane the minute the beverage cart rolls by. We know it's tempting—alcohol can help you to fall asleep despite your cramped upright position. But overall, drinking will disrupt your sleep and leave you less rested.
  • DON'T hit the sack as soon as you've checked in to your hotel—no matter how exhausted you feel. Instead, get on the local time. If you must take a nap, keep it under two hours.

Get Out Your Sunscreen

Bathing suit: Check! Fully loaded Kindle: Check! Two bottles of sunscreen for every member of your family: Seriously? That's right. For adequate protection, you need to coat yourself every 2 hours and apply a lot more than you realize.

In the Hotel Room

Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite!

Bedbugs are equal-opportunity pests: You're as likely to encounter them at a high-end hotel as at budget friendly motels. To avoid forming a lasting relationship with these unwanted critters, follow these precautions:

  • Pest-proof with plastic: When packing, place clothes into giant sealable bags. There are also medium and large clear plastic suitcase covers for weary travellers who want to keep the bugs at bay.
  • Do a spot check: Upon arrival, deposit your luggage in the shower, and do a visual sweep for the apple-seed-size bugs (and specks of blood) on the mattress and upholstered furniture.
  • Safeguard your belongings: Even if your room is clean, keep your suitcase off the floor, preferably atop a hard luggage rack. Avoid draping your clothes over the furniture or placing them inside the dresser drawers.
  • Don't take them with you: As soon as you get home, launder all of your clothes—even items you haven't worn—on the hottest washer and dryer settings. Then vacuum your suitcase to suck up any stowaways.

Eat Smart

Beware Unwanted "Baggage"

Between grabbing a hot cinnamon bun on your way to your destination (3000 kilojoules!) slurping down one too many margaritas by the pool, and getting our "money's worth" at the buffet, many of us return from a weeklong trip a few kilos heavier. Before you reach for the back-to-work caftan, put these three weight gain traps on your radar:

  • Be wise about breakfast: Waffles and pancakes look tempting, but think of them as set decorations. Instead, greet the sunrise with a protein-rich shake or an egg-white omelette to kick-start your metabolism and keep you satisfied.
  • Count beverage kilojoules: Cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts offer an endless supply of juices, sodas, and sweetened cocktails. By day, opt for green tea, which revs your metabolism. By night, drink red wine (400 kilojoules versus 1600 for a pina colada).
  • Say no nocturnal noshing: Where else but a cruise ship would you find Midnight Buffet extravaganzas? No one should be eating from a towering chocolate fountain that late at night.

Gut Reactions

Don't feel pressure to try the deep-fried scorpion, even if it's touted as the not-to-be-missed local specialty. If you're in a country where food safety is a concern, follow these three simple tips from the World Health Organization:

  • Run from raw: That includes undercooked eggs, leafy greens, produce without a peel or shell, and red meat and poultry whose juices run pink.
  • Beware the buffet: If cooked food has been sitting out for a while, do yourself a favour and don't eat it. The presence of steam is a good sign that food is hot enough. Cold food should be sitting on plenty of un-melted ice.
  • Turn off the tap: In addition, avoid raw milk, ice cubes, and ice cream. Bottled water is your safest bet. If tap water is your only option, bring it to a vigorous boil first. And never swallow water in the shower or from the sink—brush your teeth with bottled water.

Get Busy

Take Your Fitness Routine On The Road

Layer up: Too cold for a morning walk on the beach? Find a jacket is made from protective micro-fleece that has plenty of wind- and water resistance.

Find an app

No matter where your travels take you, there are some great apps (iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android compatible) that let you plan a run, hike, or kayak trip.

Packable shoes

Skip the bulky sneakers and opt for feather light walking shoes. They fold in half for easy packing.

Avoid Adventure Overload

Egged on by overzealous staff at hotel "activity" desks, many vacationers decide that now is the moment to take a maiden-voyage hang gliding  trip,  to do a daily 15 km hike, or try the "2-hour deep-tissue sensory-deprivation massage”.

As a result, too many end up going home with not just cute local jewellery but also bills from a side trip to the local ER. Motor vehicle-related accidents (including ones that involve those adorable scooters you see zipping all over) are by far the most common cause of injury and even death among travellers, and the risk is higher in developing countries where roads and traffic conditions are poor. Water-related activities are the second most hazardous. Many vacation accidents happen because people overestimate their ability.

Accidents happen, too, because travellers often fail to take basic precautions. When you are on holiday, you have to remember that all the basic rules still apply.



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