Health Advice for Backpackers

The key to a successful and fulfilling experience during your time away, however long you're going for, is preparation. It's impossible to prepare for all possible situations, but if you have all the basics in place it makes those tough situations seem a little easier to handle.

Before you travel

  • Plan ahead! If possible, start thinking about vaccinations, immunisations and malaria protection seven months ahead. Go to your own doctor in the first instance or a specialised travel clinic
  • Have a dental check-up in good time in case you need a course of treatment before you leave
  • Some countries require a Yellow Fever vaccination and won't let you over the border without one. If your looking for an up-to-date list of these countries try seaching the internet for terms such as 'yellow fever country list.'
  • It's also sensible for all travellers (even in the UK) to be up-to-date with immunisations for tetanus and polio. If you're going further afield you might also need cholera, hepatitis (A and B), meningitis, rabies, tuberculosis and typhoid.
  • Malaria protection is vital in many parts of the tropical world - check the "Malaria Hotspots" website for more information
  • Take your own first aid and medical kit
  • For reciprocal health arrangements in most of Europe and some other countries, get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Australia and New Zealand also have reciprocal agreements with Britain
  • Pick up the British Department of Health's T5 leaflet, Health Advice for Travellers. You can get one from doctors' surgeries, libraries, post offices or travel agents. The leaflet includes advice on vaccinations, rabies, malaria, AIDS, types of food and water supplies that may cause problems.
  • Take out insurance - even in countries with reciprocal agreements. Full health insurance is always essential. Check out our own no worries product.

Health checks

Don't forget to visit your GP well in advance of your expected date of departure for a medical and your dentist to ensure that you have no loose fillings or even require any new ones. Most cities will be able to provide good dental services, but be prepared to check that all the equipment they use is sterile, and therefore the risk of contracting Hepatitis B or even HIV through a minor procedure are zero.

Always have a health check before you go on your gap year

Vaccinations

A full vaccination schedule should be started 8 weeks prior to departure. Not everything can be vaccinated against so knowledge of the problems likely to be encountered and avoidance is paramount.

Existing conditions

If you have and pre-existing medical conditions that require regular medication, ensure that you have sufficient for your entire trip. When travelling its always a good idea to divide you medication between hand luggage and backpack / suitcase just in case either gets lost or stolen. Some GPs may be a little reticent to prescribe an entire years worth of medication on the NHS, so be prepared to pay for some of it on a private prescription. It's also a good idea, if you know where you will be for an extended period, to investigate availability of your medication in the area of travel. Always make sure you know both the brand name and the generic name (chemical name) of the drugs you are using, since should you need to obtain a supply whilst abroad a local alternative can be more easily traced. Finally try to get your GP to write you a covering letter explaining the nature of your illness and the medications/dosage being used, this may prevent any difficulties when travelling through customs as well as help in an emergency.

Known allergies

Be aware of any allergies to drugs that you have encountered in the past and if the allergy is severe such as anaphylaxis due to penicillin, you should consider wearing a necklace or bracelet explaining this fact. Your local pharmacy will be able to put you in contact with one of the many companies that provide these items.

Blood group

Not essential that you know this prior to departure, but may come in handy in an emergency. Your GP should know this, or you could always become a blood donor well in advance of you your first vaccinations, since this option may well be ruled out for some time following the administration of certain vaccines or tropical travel.

Know your blood group before you travel

Medical kit

A fairly comprehensive medical kit can make life a lot easier when in some of the more remote areas of the globe since it gives you a degree of self-sufficiency as well as peace of mind. It's always advisable to carry your own set of sterile equipment when outside of Western Europe, North America and Australia / New Zealand just in case you find yourself in a situation that requires medical intervention. Many countries believe in giving injections just for the sake of it, very often containing nothing more than salty water so ensure that an injection is truly necessary and then ensure that they use your equipment. The most common ailments that travellers encounter are caused by accident. Serious accident is covered by insurance but general first aid is essential as well as medications to treat insect bites and travellers diarrhoea - the next two most common problems reported by travellers.