Gap year vaccinations
You may need to be vaccinated against certain serious diseases before you travel, especially if you’ll be visiting developing countries in tropical climates. You might be able to get your vaccinations for free, depending on your nationality. UK citizens can usually get at least some free on the NHS – these typically include typhoid, hepatitis A, cholera and a combined boost of diphtheria, polio and tetanus. Jabs which tend to cost money include hepatitis B, rabies and yellow fever.
It’s highly recommended to visit your GP or nearest travel clinic at least eight weeks before you’re due to leave, as some vaccinations need to be delivered quite far in advance to be effective. Tell the medical staff exactly where you plan to visit, and they will be able to quickly advise what vaccinations you should have. Vaccinations which the NHS don’t cover will usually cost around £50 per vaccine.
If you want to research yourself, check out the NHS’s Fit For Travel advice page and select your destinations. It’s worth noting that vaccines are rarely compulsory; it’s ultimately up to you and your doctor to assess the level of risk. Some countries insist on particular vaccinations as an entry requirement and for your protection.
Travel health kit
There are a few items you can bring with you to further protect yourself against nasties on the road, just as some added precautions for emergencies. A mosquito net and insect repellent is always a wise choice for tropical climates. Even if the mosquitoes don’t carry serious diseases, like dengue fever, being covered in bites still isn’t much fun! A basic medical kit containing things like plasters, bandages, antiseptic wipes, imodium, rehydration salts and painkillers won’t take up too much room and could literally save your life. It’s also a good idea to pack contraception, sun cream and after sun lotion. Check out our packing list article for more detail on this.
Eating and drinking
In developing nations, such as those found in South Asia, Africa or South America, you should be very cautious not to ingest tap water that hasn’t been boiled or sterilised with something like iodine. This goes beyond avoiding literally drinking out the tap: you should avoid drinks with ice cubes, foods which could have been washed with tap water, like salad, and even ice cream. The tap water of some countries is more dangerous than others; in India, for example, you are strongly advised to not even use tap water to brush your teeth, and to keep your mouth firmly shut in the shower.
Try to eat the freshest food possible at all times. Sometimes there is just no way of knowing if food is contaminated, but as a rule of thumb make sure it is always piping hot, avoid food which could have been lying around for ages and stay away from seafood unless you’re next to the sea.
It is almost inevitable that at some point in your trip you’ll suffer from travellers’ diarrhoea; it’s practically a rite of passage, so to speak. Mostly it will clear up by itself within 72 hours; if it persists beyond that time frame it might be wise to see a doctor.
The best way to combat it is to remain hydrated, ideally with rehydration solutions which contain valuable salts and nutrients. You’d be amazed at the amount of water you lose when you have the squits. Over-the-counter medicines like Imodium can be handy for plugging you up if you have to take a long bus journey, but keep in mind they only attack the symptoms, not the cause, and can actually make the infection worse. Only use as an emergency.
Animals & insects
In some countries, particularly in the tropics and in developing nations, animals and insects can pose a serious threat to travellers, particular in the way of rabies from stray cats and dogs, and malaria from mosquitoes. The best way to avoid rabies is to simply never approach a cat or dog; leave them be and they’ll do the same. With mosquitoes, avoidance is the best tactic. There are no vaccinations against malaria and even antimalarials are not a guarantee, they simply reduce your chances of contracting it. Cover up exposed skin wherever possible, particularly in the evening, apply good repellent to exposed skin and clothing and sleep under a mosquito net. You should probably also avoid saltwater crocodiles in Australia, because they can eat you, if you give them a chance.
You know the drill, you’ve heard it enough times at school: use contraception! Gents, always make sure you always have a condom about your person, and ladies, don’t let him do anything without one. It’s not all about avoiding pregnancy: you don’t want to be returning home with biological souvenirs – that can put a real dampener on things.