According to the NHS, people living in the UK go on more than 60 million trips abroad every year (i). And that's not counting those who take holidays closer to home or who choose to simply stay at home and take the phone off the hook.
Whatever type of holiday you go on whether you stay in the UK or travel to a far-flung overseas destination chances are you'll stay healthy and safe. There is always a risk, however, that you'll become ill or have an accident when you're away from home. So one of the keys to having a healthy holiday is to be prepared for any of the things that could happen while you're away.
One of the things you may want to consider doing in advance is planning your travel health kit. Of course, some of the things you may need during your trip will depend on whether you're trekking through the Andes, having a fortnight on the Costa del Sol or taking your bucket and spade to Brighton.
But to give you a rough idea of the items that may come in useful, here's a list of holiday health essentials to pack:
Prescription medicines (make sure you have more than enough for your stay also take a copy of your prescription just in case you get caught short while you're away).
First-aid items (antiseptic sprays, creams or wipes, plasters, bandages, scissors, tweezers and safety pins).
Travel sickness pills.
Plenty of sunscreen (choose SPF15 or higher with a high UVA star rating).
Aftersun lotion, aloe vera lotion or calamine lotion to soothe your skin after being in the sun.
Insect repellent: products containing the chemical DEET are thought to be the most effective, however they may not be appropriate for some people, such as young children.
Your regular contraception plus extra condoms (if you're sexually active, condoms are essential make sure you buy ones with the CE mark on the packet).
Antihistamines if you have allergies such as hay fever (they can also be useful if you don't have allergies as they can reduce itching and inflammation if you're bitten or stung by an insect). Plus don't forget your adrenaline if you have severe allergies.
Rehydration sachets and water purification tablets (these may be useful if you're travelling in the developing world).
Ear plugs are also useful if you're a light sleeper.
Flight socks if you're flying.
Digital thermometer for checking the body temperature.
First aid book.
Travel insurance (if you're holidaying in the EU, also apply for a free European Health Insurance Card several weeks before you go).
Travel health: serious disease prevention
If you're travelling overseas, you may need to take extra precautions against serious diseases such as malaria, typhoid and hepatitis A and B. If you're not sure whether there are any health risks at your destination, check the map on the National Travel Health Network and Centre's website to find out what precautions you may have to take, including the travel vaccinations you may need.
A serious tropical disease, malaria is spread by mosquitos and can be fatal if not treated quickly. It's found in more than 100 countries, including many parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America. If the country you're visiting even if you're just travelling through is a malaria-risk country, you should consider taking antimalarial tablets, as according to the NHS, they can reduce your risk of malaria by about 90 per cent (ii).
Speak to your GP as soon as you know where you're going, as you may need to take a short trial course of antimalarial tablets before you travel (this can help make sure you don't have any adverse reactions to the tablets or suffer from any side effects).
It's also worth remembering that antimalarials aren't 100 per cent effective, which means you should still take the following extra precautions to avoid being bitten by a mosquito if you're travelling in a malaria-risk country:
Use insect repellents during the day and night, and keep your skin covered as much as possible especially your arms and legs between sunset and sunrise (mosquitoes prefer to feed at night).
Sleep under an intact mosquito net treated with insecticide.
Use a safe plug-in insecticide.
When you get back
A viral, bacterial or parasitic infection that you've picked up from a tropical or developing country may not produce symptoms for six to eight weeks after you get back home. Meanwhile malaria may not make you feel ill for up to six months or a year later.
If you suffer any flu-like symptoms for up to 12 months after you return, especially if you've been to a country where you know there's been an outbreak of malaria or another contagious disease, inform your GP.
How to avoid traveller's tummy
Even if you're not travelling to an exotic location for your holidays, you could still pick up a bout of diarrhoea and sickness. According to the National Travel Health Network and Centre, traveller's diarrhoea is the most common health problem to affect travellers, especially if you're travelling to a low-income country.
Most cases of traveller's tummy are caused by bacterial infection, of which E. coli is the most common (the rest are caused by viruses and protozoa) (iii). Symptoms may only last a few days, but may last longer, especially if you have a higher risk of getting traveller's tummy (older people, young children and people with certain health problems are in the high-risk group).
The good news is you can reduce your risk by taking some simple precautions, including the following:
Only drink sealed bottled water with an intact seal, choosing carbonated drinks whenever you're in doubt. Alternatively, use recently boiled and cooled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Also avoid ice, as it's unlikely to have been made from safe water, and try not to swallow any water while swimming.
Only eat food that's been thoroughly cooked and is very hot, especially meat, fish and poultry. Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables unless you're certain they've been peeled responsibly (ideally by yourself). Also avoid green salads, unless they have been washed with safe water. An increased risk of diarrhoea is associated with unpasteurised milk and dairy products, so only eat pasteurised milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Try to main good hygiene throughout your journey by washing your hands after each visit to the toilet and before preparing or eating food (remember to pack some hand sanitising wipes or gel if you're going to a destination that may not have any hand-washing facilities).
Meanwhile, if you do get a dose of traveller's tummy, the following medicines can help (make sure you pack them in your case before you leave):
Anti-diarrhoea medicines such as loperamide may reduce your symptoms by slowing the transit time in your gut.
Rehydration salts protect against dehydration by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. These come as a dry powder, so always mix with safe water.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol, can help with the symptoms of headache and fever.
Antibiotics may also be helpful if you have a serious medical problem that could be made worse if you had diarrhoea. However, bear in mind that they only treat diarrhoea caused by bacteria and some parasites they're not effective against diarrhoea caused by viruses. Antibiotics require a prescription from your GP, so check with them before you travel.
Treating common travel hazards
Diarrhoea may be the most common health problem to affect people travelling, but there are several other things that could affect you while you're away and, in some cases, even spoil your holiday.
Some of the main other travel hazards include the following:
According to the RAC, as many as one in five people in the UK experiences nausea or sickness as a driver or passenger (iv). If you find yourself feeling queasy on the road, in the air or on the sea, travel sickness pills can take the misery out of the journey. If, however, you're driving all or part of the way yourself, tablets for motion sickness – most of which can cause drowsiness – may not be the answer.
If you need to stay alert, the alternative is to try a travel sickness or anti-nausea wristband. These are widely available and suitable for both adults and children, and are thought to help reduce sickness by activating pressure points in the wrist.
Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do to relieve the symptoms of motion sickness, including fixing your eyes on the horizon or closing your eyes (though obviously don't close your eyes if you're driving). You could also listen to music or try to focus on your breathing both of these may help to distract your mind from the motion. If you're travelling on a boat or a plane, try to choose a cabin or seat as near the middle as possible, as this is where you'll experience the least movement. Read our full article about travel and sea sickness.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
If you're flying long haul or if you already have circulation problems or a family history of blood clots, travelling could also increase your risk of developing a DVT. You can read this article to find out more about what deep vein thrombosis is.
The good news is there are ways to minimise your risk, including wearing flight socks or compression tights. And if you're flying, try to keep your feet moving when you're in the air by doing flexing and stretching exercises and by getting up from your seat and walking around the cabin every now and then.
Other preventative measures include drinking plenty of water, wearing comfortable clothes and avoiding alcohol or taking sleeping pills. However, if you're particularly worried about your risk of developing DVT, talk to your GP before you fly.
If you're travelling across several time zones, there's a chance you could experience jet lag. This can make you feel tired and disorientated, with some people also developing headaches, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and a general feeling of being unwell. And the more time zones you cross, the longer it will take for you to recover.
Unfortunately there's nothing you can do to prevent jet lag, but it may affect you less severely if you drink plenty of fluids and try to rest as much as possible during your flight. Then when you arrive at your destination, expose yourself to as much bright light during the daytime while avoiding bright light at night, as this can help realign your sleep-wake cycle.
Also try to get outdoors during the daytime as much as possible when you first arrive so that your brain can be affected by the daylight (this can also help you to adjust to the new time zone).
People tend to spend more time outdoors when they're travelling and on holiday than when they're at home. And that can lead to the risk of getting sunburned, even for those who are holidaying here in the UK or going abroad for winter sports. It's essential to protect your skin from the sun to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Click here to find out more about sun protection.
Natural travel health remedies
Wherever you may be heading on your holidays, if you want to add a few natural remedies to your suitcase, they could include the following:
You may know it as a culinary spice, but ginger is also widely used in herbal medicine as a remedy for travel sickness (v). Ginger is also a popular natural remedy for nausea and vomiting.
This is a form of soluble fibre that's thought to help keep your digestive system healthy by promoting the growth of 'friendly' bacteria. There is even some evidence that it may be useful for preventing traveller's diarrhoea (vi).
Widely used to treat gastric problems such as stomach cramps, peppermint oil may be another supplement that's useful to take on holiday, especially as stomach upsets can be a common for travellers. Some experts also believe it may help relieve tension headaches when applied directly to the forehead (vii).
Found in the skin of dark and richly coloured fruit such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and red grapes, anthocyanidins are powerful antioxidants called flavonoids that may help your skin if you've been exposed to too much sun. Studies suggest they may help strengthen collagen, which may be damaged by UV light (viii). It's also thought they may help reduce inflammation associated with burns to the skin.
Lavender and tea tree essential oils
It's a good idea to put a small bottle of both of these essential oils in your travel bag, as they could be very useful (and they don't take up much space, even in the most crammed suitcase). Lavender oil, for instance, doesn't just smell good, it's also believed to help soothe minor skin burns thanks to its local analgesic and anaesthetic action. Tea tree oil, on the other hand, has anti-microbial properties (ix), which means it may help to prevent infection.
Going on holiday should be a fun experience, so don’t let a travel illness prevent you from enjoying your time away. You can find more tips and information about common health conditions by visiting the health library.
Available online: https://111.wales.nhs.uk/Travelhealth/Beforeyoutravel/
Available online: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/factsheet/53/travellers-diarrhoea
Grontved. A, Brask. T, Kambskard. J, et al. Ginger root against seasickness. A controlled trial on the open sea. Acta Otolaryngol. 1988;105:45-49. Mowrey. DB, Clayson. DE. Motion sickness, ginger, and psychophysics. Lancet. 19821:655-657.
Cummings. JH, Christie. S, Cole. TJ. A study of fructo oligosaccharides in the prevention of travellers' diarrhoea. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2001;15:1139-1145.
Gobel H. et al., Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache. Schmerz. 2016 Jun ;30(3):295-310. Available online: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00482-016-0109-6
Jariashvili. K, Madhan. B, et al. UV damage of collagen: insights from model collagen peptides. Biopolymers. 2012 Mar;97(3):189-98.
Xiaofeng Z. et al., In Vitro Evaluation of Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of Melaleuca alternifolia Essential Oil. Biomet Res Int. 2018 ;2018: 2396109. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5960548/
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.