A shot in the arm (well – multiple shots) . . .

As we planned our world trip, one of the many things on the to-do list was to protect our health. Since the adventure included so many places, there was a lot to research.

Travel Vaccines

The first step was to determine which countries require vaccines in order to obtain a visa. Next we looked at health risks in all of the countries on the itinerary. We decided to go to Passport Health for advice.

When you schedule an appointment at Passport Health, they ask for a list of countries you will visit. When you arrive, they provide a customized book with health information on each country. The book also explains routine adult immunizations along with common and uncommon diseases like malaria and cholera. The nurse practitioner reviewed the book in detail and provided costs for each vaccine and medication. You can get vaccines on the spot or make a follow up appointment.

Michael had received a majority of the vaccines when he was in the army, so he only needed a few. I got the hepatitis B series before we went to Africa a few years ago, but that was it. So, I had a lot of shots to get – a lot. We also got anti malaria pills and antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea, just in case. Most of the vaccines and prescriptions were covered by our health insurance, so we only got a few at Passport Health.

First Aid Travel Kit

After getting poked in the arm a bunch of times, the next item on our to-do list was to create a first aid kit. We have learned from experience that the last thing you want to do while traveling is spend time looking for antibacterial or rash cream. We’ve both gotten lots of bug bites and skin irritations when visiting places like Belize and Tulum and it really helps to have a remedy handy. But what if something more serious happens? Our first aid kit has a few extra items that will help out in a bad situation. A friend was traveling in Africa and needed to get a yellow fever shot before he could enter Uganda. When he got the boarder, he saw that the medical provider was re-using needles… Bad, Bad, Bad! Needless to say, he turned around and did not go to Uganda. Michael noticed the same thing in Thailand while on an Army Med-Cap mission. Some Thai doctors and dentists re-used needles; just poke, poke, poke until the needle broke.

Med Kit

First aid kit

Below are a few items we included in our first aid kit.

  • Compression and triangular bandages
  • Smelling salts
  • Wire tourniquet
  • Burn gel
  • Bite and rash cream
  • Cipro and Z-tabs
  • Water purification tablets
  • Red Cross toothache medication
  • Multi-tool knife
  • Medical tape
  • Chem light
  • Epi Pen (for anaphylactic shock treatment)
  • Matches
  • Safety pins
  • 2 syringes

Prescription Medication

Finally, we made plans to ensure we had enough prescription medication and written backup prescriptions for medicine and eyeglasses, just in case. Speaking with his doctor and a pharmacist, Michael learned how to obtain a supply of prescription medication for the whole trip. Health insurance will only pay for a 90 day supply of prescription medication at a time, then you have to reorder for another 90 day supply. This was not going to work so well while traveling. By having the doctor double the dosage and splitting the pill with a pill splitter, you turn a 90 day supply into a 180 day supply for the same cost to Michael under his insurance plan. By ordering the double dosage supply 3 months before leaving, and re-ordering another at the same double dosage when allowed at the beginning of the 3rd month by health insurance provided enough surplus for the entire 8 1/2 month trip.  The other option is to just buy the needed RX and self pay, but this way is EXSPENSIVE, potentially costing thousands.

Hydration / Drinking Water

To ensure we would have access to safe drinking water, we brought two items that we could use to purify tap or other water.

Travel Health Tips

If you are planning to visit any foreign countries, here are some tips that may be useful.

  • Start planning early. Some vaccines require multiple shots that must be spread over a period of several weeks or months.
  • Check with your health insurance provider to see which vaccines are covered. Some insurance providers cover standard adult immunizations like measles and hepatitis A. Call to see if you can get these at your primary care physician or Minute Clinic. For the rest, go to a travel clinic.
  • Don’t forget about any medication you take regularly. If there is something you can’t live without, ask your doctor for a written backup prescription in case you need it.
  • If you wear glasses or contacts, also get a written prescription in case you need to get a replacement.
  • Pack a travel first aid kit. Here are suggestions from Red Cross and Web MD.
  • Consider getting travel insurance.

Travel Health Resources

Vaccine requirements for visas

Adult vaccine recommendations from CDC

If you are planning an adventure trip, see How to Make a Survival Kit: A Complete Checklist

Important Note: This post is not intended to provide any medical advice. It is an account of our research and planning. You should consult with a medical professional for medical advice that is right for you.