When it’s time to travel, you likely fall into one of three camps.
Maybe you’re a meticulous planner, using spreadsheets, apps, and alerts to secure your information, stick to your schedule, and get the whole crew from point A to Point B without ever having to utter, “I just know I have my confirmation number somewhere in my 17,293 unread emails.”
Maybe you’re easy-peasy-breezy. You take your time. You go with the flow. You wander into a 37-person airport Starbucks line 7 minutes before boarding, because, hey, it’ll all work out.
Or maybe you fall somewhere in between—trying to maintain a balance between extreme flexibility and having your family make TikToks about your color-coded and laminated documents that fit neatly into your 9-pocket travel pants.
Whatever our differences, we all tend to have similar goals when we travel: Do new things, spend time with people we care about, and get a chance to relax and recharge.
But one thing’s for sure, no matter how you approach travel. Your body gives zero hoots that you’re on the road.
So what if you’re not near a major medical center, so what if you’re in a foreign country and have no idea how international medical systems work, so what if you’re about to embark on a 12-hour flight and your intestines decide they really don’t like the contents of what’s inside and have therefore ordered an immediate biological dismissal?
Health mishaps happen—often when you least want them to.
For as much fun, joy, and pleasure that travel can—and should—bring, we also know that so many kinds of medical hiccups can not only sour a journey, but they can also lead to serious health implications. That’s why it’s crucial for you to add “health check” as part of your travel-planning approach. At Griffin Concierge Medical, we can assist you and customize a plan based on your medical history, the location where you’re traveling, and any other special needs.
“The thing with travel is that there’s always a level of stress,” says Timothy J. Nobles, D.O., GCM Physician. “Whether it’s getting in the car for a few hours or on an airplane, we all have this innate feeling of emotion. From a medical standpoint, we want our members to check in with us so we can guide them to best get them prepared for whatever travel they’ll be doing.”
We certainly hope that you never need medical attention when you’re traveling, but taking time on the front end can certainly save you some trouble and distress if you do find yourself needing to address a problem.
Every person is different in terms of medical needs, but there are some common things to consider when you’re getting ready for the road (or air or sea):
A Travel Pack
Every traveler needs one of our recommended travel packs. It contains medications (both over-the-counter and prescription) customized for you, so that you can address a variety of non-emergency medical situations. “It’s your toolkit that we can guide you on,” says Debbie St. Clair, M.D., GCM Medical Director.
A travel pack usually contains things like anti-nausea medication, antibiotics in case you get a respiratory infection, medication for a urinary tract infection or yeast infection, and a steroid pack that can be used for allergic reactions or a rash. GCM can also provide specific medications depending on your destination, such as those for sea sickness or altitude sickness.
We also recommend bringing Vitamin C to help boost your immune system and a probiotic to help with digestion, especially if you’re eating new-to-you foods.
These packs are ideally put together before you go, because GCM is not able to prescribe internationally.
“If you take this kit with you, then you’re prepared, so it’s that feeling that ‘I have a plan and I’m not going to be left hopeless and helpless in another country where I just don’t know how to navigate or where to get help,’” Dr. St. Clair says.
A Plan for GI Trouble
The issue that comes up most often is anything to do with gastrointestinal distress, says Dr. St. Clair, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. “Whether you’re traveling internationally or domestically, I think it’s a good idea to have an arsenal on hand,” she says. Medications in your pack are your “break glass in an emergency” aid. Some antibiotics can calm down the inflammation that’s associated with traveler’s diarrhea, a common worry among travelers.
Recently, Dr. St. Clair had a patient who was ready to travel on a nine-hour flight back to the U.S. from an international destination. Right before she got to the foreign airport, she started to experience GI issues, specifically an upset stomach and diarrhea. She remembered that she had her travel pack and took a few things to help calm everything down.
She was able to make the flight home without incident, get home, and get comfortable.
“She was so happy she had a travel pack, and she said she’ll never go anywhere again without it, Dr. St. Clair says. “It’s a safety blanket.”
You should also keep a variety of info easily accessible, such as:
- A list of vaccines, especially if you travel internationally
- A list of medication you take, in case you are in a medical emergency and doctors need to know what you’re taking
- Emergency contact information of relatives
- GCM’s contact information, as we are here to help you navigate your medical issues even when you’re away.
In a case last summer, a patient had been bitten by a dog in a remote area of a country 12 hours from their home time zone. GCM provided some advice, looked at photos of the bite, and guided the patient on next steps. Luckily, the bite wasn’t too severe and didn’t require much care. “Start with us. We have a network across the country and the world that has provided assistance to our members,” Dr. Nobles says.
A Nod to Healthy Habits
When you’re traveling, maybe you want to ditch your normal healthy-habit routine (do we see a margarita or three in your future?). And that’s ok. Now, we all know that your body can’t just erase any damage that’s done just because you’re on holiday, but you also don’t need to feel like every action you take has to be a textbook-case of perfectly healthy behavior.
That said, keeping up with healthy habits can also make you happy, zip up your energy, lower your stress, and, well, make you feel darn good when you’re out and about. Here are some of the healthy habits we recommend you keep in mind when you’re on the go.
Wash up: It’s smart to practice good hand hygiene while you’re away (and always) to help limit the spread of germs and viruses, Dr. Nobles says.
Stick to a schedule: Sleep can be challenging, especially when you’re in different time zones. Good sleep hygiene—staying on a consistent sleep-and-rise schedule—can be helpful.
Pack that water bottle: Staying well-hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for on-the-go wellness, Dr. Nobles says, because it helps with muscle fatigue, sleep, energy, and so many other aspects of good health. It’s often one of the things we forget to do, especially when traveling. Adding in electrolytes—minerals that support various bodily functions—to water can be beneficial as well.
Take some quiet time: Dr. St. Clair is an early riser, and she keeps that schedule even when she travels. “I’m a runner, so I get out and explore the city I’m visiting,” Dr. St. Clair says. “I try to keep that on my schedule because I think it helps me.” She uses the time to get out some energy, meditate, have time to herself, and have a better mindset for her day.
Don’t overindulge: Travel should be fun and joyous, of course, so just a little thought and planning can prevent you from overdoing it (i.e. ahead of time, plan out the meals when you’ll try to stay healthy and pick a few where you may stray a bit—the planning piece will make it less likely that you’ll order foot-high pancake stacks at every breakfast). “If this is a vacation, you can definitely indulge,” Dr. Nobles says, “just make sure to get back to your routine when you get home.”