Staying Healthy
Traveling for a year? Here's our thoughts and decisions on how to prepare for those nasty little (or big) medical issues that we might face along the way.

On a trip like this, somebody’s bound to get sick so it’s best to be prepared, but taking it too far can cost a bundle and really weigh down the luggage. What to pack? Obviously, it starts with a bit of research. Where are you going and what are the risks?

We have 23 countries on our list and they’re not your typical first-world medical standards type of places. OK, New Zealand is but Cambodia? Namibia? Nepal? With Ma Jones (Susan’s mom) watching we to be prepared. The CDC (Centers for Disease Controls) website is a great place to start but at first glance we nearly canceled the trip before we started seriously planning. On reading through this site, you’d think the rest of the world was on the brink of death. Of the 23 countries in our plans, all of them have at least one “Hasn’t that been completely eradicated?” diseases. So we turned to our family doctor and asked his opinion as well as set him up to be our on-call doctor in case of emergencies. We also researched insurance policies that cover world travel and include emergency evacuation and return to the US if necessary.

For insurance, we choose HTH, a branch of Aetna, who offers a worldwide medical coverage policy. It was designed for expat workers who travel extensively but covered any issue we might have. It includes access to doctors worldwide and evacuation coverage to get us back to the US in case of emergency issues. The policy was great for peace of mind but was not cheap at $800 per month for both of us.

Next up, dealing with immunizations. Of our 23 countries, 20 were listed as at-risk for Malaria. Some had risk of Polio, others of hepatitis, Yellow Fever and a host of other things you don’t want. So the first line of defense is getting all the required shots. I’ve had a few of those shots from previous travels so baby was more of a pin cushion than me. We started with Tetanus boosters, HepA, HepB, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Polio boosters and Measles. We also needed a HepB booster at 6 months to gain lifetime immunity. Since we didn’t get the shots until we were close to leaving we arranged to have the 2nd HepB shot somewhere along our journey.

Once we were inoculated for nearly everything known to man, the next big concern is Malaria risk. Be warned, the CDC website lists nearly every country we visited as at-risk for Malaria. Our nice travel doctor wrote a prescription for 90 malaria tablets but warned us that we need a liver test after 3 months to make sure the meds aren’t destroying our livers! That’s comforting. I told baby there was no way I was taking malaria meds through 20 countries if there’s risk of destroying any major organ. I heard countless times that she “won’t drag my malaria ridden ass around the world” so we needed to find some solution. After much research and talking to local experts in each area, we decided to take the meds in SE Asia and Botswana. These are the countries where we discovered Malaria is endemic and a current medical issue in the specific areas we are visiting. For everywhere else, we chose to safeguard with a combination of mosquito nets, Deet and proper clothing (long sleeves and pant legs).

For the rest of our medications, we started with a truckload of stuff from antibiotics to zyrtech. My advice: go light... Pack a month supply of Malaria meds (if you’re going into a country with Malaria problems) and two full course treatments of antibiotics (just in case of dysentery or some other nasty stuff). A few other must-haves are ibuprofen, immodium and a couple packets of rehydration salts.  We originally packed a good multivitamin thinking we might not eat very well in some places soon found that was not the case and threw away several bottles to lighten our load. We included Tylenol PM as a mild sleep aid, earplugs (A MUST), and a few band-aides and a topical antibiotic. We were amazed to find most of these things along our travels and given that medical supplies are much cheaper outside the US, there is little benefit other than peace-of-mind to load up on all this stuff from the start. 

Finally, everybody has a favorite toothpaste, deodorant, suntan lotion, etc. Can you find these around the world? Who knows. We started out way, way overboard. Baby made up 3 “care packages” with pills, creams, ointments, soaps, you name it. She earned the name “little miss just-in-case” over these care packages. The idea was to give these to our friend Teri and have her ship them to us in several locations around the world so we didn’t have to carry it all from the start. We had the first care package sent (at a cost of $185) but I have to say we’ve thrown out more of it than we’ve actually used. My advice on this stuff is go very light on it. We found acceptable brands everywhere and could have avoided a lot of the liquids weighing down our luggage.

As I mentioned above, prescription drugs outside the US are FAR less expensive than in the states. The malaria pills we bought in Thailand, India and Botswana were less than 1/10th the cost versus the US (and it was the same medication). Cipro or other antibiotics were the same. We also found rehydration salts and various other aides along the way. Overall, access to needed basic meds were much easier  and cheaper than we thought.

After a year of travel, I’m happy to say that our biggest issues were a bad case of the runs for me (in Cambodia) and a bronchial infection (in Venezuela) for baby. We got through these easily with the immodium and Cipro we brought along from the start.

Check the CDC Travel Website for info on your destinations