Your health and wellbeing is important when travelling, especially on lengthy flights. Our guide on healthy travel includes tips on pre-holiday vaccinations, in-flight exercises to combat DVT and how to avoid jet lag after your long-haul journey.
There's plenty more advice in our Planning Your Flight section, covering pets, visas, baggage and other aspects of travel.
Before You Go
Health is a big factor in both domestic and international travel. If you’re travelling overseas, keep in mind that some diseases eradicated in Australia may still be present at your holiday destination.
Before flying, make an appointment with your GP to discuss potential health risks in the country you are travelling to and receive necessary vaccinations. The most common destinations requiring preventative vaccinations include countries in Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
Some countries also require you to be immunised before visiting, so it’s a good idea to carry your vaccination certificates. Immunisations protect you from such diseases as encephalitis, yellow fever, typhoid fever, malaria and influenza.
Travelling with medications
Prescription medicines available at home are not always legal in other countries. If you do need to travel with medication, it’s important to check its legality by contacting your GP or your destination's embassy.
You may need a letter from your doctor certifying your medical condition and the medication required, as well as stating how much medication you are carrying and confirming its medicinal use.
Medication should be taken in your carry-on baggage, but remember liquids, gels and aerosols must not exceed 100ml.
Children medicine and non-prescription medicine (‘over the counter’ items such as low-dosage pain killers, cough mixtures and allergy tablets) are generally fine to take to other countries, but medication containing substances such as codeine or pseudoephedrine can often cause problems.
Always keep your medication in its original packaging with pharmacy labels attached.
Do I really need travel insurance?
The old credo "it’s better to be safe than sorry" is appropriate when it comes to travel insurance. Receiving medical treatment abroad can be extremely costly, sometimes cutting your bank balance down tens of thousands of dollars.
Travel insurance covers you for a number of different mishaps including medical expenses, theft, lost luggage and even trip cancellations.
CoverMore has 20-plus years experience with travel insurance and offers a range of helpful features including 24-hour emergency assistance and rental car excess insurance.
Chat to your consultant about adding travel insurance to your holiday plans to ensure a safeguard against accidents that could sour your holiday.
More tips for travel planning:
During Your Flight
A number of factors can impact your health when flying for several hours at a time including the cabin pressure and inactivity. Although there is only a small chance of a health of safety risk, you can arrive at your destination feeling a little worse for wear with stiff muscles after sitting for a prolonged period.
Some in-flight exercises to alleviate muscle ache and improve circulation include:
- Foot circles – lift your foot and draw small circles with your toes for about 15 seconds per foot
- Knee raises – lift your leg with your knee bent and squeeze your thigh muscle. You should feel this in your lower back as well
- Neck and shoulder rolls – very gently raise your shoulders up, back and down. Loll your head forward and slowly rotate it around
- Walk down the aisle every hour or so
How to avoid DVT
DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) is a condition where a blood clot forms, usually in the legs, after long periods of sitting still. Studies have shown the risk of DVT can double on long-haul flights over four hours.
Blood clots make it harder for the blood to pump back to your heart and can result in fatigue, backaches and swollen feet. If you have a history of blood clots in your family or have a trait that increases the risk of DVT, chat to your GP about some preventative measures.
You can purchase compression socks or stockings from most pharmacies, which gently squeeze the legs and promote blood circulation.
Combating Travel Sickness
If you suffer from motion sickness, flying can sometimes be a bit of a bumpy ride. Around 30 per cent of people suffer from some form of travel sickness, causing them to become nauseous, sweaty and dizzy.
Expert tips for combating motion sickness:
- Keep your head still as much as possible
- Sip cool water and make sure your fan is on you
- Take travel calm tablets or ginger lollies
- Stick to light meals and avoid alcohol
- Keep that travel sick bag handy – just in case
Passengers with sinus problems or who have recently had a cold or flu can also experience discomfort when flying due to the changes in cabin pressure, particularly when the aircraft begins to descend.
Some ways to help with sore sinuses or blocked ears include using saline nasal sprays, taking antihistamines around 30-minutes before descent or sucking on medicated lozenges.
Aircraft cabins have a very low humidity level (less than 25 per cent). This can cause your nose, throat or eyes to become slightly irritated and your skin to feel especially dry.
Drinking plenty of water or juice is highly advised, but coffee, tea and alcohol should only be consumed in moderation as they have a tendency to dehydrate your body.
If you wear contact lenses, it’s recommended you take them out when flying. Passengers are encouraged to use skin moisturisers to keep feeling fresh and comfortable, but be sure your moisturiser is an acceptable size to be taken on board (100ml or less).
Tips for beating jet lag
The dreaded ‘jet lag’ is the bane of many traveller’s existence. Not everyone experiences jet lag; it depends on how many time zones you cross during your journey.
Jet lag symptoms include insomnia, lethargy, loss of or erratic appetite, headaches and irritability, and can affect adults and children alike. Generally speaking, it takes approximately one day per time zone crossed for the body's clock to readjust.
Our expert tips for combating jet lag:
- Get a good night’s sleep before you fly
- Exercise lightly when you arrive
- Read before going to bed to help relax and aid sleep
- Avoid alcohol and coffee when flying
- Fly direct or at night where possible
- Don’t sleep too soon after you arrive at your destination
- Try not to book anything too full-on for your first day after flying
Foreign food, drink and hygiene
Depending on where you’re travelling, there are certain health precautions to keep in mind. In many countries the water is not safe to drink and you will need to buy bottled water at all times.
Tea, coffee, soft-drink, juice, beer and other alcohol are usually safe to drink, but try to avoid dairy.
High risk areas for unclean drinking water that can carry diseases like e-coli, cholera and salmonella include Mexico, many parts of Central and South America, India, many countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East.
Freezing water does not kill bacteria, but boiling is effective at killing most parasites.
'Cook it, wash it, peel it, or forget it'
Be aware that safe-food practices are not the same everywhere or may not be present at all. Sometimes just eating food you are not used to can wreck havoc on your digestive system.
You don’t have to miss out on trying different cuisines – that’s one of the best parts of travelling – but you should be mindful of what you consume.
Food with a higher risk of contamination includes cold meat platters and buffets, dairy products like cheese and yoghurt, seafood, eggs and meat that is undercooked. Go with your gut feeling when it comes to food vendors or restaurants – if it looks unclean or unkempt, avoid it.
Stick to freshly cooked food, fruits that you can peel yourself and sealed foods if you are worried about getting sick overseas.
One of the best ways to travel healthy is by washing your hands as much as possible and carrying hand-sanitiser or antibacterial wipes with you.