By Didi Aaftink
Most people love travelling. Buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm, you set off to explore and enjoy the world near and far. New surroundings offer new insight and inspiration, ensuring that you return home with your batteries fully recharged. But travel can be less than romantic.
Sometimes you don’t only return home inspired, but also infected or injured. With old adage “better safe than sorry” in mind, I’ve compiled an overview of the five main health risks while travelling.
Traffic regulations, bylaws, infrastructure and driving habits differ widely from country to country. It is therefore essential that you pay extra attention when negotiating traffic while on holiday. Read up on the regulations in advance, see how public transport works and check whether the roads are paved. If you know the local traffic bylaws, you automatically become more cautious and reduce your risk of being involved in an accident. Should you decide to rent a car, make sure you have an international driver’s license and that you’re properly insured.
Around 40% of travellers contract some form of respiratory or bowel infection during their trip. The main causes are the change in surroundings, local hygiene, water, insects and other animals, but also people. You can avoid a lot of these problems by eating and drinking with caution. And of course you should get the required vaccinations against serious diseases such as yellow fever and hepatitis. For malaria you can get a prescription. Make sure you are well informed about the risks before you set off.
Travellers who use medication should check what requirements their destination has for bringing medication into the country. (Dutch travellers are referred to www.hetcak.nl for information.) Also check which pharmacies and hospitals are connected with your health insurance provider. This will ensure that you have reliable addresses should you require medication while travelling.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)
STD? Are you serious? Yes, I am. It’s a well-known fact that common sense often takes a hike when lust comes calling. Which is why it’s not really surprising that sexually transmitted diseases rank among the top five health risks. The best way to avoid problems is to use your common sense and a condom.
Jetlag and other local conditions
The effects of jetlag can vary greatly from person to person. It is particularly annoying for business travellers who have appointments and deadlines. Try to ensure that you get into the local rhythm as quickly as possible and try to avoid sleeping pills if you can. Why? I answered this question in a previous blog: Why do we get jetlag?
Other local conditions such as climate, UV radiation, exposure to bright sunlight, extreme cold, high altitude or low air pressure can all have a negative impact on babies, children, elderly people, pregnant women and people whose resistance is low. They are more susceptible to diseases, dehydration and food infections, and it is important to keep this in mind. The KLM Travel Clinic will gladly inform you on the do’s and don’ts. For instance, if you’re going climbing or diving.
As I mentioned above: people love travelling. However, we often experience stress before and during our travels. A change of time zone can lead to sleep deprivation, which may cause you be knocked off balance more easily, especially if you suffer from depression or if you are otherwise mentally vulnerable. The keywords here are self-knowledge and flexibility. Pay close attention to yourself and your body, and act accordingly. If you look after yourself properly, it will be easier to cope with challenges, making your trip more enjoyable.
Which is a great place to end this blog: enjoyment. Bear the above risks in mind and prepare wherever you can. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a handy app with travel tips for every country (24/7 BZ reis in Dutch). But you can also find this information elsewhere online. Good preparation ensures peace of mind, which ensures maximum enjoyment.
Note: Didi Aaftink has been with KLM Health Services since 2006 as an occupational health physician. I joined the international department in 2010 and am responsible for managing the international medical care and doctors network for crews, expats and local staff in the Asia region.