Eight years ago, I trekked the Ghorepani Ghandruk circuit in Nepal with our boys, two and four years old.
Some (most) said I was mad. Luckily my adventurous husband wasn’t one of them.
When the time came to leave, I felt confident my family was in good hands. My knowledge of travel medicine, my experience gained through many overseas trips, and some good ol’ fashioned planning held us in good stead.
So, allow me to share some tips with you.
Here are my overseas travel health tips presented in two categories: before and during your trip.
Your after will be spent reminiscing about the fun times you had for years to come.
Before: What to Consider Before You Travel
You can never be 100% prepared for all scenarios, but you can certainly try.
Consider Your State of Health for Each Destination
We were all fit and healthy before leaving for Nepal, though our youngest did have asthma. We carried him most of the time – lucky bugger.
We also chose the less strenuous route from a few options we had. A great idea in hindsight, especially considering how exhausting it was!
Forget the physically active trips if you have a history of heart problems, a recent serious illness, or if you struggle to climb a flight of stairs – it’s just not worth it. What a great excuse to laze by the pool in some fancy resort, eh?
Pack Your Regular Medications
I put together a practical medical travel kit that covered all the basics, including the obvious asthma puffers and medication for asthma flares.
For the kids, it also contained:
- antihistamines for allergies;
- paracetamol or ibuprofen for fever and aches;
- 1% hydrocortisone cream for insect bites and rashes;
- oral re-hydration packets, and
- a thermometer.
We also found it handy to have some baby wipes for cleaning on the go.
My husband and I packed for common travellers’ problems, such as:
- anti-diarrhoea medication;
- general antibiotics;
- simple dressings and bandages;
- 50+ sunscreen;
- DEET strength insect repellent, and
- anti-motion sickness medication.
I’m sure we forgot something…
Visit your GP or travel health clinic for help preparing a medical travel kit suited to your destination.
Avoid buying medication overseas, as these can be fake or falsely labelled.
If you’re on the contraceptive pill, be conscious that some factors, such as gastroenteritis and other antibiotics, might make it less effective when travelling. Different time zones can make it easy to forget a medication dose.
Get Travel Insurance
Don’t step foot out of Australia without travel insurance.
Travelling overseas without insurance is a recipe for disaster – ask the thousands of uninsured ‘indestructible’ teens who have come off their scooters in Kuta, now in debt or literally scarred for life.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), daily hospital costs in Southeast Asia often surpass $800.
DFAT also regularly coordinate medical evacuations from Bali, which exceed $60,000. Yikes!
Accidents easily managed in Australia may be difficult to treat in other countries, especially with limited hospital quality and doctor training.
Many travellers have died overseas during simple procedures due to secondary infections.
Check if your travel insurer covers pre-existing conditions. Also, be aware that most insurers won’t cover scooter-related accidents unless you have a valid Australian motorcycle licence.
Visit Your GP
Even being a doctor myself, albeit a bit less experienced than I am now, I took my family to our GP before leaving.
We received all the proper vaccines for Nepal, including for hepatitis A, typhoid, and rabies. The latter was essential for us as children are at higher risk of being bitten by animals, making them more likely to be exposed to the virus.
Luckily we didn’t need anti-malarial medications as none are suitable for children as young as ours.
See your GP early, as you must get some vaccines up to two months before travel. And don’t forget to bring along your itinerary – any good GP can advise on the proper precautions for each destination.
During: what to look out for at your destination
Another important lesson I learnt travelling, with or without kids, is to expect the unexpected. Here are a few things to look out for.
Nepal had some rather questionable forms of transport and dubious road conditions. We played it safe and erred on the side of caution – even if it did take us a bit longer to get from A to B.
However, road accidents are one of Australian travellers’ biggest causes of injury and fatalities.
Local laws can be pretty lax as far as seatbelts, helmets, and road rules are concerned.
Don’t always choose the quickest and cheapest form of transport. Take your sweet time and be open to some terrific cultural experiences. Oh, and give the scooters a wide berth.
The first thing we did at each new lodging was promptly kid-proof the room. You can’t get too carried away, or you’ll drive yourself mad.
We check for dodgy power points, unsafe window openings, balcony access, and door locks.
People tend to let their guard down when holidaying overseas. While this is how it should be, it’s a good idea to keep checking your surroundings.
Taking risks you wouldn’t at home, trusting ‘super-friendly’ locals, and hitting the booze too hard can get you into sticky situations.
Always practise safe sex. The prevalence of STIs and HIV is much higher in different countries. Have fun and use protection.
Food and Water Safety
Tap water is unsuitable for drinking in most developing countries, including Nepal. Even though we saw many locals drinking the water, we avoided it like the plague.
Diarrhoea, giardia, typhoid, and cholera aren’t welcome travel companions.
Food quality and preparation also need a mention. The World Health Organisation recommends food precautions when travelling overseas, including washing your hands regularly, avoiding uncooked food, cooking food thoroughly, and holding food temperatures below 5°C and above 60°C.
Keep in mind that the local tap water will likely be used to wash vegetables and make ice.
Animal and Mosquito Safety
Children love animals and are as curious as the beasts themselves, but should take extreme caution to avoid contact.
That temple-dwelling monkey is only a cute little fur ball until it bites your kid, and you’re off to the local hospital for the rest of the day.
Malaria, zika virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and chikungunya are all horrible diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.
Vaccines and preventative medications only exist for malaria and Japanese encephalitis, yet complete protection is impossible.
Additional precautions against mosquito bites are a must. Use insect repellent, avoid still bodies of water, and sleep under nets.
Don’t waste your money on mosquito repellent wristbands; they’ll only stop your wrist from getting bitten.
Use only DEET-based insect repellent when holidaying in tropical locales.
I hope I haven’t scared anyone from travelling to any of the wonderful far-flung destinations, especially with kids in tow. Having the time of your life just takes a bit of planning and common sense.
Of course, unforeseen things happen, but my philosophy is that they can happen anywhere.
If you limit yourself because of the unknown, you’ll never leave the couch, right?
Enjoy your travels and make some great memories!
Dr Tania Nishimura is a local GP at Doctors of South Melbourne. She’s not currently seeing new patients.