(Fig West Chester, July 2012)

Your bags are packed, your accommodations are booked and your travel arrangements are in place. You think that you've remembered to pack everything you need and accounted for all the nuances that you may encounter specific to your final destination. But, without doubt there is always that one important item that you forgot, or that one detail that you neglected to consider.

These issues can unfortunately arise even when making a simple pilgrimage to the Jersey Shore to dip your feet in the sand for the weekend. Not to mention when traveling outside the region or even internationally.

I thought that in this time of frequent traveling, both to and from the beach (or whatever local attraction suits your fancy) and overseas, it would be fitting to provide you with some advice to make you an informed and prepared traveler, ensuring safe arrival to your destination. Barbara Guenst, MSN, CRNP, is the director of the Travel Medicine Program at Chester County Hospital's Occupational Health Center. Barbara, as a certified travel health expert and frequent traveler, has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to travel and was kind enough to impart some of her wisdom onto me for my inaugural blog entry with Fig.

Barbara began by enforcing that when traveling abroad, especially to exotic, tropical or developing countries, there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration. "A number of vaccinations may be required, depending on your destination," says Barbara. "Vaccinations and health precautions for certain destinations can change frequently, and it is important that you consult a travel professional to be sure that you are receiving the proper advice."

A travel medicine practitioner, like Barbara, will not only provide you with the most appropriate vaccinations and inoculations for your age and gender, but will also take time to review your itinerary with you, give you advice on what to pack, warn you about locations, foods or situations to avoid and educate you on the current political and environmental temperature of your destination. Most importantly, they are also available to answer any questions or concerns that you may have prior to your departure.

So, that is great advice if you are setting out to visit the Guadalajara next month, but what if you are just embarking on a quick trip to the mountains for a relaxing weekend in the woods? What should you take into account when preparing for a trip like this?

Barbara notes that no matter where your destination, there are some staple items that you should be sure to pack:

  • Sunscreen -- broad spectrum SPF 30 or above
  • Bug repellant with deet or picaridin -- Nothing over 50% deet and 20% picaridin
  • Sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection, a hat and lightweight long-sleeve clothing to protect you from the sun
  • Drinking water, if it is not available where you are traveling
  • Medical kit containing the following items:
    - bandages and adhesive tape
    - antiseptic wound cleanser or alkaline soap
    - scissors and safety pins
    - emollient (lubricant) eye drops
    - antihistamine tablet
    - nasal decongestant
    - oral rehydration salts
    - simple analgesic (e.g., paracetamol)
    - sterile dressing
    - clinical thermometer
    - earplugs
    - tweezers

She also gave some tips to make sure that you are well prepared:

  • Fill any prescriptions that you need prior to your departure.
  • Bring copies of the prescriptions with generic names of the medicine.
  • Pack light -- packing half of what you think you may need is usually enough.
  • Leave your travel information and/or how you can be contacted with a family member or friend.
  • Leave behind your fine jewels, large sums of cash and expensive clothing -- these items may mark you a target for thieves.
  • Lock your passport, cash and credit cards in the hotel safe, if available.
  • Make copies of important documents and keep them in a separate bag than the originals.

As always, it is best to do your research on any location to which you are traveling. Find the best way to get to your final destination in advance. For example, when catching a cab from the airport, know how to find an official driver and how much the fare should cost you. Or, if you are driving, know what route you are going to take and what areas you should avoid driving through.

Learn also about the local laws and customs of your destination. And, don't travel alone unless necessary. There is always safety in numbers.

To learn more about how you can prepare for your next trip safely, you can visit someone like Barbara at The Occupational Health Center, or you can do some research online. Here are some reputable sites to get you started:

Happy (and healthy) travels!

-- Julie Funk, MS, RD, CDE, LDE

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