10 things to keep you healthy in a gap year
Many students decide to take a year off after school before committing themselves to university or a job. It's a great way of seeing the world or getting some experience before moving on the the next stage. And increasingly, older people are also feeling the urge due to unexpected unemployment or just sheer burnout, to take time out and a break.
So you've got your passport, your tickets and your money. What about your health when you go abroad? Fancy some Delhi belly? Some sunburn? Or even worse, a dose of malaria? Here's a few basic rules about staying healthy on the road.
1. Have a check up
Go to see your GP for a quick check. It'll be fairly summary but he'll be able to tell you what jabs you need and general health precautions to take. You could also go to the dentist and check your eyes. My wisdom teeth are playing up at the moment, that's fine, I live in Somerset. But do you want your wisdom teeth to play up in Thailand? (nothing against Thai dentists, they are probably very good, but what's your spoken Thai like?)
2. The sun is hot
There are large parts of the world where it gets a lot hotter than in our Northern European temperate climate. It's regularly 40+ degrees anywhere between Dammas and Tehran, in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa. Don't think you just have to pile on the factor 50, you can't go sunbathing for very long periods in countries where the temperature is in the late 30s. Even less between 11am and 3pm. What do they say about mad dogs and Englishmen? Also, if you have a heavy night on the town without much sleep, it would be very easy to fall asleep on the beach next day. I think we all know that's not a good idea.
3. Don't forget your medicine
I know most of you are fit and healthy but if you do have to take medicine regularly - even just for hay fever - make sure you have adequate supplies of them and pack it in your hand luggage.
Did you know that some some prescription and even over the counter drugs, including inhalers, are illegal in some countries? If you need to take medication you should ensure that you have a note from your doctor and that the medicine is in its original packaging. Consult the embassies of the countries you are visiting before you leave.
4. Keeping fit on the plane
Without being tabloid-style alarmist, there is some danger in sitting in one place for long periods, especially if you're flying to New Zealand. Get up and walk around regularly, even if you're in the window seat it and annoys your neighbour. Your legs will love you more than he doesn't. It would be a good idea to have a long walk before getting on the plane as well just to get the blood circulating and drink plenty - of water, the other stuff doesn't count! - to keep yourself hydrated. And stretch your legs whenever you can.
5. European Health Insurance Card
A replacement for the old E111 form, the European Health Insurance Card entitles travellers in the European Economic Area or Switzerland to reduced or free emergency care. Apply for an EHIC online at www.dh.gov.uk/travellers, by phone on 0845 606 2030 or at post offices. However, it's only available to residents of the European Economic Area or Switzerland and it really doesn't replace proper travel insurance.
6. Stomach ailments
In Europe and the US, you can generally ignore any "don't drink the water" warnings. European water is often better than ours. In other places however precautions should be taken. Stomach problems are the most common source of misery endured by travellers and often go beyond a simple case of the runs.
They are often caused by dirty water or food and poor hygiene practices such as reheating cold food. They can also be caused over-exposure to the sun, too much alcohol or too much fresh fruit. Diarrhoea can be mild but, if it develops blood or pus, it becomes dysentery. Then you'll be in trouble and you'll need urgent medical attention.
Prevention is the best policy. Where possible, drink water from a bottle but check the seal hasn't been broken. Failing this, check the tap water is safe to drink or boil it. Street food can be great in many parts of the world, but be wary. A bit of caution may save you a lot of problems. Also avoid ice cubes as these are often made from tap water. Make sure any vegetables you eat are cooked properly and that meat and fish are very well cooked.
7. Things to do if you get ill
Drink as much as you can, as you'll lose a lot of fluid: flat or carbonated drinks, tea (with sugar), soups (with salt) and clean water. Definately no booze.
Get treatment ASAP. Find out the local emergency number and the address of the nearest hospital when you arrive overseas. Your rep/local guide or hotel/guesthouse will know. This information could help save a life.
8. Don't go out without a cover
If you're going to party then there's every chance you may be having sex. Treat it as you would a Friday or Saturday night at home and take the condoms with you. They're not always easy to find in many parts of the world and when you do find them, the quality may vary. Always check the expiry date and throw away any that are out of date, you know the consequences of failing to do so.
9. Take out proper travel insurance
We all think we're invincible and "it won't happen to us", but just as an example, every year thousands if people are airlifted or flown home to safety at a cost of thousands. There's a far better chance of that happening than you winning the lottery. Can you afford it? Get travel insurance cover just for peace of mind.
10. Take a first aid kit
Vital. From everything to repairing cuts and bruises to avoid infection later to paracetamol and malaria tablets. Depending on where you go it's contents will vary, but take one.