Vacations are important—to relax and refresh, disconnect from devices and reconnect with family.
Yet a recent study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that American workers are choosing to not take an average of five vacation days per year. As anyone who has missed vacation time knows, the result can be work burnout and chronic stress—which is associated with high blood pressure, weakened immune system, insomnia, depression and anxiety.
So take your vacation. And to ensure that all goes well, plan ahead to make sure your health is covered while you’re away from home.
If you’re travelling to another country, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel site (cdc.gov/travel) for an extensive list of countries that require visitors to be vaccinated for certain diseases. This site also provides plenty of country-specific other health tips, such as taking antimalarial medication, being extra watchful about food and water cleanliness and avoiding areas with mosquitos.
But if you’re traveling within the United States, vacation preparation is simpler.
“Take into consideration the health of all family members,” suggests Dr. Christian Lising, a board certified family physician at St. Jude Hospital. “Pack extra medications like Benadryl or Claritin for allergies and an inhaler for those with asthma. Also consider aspirin, Motrin, anti-nausea medication and eye drops for anyone who wears contacts.”
Discuss with your doctor if you need other prescription medications if you are prone to infections. And if you’re planning on doing a lot of walking or hiking, pack thick bandages in case of blisters, and calamine lotion to treat bug bites or poison ivy rashes.
Of course, a trip to New York City requires different items than a camping adventure, where you could be far away from the nearest store or emergency room.
“I recently took my son’s Boy Scout group camping, and brought a complete first aid backpack, with tons of bandages, suture kits, casts, splints and meds,” says Dr. Lising, who is a UC Irvine School of Medicine graduate. “It’s all about being prepared.”
And consider buying short-term travelers insurance before you head out on vacation, he says, to make sure you’re covered for doctor and ER visits as well as costs for surgery, tests, medications and a hospital stay. The travel guide book company Lonely Planet offers tips for finding travel health insurance on its website, lonelyplanet.com. Injuries involving some high-risk sports, for instance, might not be covered by travel health insurance, according to the website.
Who and when to call?
Once you’ve planned your trip, identify the nearest emergency rooms on your route, and bring your doctor’s contact information with you, in case you or a family member falls ill while away, suggests Dr. Lising.
How do you know when to reach out for medical help (aside from an obvious injury)? “If something doesn’t look right, go to a doctor or ER right away rather than wait,” says Dr. Lising.
Most medical groups arrange for doctors to cover each other in case your own doctor is unavailable. “We all cover each other in our group,” says Dr. Lising. Many provide a hotline staffed by nurses who field calls first then refer them to appropriate doctors when necessary. Talk to your doctor before you leave—he or she might prefer to communicate with patients via email.
Keep in mind that doctors need to take time off too, so don’t be surprised if you can’t connect with your own personal physician in case of a vacation health emergency. And remember that when your doctor does return from vacation, he or she may need to attend a heavy load of patients who’ve been waiting to see them.
A lot of people are eager for that personal contact with their doctors, which naturally takes time, and can cause inevitable delays. If your doctor is a few minutes late for your appointment, it might be that he or she is giving another patient needed time. “One patient was telling me about his young son who had just passed away,” says Dr. Lising, “so I wasn’t going to tell him that he only had 15 minutes talk to me.”