10 ways to make sure you have a healthy and safe summer holiday
If you're packing for your annual trip abroad, be properly prepared, writes Julia Molony
It's the time of year when we pack our bags and head abroad in our droves in search of sun and fun. Make sure you're making the right kind of holiday memories this year by following these simple tips for a healthy, happy and incident-free trip.
1. Insurance, insurance, insurance
It sounds obvious, but astonishingly about 25% of people travel without it. Nor should people assume they are covered for everything in Europe through their European Health Insurance card either - that will only cover you in public hospitals. If you have to go to a clinic or you need to go to a specialist or get an air ambulance home, none of that is covered.
Experts regularly warn of the folly of travelling without insurance - if you need further proof just look at the number of people who have had to use fundraising platforms such as Gofundme to get an ill relative home because specialist travel via an air ambulance is so expensive. Shop around - there are great offers for travel insurance online so there really is no excuse for leaving home without it.
2. Check Your Meds
Carrying certain common over-the-counter and prescription medications - which are perfectly legal at home - could get you in trouble with the law, or even land you in jail if you have them in your luggage when visiting particular destinations, according to the Foreign Office.
Decongestants such as Sudafed and Vicks are controlled drugs in Japan. Over-the-counter remedies for coughs and colds are controlled in Qatar, while codeine is a controlled drug in both Greece and the United Arab Emirates.
If you need to take medicines away with you that are controlled in another country, you will usually be required to also carry a letter from your doctor as proof that they have been prescribed to you.
Or if you are travelling for three months or more, you may need to apply for a licence to carry them. Some substances are outlawed outright. Always check with the embassy of the country you are travelling to for more information.
3. Don't Let The Bugs Bite
Many types of biting insects are vectors for disease, spreading illnesses such as dengue, Lyme diseases and the Zika virus. Always pack a high-strength insect repellent containing at least 20% Deet, experts recommend, and take care to cover exposed skin.
Awareness about the Zika virus is particularly important for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. It is essential that pregnant women, or those considering becoming pregnant, discuss any travel plans to affected areas in advance with their healthcare provider.
It is also strongly recommended that pregnant women consider postponing their travel to affected areas, and in particular to areas classified as having an increasing or widespread transmission of the Zika virus. For further information, go to www.travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries
4. Carry a small bottle of sunscreen in your hand luggage
What people do, inevitably, when they go on holidays, especially if they have an early flight, is they arrive, they see the sun, they dump the bags and they go straight to the pool and jump in, and they burn on the first day. Of course, this is a big mistake - you're white on the first day of the holiday and then you're a write-off for three or four days because you're burnt.
Carry a small bottle of sunscreen in your hand luggage and put it on straight away. Bear in mind that when you're in holiday mode you tend to be in a different kind of mood and will let your guard down more readily, so slap on the sunscreen before you nip down to the bar for a drink.
5. Scan your important documents
Photocopy your passport, your tickets and your travel insurance documents. Either carry the hard copies with you or else, better still, save them somewhere online in your Google Drive or Dropbox, so that you can always access a copy if you need them.
6. Get appy
There are lots of apps which can provide invaluable advice and services which are worth downloading before you take off. As well as the aforementioned Travel Health Pro, which is great for health advice, it's also worth getting Google Translate - put your phone up to the signpost or menu, take a picture of it and it will translate it for you.
While Uber isn't that big in Northern Ireland, it's a different story abroad and often saves the hassle and worry of haggling over a fare.
Travellers outside the Eurozone should also download the currency apps before they go as they work offline. XE Currency works really well.
Going somewhere sunny? Prepare for a day outdoors with access to live reports on the UV levels at your location. The UVLens app recommends the best times of day to enjoy or avoid the sun, and also does a personalised skin type assessment to find out how long you might be able to spend in the sun before you reach the UV danger zone.
Want to get out of town in a hurry? Just fly somewhere, anywhere, as soon as possible? GTFO (Get The Flight Out) scans the newest and lowest airfares from online booking engine Hopper.com to reveal the best available round-trip flights leaving from your location today and tomorrow.
7. Watch what you eat
Traveller diarrhoea affects between 30-70% of holidaymakers every year, according to the 2018 edition of the Yellow Book published by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US, which also states that high risk areas include most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America.
We all know that drinking tap water should be avoided in most developing countries, even in cities. Don't swallow water in the shower and use bottled water to brush your teeth. It's also important to take care drinking freshly-squeezed juice if you haven't prepared it yourself, as the fruit may have been washed in tap water. Avoid ice in drinks, as this has likely been made with tap water.
Other high-risk food includes raw foods. "Raw fruits or vegetables may be safe if you can peel them yourself or wash them in safe (bottled or disinfected) water," advises the CDC, who also warn that salads are "especially problematic".
8. See your doctor before you go
It's a good idea to book an appointment with your GP or a travel medicine specialist a few weeks before a big trip, especially if you are travelling to far-flung locations or for an extended period of time. They can advise you about what travel vaccinations are required, prescribe anti-malarials if necessary and provide general advice about staying well while away.
9. Buckle up
Some of the risks travellers might face receive a lot of airtime, even though they're statistically pretty rare. We're hyper alert to the risk of terrorism for example, but the chances of being caught up in an attack are low. According to registers in the US, the biggest cause of mortality amongst Americans abroad are vehicle accidents. Many foreign countries have much higher rates of road traffic accidents than here. Familiarise yourself with the road laws in the country you are visiting, and always wear your seatbelt.
10. Be theft resistant
Some destinations have a reputation for petty crime. A lot of the big cities are renowned for pickpockets - but actually, it can happen anywhere.