Travel Health and Safety Tips

Fall 2005 CSANews Issue 56  |  Posted date : May 23, 2007.Back to list

While the majority of Canadian seniors who travel outside of Canada go to the United States and in particular, the sunbelt states during the winter, there is a growing number of us who travel to other world destinations. Although U.S. travel seems rather seamless, there are a number of important considerations in protecting your health, your safety and security when travelling to many other countries.

Before You Travel
Travel to the Caribbean islands, Cuba, Mexico, Bermuda, Hawaii and Central American countries is on the rise. More adventurous seniors are travelling to Europe, Asia and Africa. All of these destinations demand special attention, both prior to travel as well as for the duration of the stay.

But first, there are a number of general considerations before any travel outside of Canada. In preparation for a trip, there are the usual tasks associated with leaving home; the newspaper, the mail, home security, preparation of documents, credit cards, travellers' cheques and notification to family of your planned itinerary. All documents, passport and credit cards should be copied and these records kept at home with a family member in case of loss or theft while abroad. Sun-glasses, sun block, DEET, appropriate clothing, etc. are other important considerations, depending on destination. Read about the country of destination, and become familiar with the culture, customs, language and potential hazards. There are many good books and magazines, as well as excellent websites, that will make you fully informed prior to your trip.

Make yourself aware of a particular country's health risks. In general, other than an influenza vaccine each winter and tetanus shots at least every 10 years, there are no special immunizations required for trips to continental U.S. On the other hand, trips to many other countries will require either particular immunizations such as hepatitis A and B, and/or a supply of prophylactic drugs before you depart, or therapeutic medications to take with you in the event of certain illnesses, such as traveller's diarrhea or malaria. Individuals travelling to these other countries should consult their personal physician or one of the many travel medicine clinics prior to their departure for an individual risk assessment. This should be done at least six weeks prior to your departure, allowing time to receive necessary shots and protection. In certain countries, as recommended by the federal government, yellow fever immunization may be indicated. Each country has its own safety and health risks and details of these warnings and precautions can be found on various websites, the most notable being:

  • www.voyage.gc.ca
  • www.mdtravelhealth.com
  • www.cdc.gov
  • www.hc-sc.gc.ca
  • www.drwisetravel.com

In addition, the Canadian government publishes "Bon Voyage, But..." a booklet which outlines useful general travel advisories. Remember, too, that most travel health insurers do not extend coverage for clients travelling to countries that the federal government has declared to be dangerous destinations. A current listing of such travel warnings is available at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade website at www.voyage.gc.ca. This site also provides a contact list for consulates throughout the world and advises Canadians travelling to foreign countries to register with the particular consulate upon arrival. Such consulates become extremely useful and necessary in the event of lost documents, legal problems or urgent health-care issues.

Prior to travel, if you are on prescribed medications, these should be carried in original prescription containers and taking a copy of the receipts is recommended. This is especially important when crossing international border inspections. Be sure that your supply of medications will last for at least the duration of your trip, with an extra week's supply in the event of a delay in your return.

As most travel health insurance policies require that there be a period of stable health prior to your departure, be certain that you have met the criteria. In the case of Medipac, the requirement for stability of your medical conditions is 90 days prior to your departure. This means that, "the medical or physical condition, symptom, illness or disease has not worsened and no alteration in any medication or its usage or dosage was required, nor any Medical Attention received, prescribed or recommended by a Physician during the 90 days immediately prior to the Effective Date of Insurance or Your Trip Start Date.

Medical Attention means any medical, therapeutic or diagnostic procedure, service or supply that is prescribed, performed or recommended by a Physician, including but not limited to prescribed medication, investigative testing and surgery. Medical Attention does not include the unaltered use of prescribed medication for a medical condition, symptom or problem which is Stable and Controlled or a medical or physical examination in which a Physician observes no change in a previously identified condition, symptom or problem."

It is prudent in considering these requirements for insurance coverage to arrange any annual medical assessment for at least three or four months prior to departure in order to allow the physician the opportunity to order tests or prescribe therapy or medications which would not jeopardize your coverage of your medical conditions.

Should tests, procedures or medication additions/changes during that 90-day period render your health status to be unstable and not controlled by definition, Medipac has developed an Individual Underwritten Plan in which, with the completion of a special application, these restrictions can be considered and most often waived. The program also allows for many applicants to be insured who would be rejected by most standard insurance policies, because of more serious health problems.

On Your Trip
If travelling by car or RV, be certain that you have had a good check of the mechanical fitness of your vehicle prior to departure. Drive only in daylight in favourable weather and take your time, being certain that you are not driving when tired. Make frequent stops and get some exercise when you do. This reduces the risk of clots developing in your legs (deep venous thrombosis). Be cautious with regard to your personal effects, trying to avoid any valuables being left in the passenger compartment of your car when stopping for the night.

If travelling by air, arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure for international flights, do not lock your suitcases, avoid sharp objects in your carry-on luggage and be sure that you have your documents readily available. You should stand and walk on the plane several times when on a long flight, as well as exercising while seated. Avoid salt and excess alcohol. Be sure to accurately make declarations when arriving at your destination(s) and upon your return. Do not have luggage tags that can be read by passers-by.

Your Destination
For many individuals, first choice for a holiday might be a cruise ship. There are special precautions about which you should be aware when planning for a cruise. Is your health stable enough to risk complications while at sea and often far from sophisticated health-care facilities? While cruise ships do have medical personnel aboard, as well as some equipment and infirmary facilities, major illnesses and injuries must be treated on the mainland, often requiring an air evacuation. Furthermore, there is always some increased risk in close quarters with many people, such as for Norwalk Virus. Be sure that the cruise line is reputable, check out their track record and be sure that your health is good enough for these added concerns.

When you arrive at your destination, there will be additional precautions which you must observe. Websites are particularly valuable as they are usually very current, and health and security risks can change quickly. Although there are specific warnings for each country, the following general precautions are advisable wherever you travel.

Security

  • Dress in a manner that allows you to blend in with the general population.
  • Do not carry handbags with identifiable information hanging externally.
  • Do not wear your country's flag or similar identifier.
  • Carry your currency and one credit card in a front pocket.
  • Leave other cards, documents and valuables in your room or hotel safe.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason.

Safety

  • Do not drive at night.
  • Do not drink to excess.
  • Do not rent cycles.
  • Avoid risky adventures.
  • Use night lights at your place(s) of residence.

Health

  • Do not drink tap water. Use bottled or canned beverages that you open yourself.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Eat fruit that you have washed and peeled yourself.
  • Be sure that food is cooked well.
  • Remember the expression, "boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it!"
  • Avoid "food stands." Eat in proper, reputable restaurants.
  • Use sun block 30 and wear appropriate clothing to avoid sunburn.
  • Use insect repellents that contain DEET (diethylmethyltoluamide) if in countries plagued by malaria or dengue fever.
  • Do not go barefoot and do not swim in fresh water. Salt water is usually safer.
  • In the event of traveller's diarrhea, use Imodium and an antibiotic, if provided to you prior to travel, for initial attempts at arresting it.

If trouble arises, you have a number of options in seeking help. Always keep your family at home aware of your travel co-ordinates in order for them to be able to contact you. If legal problems arise, and for thefts or security issues, remember that the Canadian consular office staff in that region of the world are very helpful to Canadians abroad. If the problems are medical, either injury or health problems, travel health insurers have assistance teams to direct you to appropriate medical care, as well as informing family members, authorizing treatments and arranging for repatriation by air ambulance or commercial air transfer with medical personnel. Medipac Assistance operates 24/7, providing immediate access to well-trained nurses and physicians for assistance in these endeavours for Medipac Insurance clients throughout the world.
Travel to all parts of the world is now commonplace for seniors. In planning your next trip, be informed, do your homework and take the time to ensure that your trip is as enjoyable as possible and free from security, safety and health complications.