Your Winter Vacation - Healthy Planning

Fall 2011 CSANews Issue 80  |  Posted date : Sep 02, 2011.Back to list

It's that time of year again when many of us are preparing for our winter vacation away from home, most often in the southern states. After almost 20 years of hearing about the unfortunate, unexpected situations confronting Canadian travellers, it's timely for me to share some of the advice and tips that will help you have a successful and enjoyable trip, especially as it relates to your health and safety.

The initial priorities are preparation for travel. The Canadian Snowbird Association has published two excellent booklets entitled Travellers' Checklist and Travel Information Guide. These documents are available to members by calling the CSA and they are also available on the CSA website at In addition to all of the numerous household things to do, there are some points that more directly relate to your health and safety.

Now that a valid passport is mandatory for entering the U.S., be sure that yours is up to date and that it will not expire for at least six months after your planned return date. Keep a photocopy of the information page to make replacement easier in case your passport is lost or stolen. Leave a copy with a friend or family member. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada ( now offers a registration service for Canadians living or travelling abroad. The service is provided to assist you with an emergency in a foreign country or inform you of a family emergency at home. Registration can be done online or by mail. Their website contains a wealth of information important to travellers, especially those travelling outside of North America.

The other vital up-to-date requirement is your travel health insurance. Be sure to complete your application carefully and completely, seeking medical assistance if there is any confusion regarding the questions. Travel policies require a stability period (usually at least 90 days before departure) during which time there should be no change in your conditions, no new conditions and no change in the treatment, including drug changes. If you do not meet the requirement, Medipac is usually able to override this restriction upon request and with possible additional premium. Others who have more serious conditions which prohibit purchase of regular policies may find relief through Medipac's special underwritten plan, wherein completion of a more detailed application most often allows Medipac's physicians to approve an individual policy based on the added risk.

Be sure and have your annual health examination; try to time it for when you return in the spring. In that way, if more tests or investigations are ordered, or a new condition is diagnosed, it will not compromise the 90-day stability period. 

This will also allow time to get the results from those very important screening tests that the doctor may have ordered. Other medical checkups should be up to date and you should document and carry your individual medical history, present conditions and a list of prescription drugs in case you require care while away. A Personal Health Record Form published by the CSA is available for members by completing and printing a confidential record online at the CSA website. If a sudden medical emergency arises, the written, accurate and complete information will be especially valuable to any new physician evaluating your case. Many seniors carry a copy of their most recent ECG (electrocardiogram), which is of great assistance to a doctor if you arrive at an emergency department suffering from unexpected chest pain. Get your copy from your doctor's office. Many Canadian drug's trade names differ from their U.S. names and having precise spelling of the name of your drugs will allow quick computer access to the generic names. Be sure that you have an amount of your required prescription drugs sufficient for the entire trip. Keep them in the original, pharmacy-labelled containers when crossing borders.

Keep your immediate family informed of your whereabouts while on your journey, as well as at your destination. When travelling long distances by car, you should be mindful of some health and safety tips that are important. 

Choosing the right days with regard to weather is important on departure, as well as return. This is especially true when snowstorms may be a factor. Get plenty of rest each night and don't drive at night if you can avoid it. Take rest stops at least every two hours and get some walking exercise during your breaks to lessen the chances of developing leg blood clots and complications (phlebitis and pulmonary embolism). Keep well hydrated. When staying overnight, always be careful of your surroundings for safety and security reasons. Be sure that you have a flashlight or portable motion sensor light that will reduce the risk of a fall. Keep the route to the bathroom clear of obstructions, such as bedspreads and suitcases.

There are important measures which you should take relating to security. As tourists, especially in foreign countries, don't look like a tourist. Don't pull out maps in public places. Keep your wallet in your front pocket and take any valuables from your vehicle into your motel room at night. Try and blend in and don't wear badges, or any apparel that identifies you as a traveller. Avoid wearing expensive-looking jewellery and carrying purses and packs that can easily be snatched. Keep your valuables in a safe when staying at hotels. And, speaking of hotels, the recent infestation of bed bugs across the world should make you cautious about picking them up in your hotel rooms or at your destination. Check your room before unpacking and leave your suitcases in the bathtub! Read about the other recommended precautions on the Public Health Agency of Canada website at

At your destination, it is wise to familiarize yourself with the local medical services which you may suddenly need. You may know of a nearby medical facility or walk-in clinic, or a neighbour may recommend one. Find the nearest reputable hospital location in the event of an emergency. In the interests of time and costs, only use this option when a local doctor's office is not suitable. For any non-urgent visit, always call your insurer's assistance line before seeking care. At Medipac, nurses are there to assist you and may be able to provide the names of local clinics or hospitals, if needed. If you or your spouse suffer from any sudden symptoms suggesting a stroke, a heart attack or other emergency, call 911 immediately to be taken to hospital. In this situation, calls to the insurer can be made by family or hospital staff after arrival at hospital.

As the destination of most winter travellers is one of the U.S. sunbelt states, the opportunity for healthy living habits is abundant. There is no ice and snow to prevent you from getting your daily exercise! Although any exercise has proven to be helpful, seniors in particular are advised to have at least 30 minutes of brisk, but comfortable walking most days of the week. Exercise keeps you more physically fit, helps manage weight problems, improves your balance and equilibrium, lowers your blood pressure and improves your feeling of "well-being." Keep mentally active as well. There is abundant evidence to prove that activities which stimulate the mind promote good mental health. Crossword puzzles, word games, card games, reading and socializing are all beneficial. 

Many snowbirds become very involved with their communities by organizing events and volunteering for many worthwhile endeavours.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and other healthy foods are readily available to ensure a healthy diet. Sunshine provides Vitamin D, but be sure to protect yourself with sunscreen if exposure is frequent. Be sure to take prescribed medications, as well as any recommended vitamin and mineral supplements. If you need routine laboratory testing, such as is required for persons on anticoagulants, establish a relationship with a local laboratory. Often, a written order from your home physician will allow you to deal directly with the laboratory, thereby avoiding the cost of services from a local physician.

If you are being treated for hypertension (high blood pressure), maintain a record at least weekly of your readings. This can be done at a local pharmacy, by a community nurse or, most easily, by using one of the home recording devices available. The wrist monitor is especially convenient and affordable. If you are being treated for diabetes, routine monitoring is useful as well. These records are important for your home doctor to see upon your return. If there is an unacceptable abnormality in your readings when monitoring your condition, contact your travel insurer's assistance service.

Be safety-conscious in your new environment. Take precautions to avoid falls, removing potential obstacles, slippery mats or anything else that may increase the risk of a fall. Keep nightlights operational, use grab bars and rubber mats in bathtubs and showers and follow other safety tips in your new environment. 
Don't get sent home in the middle of winter with a broken hip!

You can get a lot of joy out of your winter vacation. Help to ensure that it will be a trouble-free, safe and healthy experience during the trip south, as well as at your destination. Take the time to properly prepare for your journey and follow all of those healthy habits, both at home and while away.