Of the many things I stress about in life – where to live, how to get better at writing, my purpose in this world, Los Angeles traffic – travel prep rarely makes the list.
The road has taught me that (at least when it comes to traveling), things have a way of working out, reinforcing a personal travel style that involves less planning and more dreaming. I prefer to research as little as possible and let the destination I visit unfold before me with as much surprise as possible. In fact, during most of my travels to the 46 countries I’ve been to my travel preparations involved little more than purchasing a plane ticket and booking accommodation (though even the later is something I’ve overlooked on trips to places like Dublin and Havana).
And yet, no matter how chill your personal travel style may be, there’s one essential preparation that is absolutely crucial before any trip – travel health. Wherever you wander in the world, before you go it’s important to make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. If you are traveling to a more exotic locale (or really anywhere overseas), it’s also important to make sure you check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health website and follow their recommendations for the travel vaccines and medicines to get based on the country you are visiting.
Things You Need to Know About Travel Vaccinations
It had been a while since I ensured my vaccinations were up-to-date, and so before my visit to Papua New Guinea this year I made sure to a Passport Health clinic and take charge of my travel health. The process, while certainly the least enthralling aspect of my trip, taught me a lot about travel vaccines and I want to take the opportunity to share some of what I learned. If you’re going to a country where vaccinations are require or recommended, read up for advice on what you need to know when before getting your travel vaccinations.
1. Risk of Allergies
It’s not common, but in some cases it’s been known for vaccinations to trigger allergic reactions in people – particularly younger children, where parents may or may not know about an existing condition.
This is usually more of a concern when protecting against non-travel vaccines like influenza, but it can also be a problem for some travel vaccines as well. Be aware of the risk of allergic reactions ahead of time and of course, inform your physician of any known allergies you have. If you are concerned about having an immediate allergic reaction to an injection, bring a friend or relative along to your appointment so that someone will be able to drive you home.
2. Vaccines are Location Specific
The vaccines you will need before your trip depend entirely on where you are traveling to. Hence, even though I had all the necessary vaccinations to live in the rainforest of Costa Rica for a year and a half, I needed new vaccines before traveling to Papua New Guinea.
Before you visit your doctor or clinic, check out what vaccines the CDC recommends based on the locations you are traveling to and familiarize yourself with a list of all the diseases prevalent in the country you are going to. Of course, your doctor will have the best sense of what precautions are recommended, but its good to familiarize yourself before your appointment and be as informed as possible.
3. Booking Windows
There’s no precise right or wrong time to get your injections, but it’s recommended to get your vaccinations about six to eight weeks before you’re due to travel.The idea with this being it’ll give your body time to get used to the vaccine going into your system, with it reaching its strongest point right at the time of your holiday.
Think ahead as much as possible before your travels to ensure you have enough time to get an appointment for vaccinations and give your body time to adjust before you board a plane and embark to a foreign locale.
It’d also be quite good to know exactly how much you’ll be forking out for every one of the vaccinations you’re receiving. These prices can at times be high and not all vaccinations are covered by your insurance.
Not every vaccination will cost a lot – some will even be free – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still plan ahead for the costs of such vaccinations. Contact your insurance company before your appointment to see what they will cover and if you’ll have any co-pays or deductibles to meet before they take over the costs.
Different vaccinations last for different amounts of time. While the exact longevity will vary from person to person, the general rule of thumb is the following:
- 10 Years – Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever
- 3 Years – Typhoid
- 1 Year – Rabies
- Long-term – Hepatitis A
As stated above, this is just a general trend and it will vary between people. If you’re on the fringe of one of those time periods, it’s better to be safe than sorry and get your vaccination renewed.
6. Age Limits
Taking age ranges into account is also important for vaccinations. Some very young children may not be allowed to have them, for example.
This tends to change once you get past the age of six months, when the immune system is able to deal with viruses far more effectively (remember, a vaccine does itself naturally contain bacteria which could be deadly to a baby).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s crucial to have an understanding of common viruses abroad themselves. While you don’t need an encyclopaedic knowledge of the conditions which are likely to strike, having a little background info on some of the viruses which could attack you can only be useful.
For many viruses, like Zika, there is no immunization or cure. If you are going to a region that has a common virus for which there is no cure, familiarize yourself with other ways to prevent acquiring the disease. For example, if traveling to a mosquito-heavy area where zika is present, wear long sleeves and mosquito repellent.
Hopefully you’ll have a better idea of what to look into when you next go for pre-travel vaccinations after reading this handy list. Vacations are exciting times, but it’s crucial you don’t let yours get ruined by contracting a nasty condition.