Travel health advice for backpackers
Backpacking is an incredible adventure, and it makes sense to put your health first. A small amount of knowledge and common sense is all you need to stay healthy while travelling on a shoestring.
2 top tips for backpacker health and safety – Before you leave
- Make sure your travel insurance covers every potential eventuality. This is no time to skimp and save – buy the best cover you can find and make sure it includes essentials like repatriation by air ambulance if necessary. And take great care to provide the insurance company with all the information they ask for, including pre-existing health conditions. If you don’t they can refuse to pay when you claim, leaving you in the lurch
- Visit a specialist travel clinic in good time, at least six weeks before you leave and ideally sooner, to find out about the risk of malaria and other diseases in the areas you’re visiting and get all the recommended travel vaccinations
Take an emergency first aid kit with you
Wherever you’re going, unless it’s unusually remote, there’ll be clinics and pharmacies in towns and cities. This means you can keep your first aid kit low key and replace used supplies regularly.
You can buy pre packed first aid kits, of course, but you can also make your own and personalise it according to your destinations. If you’re heading far north, for example the Arctic Circle, you might not need insect repellents. Here’s a list of the basic essentials:
- Plasters – take a good supply of different-sized and shaped plasters, including blister plasters in case you need to care for sore feet
- Gauze, so you can apply pressure to a wound, soak up blood or make a basic dressing
- Crepe bandages… although if a wound is big or nasty enough to merit crepe bandages you’re probably best off seeing a doctor
- Medical tape to fix bandages of various kinds to your skin
- Antiseptic wipes, essential for cleaning wounds before dressing them and particularly important in hot climates
- A small pair of scissors and some tweezers in case you need to get rid of splinters
- Pain relief – a pack of Paracetamol or Ibuprofen will do the trick
- Imodium, just in case you get the runs. Bear in mind while it is perfect for emergencies, to get you to a safe place where you can relax and recuperate, they’re not suitable for long term use. It’s far better to drink plenty of water and rest up until the runs pass. Here’s a link to our page about travellers diarrhoea
- Antihistamine cream in case you get insect bites
- A really good insect repellent suitable for the countries you’ll be visiting – it’s always wise not to get bitten by mosquitoes. Here’s a link to our page about insect repellent
- Condoms – because it’s better safe than sorry
Food, water and personal hygiene
One of your most important things to remember is to stay safe around food, water and personal hygiene. We’ve covered how on our page about travellers diarrhoea – follow the link in point 9 above for the details.
Common backpacker illnesses, diseases and conditions
Backpackers are particularly vulnerable to a handful of specific conditions, listed below.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – Follow this link for information about how to avoid DVT
- Insect bites and stings – Follow this link to find out how to stay safe from insects and bugs on your travels
- Jet lag – Common for backpackers who cross multiple time zones, especially when you do it all at once, jet lag can leave you feeling dreadful, experiencing extreme fatigue, insomnia, malaise and even nausea. Your best bet is to stay hydrated, eat healthily and lightly, and stay away from booze. When you arrive at your destination, get out in the sunshine and fresh air as soon as you can. And do your best to re-adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible by eating and sleeping at local time
- STDs – Sexually transmitted infections are a risk abroad, just as they are at home. Use a condom. If you forget and develop any symptoms, for example lumps, bumps, rashes, itches or pain, get medical help asap. Some STDs can get very nasty indeed if they’re not treated quickly and properly
- Sunburn – While the latest scientific research reveals it’s much better for you to get plenty of sun than to avoid it altogether, it’s never a good idea to let your skin burn. Here’s a link to our page about sunburn and heatstroke
- Traveller’s diarrhoea – The majority of backpackers will get a stomach upset at some point on their travels, and it can be a miserable experience. It’s usually caused by contaminated food or water, or poor personal hygiene. If you’ve caught something from the water it doesn’t always mean the local tap water is particularly awful, it just means your body hasn’t been exposed to the particular bacteria it contains before.Severe and persistent cases can often be shifted with a single-dose antibiotic but it’s not a good idea unless the infection is serious or parasitic, and a doctor has prescribed the antibiotics. The best current advice is leave antibiotics alone unless they are absolutely essential. When you stay hydrated and rest up, the runs should go away on their own thanks to your immune system. Having said that, if you find blood in your poo or develop a high fever, see a doctor asap
Our qualified travel health experts are on hand to help and advise you about staying healthy and well on your travels. If that’s you, make an appointment in good time.