When it comes to traveling and your health, the old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is quite true. But as commonsense as that sounds , many travelers worry themselves sick before their trip cataloging all of the dread diseases they are sure they will succumb to on their trip! They have heard the horror stories (which get better with every retelling) and are completely psyched out. Let me just say – – RELAX! With a little planning, a few tips, and the proper attitude, things are going to be just fine.
To begin with, just get it in your head that you are probably going to have one day on your trip where you won’t feel so good. Expect it, and you won’t be surprised or terribly disappointed when it happens. Nearly every traveler will experience one day of diarrhea, and facing that fact now and being ready for it will make that day bearable. The thing to do is have a good personal first aid kit with you for when that day occurs. In Europe Through the Back Door, Rick Steves gives a list of the items in his First Aid Kit, and I have not found a better one. His kit includes a small bar of soap, supplemental vitamins, aspirin, cold capsules, bandages, and prescription medications. He also includes antibiotics, anti-diarrheal (and the opposite!), and motion sickness pills. The beauty of this list is that you are prepared for most common ailments that afflict travelers. For example, I usually experience symptoms of a head cold after long flights. Taking cold capsules during the flight and afterwards for a day or two helps control those symptoms for me. I also can experience a little motion sickness on flights, and taking Dramamine one hour prior to departure makes the flight more comfortable. Then, of course, I am prepared for that one day of diarrhea. At the first sign of trouble I take my immodium capsule and go about my day. In all my years of travel I have had to miss one day of sightseeing because of the need to stay near a bathroom. So wash your hands often, take a good first aid kit with you, and quit your worrying. You are going to be fine.
By the way, I drink the water! You need not fear the water in Europe. Egypt is another matter, but where we are going the water is perfectly safe to drink, including tap water and the drinking fountains scattered around. It is usually plenty warm this time of year in Europe and you must stay hydrated. We walk a lot, so always carry a bottle of water with you and drink from it often.
There are a few other common afflictions for the traveler. Because of all the walking you will be doing blisters can be a problem. Again, prevention and preparation are the keys. The best prevention is to make sure your walking shoes are well broken in BEFORE the trip. Preparation includes moleskin and some band-aids and Neosporin. When you first start to feel uncomfortable, get that moleskin on the hot spot. If you get a blister, stop and treat it right away. I carry these items and my first aid kit in my day pack so that they are always on hand when I need them (including a partial roll of toilet paper for the rather unpredictable European bathrooms!)
Fill all or your prescription medications before your trip and keep them in their clearly marked containers. Not having your medications in their original containers can cause raised eyebrows at customs. Be sure you bring enough for the entire trip, and bring copies of your prescriptions in case you have to obtain more while in Europe (you’ll be pleasantly surprised and the much lower cost of obtaining those drugs in Europe that at home!). European pharmacists will know these generic names rather than the trade names. And while we are on the subject, European pharmacists act more like physicians than pharmacists do in the US. They are very helpful and can dispense medicine more freely than in the US. If you get in trouble they can be of great help to you.
Another obvious health tip is to be sure that you eat well! Don’t be so picky about the local cuisine that your diet suffers. Eat plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables (and gelato). You will be getting plenty of fresh air and exercise already, so eating well and keeping your hands washed should keep things moving right along! It’s also good to have a medical and dental check-up prior to your trip. Having to go to the dentist over there is, well, something you want to avoid. By the way, you don’t need shots for the places we are going.
I should say something about your physical preparation in connection with travel and health. You are, as I have said, going to be doing a LOT of walking – easily between five and eight miles a day. Walking is the very best way to see any European city no matter how large. You are also going to be climbing a LOT of stairs – you won’t believe how many and how often! You need to be in pretty good shape. You should be able to walk quickly, non-stop for at least one hour. Hopefully you are already walking every day to prepare for the physical demands of the tour. This is not a drive-by tour in any way. We see Europe on our own two feet!
Jet lag? Yup, it’s real and it’s not fun. You’ve been up for nearly 24 hours by the time you get to Europe, unless you managed to sleep a lot on the plane. And when you arrive it is a beautiful sunny morning and time to start the sightseeing! Mr. Clock and Mr. Sun say “good morning” and your body says “good night.” What’s a person to do? The worst thing you can do is go to your hotel and go to sleep, no matter how badly you want to. If you do that, and sleep a long time, it will be days before your body adjusts to the new schedule. But, if you hit the ground running, take a shower in your hotel and maybe a short power nap (provided you get up from it!!!) and then get back outside, you will recover much faster. The sun will do you wonders. Have an early meal that firs evening and an early bedtime and you should be raring to go the next morning.
A couple of other things to help you fight jet lag: Drink plenty of liquids on your flight, caffeine free of course. Don’t drink alcohol. The alcohol and the caffeine encourage dehydration which heightens your jet lag symptoms. Second, sleep as much as you can on the plane, even if it is drug introduced. Don’t bother with the in-flight movies, just try to sleep. This one is tough for me and I end up paying for it that first day. Oh well. Finally, and most importantly, when you arrive in Europe that first morning – LET THE TRIP BEGIN! You are in Europe! You are standing in Italy for crying out loud! So open up those senses and start drinking everything in. Listen to the language, dodge the traffic, smell it all and taste it all. You’re not in Kansas anymore! Don’t go to your hotel room and crash. Freshen up a bit if you’d like, but get out and go for a good walk! Try the food, talk with the locals, talk to the desk clerk at the hotel, and keep it at a nice leisurely pace. We’ll have a very good Italian dinner rather earlier than the locals and then tuck you in bed early. You will be surprised at how refreshed you will feel in the morning. The key is to tell yourself you are now in Europe and that this time zone is your friend! Enjoy that first day by living in it, not sleeping through it, and your jet-lag will be kept to a minimum. Usually.