The holidays are coming…. are you prepared?

A must read for anyone with pre-existing health conditions, travelling abroad this Christmas.

Britons are said to be one of the keenest nations for festive travel, with two-thirds saying they would be willing to spend time abroad over Christmas. When asked why, Brits referenced the gloomy weather and how Christmas has become over commercialised in the UK. New York, Melbourne and St Barts are the top destinations for festive getaways.

Holidays are precious and offer a break from the routine and escapism from the mundane day-to-day life. Often when away, we indulge in new and exciting experiences or leisure activities we love and look forward to all year. Christmas time is often about visiting friends and family that live far away, and offers time to explore new corners of the world.

The thought of travelling when you or a loved one suffers from an existing medical condition or disability, can be very stressful indeed and can seem overwhelming. But, with some forward planning, gathering of facts and preparation, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy your holiday and enjoy a safe and relaxed journey.

To enjoy the benefits of travel, its important you take your health needs into account, both before travel and whilst you’re away. You’ll feel so much better if prepared.

Read our 10-step health-check guide to help stay in control on the move, and experience a relaxing and stress-free journey.

Fit for travel – speak to your Doctor
If you have a pre-existing health condition, we highly recommend you consult your doctor before travelling.

Many holidays mean travelling by air, so it’s important you check your travel plans with your Doctor first, and confirm it’s safe for you to do so. It’s also a good idea to get a letter from your Doctor about your condition and any medication or equipment you need to take with you on your flight.

You must also notify your airline and check on their processes to ensure you have the correct permissions in place to fly with additional medication or equipment. Most airlines will arrange helpful support such as early boarding, help with any medical equipment or help getting you to your departure gate. Make sure you check with your airline in plenty of time before your departure.

Vaccinations – get protected
Some travel destinations, especially those in tropical climates, require you to have certain vaccinations to protect yourself from diseases such as malaria or dengue fever.

Your Doctor or Smarta Healthcare Pharmacist will be able to give you the most up-to-date information on vaccines and medication by location, and when you need them prior to your trip.

Take a look at the Smarta Healthcare travel health website to find out which vaccines or medication you need, if any, before you travel. If unsure, you can call the free Smarta Healthcare helpline for travel advice, provided by their qualified healthcare team. Or click here for more information.

Take extra medication – always ensure you have enough medication for the duration of your holiday and some extra, just in case of delays. If you need to take your medication onboard the aircraft, you must keep it in its original labelled packaging, as supplied by the Pharmacy. Certain controlled drugs require a letter from the Home Office. Your Pharmacist will be able to give you guidance.

Take Into consideration any special storage requirements during the journey, for example medication cool bags for Insulin and spill-proof containers for liquids.

Insurance and EHIC cards
If you’re planning to travel within Europe, it’s a good idea to have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you. However, the EHIC may not be valid for British Nationals when the UK leaves the EU, so it is wise to check the terms of the EHIC before you leave. The EHIC card is free from the official website below, which explains what is covered, including emergency contact numbers for each country. Beware of other websites that charge you for the application.The EHIC does not apply to private hospital care or treatment, and it does not cover repatriation costs to get you home. Therefore, it’s extremely important you take out your own travel insurance to include cover for any existing health condition or disabilities.

Organise your home while you’re away
There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid worrying about home when away. If you have a security system installed in your home, ensure that it’s working properly, including all alarms, motion detectors, cameras, and other monitoring equipment. Have someone check on your home while you’re away, especially if you’re leaving on a long trip. Or even better, maybe a friend or family member can house sit?

Copy your travel documentation
Before you leave, give a copy of your itinerary and all necessary contact information to a relative or friend. This way, in case something happens, this person will have a way to find you in cases of emergency.

Also, leave photocopies of your passports, credit cards and any other types of identification with this person, in case something happens to your real copies and you need a photocopy sent to you right away. Keep a separate set of photocopies in your own luggage as well.

General advice to reduce your risk of travel-related DVT
If you’re travelling for 3 hours of more by plane, train, or car, take these steps during the journey to reduce your risk of DVT:

  • wear loose, comfortable clothes
  • do calf exercises at least every half an hour – raise your heels, keeping your toes on the floor, then bring them down 10 times. Then raise and lower your toes 10 times
  • walk around whenever you can
  • drink plenty of water
  • do not drink alcohol or take sleeping pills

Wearing compression stockings or flight socks during journeys of 3 hours or more can help prevent DVT, if you’re at an increased risk. The stockings or socks are usually knee length; compression stockings can also be thigh high. They work by putting gentle pressure on your leg and ankle to help blood flow.

Staying comfortable on the move
Travelling can be hot, cold, cramped, boring and seem to go on FOREVER! Here’s a super set for staying comfortable and relaxed on your journey ahead.

  • A good book! Whatever you do, take some time to choose a really good book or magazine to stop the boredom from setting in. You’ll thanks us afterwards!
  • Earplugs or headphones – travelling can be noisy. Block it all out with some noise cancelling earphones or ear plugs.
  • The biggest complaint from travellers is usually the fluctuation in temperatures, especially air travel. The powerful aircon can leave us shivering and uncomfortable. Invest in a good fleece or travel blanket.
  • For those long-haul flights an eye mask is a must. It can make all the difference in getting a good few hours’ sleep, before you arrive.
  • Good quality travel pillows are great for keeping your head in an optimal sleep position and very lightweight to travel with.
  • Digital luggage scale – everyone needs one! Avoid overweight baggage fees and stay ahead of the game.
  • Zoppen travel passport holder – keep your passport and documents safe in with RFID security blocking materials.

Consider what you might need when you arrive
While holidays are all about leaving your cares behind, it’s important you take precautions to protect your health when travelling abroad.

One of the biggest failures of travellers is sun protection, or lack of it, especially in the UK winter months when our skin is mostly covered and has little exposure to the sun. Protecting your skin from the sun is essential, especially when the sun is at its strongest, between 11am and 3pm. Its best to start with a stronger SPF to help your skin adjust and keep topping up every hour.

Mosquito bites can be a real pain, leaving us itchy and uncomfortable, and in some cases, bites become infected. Even in countries where mosquitos do not carry malaria, you should definitely take high quality repellent and after bite cream. Mosquitos love water and often become more active at night, so try to cover your arms and legs and sleep in a room with a plug-in repellent or under a mosquito net.

In addition to any prescribed medication or treatment, NHS Choices recommends taking the following list of travel health essentials away with you.

Make sure to check for any contraindications with any other medication you are already taking.

  • antiseptic
  • painkillers
  • wound-cleaning gauze
  • sterile dressings
  • bandage tape
  • plasters
  • tweezers
  • scissors
  • thermometer
  • antihistamines
  • sunscreen
  • sunburn treatment
  • insect repellent
  • insect bite treatment

Finally, don’t forget to relax for the first few days. A long journey can often take its toll, so it’s important to give yourself a day or two to recuperate.

Take steps to avoid sickness when travelling abroad
Washing hands frequently, and using hand sanitisers when travelling, are sensible precautions to avoid getting sick. If seated close to another passenger who is coughing, or visibly unwell, try to move, or turn up the ventilation. Don’t forget that flu occurs year-round in the tropics; and in the southern hemisphere, the flu season falls during our summer months. The flu vaccine is therefore a very sensible precaution and the Smarta Healthcare team will help you plan ahead and get protected.

Flu vaccination appointments can be easily booked by calling their helpline or booking online following this link:

Finally, if you’re prone to infection and had problems in the past, talk things over with your Pharmacist or Doctor, and consider travelling with a supply of antibiotics in reserve.

Ultimately, it’s your holiday and you deserve the best one possible. We hope this guide has helped to build your confidence for your festive break ahead.

And don’t forget you can ask the experts – our free telephone advice service allows you to pick the brains of our Pharmacy experts on anything to do with travel and health. Simply call 01234 831768 to speak to one of our friendly Pharmacists.

You may also find useful travel information on the NHS ‘before you travel’ webpage:

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