IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|
Photo By: Thommen Jose

How to prepare for your trip and stay well abroad

Whether it’s your first trip or you’re a veteran traveller, it’s always important to make sure you are prepared for a healthy and safe travel experience. Here, you’ll find all the answers to common questions about travel health, essential travel health resources, and how to prepare for a healthy trip. 

Essential travel health resources

Travel health clinics & Yellow Fever certified clinics

If Yellow Fever vaccination is recommended or required for your trip, you will need to visit a certified Yellow Fever vaccination clinic. Listings for certified clinics are available here: 

Travel health advisories & country-specific information

Doctors abroad & travel medicine specialists 

Embassy & consulate information

Check with your national authority and public health agency for listings in other countries.

What is travel health?

The goal of travel health is to protect the health of travellers and the communities they visit. It’s all about awareness and prevention.

Travel health is focused on keeping you physically and mentally well, but it’s also about the impact you have throughout your trip, which is your “health footprint”. Just like an environmental footprint, you also have a health footprint, which is the health resources you use during your trip. It’s important to minimize your health footprint so that healthcare resources can be used in places where they are needed most.

When thinking about your trip, there are three phases to consider: Pre-trip preparation, staying healthy during your trip, and post-trip follow-up.

How should I prepare for a trip?

When you are planning your trip, consider the following factors: the type of travel you plan to do, your destination, climatic conditions, duration of your trip, and your health status. Knowing these factors will help you determine how far in advance you need to prepare, what immunizations and medications you will need, and what precautions you should take during your trip.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

  • Find out about travel health conditions and advisories at your destination and learn how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Visit your family doctor or travel health clinic for required and recommended immunizations. Some countries require proof of vaccination against certain vaccine-preventable diseases. Be aware that you may need to visit a travel clinic more than once to get all your vaccinations. We recommend getting immunized 4-6 weeks before departure.
  • Get travel health insurance to cover you for expenses such as emergency surgery, extended hospital stays or medical evacuation.
  • Prepare a travel health kit with self-medicating items such as remedies for common travel ailments. Consider packing a portable bed net and protective clothing to prevent insect bites. If you are travelling to a remote area or doing adventurous activities, consider enrolling in a basic / advanced first aid or wilderness survival course.
  • Take the time to learn about the people, cultures, regional geography and languages of the places you will visit.
  • Make arrangements at your destination for special needs such as oxygen tanks, lab tests, dialysis, or any other medical requirements.

What vaccinations do I need?

It depends. To get the proper vaccinations and advice, you need to determine the type of travel you're going to undertake, your destination, duration of your trip, your vaccination history, and your current health status.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider or travel clinic at least 4-6 weeks before you depart to ensure your routine immunizations are up-to-date and get any travel-related vaccines if needed.

What are routine vaccinations?

Routine immunizations provide protection from infectious diseases such as Influenza, Polio, Measles-Mumps- Rubella, and Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus. No matter your age, it’s important to ensure you are up-to-date with all your routine immunizations. Get in touch with your healthcare practitioner if you are unsure of your vaccination status.

You can find vaccination schedules for US citizens here and Canadian citizens here.

What are required, recommended, and selective vaccinations?

For entry into some countries, you may be required by law to show proof of vaccination against certain illnesses. Required vaccinations protect the population of the country you are visiting and limit the spread of infectious diseases in your home country. Yellow Fever is one example of a required vaccination.

Recommended vaccinations are suggested to protect the health of travellers during their trip and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases across borders.

Selective vaccinations are suggested for people going on specific trips such as visiting rural areas, taking part in work assignments, or planning long-term travel where they are at higher risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases than traditional travellers. For more information and help prioritizing vaccines, see Travel Vaccines.

How soon before I travel should I get vaccinated?

We recommend getting immunized 4-6 weeks in advance. This allows your body to build antibodies (immunity) against infections. Some vaccines are given in 2 or 3 doses so you may have to visit a travel health clinic or healthcare practitioner more than once.

I just found out that I'm leaving on a trip in less than a week. Can I still get vaccinated in such short notice?

Yes. There are some vaccine series that can be given in accelerated doses. We recommend getting vaccinated in your home country since vaccines at your destination may not be suitable or safe. Be aware of the risk of counterfeit and poor quality medications abroad.

How much do travel vaccines cost?

Travel health clinics set their own fees. They usually charge a consultation fee in addition to the price of each travel vaccine.

What is an endemic area?

An endemic area is a region or country where an infection is continuously transmitted within the population. It can be occurring at low, intermittent, or high levels.

What is an epidemic?

An epidemic is a sudden outbreak of an infectious disease with a high morbidity (illness) and / or mortality (death) rate.

What should I do after my trip?

Post-trip follow-up is usually overlooked by many travellers, but it could prevent future health complications and even save your life.

  • A visit to your healthcare provider is needed if you experience the following symptoms upon your return:
  • High fever (greater than 38.9'C / 102'F) accompanied by shaking chills, headaches, stiff neck, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, skin rash, yellow skin or eyes and / or bloody diarrhea.
  • Diarrhea and digestive problems that last more than one week.
  • Persistent cough and shortness of breath.
  • Swollen glands or skin lesions that enlarge, are painful or ulcerate.
  • If you were bitten by an animal, report it to your healthcare practitioner even if you received treatment abroad in case further medical attention is recommended.

If you received any type of medical care abroad (including prescription medications or changes to your existing prescription), inform your healthcare practitioner once you arrive home.

More information

Last reviewed and updated: December 11, 2020.

Travel Health Journal