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8 things every backpacker should know

Few travel experiences match the thrill of that first independent step into the wide world. However, at risk of sounding like your mom, this freedom comes with a few responsibilities towards your own health and wellbeing. Here are some pointers to get you started.

1.       Where to get advice

An appointment with a travel health adviser is about so much more than vaccines and anti-malarials. Jot down any questions about sun safety, insect bites, medications etc before you go so that you can make the most of your travel health adviser’s expertise. If you are taking an extended (long than a month) trip through more than one country, ask for a longer appointment. At our travel clinics we offer 30-minute slots, and you can book two appointments back-to-back if you need to.

2.       All about insurance

We are fortunate to have free healthcare in Canada, most of the rest of the world must pay for it. Even a single night in an ICU can cost thousands, and you may be refused healthcare if you are not insured. Check that your insurance covers all the activities you have planned. Our blogpost, Do I need travel insurance, has more details

3.       How to protect your mental health

One in four of us will encounter mental health problems in our lifetimes, and the stress of travel can have an adverse effect on your mental wellbeing. Anxiety about travel, jet lag, disruption to your routine, homesickness and culture shock can all contribute to a mental health issue. Even if you have never experienced a mental health issue, have a plan and a support network.

4.       How to avoid insect bites

There are some really unpleasant diseases spread by mosquito and insect bites, some of which have long-term effects – malaria, Japanese encephalitis, Dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika and Chikungunya to name just a few. You should do your best to avoid insect bites by using an effective mosquito repellent and by covering up.

5.       Basic food and water precautions

The rules of nutrition still stand when you’re travelling, so you need to eat a balanced diet. Furthermore, travellers should take a few precautions to avoid some food- and water-borne illnesses such as typhoid and hepatitis A. Familiarise yourself with basic food and water safety so that you can make good decisions about what to eat and drink without missing out on culinary experiences.

6.       How to practise safer sex

Freedom from the usual social restraints and the thrill of an exotic location makes some travellers indulge in risky sexual behaviours that they would never even consider at home. Prepare yourself by carrying male or female condoms – even if you think this doesn’t apply to you, you may need to help out a friend. NHS Fit for Travel has comprehensive advice on sexual health risks.

7.       How to avoid road accidents

A bad road accident could put an end to your trip – or worse, to your life. Think carefully before hiring a motorcycle or moped, particularly if you don’t have much experience with riding. Use seat belts where they are available, and, it goes without saying, don’t drive while you are under the influence of drink or drugs.

8.       How to not drown

Swimming is a great way to cool down in a hot climate – but you need to take the usual precautions you would at home. Don’t dive in if you don’t know the depth. Get local advice about safe bathing spots: currents and weeds can be deadly, and you really don’t want to pick up a case of schistosomiasis. Wild swimmer may also be at risk from animal attacks, for example from crocodiles and hippos.

To explore these topics further, check out Global Travel Clinics’ other advice articles. With the lecture out of the way, have a great trip and take lots of pictures!