Don't jet off on your holidays ill-prepared. Read our helpful guide to make sure your prescription meds, vaccinations and first aid kit are in order before you travel. And don’t forget to pack your Ehic!
Preparing for your holiday? It’s always a challenge to remember everything. But our health checklist will help you get organised – from vaccination advice, to carrying the correct paperwork for your medication so you don’t run into problems at the airport.
We’ve also got tips for how to deal with the most common holiday ailments, including Delhi belly, sunburn and even jellyfish stings.
Working through your pre-holiday checklist? Which? Travel keeps you up-to-date with advice on travel insurance and getting your Ehic. Find out more about Which? Travel.
Before you go
Always check the NHS website Fit For Travel to find out the health risks of your destination. If you think you need jabs, visit your GP or practice nurse eight weeks before travel because some inoculations and boosters take time to become fully effective.
Jabs and risks
Even Europe can hold risks for travellers. For example, if you’re hiking or camping, you may need to be immunised against tick-borne encephalitis.
In eastern Europe, hepatitis A is common and is often vaccinated against. For dengue, schistosomiasis (aka bilharzia), Zika and other diseases, your GP will advise you to take preventative measures. For malaria, tablets are available that can reduce your risk of contracting it by up to 90%.
Not all GPs offer travel jabs, but many will give you the basics (tetanus, polio, diphtheria, typhoid and hepatitis A) for free. You’ll usually have to pay for others, such as yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis.
Alternatively, head to a specialist clinic that provides the full range – but at a price. UK travel clinic Masta (masta-travel-health.com) provided the sample prices below.
|Sample vaccination prices|
|Combined diphtheria, tetanus and polio||
|Sample malaria tablets prices|
|Chloroquine 20 tablets||
|Doxycycline 50 tablets||
|Mefloquine (Lariam) 8 tablets||
|Malarone 12 tablets||
|Malarone Paediatric 12 tablets||
|Paludrine/Chloroquine Pack (98/14 tablets)||
|Paludrine 98 tablets||
Apply for your Ehic
The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) grants you free or discounted state healthcare while travelling within the EU, as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It covers any medical treatment you need due to an accident or illness, or for a pre-existing medical condition.
But don’t rely on it as an alternative to travel insurance, as it won’t cover private medical healthcare, mountain rescue, repatriation or lost or stolen property. You can apply for it for free at ehic.org.uk. As of August 2017, cards were still being issued for the full five years. Check it is still valid before you travel. You can apply for a new one six months before the expiry date.
Travelling with your medicines
Always keep drugs and medical supplies – such as needles and syringes – in their original packaging with the labels attached.
Carry a copy of your prescription, and a letter from your GP, which states the generic name of your medicine – not just the brand.
Over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen and certain cold and flu remedies, are controlled substances in some countries.
If you’re travelling to an affected country, ask for these medicines to be included in the letter too. Ideally, you should request this two months before your departure date. Your surgery may charge, as this service falls outside the basic NHS healthcare.
Keep a supply with you
Carry a week’s supply of medicine in your hand luggage, along with the relevant paperwork, and pack any spares in the hold – ideally with a photocopy of your prescription.
Certain medicines, such as insulin, need to be transported in a cool bag or insulated pouch. If you’re travelling across different time zones, adapt your medication regime accordingly.
Hand luggage rules
You’re allowed to carry essential liquid medicines of more than 100ml in your hand luggage – including dietary foodstuffs, gel packs and inhalers. However, you must have a prescription or letter from your GP, and security staff may screen the items.
Rules of other countries
Check the rules for every country you’re going to, including any you pass through. Countries including Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore have an extensive list of medicines they won’t allow in. If necessary, call the embassy of the country you’re visiting for advice. Check the government website for contact details of foreign embassies in the UK.
Two classes of medicines are highly regulated worldwide: narcotics (sedatives) and psychotropics (behaviour-altering drugs). These include strong painkillers and tablets for treating anxiety and depression, so be wary of travelling with anything that is addictive or has the potential to be abused.
Destination DIY – how to treat common holiday ailments
Sunburn: DEET-based insect repellents can reduce SPF efficacy by as much as a third, so reapply sunscreen more frequently or use a higher SPF than you normally would. If you do get burnt, apply calamine or after-sun lotion and take aspirin or ibuprofen to minimise redness.
Toothache and sore throats: Gargling with soluble paracetamol can relieve the symptoms of a sore throat or toothache.
Jellyfish stings: Despite common belief, urine is not a suitable cure for a jellyfish sting. Instead, scrape off any clinging tentacles with a credit card or similar (not your fingers, as the stingers could still be active) and pour seawater over the sting to ease the pain. Never treat stings with alcoholic solutions or hot sand.
Mosquito bites: Don’t scratch bites, because they could become infected. If you don’t have bite cream, use mint toothpaste to soothe them.
Delhi belly: If you’re worried about contracting travellers’ diarrhoea, try these tips:
- Avoid salads, fried rice, ice, ice cream and strawberries. And make sure anything you eat is thoroughly cooked and piping hot.
- Studies show that taking Pepto-Bismol as two tablets, four times daily, reduces the incidence of traveller’s diarrhoea by 50%. But there are side effects – see Fit For Travel for more.
- If you do succumb, it’s vital to replace lost fluids. If you don’t have rehydration sachets, make your own solution of water with a pinch of salt and two teaspoons of sugar.
- If you have no appetite, eat nothing. Otherwise, try plain rice, potatoes, pasta or dry toast. Bananas can help to stop diarrhoea, and yogurt can help to settle the stomach.
- Blockers, such as Imodium, stop symptoms – but aren’t a cure.
- If going somewhere remote or exotic, most GPs will give you a private prescription of antibiotics, but many bugs are now immune to ciprofloxacin, once the standard medicine for Delhi belly, so ask about the newer drugs azithromycin and xifaxanta.