Going on a Gap Year? Whether you are planning to travel the world for fun, or intending to work as a volunteer as part of an Aid Agency, you will need to take careful precautions to ensure your continuing health and safety.
Check your vaccination requirements at least 6 months prior to your trip. Make sure routine vaccinations are up to date, and check with your doctor or TravelHealth advisor on specific vaccination recommendations for the places you are visiting. If your trip is last minute, you should still visit your doctor, pharmacist or TravelHealth advisor as soon as possible.
Visit your health care professional for a medical check up before leaving for your Gap Year. Some organisations will require this for acceptance onto their programme. Ensure that you are in good health before you go, and also get a dental check-up. This will reduce the possibility of having to receive emergency treatment abroad.
Organise adequate insurance that will cover medical expenses AND the cost of repatriation back to the UK if necessary. Know your blood group. The Blood Care Foundation can organise emergency blood if the situation should arise that you require a blood transfusion.
Plan your Itinerary
Plan ahead and always let someone know your intended travel plans. Familiarise yourself with the customs and religious practices of the countries you are intending to visit. This can help to avoid offending the local inhabitants, in addition to making your stay much more enjoyable. Always check the political situation in each of the areas you are intending to visit — before you go.
Take heed of local and reliable advice concerning which food is safe to eat and which places are safe to visit. Wash your hands frequently with soap and clean water. Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes. Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it or leave it. Do not eat food purchased from street vendors. Do not eat dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurised.
To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot. Also keep groin areas clean and dry, as this area is also prone to fungal infections in hot climates. Always use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other STD’s. Consider all sexual partners as a potential risk of the HIV virus.
If you will be visiting an area where there is a risk for malaria, take your malaria prevention medication before, during and after travel, as directed. Protect yourself from insects by remaining in well-screened areas, using repellents (applied sparingly at 4 hourly minimum intervals) and insect repellent impregnated mosquito nets, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers from dusk to dawn.
On Return Home
If you have visited an area where there is the risk of malaria, you must continue taking your malaria medication for the time suggested by your doctor — this varies with different types of medication. If you become ill with a fever — anything up to 1 year after your return — you must tell your health care professional that you have travelled to a malarious country.
References and Further Resources
- UK Government Gap Year Foreign Travel Advice
Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional. Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.