8 Ways to Prevent Sickness or Injury During Travel

woman on bridge looking at map

Once your trip has started, you want to be able to enjoy it! Getting sick or injured can quickly derail your fun. Keep your journey on track by following these travel tips.

#1 Be considerate of other people’s health. If you are sick, do NOT travel.

  • Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself & your family from getting sick. Wash your hands with soap and water often, especially before eating.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Try to avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home or in your hotel room, unless you need medical care.

#2 Road accidents

Accidents are the number one cause of injury and death among Americans while traveling.

  • Always wear a seat belt and, don’t ride in vehicles that do not have them.
  • When possible, hire a local driver. Ask your hotel for a trustworthy driver or taxi company.
  • Do not ride with a driver who has been drinking.
  • Do not drink and drive.
  • Do not travel on overloaded buses or minibuses.
  • Avoid traveling at night.
  • Try to travel with others, not alone.

#3 Prevent bug bites

Bugs, including mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and some flies, can spread diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and Lyme disease, all of which can have severe and lasting consequences.

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Find an EPA-registered insect repellent that’s right for you.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors.
  • You can also spray clothing with permethrin or another EPA-registered insecticide for greater protection. Do NOT use permethrin on skin.
  • If you can, stay in hotels or resorts that are well screened or air-conditioned.

#4 Avoid infections

Infections are transmitted by blood or body fluids, such as viral hepatitis and HIV.

  • Always avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use a 60% or greater alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Always use condoms if you have sex, to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Avoid getting tattoos or piercings abroad. If they do get them, make sure the facility is not re-using needles.
  • If you need injections or medical procedure abroad make sure the facility is using sterile equipment and check with the embassy if they need a recommendation for where to go.
  • If you are planning a trip for a medical procedure, check out our medical tourism webpage.

#5 Food and Drinking Water Safety

  • Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot.
  • Do not eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can wash or peel them yourself.
  • Drink only bottled, sealed beverages, and avoid ice—it was likely made with tap water.

#6 Be Safe Around Animals

  • Avoid animal bites by not handling or petting animals, including dogs and cats.
  • If you are bitten, scratched, or licked, wash the area immediately with soap and water.
  • Call a doctor and determine if medication or rabies post-exposure vaccinations are needed, or if you need to update your tetanus shot.

#7 Sun Safety

  • Use sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Always apply sunscreen BEFORE insect repellent.

#8 Physical Safety

  • Follow local laws and customs.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Wear protective gear during adventure activities (helmets for biking, rappelling, etc.)
  • Use caution when swimming or visiting bodies of water.
    • Do not swim in fresh water.
    • Keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot, especially on beaches where there may be animal waste.
    • Be aware of local weather conditions and forecasts.
    • Watch for large waves, strong tides, and signs of rip currents.
    • Children should be supervised by an adult at all times near and in water.

What to Do if You Become Sick or Injured During Your Trip

If you become sick on an airplane

  • Tell a crew member immediately.
  • If you are coughing, you may be asked to wear a face mask or to cover your mouth and nose.
  • If your illness is serious, the crew may move you to a different part of the plane or, if necessary, redirect the airplane and arrange for you to exit at the nearest airport to receive medical care.

If you become sick on a cruise ship

  • Tell a crew member immediately.
  • Cruise ships usually have a small medical facility on board. Your illness may be treated in this facility.
  • If your illness is serious, the medical staff may stabilize your condition and move you to a hospital on land for further treatment.
  • See CDC’s Tips for Healthy Cruising.

Once at your destination

  • See a doctor immediately if you feel seriously ill or are injured.
  • Obtaining Health Care Abroad provides information and resources to find a doctor.
  • If you bought evacuation insurance, the insurance company also will be able to advise you.
  • Contact the local US embassy or consulate if you think you may need assistance. They are available 24/7 with emergency assistance for US citizens.
  • Reasons you may need to see a doctor
    • Are showing signs of illness (fever >100.4°F [38°C], diarrhea, cough or difficulty breathing, etc.)
    • Have visited a malaria-risk area and become sick with a fever or flu-like illness
    • Have been bitten, scratched, or licked by an animal
    • Have been in any road accident
    • Have been injured
    • Have been sexually assaulted

If You Are Involved in a Natural Disaster

Some areas are prone to certain natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis. To find out if your destination is at risk for certain natural disasters, see the US Department of State Country-specific Information Pages.