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Traveling Abroad for the Holidays

’Tis the season to visit loved ones abroad or take a vacation with your family. Whether you’re seeking a winter wonderland or escaping subzero temperatures, follow these travel tips to get prepared for a healthy and safe holiday travel season.

holiday travel collage showing shoes, passport, airplane

Before You Go

  • Learn about health concerns at your destination. Even if you’re familiar with the place, there may be new and important health risks that could make or break your trip.
  • Make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist or your health care provider at least a month before you leave to learn about health concerns and vaccines needed at your destination.
    • Even if you are leaving soon, a visit to a travel medicine provider is still valuable.
    • If possible, children should complete their routine childhood vaccines on the normal schedule before traveling. Coordinate with a travel medicine doctor and your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible before travel regarding any needed travel vaccines.
  • Pack a travel health kit. Include prescription and over-the-counter medicines (enough to last your whole trip, plus a little extra), sunscreen, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, first aid supplies, health insurance card, insect repellent, and condoms.
  • Monitor travel warnings and alerts at your destination through the US State Department website.
    • You also can enroll with the nearest US embassy or consulate through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get the latest safety updates and help in an emergency.
  • Prepare for the unexpected.
    • Leave copies of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards, and passport with someone at home, in case you lose them during travel.
    • Find out if your health insurance covers medical care abroad—many plans don’t! Consider buying additional insurance that covers health care and emergency evacuation, especially if you will be traveling to remote areas.

Health Risks and Outbreaks

  • Zika. Many popular holiday travel destinations throughout the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Africa, Pacific Islands, and Mexico still have a risk of Zika. Because Zika can cause birth defects, pregnant women should NOT travel to areas with risk of Zika. Check CDC’s Zika Travel Information page to find out if there is a risk of Zika at your destination and how to protect yourself and others during and after travel.
  • Flu. Some countries have reported widespread outbreaks of influenza (flu) this season. It’s not too late to get your yearly flu shot. Stay clear of people who are coughing or otherwise appear to be ill, and wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Measles. There are outbreaks of measles in popular destinations in Europe and elsewhere. In the United States, most measles cases result from exposures during international travel. Make sure you are up to date on the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and other routine vaccines.
  • Norovirus. Cruise ship outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea, primarily caused by norovirus, have been reported. Don’t let this virus ruin your voyage. The best way to prevent illness is frequent handwashing with soap and water.

During Your Trip

  • Eat and drink safely. Contaminated food or drinks can cause travelers’ diarrhea and other diseases. Travelers’ diarrhea is the most common travel-related illness, especially in children. In developing countries,
    • Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot.
    • Do not eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can peel them yourself.
    • Drink only bottled, sealed beverages, and avoid ice—it was likely made with tap water.
  • Protect yourself from extreme temperatures and sun exposure.
    • When traveling to hot or cold climates, take steps to prevent temperature-related illnesses, injuries, and death.
    • Wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher outdoors. Remember that sun protection isn’t just for the beach—you can get a sunburn even if it’s cloudy or cold!
  • Prevent insect bites. Using insect repellent can protect you from serious diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as Zika, dengue, and malaria.
    • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.
    • Apply sunscreen first, then repellent. Be sure to follow instructions on the label and reapply as directed.
  • Always wear seat belts and choose safe transportation.
    • Ride only in marked taxis or ride-sharing vehicles, and avoid overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or vans.
    • Be alert when crossing the street, especially in countries where people drive on the left.
    • Children should always ride in age-appropriate car seats when traveling. Parents should plan to bring car seats because they may not be available in many countries.

After You Return

  • If you are not feeling well after your trip, you may need to see a doctor. Some travel-related illnesses may not cause symptoms until after you get home.
    • Tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. This information will help your doctor consider infections that are rare or not typically seen in the United States.
  • If you are pregnant and have traveled to an area with Zika risk, talk to your doctor or nurse about your recent travel, even if you don’t have symptoms. Your doctor or nurse will decide if and when to test you for Zika.

For more information on what to do if you are sick after your trip, see Getting Sick after Travel.

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