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Travel Preparations


Christopher Sanford

, MD, MPH, DTM&H, University of Washington;

Alexa Lindley

, MD, MPH, University of Washington School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Jul 2020
Topic Resources

Travel preparation is crucial, even for healthy people. Proper preparations are inexpensive relative to the costs of getting sick or injured while away from home.

Travel Medical Kits

Travel medical kits are useful for minor injuries and illnesses. Useful contents include:

  • First-aid supplies (such as bandages, tape, elastic wrap)

  • Pain relievers (such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

  • Decongestants (such as phenylephrine)

  • Antacids

  • Antibiotics

  • Antidiarrheal drugs (such as loperamide)

Also, topical drugs such as hydrocortisone 1% cream, an over-the-counter antifungal cream, and an antibiotic ointment should be considered.

Travelers should carry their travel medical kit, prescription drugs, extra eyeglasses or other corrective lenses (as well as a current written prescription for either), and hearing-aid batteries in a carry-on bag in case their checked baggage is delayed, lost, or stolen. People with specific dietary and medical needs should plan carefully and carry their own food and supplies. Major problems can often be prevented with common-sense precautions.

Travel Health Insurance

Health insurance is important for travelers. Even with domestic travel, some plans limit coverage for health care away from home. Thus, travelers should know the limitations of their policies.

Coverage is more often a problem for international travel. Some domestic insurance plans limit coverage for vaccinations and preventive drugs for international travel, even though some vaccinations are required for entry into certain countries. Likewise, Medicare and many commercial health insurance plans are not valid in foreign countries and do not cover the cost of any treatment given outside the United States. In addition, a cash deposit or payment in full may be required in international hospitals before care is provided.

To avoid high costs or inability to obtain care, travelers should determine in advance what international coverage, if any, their health plan offers, how to seek prior authorization for international care, and how to make a claim after an emergency. Travel health insurance, including insurance for emergency evacuation, is available through many commercial agencies, travel services, and some major credit card companies. Travelers may want to purchase insurance for services such as

  • Emergency care (about 1 in 30 people traveling abroad requires emergency care)

  • Transportation, with accompanying medical personnel, equipment, and care, within foreign countries or back to the United States

  • Dental care

  • Prenatal or postnatal care

  • Lost or stolen prescription drugs

  • Medical translators

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT—, a nonprofit organization, maintains a list of English-speaking doctors in cities around the world. Other directories listing English-speaking doctors in foreign countries are available from several organizations and web sites. United States consulates may help travelers identify and secure emergency medical services.


Vaccinations for Travel

Vaccinations are important for travel to most developing countries and are required by some countries for entry. Ideally, travelers should visit their usual health care practitioners at least 6 to 8 weeks before their travels to get any necessary vaccinations and ensure that they are current on all their routine immunizations Overview of Immunization Immunization enables the body to better defend itself against diseases caused by certain bacteria or viruses. Immunity (the ability of the body to defend itself against diseases caused by certain... read more . An International Certificate of Vaccination is the best place to document the names and dates of all vaccinations. The certificate is easy to carry and can be obtained from many travel clinics or from the Superintendent of Documents at the U.S. Government Printing Office.

General travel and up-to-date immunization information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Travelers’ Health: Vaccinations), and malaria-prevention recommendations are available from the CDC's malaria hotline (855-856-4713) and web site (Malaria and Travelers). (See also Malaria Malaria Malaria is infection of red blood cells with one of five species of Plasmodium, a protozoan. Malaria causes fever, chills, sweating, a general feeling of illness (malaise), and sometimes... read more .)


Preparations For Travelers With Medical Conditions

Traveling with a medical condition requires special preparation. People with a medical condition should visit their doctor before departure to ensure that their condition is stable and to determine whether any changes in drugs are needed. Detailed written medical information may be the most valuable thing a person can have in a medical emergency, including information about

  • Vaccinations

  • Drugs

  • Results of major diagnostic tests

  • Types and dates of treatments

People should consider asking their doctor to prepare such information in a letter. Medical identification bracelets or necklaces are essential for people with conditions that can cause rapid, life-threatening symptoms, confusion, or unconsciousness (such as diabetes, seizures, and severe allergic reactions). Travelers with heart disorders should travel with a copy of a recent electrocardiogram (ECG). Travelers should also carry proof of medical insurance.


Drugs should remain in their original bottles so that the precise names of the drugs and the instructions for taking them can be reviewed in an emergency. The generic name of a drug is more useful than its brand name because brand names differ among countries.

Travelers should also pack an extra supply of drugs in carry-on bags in case checked bags get lost, stolen, or delayed in transit or the return trip is delayed. Because opioids, syringes, and large amounts of any drug are likely to raise the suspicions of security or customs officers, travelers should have a doctor’s note explaining the medical need for the supplies. In addition, syringes should be packed together with the drugs that are dispensed in them. Travelers should also check with airports, airlines, or embassies to determine what additional documentation is helpful in making travel with these supplies go smoothly. See also United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations.

More Information about Travel Preparations

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

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