Before going to a different country, collect recommendations for vaccinations. You will get the best advice at a tropical health institute. Make an appointment early enough and carry your vaccination certificates. Their staff are able to give you exact and up-to-date recommendations specifically for the trip you are planning and your conditions. Some vaccinations may need several refreshment shots, some will interfere with others, so again: Make sure to start early.
You could also ask your doctor and contact people who are travelling there right now or have recently returned.
In order to enter certain countries, for example D.R. Congo, you must prove that you are vaccinated against yellow fever. It is necessary to get that shot and be able to produce a valid certificate. I got vaccinated against yellow fever in Germany, but I could have done it in Kenya, too. If you are doing a longer trip though several countries, find out what the exact conditions are and what suits you best.
Check with your insurance what they will pay for.
A note on malaria
There are a few medications on the market that serve as prophylaxis against malaria. They differ in possible side-effects, doses and prices. I tried one in two different cases and had very few problems. But I have also seen people getting malaria despite taking these pills. I have met people suffering heavily from the side effects. And I have had malaria myself several times and some relatives and friends got it.
In my own personal opinion – and I am not a doctor! – I don’t advice spending a lot of money on malaria prophylaxis. The best prevention is to wear long clothes in the evenings, apply mosquito repellent and maybe try softer methods without severe side-effects, like homoeopathic pills, if that is something for you. Always sleep under a mosquito net. Usually they can be bought for little money locally. Once you feel weak, strange or sick, go to the doctor immediately. Even in remote places in Kenya this has always been possible for me. The earlier it is being detected, the better. I have no remaining side-effects whatsoever carried away from having had malaria several times.
I wrote about being sick and getting well before.
Lonely Planet also gives a good overview.
In order to not forget anything: Download this free reminder and let us help you with taking notes.
- Sunscreen is usually expensive in countries where the buyers belong to a minority (i.e. white people in a country with the majority being black). So carry your own.
- Diarrhoea is a common effect of a change in food and circumstances. Carry some gentle medication with you. “Blockers” slowing down your bowels or stopping them in a harsh way may cause more damage than help, as they can keep the bacteria inside your body for longer.
- Contact lenses are hard to get by in some places. (However, I have seen respective goods in Nairobi.) Carry what you need – or switch to glasses.
You may not need an entire first aid kit.
- Plasters can be bought and small clinics are around, at least on the Kenyan countryside. Instead, packing lightly is much more important.
- Pain killers and pills against a sore throat are available in supermarkets.
- Condoms prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy and can often be bought locally.
We have prepared a minimalist packing list with only six (!) items of medical essentials for responsible travellers. Click here to print it.
Matador Network has a list that suits hikers and includes some more helpful items.
Elsewhere they list some natural items for the alternative first aid kit which we like a lot!
You should get a travel insurance. Ask your insurance company if they have special offers.
- Do they cover your destination?
- What do they cover in case of special activities? (volunteering, working with animals, certain style of travelling, research, journalism, extreme sports, …)
- Does it fit your profile? Do they take care of your condition or chronic sickness?
- What papers need to be filled? Which documents will you have to hand in? Would they accept hand-written receipts, for example?
- Are emergency cases included? How?
- What happens in case of theft, flight cancellation, credit-card cancellation etc.?
Sometimes, if you are a student and there is a special student travel agency on your campus, you can ask there.
Other places to ask for advice are student groups that organise internships or exchange programmes abroad. If you are coming with an organisation, ask them. However, the partner organisations in your country of destination may not know so much about these specific things.
You can also compare offers online.
Print all these questions in this free checklist in order to not forget something important when talking to your insurance.
Epidemics & Outbreaks
A note on ebola, the zika virus and the likes
Ebola and the zika virus surely are dangerous and keep on killing and interfering with the well-being of too many people. But please don’t overreact to the media coverage. I was in Kenya when ebola broke out in West Africa. By then, the disease was locally and logistically closer to the US (and eventually reached there) than to Kenya.
Media from the global North are good in spreading panic and superstitions. Big influential organisations make their decisions not out of thin air, but also not objectively. Meanwhile, the medical and cultural context on the ground is too complex even for the local government to fully cope with. It is absolutely understandable – and probably advisable – to cancel a trip to a country that has announced an outbreak of a disease. A country – but not a continent.
I was in Kenya when there was cholera, which happens regularly. It is dangerous and close friends had it. I am not at all mentioning that in order to brag. Far from it. But there are better measures to take than to panic. It is hard to evaluate the situation from afar. But if you are in an affected country, keep calm and stick to the prevention methods of your local friends.
What are your tips for healthy travelling? What won’t you miss in your first aid kit? Let us know in the comments below!