Tahiti, Tierra del Fuego, Timbuktu. Ah, Travel. It broadens the mind, enriches the spirit, and relaxes the body. It’s an escape from the humdrum, and, once over, it allows you to meet life’s challenges with new vigour.
Well that’s the idea anyway. When I finally got to Machu Picchu (a travel dream since following Tintin's adventures in Peru), I was so weak and exhausted from rampant traveller's diarrhoea that I spent the visit "having a little lie-down" next to one of the famous stone altars. If an Inca brandishing a sacrificial knife had materialised, I would not have cared less.
The truth is that travel, even when it’s wonderful, puts you under considerable stress: plucked out of the familiar and thrust into strange new environments, with their accompanying strange food, bugs and people, our immune systems take strain – it’s no wonder we often get sick.
And because we’re stressed and distracted by a flood of new, strange stimuli, we tend to be more vulnerable than usual to injury too.
There are few of us who’ve ventured out of the comfort zone (otherwise known as "home") without succumbing to health problems – from being kept awake by mosquito bites to being rushed to the emergency room with cerebral malaria from those same mosquitoes.
And uninsured health disasters in the often cripplingly expensive developed world, or poor care in the not-so-developed, are the stuff travellers’ nightmares are made of.
You can't eliminate risks and surprises – both pleasant and unpleasant – from travel, and that's in part what makes it exciting and worthwhile. But a little forethought and planning can go a long way towards avoiding a health crisis that scuppers that trip you’ve slaved and saved years for.
So make a stopover first at Health24’s Travel Centre on your way to anywhere else: it's packed full of tips to keep you whole and well out in the wide, wild world, until you bring your travellers' tales safely back home again.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth and Travel Editor, Health24, updated September 2011