Updated 10 February 2013

Gap year travel tips

Once school is over for ever, many teens pack their bags and go off into the world. Don't go anywhere without having read this article.


It's a wild world out there. There are bugs your system has never encountered before that can make you sick as a dog. Every cutie in every bar may be harbouring a viral load to make a nice South African blanch.

Cover yourself
It is vital to have medical insurance whilst abroad, especially if you are travelling in a country where particular diseases are prevalent. If you're not currently on a scheme that includes travel cover, your travel agent can arrange insurance on request. There are plans tailor-made for students and anre not very expensive. A call to any travel agent should give you exact prices.

Find out, in advance, which hospitals are covered by your medical insurance.

Know what you’re letting yourself in for
Before you depart, it is a good idea to check for any travel warnings or public announcements regarding the country or countries you plan to visit.

Make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date and that you are safe from any potential diseases. You can contact the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for various updates on health risks. Make sure you know what the symptoms are of diseases like yellow fever and malaria, if you are travelling to countries where these are prevalent.

Generally, altitude sickness can set in anywhere from about 2,000m above sea level. There is medication available, so if you're aiming to go high, contact your pharmacist for more information.

It is always a good idea to go for a full dental and health check-up at least a month before your trip. And as unthinkable as it might sound, it is advised to postpone travel if you are feeling ill.

Stock up on standbys
If you are on daily medication such as asthma inhalers or insulin injections, ensure that you take supplies with you. Take prescriptions with you, too. Also, ask your doctor for a letter that describes your medical condition in case there is an emergency. Take Carry medication on your person, as you do with your money and passport. Even if your luggage goes missing, you'll still have a window, giving you a chance to get replacements.

First-aid kit
This doesn't have to be the kind of first-aid kit kept by a large primary school. A small container with plasters, antiseptic, a few painkillers, a short course of antibiotics (speak to your doctor before you go and get a prescription), a few antihistamines, anti-diarrhoeal medication and antacids should do the trick.

Keep everything in its original containers, and discard all tablets before you go into countries like Indonesia, where the anti-drugging laws are very strict. You don't want to spend a week in prison while the authorities identify your headache tablets.

Coming up in hives
Protect yourself from insect or animal bites. In the case of insect bites, use reputable insect repellents or creams.

It is always good to have antihistamines with you in the case of an allergic reaction. Antihistamines act as an anti-inflammatory and can help with certain insect and animal bites, and bail you out if you have an allergic reaction to something you've eaten.

Slap on the sunscreen
Sunscreen is essential. Remember that the damage the sun does to skin is cumulative. Every severe sunburn is simply one too many. In

Wrap up
For students who aim to get lucky (oh, take them with you anyway: as we said, it's a wild world), condoms are vital to protect you from  STIs beyond HIV.

Avoid the blues
Travelling can, unexpectedly, lead to stress and insomnia. Take a good multivitamin, and look out for signs of depression.

Water, water everywhere
Always ensure that you wash food thoroughly with clean water before cooking it. In many countries abroad, it is not safe to drink tap water. Bottled water is often the best solution. If you don't have that option, remember to boil all drinking water, including water for ice cubes.

On the trot
Few people go through an entire trip abroad without having at least one serious bout of diarrhoea. Take anti-diarrhoeal medication , and remember that dehydration is the biggest potential problem when your stomach starts playing up. Get to a doctor if things don't improve in a day or two.

(Matthew Louw, Health24, updated December 2010)

Read more:
Teens - live to tell the tale


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Looking younger »

Can maple leaves help you look younger?

New research has found that maple leaf extract can help you look years younger.

Killer foods »

Wild mushrooms a 'silent killer'

Health practitioners are warning people to stay away from wild mushrooms.