An illness or injury can turn your pleasant summer getaway into the vacation from hell. Smart travelers know this can be avoided with just a little pre-planning.

Dr. Jennifer Galbraith, an emergency medicine specialist at Oklahoma State University Medical Center, says the most common potential hazard for vacationers is a familiar one.

 “Summertime means more people are out in the sun at the lake, zoo or other outdoor activities,” she says. “Protecting yourself from sunburn – and an increased risk of skin cancer – is very important.”

For those headed to tropical climates, is a visit to the tanning booth in order? Definitely not, says Galbraith.

“If you’re worried about looking pale in your swimsuit, use sunless tanning lotion,” she advises.

For some people, a vacation is an excuse to take risks. Throwing caution to the wind by participating in unfamiliar outdoor activities is another common vacation hazard.

“With any outdoor sport such as hiking or high altitude rock climbing, it’s best to enroll in a class to learn basic climbing and safety techniques before you go,” says Galbraith. “Amateurs who aren’t prepared or properly equipped can have serious injuries from falls or misuse of equipment.”

Anyone with a chronic underlying illness should check with a physician before starting a new rigorous sport, she adds.

Swimming or boating in unfamiliar places and mixing water activities with alcohol are also potentially dangerous for vacationers.

“When swimming in the ocean, follow the posted guides about water conditions such as rip tides or ocean wildlife,” says Galbraith. “Wear swim shoes if you’re walking on a beach which may have sharp rocks or glass.”

Traveling abroad can be a wonderful experience, but this also requires management of potential risks.

Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, especially in foreign countries. Galbraith says most resorts have water filtration systems but, if you’re concerned, stick to bottled water and beverages.

“Certain people are at high risk for illness from contaminated food, including infants, pregnant women, the elderly and people who are immune-compromised,” she explains. “Drinking the water or using ice, brushing your teeth or eating fruits and vegetables cleaned in the water can all cause illness in countries with contamination issues.”

If you’re traveling to a country where a certain disease is prevalent, ask your doctor for prescriptions to prevent the disease or combat symptoms. Find out about health risks and weather-related health issues before you leave home. Avoid touching animals, carry antiseptic wipes and wash your hands often.

Always plan for the possibility that you may have an injury or illness that requires medical attention. Dr. Galbraith recommends contacting your health insurer ahead of time to make sure they will pay for medical care and medical evacuation in a foreign country.

“It’s not uncommon that insurance companies won’t cover bills in a foreign country. You can purchase medical insurance for travelers,” she says.

Galbraith says it’s a good idea to contact the U.S. State Department and let them know you’ll be in a foreign country.

“The State Department can tell you how to contact the U.S. Embassy in your destination country. If you need medical care during your stay, the embassy can tell you where to go,” she concludes.

Say ‘No’ to the Junk Food Junket

Vacations are not the time to try and lose weight, but you don’t have to come home unable to button your pants.

Here are tips for weight-conscious travelers:

• Riding in the car or sitting in the airport don’t have to mean pigging out. Carry healthy snacks, such as granola bars or fruit, in your bag and avoid junk food sold at travel marts and airport vendors.

• Eat protein for breakfast. It will stick with you longer and you’ll be less likely to snack between meals.

• Consider walking to your destination rather than driving or hailing a cab. Plan ahead for vacation opportunities to hike or ride bicycles.

• Don’t deprive yourself of that special dessert, but you don’t have to eat a huge portion of it. If you linger at the table after dinner, ask the waiter to clear the food and bring more water or coffee.

The Healthy Suitcase

Don’t forget medical supplies when packing for vacation. The basics include:

• A first aid kit that includes sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent with Deet, bandages, anti-diarrhea medicine, anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen, anti-bacterial cream such as Neosporin, antacids and motion sickness medication.

• Your insurance card.

• An ample supply of any medications you are taking and copies of the prescriptions.

• An epi pen in case of allergic reactions. If you have a life-threatening condition, wear a bracelet that alerts people.

• Condoms.

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