May 1, 2005
A little planning ahead may save you and your health

by Sheri B. Doniger, DDS

A little planning ahead may save you and your health

Vacation! That beautiful word! We have saved our dollars and our time, possibly even our calories, to go somewhere ... anywhere ... away from home. No business calls, no PalmPilot® or day planner, no patient concerns, no time strictures, only time to relax and enjoy the distant setting we picked for an interlude from our daily reality. Whether it is a trip to a neighboring state or a faraway country, we still need to heed several rules and prepare ourselves for life away from home. Ill planning could cause our long sought-after vacation from reality to become a trip we would love to forget.

Vacations are great things. They reduce stress and guide us toward revitalization of body and mind. Time away from the daily hassles of life as we know it is always a good thing. Depending on whom you are traveling with, your obligations and duties may be easier or more difficult than your usual routine. Regardless, any time away is time well spent. But we do need to prepare for the unexpected; accidents are unplanned events. If we minimize the number of things that may go awry, we will likely have a more complete vacation experience without worries clouding our good times.

There are several types of vacations. Anytime we go somewhere, it could be considered a vacation. But a cruise with our parents is different from a skiing vacation with our children or a spa getaway with our girlfriends. All should have the same wonderful outcome of making lifelong memories, but each requires a different level of preparation.

Let’s concentrate on planning a bit: we have a limited number of days to spend on vacation. We want to pack the greatest number of events into those days. Be it sightseeing, going to an amusement park, visiting museums, shopping, eating ... we must do it all. We want to make the most of our time, but are we doing ourselves more harm than good when we don’t think through the events the same way we would when we are at home? If we plan the course of our holiday, we will have less stress during the vacation. We will accomplish everything we set out to see and do without adding the undue pressure of trying to fit in more than is humanly possible in the limited time available. The goal is to get away from it all - not bring it all with us!

Speaking of packing, we need to consider what to take on our holiday. First and foremost, medications need to be addressed. If you or any of your travel companions take medications, having an adequate number of pills along is crucial, preferably in their own bottles, in sealed plastic bags, or containers. It may even be wise to take a few extra days’ supply. Think about the recent hurricanes in Florida. Had people not been prepared with extra medications and had they been stranded, they may not have had adequate dosages to cover the additional unforeseen time spent away from home. Medical alert tags, which detail crucial health information and are worn as jewelry, are also helpful in case of an emergency. Health professionals will be able to access important personal health information in a time-sensitive manner via the network provided by these tags. Tossing in an extra toothbrush may not hurt either.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) recommends a traveler’s first aid kit regardless of the distance you are traveling from home. My friends always think I am crazy, carrying around my mini-pharmacy, but I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked if I had something when someone fell ill. The contents of individual kits may vary, considering the age of the person and traveling companions. My days of needing infant or baby supplies are long gone, but the occasional acetaminophen or Tums is always appropriate.

The ACEP’s other suggestions for the kit include motion sickness medication, antibiotic creams, first aid products, and other age- and destination-related medications. It’s usually Murphy’s Law that the one thing you will most need will be the one thing you forgot to pack. I was in New York a few Labor Days ago and needed some eye drops. Of course, none were in my travel bag. So, I had to run out at 5:30 a.m. to find an all-night pharmacy in Times Square to purchase some. I was lucky. Had I been in the middle of a tour in Morocco, I may not have been able to find a nearby pharmacy so easily. These items should all be placed in an accessible tote bag. Due to airline transportation regulations, certain products are not considered carry-on items in the aircraft. Personal prescription medications should always been in a carry-on bag. Persons with heart conditions or those with asthma should have their medications easily accessible.

Cruising is popular with vacationers. For the most part, cruise destinations are considered safe with drinkable water. Aside from the due diligence we must heed regarding our personal belongings and prudent skincare in the sun, these exotic ports-of-call offer great experiences. Some of the cruise ships have a climbing wall or running track. Yes, to counteract the extra calories we consume during the 19 daily food offerings, we may attempt to do some working out, on land or at sea. Even the land excursions offer some form of exercise. Hiking around an island or through the wilds of Alaska may not be our usual daily routine, but we need to be prepared. Some of us do not even do the prescribed 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, and then we go off to scuba/snorkel/hike/walk for a week. It’s fun to experience everything we can while on vacation, but be aware that sometimes our bodies won’t do what we want them to do. More importantly, we should continue the exploration into exercise upon our return home.

All of the cruise stewards I have asked will swear that the calories have been “squeezed out” of any food served on the ship. But in case they are not telling the whole truth, we should remember that calories consumed on vacation do count. We tend to overeat when we are not in our “home” setting. I don’t know what it is about being on vacation ... maybe it’s the thought that the calories don’t count. Hitting seven buffets in Las Vegas over the course of a weekend or indulging in the midnight chocoholic buffet aboard a cruise ship is common. Personally, I would never stop for a street vendor on the streets of Chicago, but put me in Times Square or wandering the streets of Paris, and I find myself eating various assortments of food from little mobile carts. We just eat differently in a foreign city. While on vacation, we still need to be mindful of the consequences of those added calories.

When we travel, we are at the mercy of the chef who prepares our meals. As salt is a fairly common added ingredient to dishes, salt content is rather high in many restaurants. For someone who has borderline or elevated high blood pressure, this could be a huge risk. Consider those with food allergies. The difficulty lies in the ability of the server to understand your dietary needs. Sometimes, a foreign language is a barrier, but for our own health, we need to know what we are eating.

Aside from accidents involving bruised or broken bones, cardiovascular incidents are also likely on vacations. Just as heart attacks are the number one killer in the United States, the statistic continues whether we are at home or at play. Vacation overindulgence causes undue stress on the body. But, wait ... aren’t we trying to alleviate stress by going on vacation? That seems like an oxymoron. With overeating, overconsumption of alcohol, and overindulgence in nonstandard physical activity, cardiac issues may be exacerbated. Some vacationers, who are at risk for hypertension, may not have had their blood pressure checked in a long while. Moderation is always the key to a healthy lifestyle, be it at home or away.

Sunburn protection is always a must. When we are walking the streets of Paris, sitting on a beach in Maui, or antiquing in central Wisconsin, we need sun protection. Although we sometimes forget, lip protection with an SPF factor is also important. Remember to hydrate frequently. Carry bottled water, even when the air temperatures are closer to fall-like than summer. The ACEP suggests avoiding tap water in foreign countries, even when brushing your teeth.

Focus on the whole setting. Taking care of your personal belongings is paramount to having a good time. Watch out for “bumps in the road” to avoid that emergency room visit in a distant city. On that note, always have your medical cards handy when you travel. Keep copies of your passport or other identification, charge card information, and personal identification cards back at home in case of theft or loss. It is always prudent to check with your medical insurance carrier to clarify coverage while you are out of town, especially if you are traveling with parents or anyone who may need medical assistance during the vacation.

There are many Internet sites where you can check out local weather, cultures, and travel information. The CDC offers a Web site that is very informative on all things pertaining to traveling domestically and abroad. Utilizing these sites prior to heading to the airport may alert you to something you forgot to pack or plan. Just as in everyday life, being proactive in vacation planning is always best.

Vacations are wonderful additions to our lives. To be able to explore and seek out other cultures, be it in a faraway country or the state next to yours, the personal satisfaction and mental relief we receive from a good vacation are immeasurable. We need to watch out for overindulgence and inattention to details to ensure our safety and good health.

With proper planning and attention to the world around us, we are able to create memories that will last a lifetime, along with a great level of stress relief. We will return with a refreshed, relaxed outlook on life. So, where in the world are you going next?

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, has been in the private practice of family and preventive dentistry for more than 20 years. A dental hygiene graduate of Loyola University, prior to receiving her dental degree, her current passion is focusing on women’s health and well-being issues. She may be contacted at (847) 677-1101 or [email protected].

Possible Components of a Traveler’s First Aid Kit

• Pain medications: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin

• Decongestants and antihistamines

• Antinausea, antidiarrhea, motion sickness medication

• Bandages, adhesive tape, gauze

• Sharp scissors, tweezers, thermometer

• Safety pins, nail clipper

• Antiseptic wipes, waterless hand wash

• Antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, hydrocortisone cream

• Sunscreen (minimum SPF 15), lip balm

• Insect repellant

• Cough and cold medicines

• Change for phone, calling card

Do’s and Don’ts for a Great Vacation Holiday

Do Don’t

Travel aware Be uninvolved with your surroundings

Plan adequately Overschedule

Eat wisely Overindulge in food or alcohol

Drink plenty of water Ignore your body’s signals

Make memories Think about what you are missing at home

Helpful Travelers’ Web Sites

• American College of Emergency Physicians: “Travelers First Aid Kit” -

• CDC Travelers’ Health - - Travelers’ Health Hotline, toll-free fax (888) 232-3299

(Any information available by fax is also posted on this site), toll-free phone (877) FYI-TRIP

• Mayo Clinic: “Global Travel: Advance Warning Can Prevent Illness” -

• Family “International Travel: Tips for Staying Healthy” -