If you’ve never traveled to remote or third-world regions, it’s best to schedule a visit with a doctor who specializes in travel vaccinations at least a month prior to your trip. Most vaccines take time to become effective and some must be given in a series over a period of days or weeks.
Even if it is less than four weeks before you leave, you might still benefit from shots or medications and other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.
Be sure that you and your family are up to date on routine vaccinations, which can protect you from diseases that are still common in many parts of the world even though they rarely occur in the United States. If you are not sure which vaccinations are routine, look at the schedules below.
- Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule — United States
- Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule — United States
- Vaccine Recommendations for Infants and Children
These vaccines are recommended to protect travelers from illnesses present in other parts of the world and to prevent the importation of infectious diseases across international borders. Which vaccinations you need depends on a number of factors including your destination, whether you will be spending time in rural areas, the season of the year you are traveling, your age, health status, and previous immunizations. See the CDC destinations page and look up vaccinations recommended for the country or countries you will visit.
Because we were traveling to the Amazon, we requested medication for malaria, even though it wasn’t required. We also requested medication to help prevent altitude sickness because our travels would take us up to 18,000 feet.
The only vaccine required by International Health Regulations is yellow fever vaccination for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. Since we had been vaccinated four years prior for a trip to Africa (the vaccine is good for 10 years), we did not have to repeat. (Keep good records and take them with you on your trip). Meningococcal meningitis vaccination is required by the government of Saudi Arabia for annual travel during the Hajj.
Travelers with diabetes, HIV, or other immune-suppressed diseases, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may have special requirements, which you can check at the CDC site. If you’re traveling with infants or children read the Vaccine Recommendations for Infants and Children section in Health Information for International Travel or take a copy to your doctor. Don't forget to read about general health information for travel with infants and young children.
Whether you’re traveling to a remote region or the next state, lost medications can be difficult to replace. Take medications in your carry-on luggage (compartments for checked luggage could damage medicines) in original containers so that airport security personnel know that you're carrying a prescription from your doctor. Keep a list of current medications you take, as well as any that you’re allergic to and should avoid, in a purse or wallet in the event of an emergency.
For further protection, consider purchasing travel insurance. Many policies cover emergency evacuation if you are ill or injured. Or you can join a membership organization such as Medjet Assist, which provides air transportation to the hospital of your choice (but doesn’t cover medical expenses).