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Gap Year Health Tips & Advice

Like with all travel planning, staying healthy during your Gap year is about doing your research before you leave, and making sure you are properly prepared.

Visit your GP

One of the first things you need to do is book an appointment with your GP.

They will be able to provide you with the most up-to-date information on diseases and other health hazards you may encounter on your trip.

They will also be able to tell you the vaccinations required for visiting your destinations, as well as advise about food and water, sun exposure, and insects.

The Foreign Office, Travellers’ Healthline Advisory Service and the National Travel Health Network and Centre are all useful for finding out information on health hazards in different countries.

Vaccinations

Use the NHS fitfortravel website to check the vaccinations you need and book an appointment with the nurse at your local GP surgery.

You will have to pay for this, but your health is not something worth skimping on just to save a few pounds.

Make sure your other regular vaccinations, such as tetanus, polio and meningitis are up-to-date, too.  Vaccinations you may need include:

  • Diptheria
  • Encephalitis (Japanese)
  • Encephalitis (tick-borne)
  • Hepititis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Meningococcal A and C
  • Rabies
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever


Your jabs are something you need to think about well in advance, as some need to be administered at least 6 weeks before departing for your trip.

Some vaccines, such as rabies, require up to 3 appointments.

Malaria

Check a reliable and updated source to see if you need malaria tablets for your destination(s).

Malaria is a potentially fatal tropical disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is passed on through the bite of the Anopheles species of mosquito.

There are 4 different types of malaria parasite, and if you are infected, the symptoms you can experience include fever, shivering, headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.

So it’s really important you stock up on malaria tablets and start taking them before you leave.

Your GP will be able to tell you what type of malaria medicine you will need, as it varies depending on which part(s) of the world you are visiting.

Lariam, Malarone, Vibramycin, and Aralen are some of the malaria medicines currently prescribed by doctors.

There are big differences in the pricing of malaria pills, so it pays to do some research and compare prices.

Tablets from TravelPharm or Chemist Direct are some of the cheapest around, or you can try other sources such as your local Tesco or Boots pharmacy.  

If you are travelling in an area where malaria is prevalent, try to follow these tips in order to reduce the chance of being infected:

  • Take most precautions at dusk and night time, when mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
  • Make sure the room you are sleeping in is properly screened with gauze over the doors and windows. Check for any holes in the gauze and any overlooked areas in the room that are unscreened. It also helps if your room is air conditioned.
  • Kill any mosquitoes that have entered during the day by spraying the room with an insecticide before settling down for the night.
  • If you are sleeping outdoors, or in an unscreened room, put a mosquito net around your bed treated with a harmless insecticide such as pyrethrum or permethrin (one brand name for this is Elimite). The net should be made of a small mesh with no holes, and should be tucked in under the bottom sheet. This will significantly reduce the risk of being bitten.
  • Be sure to take your own net with you, as you may not be able to get hold of one at your destination.
  • Keep it rolled up and tucked away somewhere unexposed during the day time so no insects can get inside it when you’re not using it.
  • Wear long trousers and long sleeved tops at night to cover yourself as much as possible. Put on some thick socks too, which you should also wear outside in the evening. Light colours tend to be less attractive to mosquitoes.
  • One of the most effective forms of preventing mosquito bites is to use a repellent cream containing diethyl toluamide (DEET). There are other treatments out there made from naturally occurring sources, such as citronella oil, but are generally less effective. Be careful not to exceed the manufacturer's recommendations when applying it though.

Food and water

When travelling abroad it is very easy to contract a disease through infected water and food. These include E. coli, dysentery, giardiasis and hepatitis A, while less common diseases include cholera, polio and typhoid.

Follow these tips to help prevent you falling ill during your travels:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before consuming any food.
  • Drink bottled water at all times, and only from bottles with the seal unbroken. Also use bottled water for brushing your teeth with.
  • If required, purify water with water purification tablets or by boiling it and letting it bubble for a minute or so.
  • Avoid ice unless it is made from treated water – this is a common source of travellers’ diarrhoea.
  • Processed beverages including soda, wine and beer are considered to be safe, as are boiled drinks such as tea and coffee.
  • Only eat fruit that can be peeled and has been peeled yourself (i.e. not handled by others). Wash it well with bottled water to avoid contamination whilst peeling and cutting.
  • Avoid uncooked vegetables, plus any poorly cooked meat and eggs that can lead to bacterial infections and diarrhoea.
  • Do not eat food that is only lukewarm and/or has been exposed to flies, e.g. open buffets, as bacteria could have started to grow in it. Food that is obviously well cooked and piping hot is fine.
  • Do not consume raw or undercooked oysters, crabs and fish, as these can be contaminated with a number of diseases, particularly bacterial infections.
  • Avoid uncooked salads and fruit that may have been washed under the tap.
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products.
  • Do not consume food at street vendors, unless it has been freshly prepared and is served on clean crockery.

Sun exposure

Too much time spent in the sun can lead to heat stroke, sunburn, and skin cancer.

Fair skinned people, plus those with a large number of moles, a personal or family history of skin cancer and skin that burns easily are at greater risk, particularly in tropical areas.

To avoid the effects of overexposure to the sun:

  • Invest in a good sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, along with a high protection factor
  • Wear sunglasses that provide UV protection
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Cover your skin as much as you can with loose fitting fabrics you can’t see through, especially between 11 am and 3 pm when the sun is at its strongest
  • Avoid physical activity over long periods of time
  • Don’t drink alcohol
  • Always wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim that protects your head, face and neck
  • Don’t go out in the mid day sun
  • Don’t spend too much time tanning yourself
  • If you become sunburnt, cover up the skin until the redness has disappeared

Gap Year Health Kit Checklist

To make sure you have all the essential items for staying healthy during your trip and arriving home in one piece, we’ve put together a checklist of items that you should consider packing.

  • Malaria tablets
  • Mosquito net
  • Long-sleeved tops and trousers
  • Sunblock (of different factors)
  • Insect repellent
  • Emergency malaria treatment
  • Water purifying tablets
  • Aspirin
  • Flight socks
  • Sterilised needles
  • Plasters
  • Antiseptic and antibacterial wipes
  • Bandages
  • Diarrhoea treatment (e.g. Imodium) and rehydration salts
  • Tablets for travel sickness, antacid, antifungal and antihistamine if necessary
  • Insect bite cream
  • Painkillers/anti-inflammatory tablets
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Surgical tape and gauze
  • Condoms