Some general advice [1]

You can avoid a lot of unnecessary worry if you carefully, methodically prepare your holiday or trip abroad well in advance.

To avoid last minute forgetfulness or carelessness, jot down a list of things to do and keep it in a safe place. With updates and the wisdom you gain from each new travel experience, this same list will serve you year after year.

Here is some practical and general advice to help you prepare your trip:

Assistance coverage

Subscribe to an assistance contract and take the time to read the general conditions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about certain clauses that are difficult to understand or are poorly adapted to your particular situation. Your family doctor will be able to explain the contract’s different guarantees. This is a very important point, particularly if you have a specific medical concern or condition (a chronic or recent serious illness, a pregnancy…).

Write down your contract number and the telephone number of your assistance company and keep them on you at all times. And remember to take out an assistance contract for your teenagers if they are travelling alone.

If you have any problem while travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. The regulating doctor of your assistance company is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. He/she can provide useful advice, contact your family doctor and organise a consultation wherever you are.

Medical aspects

Make an appointment with your family doctor, your dentist and your gynaecologist. Your pharmacist will also be able to advise you about the different prescribed treatments you must follow during your trip.  Find out about the health conditions of the countries you will be visiting. Verify and update your vaccinations, and take your vaccination booklet with you.

Prepare your medical kit. If necessary, make photocopies of your recent medical prescriptions and/or your last hospital reports. You might even give a copy of these documents to someone close to you.

In case of a chronic illness or previous or complicated illnesses, ask you doctor to write a medical report, preferably in English, that summarises your situation (previous conditions, description of your illness, results of most recent examinations or tests carried out) and mentions your usual medical treatment and its international denomination.

Never deviate from your habitual treatment, even while flying. Always have your medication on hand and carry a duplicate of your prescription, specifying the international names (DCI) of the medication you are using (for example, the DCI of aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid).  This way you can replace it or quickly find its equivalent wherever you are.

What to include in your luggage

Carefully prepare all everyday items you will need during your trip, the kinds of things that could ruin your trip if you left them behind. Don’t forget your eyeglasses, reading glasses and/or contact lenses (plan on taking along a second emergency pair) and, if necessary, your hearing aid and extra batteries.

Your sunglasses should be well adapted to your trip (seaside, mountains, tropics). Chose your sun cream according to your destination, your skin type and a possible allergy. Take along lip protection, a sun cap or hat, and even a wide, long scarf to protect yourself from dust and strong winds.

In case of prolonged seated travel (auto car, road trips…), pack a cervical cushion. Equip yourselves with maps (countries, regions and cities), a compass, a flashlight, extra batteries, a camera and film, and electrical adapters…

And of course the Golden Rule: always carry your passport, banking card (or travellers’ checks or cash) and medication on you. Never put these items in the bottom of your luggage or in the luggage compartment of an airplane.

Taking the plane [2]

Questions to ask before you fly

You have carefully chosen where you want to go, but what about how you’re going to get there?
How long is the flight? What time will you leave? How long in transit once you’ve landed? Are you planning a calm, relaxing holiday or an exciting, often tiring road trip? Is your destination well adapted to your physical condition and your daily habits?

Before you leave, it’s important to discuss these questions and the consequences of making a long flight, with your doctor. It is particularly essential if:

  • You have a cold, sinus trouble or an ear ache or ear infection
  • You suffer from a chronic illness, notably: insulin-dependent diabetes, asthma, allergies, epilepsy, drepanocytosis, respiratory insufficiency, heart or kidney failure
  • You are receiving treatment for cancer or an immune deficiency
  • You have panic attacks (agoraphobia or claustrophobia)
  • You recently had an operation, particularly in the case of coronary insufficiency (angioplasty or bypass surgery), glaucoma, detachment of the retina, or a problem with the inner ear
  • You suffer from renal colic
  • You’re experiencing angina pain
  • You’re taking long-term medication
  • You cannot climb stairs without getting out of breath
  • You’ve recently had a vascular brain accident
  • Your doctor discovered that you have rhythmic or cardiac conduction trouble, which may cause fainting
  • You wear a pacemaker
  • You are pregnant or you plan on travelling with children.

The stress of leaving

Leaving is always accompanied by stress and can cause anxiety, discomfort, feeling faint or even falling down. By following these simple measures, you can prevent harmful consequences from occurring:

  • Arrive early to where you’re supposed to be
  • If necessary, get someone to accompany you to help you check-in and carry your luggage
  • Take along a light-weight, carry-on bag that contains your customary medication (never put it in your suitcase or in the luggage compartment of the airplane), your passport, vaccination booklet, travel documents (tickets, boarding card, etc.), your money (cash, traveller’s checks, credit cards…), a few personal toiletries for freshening up, and a large bottle of water
  • Before flying, avoid eating starchy foods, dairy products or fizzy drinks…Gas contained in the digestive track dilates in high altitudes and causes a bloating sensation.
    If you are afraid of flying, contact your airline company. Workshops are offered to help you overcome this fear. Consult your family doctor. He too can offer advice and help you feel more at ease.

During the flight

The atmosphere in an airplane is extremely dry (relative hygrometry is less than 10%) at an imaginary altitude of 1500 – 2500 meters. These two factors are the source of several discomforts, which can be easily addressed. Just follow the advice below:

  • To combat dry air:  drink at least 1 litre of still water every 4 hours, remove your contact lenses or humidify them regularly with individually-dosed eye drops, or use anti-inflammatory, disinfectant eye drops recommended by your ophthalmologist.
  • To combat phlebitis:  loosen your clothing (and wear ample clothing anyway), avoid wearing tight trousers and lace-up shoes; remove your shoes and slip on a pair of comfortable socks. Do not stay in your seat the entire time, but get up regularly and walk around the cabin, and up and down the aisles. If you cannot get up and walk around frequently, don’t hesitate to exercise in place, working all the different muscle groups in your lower limbs: your feet, calves and thighs. Then relax all your muscles and breathe deeply and slowly. Your family doctor can prescribe a treatment, according to your situation, to wear support hose, or for medication for stronger veins, even anti-coagulants.
  • To combat air sickness:  if possible, chose a seat near the centre of the aircraft, avoid eating large meals and drinking alcohol, try to sleep. If necessary take a light prescription sleeping pill that can be easily eliminated and is designated to relieve air sickness.
    During the flight, air cabin pressure is only partial; it’s a bit like going into the high mountains. There is therefore a risk of otitis due to barometric depression, which is all the more risky if you have a cold or easily get otitis or have sinus problems. In the beginning of your flight, regularly swallow your saliva, chew gum or suck on a piece of candy. Learn to do the Valsalva manoeuvre: pinch your nose, close your mouth and exhale (hold your breath), then swallow several times. Before leaving, your doctor can also prescribe an antibiotic, an analgesic, an anti-inflammatory and a local nasal vasoconstrictor.

Once you’ve reached your destination

As soon as you arrive, plan to rest a bit, if possible with your legs up. The time change usually feels the most brutal when flying west to east. You will therefore suffer from jetlag more when you fly from Europe to Asia, and when returning to Europe after a trip to the United States. Re-adapting requires as many days are there are hours of time difference. In the case of continuous medical treatment, be sure to adopt yourself gradually to the local time. If necessary, begin to change your time zone to the tune of one hour a day, two or three days before leaving.

Once you’ve arrived, the most important thing to do is to immediately follow the eating and sleeping times of your host country. Get yourself quickly synchronised to local time. Exposing yourself to light is also an important factor for helping your biological clock reset itself. The bottom line is that it’s important to stay awake during the day and to sleep at night!

If you have any problem while travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. The regulating doctor of your assistance company is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. He/she can provide useful advice, contact your family doctor and organize a consultation wherever you are.

How to prepare your first aid kit [3]

While holidays should be a time for relaxation, adventure and great times, we cannot take all of the comforts of home away with us. Some things, however, should definitely make it into your suitcase before you head out the door on a trip.

How to prepare your first aid kit

First, separate your daily medication (usual treatments, contraception, malaria pills) from the emergency medical kit (used less frequently).

The medical kit is to be used in emergency situations. It should be small and compact so you can easily take it with you on all excursions; it should be a bright colour so that you can find it easily and not forget it in your hotel room or while hiking… Be sure to choose a kit with a hanging strap. This will not only make it easier to access the various compartments, but being able to hang it ensures proper hygiene, regardless of the environment.

Here are a few tips to help you put together an adequate medical kit:

  • Verify its contents every year and update them if necessary: discard any medication or product for which the usage date has expired, or that was exposed to very high temperatures during a previous trip (particularly very hot or humid countries).
  • Also take into account how long you will be gone and plan accordingly.
  • Beware of carrying liquids when young children are around! Choose screwcap, airtight bottles that will not leak during a long flight, or from changes in air pressure. Choose small solid plastic bottles, which you can find at your local pharmacy or in a sports store. Single-dose, one-time use bottles are always the best choice.
  • Use zip lock plastic bags to protect your fragile articles and important documents
    from humidity (tablets, pills, capsules, but also your passport, medical prescriptions, vaccination booklet…).

Permanent items

The following list is only an indication of what you might include and in no way claims to be exhaustive:

  • Note all emergency telephone numbers.
  • Remember to bring a thermometer, particularly if travelling with children.

Pack multi-purpose scissors, safety pins, tweezers for removing splinters, tapered, anti-corrosive sewing needles, cotton tips (ear Q-tips), a disposable lighter, an unbreakable pocket mirror, sanitary pads or tampons, condoms and one or two plastic garbage bags.

  • For nicks, cuts and scrapes take along absorbent cotton and an antiseptic, (70° alcohol disinfectant or iodized alcohol, except if you are allergic to iodine). Preconditioned disinfectant tampons are more hygienic and more practical: ask your pharmacist for advice. Also single-dose vials of antiseptics are always advisable.
  • Include cloth bandages or the equivalent, self stick bandages that do not stick to the skin, band-aids or plasters for blisters, adhesive stitching strips, and an assortment of bandages for cuts and other small wounds.
  • Creams and ointments for burns and sunburns.
  • Guard against mosquito bites by including mosquito repellent and possibly mosquito netting or mosquito repellent wicks.
  • If necessary, include water purifiers and vitamin C to mask the taste of the disinfected water and help you overcome the time change and bouts of fatigue. But be careful! Dosage is restricted to 1000 mg of vitamin C per day for adults and must be adapted to the weight of your child.
  • Remember, if you wear contact lenses, take along a case and cleansing products (disinfectant, soap, neutralisers, saline solution).
  • And don’t forget contraception. Beware of the time change regarding mini doses of birth control pills and unpleasant side effects of associated medication, such as anti-inflammatories. When in doubt, consult your physician.
  • Do not take syringes or hypodermic needles with you (except if you have documentary evidence of their necessity), because in certain countries, customs agents and airport security can prove to be extremely fussy when going through your luggage.

Emergency medication

Any kind of self-medication administered without professional medical advice can be very dangerous. It’s essential to verify with your doctor their amounts, directions for use and compatibility with other medications before leaving on a trip.

To treat any aches, pains or illnesses that might occur during your trip, take along an emergency medical kit:

  • Include seasickness pills or anti-emetic medicine to prevent nausea, vomiting or travel sickness
  • To prevent diarrhoea, have diarrhoea tablets on hand, particularly if you are travelling to tropical regions or to areas where you will have to change your eating habits. And remember that the best prevention is proper hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and keep your fingernails cut short. In case you do come down with diarrhoea, be sure to stay well hydrated.
  • For heartburn, take anti-acid pills and a stomach bandage for those of you who have a sensitive stomach.
  • For pain and fever include a minor analgesic like paracetamol or aspirin, and some anti-inflammatories prescribed by your doctor. Be careful not to take the anti-inflammatory pills on an empty stomach and be sure to respect the proper dosage, particularly regarding children. These can also have an anti-coagulating effect. Check with your doctor about their interactions with your other personal medication. If you experience any sudden or unusual pain or fever, consult a doctor immediately.
  • To relieve itching, be sure to have a topical anti-pruritic cream, ointment or tablets on hand. Ask your doctor for a prescription. He/she will also explain the side effects, particularly the drowsiness you may feel due to the antihistamines.
  • For herpes and cold sores: prescription dermal cream. UV rays can reactivate the virus in 24-48 hours and fatigue from travelling can encourage a severe outbreak.
  • Also with a medical prescription: anti-septic eye drops, anti-malaria tablets, antibiotics, light sleeping pills in case they’re needed, and medication for infants or accompanied children.

6 tips to avoid sunstroke

Is there anything more enjoyable then catching a few rays when the beautiful weather is back?

Whether we are in the garden, on the beach, on a terrace or near the pool, the sun invites us to enjoy its heat. But be careful, without us even noticing, this false friend can easily burn us. This is not only painful, but also dangerous for the skin. Avoid sunstroke and never leave the house without protection.

Sunstroke: the consequences

Sunstroke happens when our skin is exposed for too long a period to UV rays. These UV rays damage the epidermis and modify its cells, which accelerates ageing of the skin. Appearance of melanoma or other forms of skin cancer are the worst consequences of sunstroke.

The sun can not only damage the skin but also the eyes. Overexposure to the sun can damage the iris and cause cataracts.

Sunstroke: How do I protect myself?

All of the above does not necessarily mean you need to lock yourself in the house for the whole of the summer! On the contrary, the sun allows us to top up on our vitamin D and does wonders for our moods. It would be a pity not to enjoy it, but within reason.

It is very important to not overexpose eyes and skin. it is not healthy to bake for several hours on the beach. If you are going to spend a long time in the sun, make sure you have sufficient protection. Following advice could be useful:

  • Use cream with a high protection factor. Cover yourself with suncream in the shade, about 20 minutes before you go out in the sun. Re-apply your cream every two hours.
  • Use lip balm.
  • Wear a cap or hat with wide brims so that you can protect your head and neck.
  • Immediately dry yourself after you’ve been for a swim. Water drops are refreshing but reinforce the burning effect of UV rays.
  • Stay inside during the hottest time of day. The sun is at its most dangerous between twelve and two.
  • Use good quality sunglasses. A model that covers your eyes is best. Check whether they have a CE quality label and their filter percentage. Do not use plastic sunglasses. They do not protect against UV rays.

How to cure sunstroke

If your skin reddens, that means you have caught sunstroke. Go in the shade an apply damp cloths to your skin. Take a lukewarm shower and apply after-sun. If blisters appear on the skin, call a doctor.

Airport: How much time before check-in?

If you’re travelling within Europe, you “only” need to be at the airport two hours before you’re flying. Intercontinental flights on the other hand require you arrive at the latest three hours beforehand. Check-in time is different from one company to the other. Play it safe and always allow plenty of time for check-in.

Check-in at the airport

You present your passport and your travel documents at the check-in desk. Then your luggage is weighed, labelled and put in the hold. As confirmation of your check-in, you’ll receive a boarding pass and a registration document for your luggage. Keep these until you collected your luggage at the other end.

Go to the boarding gate!

As soon as you have your boarding pass and your luggage is registered, you can make your way through security and to the boarding gate. There, a customs employee shall request your boarding pass and passport.

Do not wait too long before going to the boarding gate because their desk usually closes about twenty minutes before departure. That is why the majority of airline companies will request you to be at the boarding gate at the latest forty minutes or so before departure. If you are too late, you cannot board the plane. 

Check-in online

More and more airline companies want their customers to check in online. Generally speaking, it is possible to check in from a few weeks to a few hours before departure. Checking in online is definitely worth your while because it will save you time on the day of your flight. Certain companies even charge a fee nowadays for checking in at the airport, where online check-in is free. Have you checked in online? Do definitely not forget to print your boarding pass, which you will need to show at the boarding gate!

How about my luggage

It is also worth your while to be early so you can register your luggage early. Most of the luggage registration desks are open from two hours to forty minutes before departure. Passengers who checked in online can quickly leave their luggage at the « drop off baggage » desk.

Go quicker to security check

Many passengers lose time in the security check queue. Please find here a few pieces of advice so you can get through the security check in double quick time.

Take all pieces of metal (coins, keys, wallet) out off your luggage, bags and pockets and place them in the small basket.

Also put your top or jacket in there.

Do not wear any shoes or clothing which has metal pieces on it (buckles, belt, buttons, zips).

Are you carrying your laptop? Take it out of your bag and put it also in the basket.

Are you carrying a drink? Empty it before security. Quantities of authorised liquids are limited nowadays.

Certain companies allow you to use the “Fast Lane”, for which you pay an extra on top of your ticket. This is a quicker queue which will make it quicker to go through security.

Checklist ski: what you absolutely have to take with you

The best time of the year has arrived for lovers of winter sports. Holidays in the mountains are an enchanted digression from this dreary season. With a bit of luck, you will be going down those pistes while enjoying a bit of winter sun so you can recharge your batteries ready for spring. In order to be ready for these skiing holidays, a checklist ski is the best way not to forget anything in your luggage. What do you absolutely need? Answers below. 

Checklist ski for your luggage

When you go skiing, you can’t leave your clothing to luck. It is best to complete before you go a list with all pieces of clothing you will need, such as a coat, jumper, trousers and ski glasses. On top of those basics you need to pack gloves, woolly hat, scarf and socks … in short, everything that will protect you from the cold. Do not forget, also, thermal underwear. If, when you’re skiing, the outside temperature drops to 0 or thereabouts, your breathing underwear, which conserves heat and expels humidity, are absolutely indispensable.

Checklist ski: travel medicines

The basic elements of your travel medicines are the same winter or summer. But when you’re going on a skiing holiday, it is advisable to add a few extras, such as:

  • Lip balm with UV protection
  • Full screen
  • After-sun
  • Hematoma balm
  • Sore muscles balm
  • Cold packs
  • Medication against cooling
  • Nasal spray
  • First aid kit

If you’re on medication, do not forget to ask your doctor in time for a new prescription so that you do not find yourself without while on holiday.

Obviously, do not forget the basics such as painkillers, paracetamol, nail clippers, tweezers, medication against nausea and diarrhea, bandage, disinfectant, contact lenses, ointment, antiseptic, thermometer and dressing.

Your personal ski checklist

You also need to pack your travel and insurance documents. An accident can happen at any time, definitely when skiing, and it is much more practical to have the necessary papers directly at hand.

The more correct your ski checklist, the better you will be prepared. The guarantee for a successful holiday!