Traveling abroad can present challenges in the best of times, but staying healthy on foreign soil is even more complicated. Suddenly, travel in 2021 is about more than fending off jet lag and having the right power adapters for your devices. You’ve got to be aware of COVID hotspots — and the restrictions various countries have adopted in response to the virus — as well.
Don’t be deceived by polls that say two-thirds of Americans say life is at least somewhat back to normal as vaccines roll out and local businesses reopen. Whether or not such polls are accurate, the situation can be drastically different overseas.
While nations like New Zealand, Iceland, and Vietnam have handled the pandemic relatively well, places like Brazil, India, Mexico, and the U.K. have had their problems. It’s important to know what the situation looks like where you’re headed, especially if you’ll be staying for an extended time to teach.
On top of health precautions you’d want to take when traveling during “normal” times, here are some things you should consider as (or before) you head out.
Consider COVID Policies
Each country is handling its response to the virus in its own way, which means different policies and restrictions will be in place for foreigners traveling abroad. Some countries are fully open to U.S. travelers, while others require testing as a condition of entering. Still, others continue to keep quarantines in place.
Mexico closed its land border through at least June 1 but has still allowed Americans to fly there. You’ll need to know what’s required of you in your chosen destination before you depart.
Beyond the red tape of entering and leaving, it’s also important to know the area’s risk level. As of June, the CDC designated more countries in the “very high” group for COVID risk (Level 4) than in any other category. This included places like Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Germany, Egypt, and Chile. The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all Level 4 destinations.
If, on the other hand, you were planning a trip to Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, or Taiwan, your risk was considered low (Level 1) as of June 6. Nevertheless, the CDC recommends wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from those not traveling with you, and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer often in these areas.
Also, take gloves, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer with you. Taking precautions can keep you safer, and this is doubly important if you’re planning an extended stay to teach abroad.
Be Prepared for Other Illnesses
It’s not just COVID you’ll have to worry about. Overseas travelers have a 50% chance of suffering from travel-related illnesses. The most common are gastrointestinal infections.
Since many of these illnesses come from untreated or unsanitary water and food, it’s a good idea to avoid buying from street vendors and to drink boiled or bottled water. Avoid fruit or veggies washed in local water, and take your drinks without ice. Probiotics can also help you avoid stomach complaints.
Additionally, travel to developing countries carries a higher risk for contracting conditions like malaria, influenza, and acute respiratory infections.
One way to minimize your risk of getting sick is prevention, so you can start from a healthy baseline: Get a check-up before you leave to make sure you’re not coming down with something. An eye exam and dental exam can’t hurt, either.
Pack an Emergency Kit
If you plan to travel by vehicle once you arrive at your destination, it’s a good idea to buy or make your own car emergency kit containing first aid supplies, emergency food and water, and basic tools. Don’t forget to pack your prescription medications, too.
An emergency kit is also helpful to have on hand in your apartment, where you may need basic tools or first aid. They are typically even small enough to store in a backpack, so you can keep them with you if you go hiking or decide to explore. This is especially important if you’ll be venturing “off the beaten path.”
Do Your Research
If you’re a teacher, you know how important it is to do your research. Before you leave, you should contact your insurance company to determine how you’ll be covered while abroad. Also, decide whether you need a travel insurance policy in case you get sick or something else unforeseen puts a crimp in your plans.
Different countries will have different medical care facilities and policies. In China, for example, most care is provided in hospitals, rather than through general practitioners.
Take your insurance card with you, and jot down the contact information for U.S. consulates where you’ll be traveling.
Prioritize Your Health
Prioritizing your health may sound simple, but it’s not as easy as you might think. For example, it’s important to get good sleep to stay healthy, but jet lag can make this difficult. You may sleep more lightly in an unfamiliar location, so pack earplugs and a sleep mask to block out distractions. And as always, avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially before bedtime.
Don’t let your travels disrupt your exercise routine, either, if you can help it. If you’re used to having your bike with you or going to the gym, find alternatives like jogging, hiking, or swimming. Getting out in the fresh air and sunshine will help your mood as well as your physical health.
Traveling abroad is meant to be an adventure, but it can turn into the wrong kind of adventure if you don’t take steps to preserve your health and safety. By doing some research, getting prepared, and staying on top of your health habits, you can enjoy your time overseas without worrying that something might ruin this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.