Vaccinations, health and hygiene for travel overseas

by isvolunteers on Monday, 11 March 2013

Mosquitoes transmit many viral diseases, but do you know which ones? (c)  all images from google.

There’s a lot to think about from a health perspective when going overseas. For example, have you booked a consultation with a travel medicine clinic or your doctor? Do you need a yellow fever vaccination? Can you drink the water? Are you worried about malaria, dengue or cholera? Will you remember to get your prescriptions filled before you leave?

We hope this information will help you thoroughly prepare for a healthy trip!

  • Get informed through a little research
  • Book an appointment with your doctor or a travel medicine clinic (soon!) for vaccinations and other medical advice
  • Ensure you have enough personal medications for the duration of your trip
  • Secure travel/medical insurance right away
  • Pack your personal first aid kit
  • Food, water and personal hygiene tips while you’re away

Visit official websites for info current and advice on vaccinations and health issues in each country

Getting Started… Do Your Own Research

Know where you’re going and how you’ll get there, i.e. will you need to transit through another country en route? This is very important as some governments have vaccination requirements even if you are just stopping over in their airports).

Start your research with a Travel Guide (like a Lonely Planet) or with a few websites such as the ones below, to inform yourself about travel advisories, recommended vaccinations and other information on diseases prevalent in your destination country/s.

Malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. There are no vaccinations against malaria; however you can consider taking anti-malarial medication upon the advice of your doctor

Next, visit your family doctor or a travel medicine clinic

After you’ve done some research and become more informed about what types of vaccinations you may need and what questions you should ask, book an appointment with your doctor or a clinic specializing in travel medicine. Get professional advice about vaccinations and other health considerations specific to your destination, and any countries you may transit through. The important thing is to do this SOONER rather than later as some vaccinations may require a booster after a few weeks, and some medications (like anti-malarial medications) may need to be taken well in advance or and can take a few weeks for your pharmacy to order them in. It is pretty vital to not leave this to the last minute!


While ISV doesn’t require any vaccinations for travel in any of our host countries, we strongly recommend you get professional advice from a doctor (as above). Make sure you’ve covered your bases and are clear on what injections you definitely NEED.  In general, we advise that you ensure your inoculations are up to date for the following:

Proof of vaccinations is required by some countries

Also, if you’re travelling with ISV soon you can refer to your ISV Project Summary for information specific to their project (e.g. you might need to consider vaccinations against diseases such as Japanese encephalitis or rabies, depending on your host country and volunteer tasks).

NOTE: The governments of some countries REQUIRE you to be vaccinated for certain things just to enter or transit through them (e.g. if you’re going on ISV’s Wild Africa Excursion, you MUST have a yellow fever vaccination in order to re-enter South Africa prior to departing for home).

Panadol is a very common brand name for paracetemol in Australia and the UK (and is known as Tylenol in North America). Brand names aren’t always global and different languages make things tricky. Take what you need with you in your personal first aid kit.

Organize Your Personal Medications in Advance

Plan ahead and obtain enough medication for the duration of your stay PLUS a few extra days or weeks so that you can be covered in the event that your return home is delayed.  While overseas, you will not always be near a pharmacy (drug store). Of course, brand names may likely be different to what you are used to or even in a foreign language!  Tip – remember to keep medication in its original packaging with any relevant supporting documentation, and carry this with you in your hand-luggage for the plane journey. That way, if your bag gets lost or delayed by the airline, you still have it with you.

Motion Sickness: Rough boat journeys or long, winding bus rides can make you miserable. We highly recommend bringing ginger tablets or some other anti-nausea medication with you to help calm your stomach. You can often get ginger tablets at supermarkets or pharmacies.

Secure your Medical/Travel and Cancellation insurance

This is mandatory for ALL ISV participants. In the event that you do become ill or injured while overseas, you must have adequate medical/travel insurance to cover these expenses (and you will be happy you do). Please see ISV’s blog on this topic, here .   Don’t delay, secure your insurance immediately!

Pack your Personal First Aid Kit!

We encourage you to be proactive about your health and that includes bringing along a personal first aid kit on any journey. To help you navigate through this we’ve also put together a recommended list of items.

Be smart about eating from street vendors in foreign countries.

Get Serious about Food, Water and Hygiene


Trying the local cuisine is often one of the highlights of international travel. However, gastrointestinal illnesses are fairly common while travelling due to different foods, water and hygiene practices. For example, in many countries, it’s common to eat food from street vendors (where food is cooked in a mobile stall). From a safety perspective, we recommend that if eating food from street stalls, you see your food cooked fresh in front of you. (Do not eat meat or eggs that have been cooked and then possibly sitting for a long time.) Always test the meat before you eat it to ensure that it has been cooked thoroughly. Avoid fresh salads from street stalls, but cooked vegetables are usually fine. Also, eat where other people are eating as this usually tells you the food is good! One of the best things you can do to prevent food borne illnesses is to thoroughly wash and dry your hands before eating.

Drinking Water

In many countries, water is safe to drink from a tap. However in others, you may get very sick from drinking the tap water. If you’re travelling with ISV you’ll be notified in your Participant Travel Manual as to whether the tap water is safe. For other destinations, find out before you go. Always pack a water bottle (at least 1L /quart) and look into ways you can refill this from filtered water sources. We encourage you NOT to continuously buy water in plastic bottles for environmental reasons unless there is no other option available for you (read ISV’s blog on the Story of Bottled Water).


“Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection”. — US Centers for Disease Control.


The most common way to get ill overseas is through poor hygiene. To minimize the risk of becoming ill you should avoid sharing water bottles and eating utensils. Also, get in the habit of regularly using antibacterial, alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Use these in addition to frequently washing and drying your hands, particularly prior to eating your meals or to touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

It sounds so simple, yet many people don’t wash their hands in a manner that prevents the spread of harmful germs. Doing it “properly” means using soap and water, drying your hands thoroughly, and the whole process taking about 20-30 seconds or as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice, as shown in the diagram.

We hope this information has been helpful. On behalf of ISV, we wish you safe travels!

To read more of ISV’s pre-departure recommendations visit our blog.

To learn more about ISV’s programs please visit our website.  

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }