Above: Before you start your trip, check out our travel tips to make your journey easier and more enjoyable. Image by cytis from Pixabay.

“I love to visit new places,” said Dunwoody resident Randy Barto. She’s an avid world traveler. Whether it’s Dubai, New Delhi or Denver, she’s the go-to person for travel tips.

In June, Barto was a guest lecturer at a PALS’ (Perimeter Adult Learning Services) meeting, where she described her remarkable journey to India.

She also provided excellent advice at a recent Dining for Women [an organization that funds grassroots projects in developing countries to fight gender inequality] event in north Fulton County.

She offered some tips on ways to stay healthy when you’re traveling in distant lands.

Medication and safety advice

“Before you go, gather your medications in one place,” Barto said. She advised that travelers take a photograph of their meds, especially the labels, with their smartphones.

“That way, you know exactly what you need to have with you and if something unforeseen should happen, you have your most current record on your phone,” she said.

Another of her suggestions is to email photos of your passport, medical information and other important documents to yourself so you can recover them online, if needed.

Marietta resident Kaye McCall was also at the event. She talked about the problem of forgetting medications. On an overseas trip to Milan, Italy, McCall left town without her allergy nasal spray. She explained that allergy sufferers don’t always know when they might need it.

Her allergies flared up, necessitating a trip to the local pharmacy (‘farmacia’ in Italian). Fluticasone, the generic name for Flonase, usually relieves McCall’s seasonal and year-round allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose and itchy eyes. It’s not a life-threatening issue, but allergies can take away from the fun of sightseeing.

She was surprised to learn that her brand wasn’t available, even though Milan is a well-traveled city by Americans and the spray is a familiar over-the-counter medication in the U.S. McCall assumed that most European pharmacies would carry it; she quickly learned even routine over-the-counter meds may be unavailable in other countries.

A local pharmacist was able to provide her with something similar, explaining it would be close to what she asked for, “but it didn’t work as well,” she said.

Some things to know about vaccines and food

The Georgia Department of Public Health advises travelers to learn what vaccines or preventatives are required before traveling, and to do so well ahead of the planned trip. The CDC reminds everyone that the flu occurs year-round in the Caribbean — and April through September in the Southern Hemisphere.

Other threats to avoid when heading for international destinations include malaria, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, yellow fever and rabies, according to the DeKalb County’s Board of Health website.

The Mayo Clinic suggests one of the first stops before overseas travel should be a visit with a “travel medicine specialist.” Of course, Mayo travel clinic physicians and nurses are located in Minnesota, Florida and Arizona.

Dr. Alawode Oladele
Dr. Alawode Oladele

Fortunately, Atlantans also have many excellent travel specialists, including Dr. Alawode Oladele, a supervising physician in the DeKalb County Board of Health’s Travel Clinic.

He said that travelers should be protected for cholera and typhoid, and other diseases, if needed. In addition to planning ahead for vaccines, Oladele reminded all international travelers to take precautions once they arrive.

“Boil it, cook it, peel it — or don’t eat it. That’s where we get into trouble,” said Oladele. “Even if the food is safe, some travelers will still ask for an ice cube, and that can be the beginning of a multitude of problems.”

According to the CDC, it is best to avoid ice in developing countries, as there is no way to know if it was made with safe tap water.

Travelers might believe the vaccines they received will keep them safe from food illnesses. “That’s not necessarily so,” Oladele said. “Not all enteric diseases [those relating to or affecting the intestines] have preventive vaccines,” he said. “A few do, but certainly not all.”

What about travel insurance?

Many people turn to Rick Steves’ publications for travel information and advice. Headquartered in Washington State, the company produces guidebooks, television and radio shows and a wide variety of travel-related information.

When it comes to travel insurance, Steves says, “For some travelers, insurance is a good deal; for others, it’s not.”

In his review, he reminds older adults that “Age is one of the biggest factors affecting the price. Rates go up dramatically for every decade over 50, while coverage is generally inexpensive, or even free, for children 17 and under.”

Steves also says travel agents may receive commissions when buying insurance for their clients. Therefore, it’s important to direct your “specific [insurance] questions to the insurance provider” — not the travel agent.

The AARP suggests that if you’re spending thousands of dollars for unique tours, you should consider trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself in case you need to cancel.

Another reliable source for travel insurance information is the Better Business Bureau. Suggestions from their website, bbb.org, include:

  • Review what you already have. If you used a travel agency or a cruise line, it’s possible that insurance is part of your purchased package.
  • Look at your credit card companies. Perhaps your credit card includes certain insurance packages if you’re using that card to pay for the trip.
  • Know exactly what is covered and what is not covered.
  • Understand whether the insurance covers: trip cancellation or delay, lost or stolen luggage, emergency medical assistance and cost of rental cars. Most should and many do.
  • Learn the difference between ‘trip cancellation insurance’ and a ‘cancellation waiver.’ Although waivers do provide some trip cancellation protection, they generally include more restrictions.

Travel insurance policies can be confusing and complicated. The best advice from seasoned experts is to do your homework before you buy.

Coming home through customs

Be patient with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. They work hard to keep Americans safe when returning home from travel abroad and they intercept everything from dangerous drugs to agricultural products that may be carrying pests and diseases.

“While a relatively small number of harmful pests are found among the millions of stems inspected by CBP, a single dangerous pest could cause millions of dollars of damage to our nation’s crops,” according to the department.

Last October, a trained detector dog named Hardy sniffed out a roasted pig head in a traveler’s baggage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The incident made national news.

In that case, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was protecting the public against African swine fever, a deadly disease that could cause major damage to the American pork industry.

Find out more at cbp.gov. Click on ‘Travel’ and ‘Know Before You Go’ for info and videos to help you be prepared.

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.