You should visit your GP/travel clinic at least six weeks before your departure. Tell your doctor which countries you are visiting and what kind of activities you plan to do. Ideally, take a detailed itinerary with you as some health risks apply to certain parts of the country but not others. Your doctor will then be able to advise you of any vaccinations or medication you'll need. Some vaccinations are free under the NHS but there are some you may have to pay for.
Check if any of the destinations you plan to visit require a certificate of vaccination. Some countries request this as part of their entry criteria; for example, some countries require you to present a yellow fever certificate on arrival. Your doctor should be able to help you with this but we also advise double-checking the entry requirements for each country on the embassy websites. While at the GP, make sure you make a note of any of your medical details which you may need; for example your blood type or any allergies to medicine.
It is important to check if you are visiting a region where malaria is a risk and your doctor can advise you of this. Avoiding mosquitoes and malaria is a top priority, and if you are travelling to a malaria area, you will need to take malaria tablets. These can be expensive but don't be tempted to cut corners on price, it's not worth it. Malaria is a very unpleasant disease and something you want to avoid at all costs. Apart from the obvious health concerns, it can also really disrupt your travel plans if you are unlucky enough to contract it. So take care of yourself and stock up on tablets if they are required.
If you take any medication or prescribed contraceptives, ask your doctor if you can take sufficient quantities with you to last the whole duration of your trip. If that is not possible, your doctor should advise you where they can be purchased on your travels. If you are taking a large quantity with you, it's worth getting a doctor's note to explain why you need it. This may help when passing through customs at airports. You will also need to check with the embassies of the countries you are visiting that any medication you are taking is legal there; for example, asthma inhalers are illegal in some destinations.
It is advisable to take a small first aid kit with you on your travels. You can purchase travel specific kits or you can simply assemble one yourself. First aid kit essentials will vary depending on where you are going and what you intend to do. Look at the section about What to Take to find a list of travel essentials to pack for your trip. Upon arrival in any country check where the nearest hospital or medical centre is just as a precaution should you need it.
Staying healthy is really important and there are some precautions you can take while you are travelling but also some preventative measures you can put in place before you go. Before you embark on your gap trip you should also make sure you have any annual medical checks such as dental checks and opticians appointments. If you do wear glasses, make sure you take a spare pair. You don't want to break your only pair, and then miss out on the astounding sights the world has to offer!
If you are visiting a lot of countries on your gap year, then you'll soon become accustomed to air travel. As you may be travelling to the far corners of the world, you could find yourself sitting on a plane for extended periods of time. To lower the risks of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), you should make sure that you stretch your legs often during air travel by walking around the aircraft and doing stretching exercises. You should also take care to remain hydrated on the plane, and drink plenty of water.
Finally, when travelling, always remember to keep your important medication in your hand luggage and not in your checked baggage. This ensures you always have it with you, which will be essential if your main luggage gets delayed or goes missing. For security reasons, any sharp objects such as scissors should always be packed in your main luggage when flying.
Staying healthy on your gap year is important for your wellbeing but also to make sure you have the best possible experience on your travels. While you are away, make sure you have all your medications to hand and keep up with any necessary doses. Take precautions with food and stick to bottled water if you are unsure of the cleanliness of the water. Make sure you take plenty of strong sun lotion with you so you can enjoy the sunshine safely.
Before you go, make sure you have all the advice and vaccinations you need by talking it all over with your GP or at your nearest travel clinic so you have peace of mind before, during and after you travel.