Jane Wilson-Howarth Travel Doctor and Author Blog

My passion for wildlife began early. I used to smuggle roadkill into the house despite my mother’s preference for flowers. A fascination with nature started with pond-dipping; while other girls were experimenting with makeup and exploring the impact on the boys of rolling up the wastbands of their skirts to show more leg, I was nerdily nose-down in our garden pond, learning about reproductive behaviour in minuscule cyclops and water-fleas. This interest grew and blossomed through hamster breeding and continued to evolve as I bagged a zoology degree from Plymouth. This was a perfect place for me to study because I learned to SCUBA dive there and also indulged in all possible water sports, including cave diving. I then organised an overland trip to Nepal. That first expedition provided my first astonishing glimpses of sub-tropical wildlife which made me enthusiastic about sharing the wonders of the natural world with others. Some authors have always known they would write, but that desire has rather crept up on me.

Travel gave me a particular loathing of leeches and parasites, as well as an indignation about inequality of access to health care. Ultimately this pushed me towards becoming medically qualified. My blundering language forays have made me privy to a wealth of fascinating cultural material some of which appears in my writing particularly on Nepal. Currently I am working on some new fiction; I have drafted a novel for adults and, so far, two eco-adventures for 8 to 12-year-olds. These days I live in East Anglia and work as a general practitioner for about 30-hours a week, which is "half-time". I am also medical director of the Cambridge-based Travel Clinics: www.travelclinic.ltd.uk

Travel and Travel Medical Blog

Janes summary of what you should be looking ahead for when considering some travel

1. I will get fit for all my trips

We all mean to do some preparatory exercise before we head off on an energetic jaunt, but somehow never have enough time. This time, make time.

Experts say that you will enjoy your trip more – and be at considerably less risk of injury – if you get toned and build up a little quadriceps strength in the month or so before you travel, especially if you are doing an active trip.

People who are accustomed to a bit of regular exercise are better balanced on their feet than those who are not, so less likely to fall or even sprain an ankle when simply sight-seeing. Travel takes us into challenging environments so it is good to get fit and improve co-ordination. Also be sure to wear in any new shoes well before departure.

2. I will check my passport, driving licence and EHIC are up to date

There’s nothing more heart-sinking than arriving at an airport to find your passport ran out the month before. And remember, many destinations will require your passport to be valid for six months from arrival – so renew it well before it runs out.

You will need your driving licence to hire a car aboard – take both parts (photo and paper) and ensure they’re valid.

Even if you’re not planning to travel through the European Union, it is possible to be hospitalised there: if you’re taken ill inflight, the pilot may make an unscheduled touchdown to get you to the nearest hospital; having an EHIC will make the process smoother, and less expensive – even though you WILL have valid travel insurance, won’t you…?

3. I will keep a record of all my travel vaccinations

A surprising number of people attend my travel clinic for pre-trip immunisations with very little idea of what jabs they’ve had. This means they spend more money than they need on getting boosters or repeat courses. It isn’t dangerous to be over-vaccinated although you may have a sore arm and it’ll hurt your bank balance.

Set up a spreadsheet or paper file listing all the jabs you’ve had and which boosters you’ll need, along with a copy of your yellow-fever vaccination certificate and a list of any current regular medicines. Also include a note of any allergies or any antibiotics that are likely to cause you problems. Keep a note of which antimalarial tablets you’ve tried, especially if one upset you.

4. I will spring clean my first aid kit

Chuck out leaky tubes of stuff so old and dog-eared you can’t even see the use-by date Ditch out-of-date preparations, including condoms and femidoms. Replenish sunscreens – for maximal efficacy, they need replacing each year. Make sure you have a stock of the basics, including sore throat lozenges and painkillers.

5. I will assess my stockpile of antimalarial tablets

Check on www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk to see if your leftover tablets are suitable for your next trip. It is especially important to check expiry dates as old medicines become ineffective; doxycycline may degrade to harmful components.

6. I will research new weapons against travellers’ diarrhoea

Update yourself so you know about the newest antibiotic choices (eg xifaxanta). Also, research and revise what are the best rehydration recipes for you so you’ll be prepared next time you’re commanded to worship at the porcelain alter.

7. I will see a dentist before my next trip

You don’t want to be dealing with dental issues on the road – they can be painful, scary and potentially expensive. Also, remember to pack dental floss – both for tooth hygiene and as an excellent addition to your emergency repair kit.

8. I will get those lingering symptoms cleared well before my next trip

If you have a health niggle, make an appointment with your GP well in advance of travelling. Even athletes’ foot can become much more problematic in the tropics. Also, show that changing mole to your doctor sooner rather than later; it’s probably nothing, but getting it checked out will put your mind at rest.

9. I will ease my menstrual grief

If you have heavy or painful periods, don’t feel you need to just grin and bear them. Implants and intrauterine systems (IUSs) can really help, as well as negate the need for you to pack large quantities of sanitary products. Note, these contraceptives do have to be sorted several months before travel.

10. I will carefully research my travel insurance

It is important to be properly insured for any trip. Don’t just book the cheapest policy, and do read the small print – look at the amount of health cover included, and whether you’ll be covered for more adventurous activities (snow sports, scuba diving, trekking at altitude etc). Look at your household insurance – this may include some travel cover; if so, is it comprehensive enough?

In addition, read up on travel-health issues relevant to your destination so you know what to expect, including the likely temperature range and where the best hospital is located.

11. I will consider having the flu jab

The flu jab is generally only available during the winter months – so if you’re travelling to the southern hemisphere during the northern hemisphere summer, ask about getting the flu jab now. This winter’s antigen cocktail protects against swine and bird flus, plus new Canadian research suggests that the flu jab cuts the risk of a heart attack. People with long-term health conditions are usually given this free via their GP; others can get it from travel clinics and pharmacies for under £20.

12. I will quit smoking before my next trip

A no-brainer: stopping smoking will reduce skin ageing, extend your lifespan, reduce the risk of early dementia and improve your quality of life. It’ll also reduce the chances of picking up respiratory infections and legionnaires’ disease. And not only is it better for your health and wrinkles, but you’ll save lots of money so you can afford extra exotic trips!

13. I will visit an outdoor supplier or refresh my kit

Refresh and replace your travel kit. For example, find out about the latest advances in water purification; if you choose tablets, look at the new chlorine products and make sure you own a waterbottle of a known volume so you can use them properly. Also, if you already have one, freshen up your old, smelly, waterbottle by soaking it in bleach or baby bottle sterilising tablets. Look at the latest devices to see if there is a cheap, effective and portable filter on the market.

Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth’s autobiographical story, A Glimpse of Eternal Snows (Bradt), is out now in a revised illustrated edition.