Health and First Aid Tips While You Travel - Intercare Health Hub

9 Health and first aid tips while you travel | 9 min read

Top advice for a hassle-free break.

Holidays can involve a host of health hazards, from jellyfish stings, to upset tummies. Good information and a little planning will keep you and your family well, so you can enjoy your break. Here are some health and first aid travel tips to keep in mind.

  1. Are we there yet?
    Even if you don’t have kids trying your nerves all the way to your holiday destination, the long ride can be tedious. The last thing you need is to get food poisoning from your padkos!

    • Thaw food in the refrigerator
    • Wash your hands before preparing food
    • Check the expiry date on meat before buying it and before cooking it
    • Cook meat, chicken and eggs thoroughly. Keep meat and dairy products cool during the road trip by storing them in a cooler bag
    • If you’re served undercooked meat or fish in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking and ask for a new plate
    • When in doubt, throw it out

In case of emergency
Go to a doctor if you become very weak, have bloody diarrhoea, or develop a high fever. In most cases all you need is replacement of fluids and medication to control nausea and vomiting.

  1. It’s getting hot in here!
    Heat can be deadly if the body’s process for evaporation of sweat is pushed beyond its capabilities. Heatstroke can be caused by heat, exertion, extensive burns (including sunburn), and medical conditions such as overactivity of the thyroid gland.
    Symptoms include dizziness, headaches, restlessness, confusion, dry, hot, flushed skin and a rapid pulse.


    • Drink regular, small amounts of liquid even if you’re not thirsty. Isotonic sports drinks, such as Energade, will help replenish electrolytes.
    • Stay in the shade.
    • Have a swim to cool down.
    • Wear light clothes.
    • Antihistamines, antidepressants, antispasmodics, tranquilisers, sedatives or cholesterol-lowering medication can restrict your ability to sweat. Amphetamines increase your body’s temperature.
    • Don’t treat heat-induced swelling with diuretics because they will increase dehydration.

In case of emergency

    • Get the affected person to a cool, shady place.
    • Remove as much clothing as possible.
    • Call an ambulance, 10177.
    • Cover the person with a cold, wet sheet and keep wetting it until the person’s temperature falls to 38ºC. Remove the wet sheet and replace it with a dry one.

  1. Ouch!
    Jellyfish stings can be painful, but typical stings are mild, giving a burning sensation and a rash that can go away in a few minutes. If redness and irritation persist after two days, you might have a bacterial infection.


    • Look for those telltale blue stringy bits, or jellyfish bodies on the beach, or ask the lifeguard if there have been any stinging incidents that day.

In case of emergency

    • Get out of the water calmly and slowly.
    • For bluebottle stings, remove the tentacles with forceps or gloved hands and apply an ice pack.
    • For other kinds of jellyfish stings apply vinegar to the wound because it prevents any stinging cells still on the skin from releasing more venom.

First Aid Fact: rinse jellyfish stings with seawater, not fresh water. Fresh water encourages the stinging cells to release more venom.

  1. Did you pack enough tissues?
    Allergy and asthma sufferers can ease the symptoms on long trips.


    • Switch on the air conditioner or heater and open the windows at least 10 minutes before you get in the car.
    • If you have pollen or mould allergies, close your windows when driving and turn on the air conditioner.
    • Travel in the early morning or late evening, when you can avoid heavy traffic.
    • When traveling by plane, sinusitis or an ear infection can be painful. Take a short-acting oral decongestant or use a nasal spray decongestant about one hour before take-off. Sip liquids, swallow often and chew gum to decrease the pain. Use saline nasal spray once every hour to keep your nasal membranes moist.

In case of emergency

    • If someone is having an asthma attack sit him/her upright and provide reassurance.
    • Get the asthmatic’s inhaler, and give four separate puffs of the medication.
    • Ask the person to take four breaths after each puff of medication.
    • Wait for four minutes.
    • If there is little or no improvement repeat the second and third steps.
    • If there is still no improvement, call an ambulance, 10177, and continue with the second and third steps.

  1. Have diabetes, will travel


    • See your doctor for a check-up six weeks before your trip.
    • Ask your doctor for a prescription and a letter explaining your diabetes medications, and any allergies, and keep it with you.
    • Take double the amount of diabetes medication and supplies that you’d normally need.
    • Keep your insulin cool by packing it in a cooler bag.
    • Keep snacks with you in case your blood glucose drops.
    • When flying, carry all your diabetes supplies in your carry-on luggage.
    • Tell the flight attendant that you have diabetes – especially if you are travelling alone.
    • Wear a Medic Alert bracelet.

In case of emergency

    • Call an ambulance, 10177.
    • Keep the person quiet, well hydrated, warm and stress-free.
    • If a diabetic becomes hypoglycaemic, give him/her half a glass of orange juice with sugar every 15 minutes until he/she improves.

  1. Life’s a beach
    Whether you’re swimming in the sea or a swimming pool, there are simple precautions to take to stay safe.


    • Never swim alone.
    • Don’t fight the current, rather swim parallel to the shore.
    • Swim sober.
    • Don’t float on a boogie board where you can’t swim.
    • Don’t turn your back to the ocean. Oncoming waves can catch you off-guard.

In case of emergency

    • Alert the lifeguard and call 10177.
    • Bring the victim’s mouth and nose above the water surface and get him/her to dry ground.
    • Turn the victim on his/her back and begin CPR (If you are trained to do CPR).
    • Drowning victims should be treated even if they have been submerged for a long time. Children have a good chance of survival in water for up to three minutes, or 10 minutes in cold water (10-15ºC).

  1. Cuts, burns and bruises
    Cuts in unprotected feet are a common injury on beaches, as is stepping in hot coals from somebody else’s braai.


    • Wear shoes or flip-flops.

In case of emergency

    • Remove the foreign object, unless you suspect the cut is deep enough to have severed an artery.
    • Put pressure on the cut to stop the bleeding and get to the emergency room.
    • For bruises, apply ice to control inflammation.
    • Arnica cream and tablets can help to reduce bruising and accelerate recovery.
    • For minor burns, run cold water over the burnt area for 10 minutes and cover with a sterile dressing. Don’t apply lotions, butter or other fats to a burn wound.

  1. Protect your neck
    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), up to 14 percent of spinal injuries are the result of diving into shallow water.


    •  If you dive, check the depth and look for obstructions before taking the leap.
    • When boogie boarding, keep your arms in front of you to protect your head and neck.
    • Stay out of the surf zone, where the waves are most forceful. If you do find yourself there, duck under the wave.

In case of emergency

    • Call a lifeguard and call 10177.
    • Tell the injured person to hold his/her body still.
    • Help keep him/her still while maintaining an open airway – don’t move the person, or attempt to straighten the neck in any way.

  1. The big C
    We all know that baking in the sun can eventually lead to cancer, so remember to pack your sun block.


    • Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm.
    • Wear broad-rimmed hats, long sleeves and sunglasses with UV-protective lenses.
    • Use a sun block with a minimum SPF of 15 and apply it 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply lotion every two hours – more frequently when you’re swimming.

In case of emergency

    • Sit in a lukewarm bath for 30 minutes to bring down your temperature.
    • Apply a soothing, moisturising after-sun lotion to cool the skin. Some lotions also contain a mild topical analgesic to numb the skin.

Create a medical portfolio
You can provide info to help those coming to your aid. Write down these details on a card, laminate it and travel with it.

Information to include:

  • Your full name, ID number, home address and contact numbers.
  • A trip itinerary that includes your flight details and hotel name and number.
  • Contact info of all your medical caregivers.
  • The name and contact info of your medical aid, and your membership number.
  • Contact details of immediate family members who should be contacted in the event of an emergency.
  • Your blood type, allergies, pre-existing health conditions, any recent surgery, any physical condition that might not be obvious to an observer. Note if you wear glasses or contacts, and if you have any medical device implanted.
  • If you’re pregnant, display this prominently. Also state if you are trying to conceive, and might be pregnant.
  • A list of prescriptions, the dosage and the reason for the prescription.
  • A list of over-the-counter medications, herbal or vitamin supplements.
  • A summary of your medical history (surgeries and accidents).
  • A summary of your family’s relevant medical conditions.
  • Your most recent cholesterol and blood pressure readings if you have a chronic condition, and the details of a recent ECG if you have a heart condition.

Travel First Aid Kit
You don’t want to get caught on the road (or on a plane, train or bus) without the right equipment in the case of an emergency, no matter how small. Why not take along a travel first aid kit as a precaution? We recommend packing the following items in an old lunchbox.

The centre of the kit is your family’s home medications. If somebody is taking regular medication at their house, they should, of course, continue to do so while traveling. An important thing to remember is to bring enough medication for the length of the trip, and spare for those unexpected layovers, cancellations, storms, or finding that perfect spot and staying an extra week. A spare set of eyeglasses and copies of all home medication prescriptions is also a good idea


  • Analgesics (Pain and fever medication)
  • Anti-bacterial gel for hand washing without water (dirty hands mean infected cuts)
  • Antiseptic ointment
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15 minimum, small bottle)
  • Ointment for insect bites and sunburn
  • Adhesive bandages in various sizes, adhesive tape and gauze pads
  • Pre-moistened antiseptic towelettes
  • Tissues
  • Band-aids (minor cuts and scrapes)
  • Antihistamine or allergy medication
  • Anti-diarrhoeal
  • Electrolyte packets (for replacing loss due to vomiting or diarrhoea)
  • Antacid
  • Cough medicine and/or throat lozenges
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Thermometer (is that really a fever, how high)
  • Tweezers and needle (for removing splinters)
  • Fingernail scissors
  • Cotton balls and/or swabs
  • Antiseptic soap
  • First-aid book
  • Lotion for diaper rash
  • Teething medicine
  • Nasal aspirator for baby


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