Managing your health before you travel

Medical insurance

We naively thought that our annual travel insurance would cover our seven month backpacking trip; how wrong we were! Check the small print – most policies will only cover you for trips of up to 31 days and there are restrictions on how many trips you can take per year.

A quick internet search for backpackers’ travel insurance revealed that at 40, I was too old for some policies but too young for those aimed at the over 50s market. Insurance aimed at younger people didn’t tend to include pre-existing medical conditions.

I have coeliac disease and IBS and my husband has high blood pressure. We knew we needed good insurance that would cover our medical expenses if he had any problems.

In the end, we went with World First Travel Insurance. Seven months travel insurance for backpacking cost us just over £500, far more than we had initially expected to pay, but cheaper than what we were initially quoted.

Travelling with coeliac disease

Managing coeliac disease anywhere is challenging enough, but it does tend to be harder in the West where there is a reliance on wheat flour and related products. I have had coeliac disease since birth, so I am well used to handling the diet, but eating out is difficult.

At least Asia has a rice-based diet. Apart from the occasional coeliac attack, and the travellers’ diarrhoea everyone gets, I have never had a problem when going on holiday in Asia.

However, I had only ever been away from home for up to three weeks. I had no idea how I was going to cope travelling long-term with coeliac disease. If I get sick, it can take a while to recover. We agreed to give it two months. If I was very ill, then we would look at self-catering options for a while until I recovered, or even come home.

As it turned out, I was absolutely fine and had no problems managing my coeliac disease while travelling. I had two coeliac attacks during the entire seven months’ travelling, which is remarkable since we were eating out every day in South-East Asia. I even managed to find gluten-free chocolate cake!

Taking prescribed medication

I manage the symptoms of coeliac disease and IBS with Buscopan (for stomach cramps), Imodium (for diarrhoea) and Codeine Phosphate (for stomach pains). Codeine is a prescribed substance, so I carried my tablets with the original packaging and was very careful to check the restrictions for each country we travelled to. You have to be very careful with Codeine as it is a banned substance for some countries, and in other countries it is restricted. However, I had no problems carrying a small amount of Codeine (approximately 30 tablets) in the original packaging.

My husband took high blood pressure tablets with him. He had a few problems persuading the doctors to give him enough pills to last him seven months, and at one point it looked like we might have to cut our travel plans down so he could come home and restock. They relented in the end, but there were some countries (e.g. Singapore) where you are not allowed to carry more than three months’ prescribed medicine, so we changed our route.

You can get prescribed medicines in South East Asia, but you have to be cautious as some of them are fake. It is far easier to carry what you need with you, but make sure you have the original packaging and a prescription if you do.


We booked a consultation with the nurse at our GP surgery who advised us what vaccinations we would need for the countries we would be travelling to. You need to have a good idea which countries you will be heading for, and whether you are likely to be staying in cities or in rural areas.

I had vaccinations for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Typhoid and Hepatitis A (these were free in the UK with the NHS). I opted to have a series of Rabies jabs, which cost £165 for the course (price correct in October 2017). I chose not to have Malaria tablets as the places where we were travelling to weren’t deemed high risk.

You need to book your appointment at least six weeks before you go as the Rabies jabs are given in instalments.

Top tips for managing your health before you go:
Make sure your travel insurance covers you for pre-existing medical conditions
• Carry the original packaging for prescribed medicines and check restrictions for each country you travel to.
• Make sure you have enough prescribed medicine for the entire period of your trip.
• Ensure you have all the vaccinations you need before you go and book your appointment at least six weeks before you set off.

Photo by Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash

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