As often in December, the country is reeling from the effects of the weather. Floods, fog, snow, ice and hail assail us and as Christmas approaches we dream of escaping, either to warmer climes, traditional winter wonderland places or just another location in the UK. In this article we will look at some of the health implications of travel and holidays at this time of year.
If going abroad, preparation is essential. Along with reviewing your passport and visas if necessary, you may need to visit your GP or a travel clinic to ensure you have the vaccinations you require. It would be a poor festive holiday to be somewhere exotic only to develop an illness such as Hepatitis A which could have been prevented by a vaccination. Staff at travel clinics will also offer health advice for you and your family in relation to your destination. One essential step is to take out insurance – becoming ill somewhere like the USA can be extremely expensive without insurance.
For those choosing to get away from the cold dark dank days of December in the UK to go somewhere warm and light, there are certain health precautions to take while you are there. According to the Telegraph, hot Christmas destinations include Thailand, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean, Argentina, Brazil, the Maldives and Malaysia. Generally if you plan to stay in a developed country or area in a sophisticated hotel with air conditioning, clean modern kitchens etc., you will be safe. If, however, you plan to explore a less developed area and maybe stay in tents you will need to take more care. In mosquito areas you should cover your arms and legs and sleep under a net. Water should be boiled or purified and food should come from reliable sources. It is wise to take a first aid kit, the contents of which should include items such as plasters, larger dressings, tape, bandages, thermometer, pain killers, anti-histamines and rehydration sachets.
Of course some people prefer a more traditional Christmas complete with snow and ice. Lapland epitomises the ultimate place for this type of Christmas. It is situated in Finland in northern Scandinavia and is blessed with deep snow, beautiful scenery and herds of reindeer. It is a really special place for children, complete with St Nicholas, sleighs and huskies. Like other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) and also Switzerland, people need to have a European Health Insurance Card to cover them while there. This is free and insures against most of the cost of medical treatment if the person is ill while away (the country concerned recovers the money from the NHS). It does not, however, cover the cost of returning the person home or activities such as mountain rescue. If drawn to winter sports such as skiing or tobogganing, travel insurance is still necessary.
Reduce the risk of injury
Injury from winter sports, a popular Christmas pastime abroad, is common. There are some ways of reducing the risks. Firstly it is good to prepare prior to the holiday – build up your fitness levels and stamina in the weeks before. If going skiing, a visit to a dry ski slope is helpful to remind you what exercises you need to do. The following are suggestions to reduce risks while you are there; take proper instructions, have your equipment regularly checked, warm up and cool down after each run and finally, recognise when you are tired or when something is above your skill level.
Other popular pre-Christmas destinations include those European towns and cities which host Christmas markets such as Vienna, Dresden, Prague, Strasbourg and Amsterdam to name but a few. You may have a more limited budget and be planning to spend Christmas in the UK either staying in a hotel or with relatives. It may be that you are hoping to visit Edinburgh to experience Hogmanay. Whatever your hopes you should try and ensure that your travel is as stress free as possible. It is hard to enjoy yourself when you are tense and anxious. Protecting our mental health is as important as caring for our physical health. The UK climate being what it is, travel within the country whether to a place to stay or an airport, can be unpredictable. Allowing plenty of time for journeys and having frequent breaks can help alleviate stress. Some other tips are that firstly, even if travel gets tough, try and remember why you are making the journey i.e. to meet family or friends or to have fun, secondly, embrace the uncertainty – treat the problems as part of the overall adventure and, finally, do not dismiss any fears such as fear of missing a connection or fear of flying (telling yourself not to worry generally does not help), but do not over-react to them either.
With good preparation and some common sense when away, it should be possible to stay physically and mentally healthy and enjoy the festive season wherever you spend it. Have a very happy Christmas.