Make sure you're healthy before you start traveling. If you're embarking on a long trip, make sure your teeth are OK. If you wear glasses or contact lenses take a spare pair and your prescription. If you require a particular medication take an adequate supply, as it may not be available locally. Take the prescription or, better still, part of the packaging showing the generic rather than the brand name (which may not be locally available), as it will make getting replacements easier. It's wise to have a legible prescription or a letter from your doctor with you to prove that you legally use the medication to avoid any problems.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a wise idea. There is a wide variety of policies available and your travel agent will be able to make recommendations. The international student-travel policies handled by Harvey World Travel and other travel organizations are usually good value. Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options but the higher ones are chiefly for countries like the USA which have extremely high medical costs. Check the small print. Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', including scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. If such activities are on your agenda then you don't want that sort of policy. A locally acquired motorcycle license may not be valid under your policy.
You may prefer a policy which pays doctors or hospitals direct rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later make sure you keep all documentation. Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
Check if the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
It is sensible to carry a small, straightforward medical kit. A kit should include:
Aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen in the US) - for pain or fever.
Antihistamine (such as Benadryl) - useful as a decongestant for colds and allergies, to ease the itch from insect bites or stings and to help prevent motion sickness. There are several antihistamines on the market, all with different pros and cons (eg a tendency to cause drowsiness), so it's worth discussing your requirements with a pharmacist or doctor. Antihistamines may cause sedation and interact with alcohol so care should be taken when using them.
Antibiotics - useful if you're traveling well off the beaten track, but they must be prescribed and you should carry the prescription with you.
Loperamide (eg Imodium) or Lomotil for diarrhoea; prochlorperazine (eg Stemetil) or metaclopramide (eg Maxalon) for nausea and vomiting.
Rehydration mixture - for treatment of severe diarrhoea; this is particularly important if traveling with children.
Antiseptic such as povidone - iodine (eg Betadine) for cuts and grazes.
Multivitamins - especially for long trips when dietary vitamin intake may be inadequate.
Calamine lotion or aluminum sulphate spray (eg Stingose spray) to ease irritation from bites and stings.
Bandages and Band-aids - for minor injuries.
Scissors, tweezers and a thermometer (note that mercury thermometers are prohibited by airlines).
Insect repellent, sunscreen, chap stick and water purification tablets.
Cold and flu tablets and throat lozenges. Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (Sudafed) may be useful if flying with a cold to avoid ear damage.
A couple of syringes and needles, in case you need injections in a country with medical hygiene problems. Ask your doctor for a note explaining why they have been prescribed.
For some countries no immunizations are necessary, but the further off the beaten track you go the more necessary it is to take precautions. Be aware that there is often a greater risk of disease with children and in pregnancy. Leave plenty of time to get your vaccinations before you set off: some of them require an initial shot followed by a booster, and some vaccinations should not be given together. It is recommended you seek medical advice at least six weeks prior to travel.
Record all vaccinations on a International Health Certificate, which is available from your physician or government health department.