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Gap Year Healthcare Guide

Innoculation Vaccination
iStock/dmfoss

There are many things to consider before jetting off on a gap year, and travel health is one of the most important. However, it is one area of preparation that many students forget about.

Travel Vaccinations

Depending on the countries you intend to visit and the length of your stay, you will need vaccinations or preventative treatments catered to your trip.

To find out which treatments you need contact your GP or local travel clinic as early as possible before you fly. It is always a good idea to make your initial visit to your GP at least 6-8 weeks before departure, to make sure there will be no last minute complications or disappointments.

Individuals with existing medical conditions should take extra care to ensure that they take a sufficient amount of medicine with them because many prescribed medicines are not available to purchase outside of the UK.

Sun Protection

While protecting your skin from sunburn may seem like an obvious task, most travellers forget the serious risks of sun exposure. In just a few simple steps, you can prevent sunburn, exhaustion and reduce the risks of skin cancer.

  • Choose a sunscreen with the correct SPF factor. An SPF of 20 will prevent the skin from burning 20 times longer than if your skin was unprotected. Therefore if your skin turns pink in 15 minutes without any protection, SPF 20 will protect you against the sun for 300 minutes.
  • Use a sunscreen that blocks UVA radiation too: a sunscreen with 5 star UVA rating will ensure effective protection from damaging rays.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours to ensure effective protection from the sun.

Wellbeing Essentials

Although your main priorities are probably your phone, passport and tickets, there are some additional items you should definitely make room for to keep you protected:

  • sunscreen
  • after sun lotion
  • insect repellent
  • condoms
  • antihistamines
  • anti-diarrhoea pills
  • rehydration sachets
  • first aid kit

You may be limited to what you can purchase abroad so it’s important to source these items before you travel. It’s especially important to buy condoms before you leave because some countries sell cheap, unreliable alternatives that may not be effective at protecting you against STIs and pregnancy.

Travel Insurance

It’s essential to arrange travel insurance before you leave, regardless of your journey length or the countries you are visiting because there may be a time when you need to visit a healthcare professional abroad.

For gap year travellers exploring countries within the EU, it is advisable to apply for a free EHIC card. This medical card will cover your treatment until you return to the UK and will grant you access to state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area countries, including Switzerland, for free or at a reduced rate depending on the circumstance.

However, it won’t cover pre-existing medical conditions, private medical costs including mountain rescue or ski resorts or routine maternity care, and so it’s important that travel insurance is used with the EHIC card to ensure you’re fully protected against any unwanted accidents.

You can find out more information on the particular countries you intend to travel to by visiting the Foreign Office travel advice, the National Travel Health Network, and use NHS Choices to find out about reciprocal health care arrangements that are available in other countries.