Healthy Family Getaways

Your Healthy Travel Planner: What You Need to Know About Vaccines, Risky Hot Tubs, and More

Q: Do I need special health or accident insurance when Im traveling?
A: It may be a smart idea if you are going overseas or on a cruise. Some medical policies dont cover you when youre out of the country. Also, find out if your plan covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation to the United States (which can cost as much as $50,000). You can obtain supplemental plans from many travel agents and private insurers. But make sure you understand in advance if payment will be made directly to the overseas provider or if youll have to pay up front and wait for reimbursement.

Q: Im heading to the tropics. Do I really have to abide by everyones dont-drink-the-water advice?
A: Depending on where youre going, you may need to be careful about some water- and insect-borne diseases. The fastest way to find out is by visiting the Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) travel-destination page and clicking on the places youll be visiting. Do this at least 4 to 6 weeks before take-off, as you may actually need a vaccine or two. And dont be cavalier if youre in an area with questionable water. Stay away from ice in your drinks, all tap water, and raw veggies. Peel your own fruit. And brush your teeth with bottled water.

Q: Ive heard so many horror stories about people getting sick on cruises. Is there a way to pick a healthier cruise ship?
A: There have been outbreaks of several diseases on cruise ships. But the CDC runs a Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP), which works with the industry, trains employees, and regularly inspects ships that call on U.S. ports and carry more than 12 passengers. You can check the inspection results on all cruise lines (and learn more about VSP) by going to www.cdc.gov and searching for “cruise inspections.”

Q: I love hot tubs. But are they safe?
A: Well, yes and no. A well-maintained tub (frequent water and filter changes) should be a safe place for a soothing dip, but the CDC points out that water temperatures above 84 degrees actually make chlorine lose most of its disinfectant properties. This means all kinds of bacteria (like Mycobacterium avium and Legionella pneumophila) can get on your skin, as well as into your lungs. Ask the hotel manager when the spa was last inspected and what its grade was. Also, find out how often chlorine and pH levels are checked. And, for your own protection, shower before and after using any hot tub.

Q: I never know how much to tip for spa services on vacation. Is there a basic amount?
A: Rule of thumb is 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the service, or about $10 to $15 for a one-hour treatment, according to the Day Spa Association. Look for an envelope at the front desk when you are leaving; you can place your therapists tip in there. Be sure to check first, though, because some destination spas include tips in their package prices. Read the fine print, or ask, before you leave a tip.