Top tips to stay well on the road

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Car with a medical bag on top

As autumn comes around many of we southerners begin to make plans to escape the impending winter cold.

Grey nomads and young families are welcome arrivals in many northern Australian towns and remote places, bringing social and economic benefits and creating great memories for themselves.

As a doctor who works in emergency and general practice, I see many people who spend their winters on the road. Some do not make even basic preparations for looking after their health while away from home.

For young couples and families on the road this can be a problem, especially in the event of accidents or sudden illness. For later-life travellers, who tend to have more long-term health problems, it can be disastrous.

Here are some ideas and tips, aimed at the mature traveller but useful for anyone, to help you stay healthy on the road.

It’s about you

There can be a tendency to figure the doctor has everything under control. Why trouble yourself with details? But it’s important to have a good understanding of your conditions and medications so you can get the best healthcare away from home.

So before you go, visit your doctor to let them know you’ll be away for a while, and to discuss important aspects of your health before you set off.

Doctors office

To the letter

If you have significant diagnoses – heart disease, diabetes and lung conditions are some of the most common – your doctor can print a letter from your file detailing your medical history, usual medications and most recent test results. It only takes a moment, so there’s no excuse not to have it handy.

Ask your doctor for three copies, one for your trip file of personal documents and one for your glove box, marked with the name and phone number of your emergency contact in big letters, in the unlikely event that ambulance or police need to access this important information quickly.

Give the third copy to your emergency contact and tell them about any matters that may not be detailed in the letter. If medical staff need to call them in an emergency situation, this will help them do the best possible job to look after you.

Be up to date

While you’re with your doctor, check for prescription renewals. It’s easy to get a fresh script, and will save you time and effort tracking down a doctor on the road. Prescriptions are generally valid for a year from the date of issue. Don’t lose them.

Pop any regular checks for your health or medications – blood tests, for example – in your travel diary so you can arrange to be in a town where they can be done when due.

Letting your routine healthcare slip while on holiday is not a smart move.

Old people on motorbikes carrying medication

On the road

Do you have a daily health routine at home? Taking medications, checking blood pressure or sugar levels? If you do, and your health is stable, this is what your body is used to, and it makes no sense to change.

Organise your travelling day to stick with what works – or if you can’t, discuss changing your daily routine with your doctor before you leave.

If you do need to see another doctor on your journey, get a copy of the medical notes and any test results. Your regular doctor will use this to update your records on your return.

Many pharmacies in small towns run on restricted holdings due to limited demand, so if you need new or unusual medications, a phone call ahead can help you get what you need and keep your treatment on track.

If you’re really going off the beaten track, consider buying or hiring a satellite phone.

Mobile coverage outside towns is unpredictable, and a satellite phone might just save a life in an emergency.

Take care of you

Being busy travelling is no excuse for letting your health slip.

Balance long days of sitting and driving with appropriate exercise and activity.

Eat regular, good-quality meals, which will give you energy to enjoy the trip, help manage blood sugar for diabetics and prevent weight gain that can affect cholesterol and blood-pressure management.

Sleeping well and managing stress are also important, as many medications don’t work so well when we’re run down or wound up.

Calling for assistance on a road trip

Returning home

Once you’re home and settled back in, check in with your doctor to hand over any health-related documents you gathered on your travels. Then slip back into your usual healthcare routine or begin planning your next adventure.

Story: Melanie Van Twest, a GP and an RACV member.

Your checklist

  • Check and update your first-aid kit regularly.
  • Be well informed about your own health and medications.
  • Get a health summary letter from your doctor – and make three copies.
  • Give your emergency contact person the health letter and share your plans.
  • Get fresh prescriptions to cover the trip.
  • Know when routine blood tests are due.
  • Stick to your daily healthcare routine.
  • Call ahead to pharmacies for uncommon medications.
  • Consider a satellite phone.
  • Balance activity with driving.
  • Eat well, sleep well and manage stress.

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Written by RACV
February 20, 2017