Courtney Whitaker feels the pain after getting her tropical shots.
Before you jump on the plane to the exotic and farthest-flung corners of the Earth, there are a few administrative things to get straight first.
We know travel insurance is imperative, but another must-do, should you prefer to avoid scarily primitive hospitals and the prospect of being incapacitated with an exotic disease, is get your travel vaccinations.
Piece of cake? Not quite.
You should allow a generous budget for this, because, while "popping to the doctor for a couple of shots" sounds simple — if a little uncomfortable — the discomfort, dear traveller, will not be from a hypodermic needle.
I had unwittingly made an appointment for travel vaccinations prior to an upcoming visit to India. "Hell no!" I thought, after hearing various friends' travel horror stories. "There's no way I'll be sick on this trip." So I booked in at the doctor's surgery for the whole hog.
"You should wait 10 minutes before you leave, to make sure you don't have a reaction to the vaccinations," said my doctor, after administering tetanus and diptheria ($40); Dukoral ($130 for two doses), and writing a script for malaria medication (a paltry $10 in comparison). The hepatitis A shot ($105) was to come later.
I certainly did have a reaction, but it wasn't to the injection. "That'll be $300 today, thank you", said the receptionist politely.
Also recommended for a trip to India, would be typhoid ($65), rabies ($135), a polio booster ($65), and Japanese encephalitis ($265). All up, a cool $800. First-world problems and all that, but a conundrum for would-be travellers nonetheless.
Because these vaccines are currently not funded by the Government in New Zealand, the cost of protecting yourself from illness is high. The cost of getting one of these diseases, however, could be much higher. And sorry, seasoned travellers, but that packet of imodium, although handy for your run-of-the-mill food poisoning, won't cure you of a serious case of e.coli or cholera.
Medical assistance in a foreign country can also land you with hideous medical bills, which are not always covered by travel insurance, or in developing countries, can be a pay-as-you-go situation (see Tim Roxborogh's Travel Bugs: On hospital woes in India, Travel, September 17).
The Journal of Travel Medicine reports between 43-79 per cent of travellers to countries such as India, Tanzania, and Kenya, among others, become ill. These illnesses are largely contracted from contaminated food or waterborne viruses, which in developing nations, is unfortunately extremely common.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) regularly provides updates on outbreaks — the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil in 2015 springs to mind. The website safetravel.co.nz also provides detailed travel advisories and vaccination recommendations for most destinations. And though some of these are just strongly worded suggestions on how to protect yourself while travelling, the recent measles outbreak in New Zealand and its subsequent proliferation overseas, would indicate recommendations such as these are rarely followed.
The possibility of these risks though, however relevant, should never stop you from experiencing the amazing sights, sounds, tastes and culture of these nations. The risks, thanks to modern medicine, are ones we can be prepared for.
So what to do? Or rather, what price would you put on your health?
When it comes to food poisoning, for me, common sense usually prevails when it comes to choosing what to eat and where, in a foreign place. But I don't have time to be sick while on holiday, and I want to immerse myself in another culture without the constant worry of becoming ill, irrespective of cost. The more intrepid among us, however, will blindly wolf down delicious street food, brave a bout of travel sickness, and come home relatively unscathed and happily bereft of any serious diseases, despite not having any vaccinations. It's all down to personal choice.
As the late, great Anthony Bourdain — who famously ate his way around the world — once said: "I've long found that the person on our crew most likely to get sick is the one who is sort of wary of street food and local food. They always get sick from eating the breakfast buffet at the hotel."
With that in mind, I think I will down my next dose of dukoral, take my malaria tablets religiously and avoid the breakfast buffet. Bring it on.