Vaccinations for travel

vaccinations for travel

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth.” – Buddha

Vaccinations for Travel

So that we don’t feed the lawyers: This info is not to take the place of advice from a real doctor, eat your vegetables, look both ways, etc…

Are Vaccinations for Travel Really Necessary?

No one enjoys needles, and paying for those vaccinations with your own money adds even more insult! However, most of the nasties you can get while traveling will last a lifetime, some will kill you sooner — get vaccinated!

Have I met lots of travelers who never got a single vaccination? Sure. You may survive just fine, or you may get an unhealthy dose of incurable hepatitis beating up your liver.

Whether you get all of your needed vaccinations or not, seriously consider getting backpacking travel insurance for your trip at the very least.

The problem is that even if you do things correct such as not drinking the local water, do you think that local restaurants wash dishes in bottled watered? One bead of water on a wet plate could contain human feces — and viruses such as hepatitis — without you knowing.

Personal Experience: I was actually living in DengFeng, China, when a Typhoid epidemic broke out in 2007. A quarantine zone was created, and a couple of people at my Kung Fu school became deathly ill. It was a scary time, no doubt, but I was able to sleep a little better than the other guys at night knowing that I had been immunized. Needless to say, I got my money’s worth out of my vaccinations for travel.

Sometimes proof of a particular vaccination — such as yellow fever — is required before you will be allowed a visa into a country. This is especially true in South America and parts of Africa. Keeping good record of what you received and when can save you pain and money!

The good news is that most of the immunizations last for five years, 10 years, or even a lifetime, so this is something you have do not do too often.

How Do I Get Vaccinations For Travel?

Usually you will have to visit your local travel clinic to get vaccinations. Don’t wait too long to make an appointment! Sometimes — as in the case of the hepatitis shots — you have to wait 30 days between injections, and then another 30 days for it to have an effect. Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule your appointment — start early!

How Much Do Travel Vaccinations Cost?

Some of the vaccinations for travel can be surprisingly expensive. Japanese Encephalitis, a shot sometimes recommended for rural areas of Southeast Asia, can be $80.00 a shot, and requires a set of three! The problem with travel clinic doctors is that they will always err on the safe side and recommend everything in the book.

I was recommended a rabies shot — which I declined — just because there are a lot of stray dogs in Thailand. Do your own research, and make an educated decision. Average costs of a trip to Southeast Asia, with no prior immunizations: US$250 – $400.  Considering that many of these diseases are completely incurable and could afflict you for the rest of your life, vaccinations can be well worth the cost.

If you are heading to Thailand, check out these Vaccinations for Thailand.

Your health insurance may cover some of the shots or just the anti-malarial tablets. It is definitely worth a call to them to review your policy. Sometimes hepatitis-A and polio are covered.

If you do not have health insurance at home, at least consider getting a disaster policy with a very high deductible ($5,000 dollars). The monthly cost is cheap and covers you if you get run over by a tuk-tuk. Your travel insurance will only cover you while abroad; once you return home, you will have to pay for further treatment out of pocket.

  • If you are leaving your job and need some high-deductible, personal coverage, can give you a quick quote.

If you have been in the armed forces or worked as a public servant (e.g., fireman, policeman, or nurse) you undoubtedly received some of these vaccinations for travel already. Researching your prior immunization records could save you money.

Which Vaccinations For Travel Do I Need?

Obviously we are not the final authority, but regardless of your destination, these are good basic immunizations to get which will protect you from a lot of nasties in developing countries.:

Hepatitis A Useful everywhere and good for life if you do it right the first time. Usually requires two to three shots. Definitely get this one!
Hepatitis B Same as Hep-A, good for life, but requires three injections. Make sure you get this one as well. Some clinics combine the hepatitis A and B vaccinations.
Tetanus+ Good for 10 years. You probably received this in school, but if it has been over 10 years, get another one. Tetanus is often combined with Diphtheria in a single injection known as a TDaP.

Other common vaccinations to consider for developing areas like Southeast Asia or South America:

Japanese Encephalitis A nasty brain swelling disease that is carried by mosquitoes. Found in rural areas. This is unfortunately an expensive and painful series, and the shots do not guarantee immunity. You can skip this one unless you plan to live in rural areas for a long time.
Typhoid Fever In the U.S., you can opt for pills rather than getting jabbed! The pills are good for five years; injection is good for two or three years.
Yellow Fever Required if you plan to travel South America and parts of Africa. Carry proof of the vaccination with you in your passport or money belt. Not required for Southeast Asia or India.

Research what vaccinations for travel are required or recommended for your countries on the CDC Website or the World Health Organization website.

TIP: Keep a record of your vaccinations in a folder. You will never be able to remember which ones you received five or 10 years later; getting duplicates is a waste of money.

Even though it is tempting to skip the return visit to a clinic once you get home – GET YOUR BOOSTER SHOTS WHEN NEEDED! Otherwise, you may have to start an entire series of shots over again just to guarantee immunity. There are better things to spend your hard-saved travel funds on!


Taking anti-malarials is hit or miss. A doctor will tell you to do so; I have not taken them in seven years of adventure travel and have been fine. Even still, every time you are bitten by a mosquito at night you play a little Russian roulette with your bloodstream.

Read more about Malaria information for travelers on our site and how to avoid insect bites. You can only get malaria if you are bitten in the first place.

Dengue Fever

This is a very common-yet-nonfatal disease that is carried by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes have white and black markings and bite during the day. Dengue is a serious problem all over Southeast Asia, Central and South America, Australia, and islands in the Pacific. Although dengue fever will probably not kill you, it will certainly make you hate life for a few weeks, and may even end your trip completely.

A dengue vaccination is still in the works, but being smart and avoiding mosquito bites whenever possible can greatly reduce your chances for becoming infected.

What Other Travel Vaccinations?

Some travelers opt for a pre-departure checkup. This is your choice, obviously a good bet if you are not feeling well before long term travel.

  • If you take a regular prescription medicine, make sure you have enough to cover you for your trip.
  • Keep a copy of the prescription with the medicine so that you will not look like a drug dealer with a load of pills coming through customs. Keep the pills in the original, labeled bottles if possible.
  • If you wear contacts, take along your glasses and prescription as a backup in case you lose one. Many of the environments will be extremely dusty during the dry seasons, which will be a nightmare for contact lenses.
  • You might want to see a dentist. Tooth pain in a place where dentists still use medieval tools is no fun at all! Don’t wait until the last minute in case you need several appointments to get a problem fixed. If you are in Southeast Asia, Bangkok has great dentistry. Read about Thailand dental.

In Summary

Don’t be depressed after reading about all the nasties out there. Chances are that you will feel more alive and healthier than ever thanks to exercise, sunshine, and a lack of television! As always, survival is a matter of playing it smart and not taking stupid chances with the trip of a lifetime.

Along with many other unique-and-unexpected lessons learned on the road, you may discover that medical treatment in some countries (e.g., Thailand) is cheaper, more efficient, and superior to that of your “developed” home country.

Check out the backpacking medicine section on our site for tips about staying healthy while vagabonding.


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