Departures' Guide to Healthy Travel

From insurance and inoculations to packing smart to dealing with ailments abroad, an essential guide to protecting your health away from home.

Around Christmastime a couple of years ago, Departures Editor at Large Sophy Roberts boarded a British Airways flight from London to Nairobi with her husband and their two young sons. Four-year-old Danny was recovering from a recent bout of chicken pox but had been cleared for travel by his doctor. Two or three hours after takeoff, Danny became lethargic, and his face and neck appeared to be swelling—“like a hamster holding food in his cheeks,” recalls his mother. “I was concerned it could have been an allergic reaction to the antimalarial meds he’d taken. I was reading the small print on the packaging, quickly losing my cool. Although the airline had efficient systems for such passenger emergencies—a flight attendant was communicating with a doctor on the ground—time was absolutely frozen, and there was nothing but the Sahara desert beneath us.”

When the family arrived in Kenya at midnight, they were fast-tracked through customs and taken to a private hospital recommended by Roberts’s seat mate. “The facility was okay, but we were still in a developing country,” she says. Blood tests showed Danny had picked up another infection that had sent his immune system into overdrive. “He spent the next week on antibiotics,” says Roberts, “and we spent it watching our steps.”

The episode got all of us at the magazine thinking about the kinds of health and medical issues we sometimes take for granted when we travel. It eventually grew into this special report, an indispensable guide for today’s traveler, with information, advice, and anecdotes from globe-trotting specialists who have been through—or treated—it all.