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Make a health to-do list before traveling

Monday - 6/16/2014, 2:23am  ET

WASHINGTON -- Washington is a city of travelers. Many of us are always going somewhere, and that only seems to intensify during summer vacation season.

But anyone who hits the road, whether to a national park or an exotic locale, should make a health checklist before leaving home.

Start with all those prescription medicines. Everything, including prescription glasses, should be stowed in carry-on luggage. It's also a good idea when flying to keep all medications -- prescription and over-the-counter -- in the original packaging to avoid unnecessary security hassles.

Dr. David Hansen, with Foxhall Internists, in D.C., says, "We have seen patients get into trouble with loose medications and no identifying information."

And while those small travel pill boxes can seem more convenient, the original bottles have all the information needed to get a refill on the road.

Dr. Hansen suggests taking enough medication to last the duration of the trip, plus a couple extra days -- "just in case you get delayed during your travel," he says. He also says no traveler should leave home without his or her health insurance card, especially for domestic travel.

"If you need care while you are at your destination, it is a very good idea to contact your insurance company before seeking care and be directed to preferred providers in the area where you are," he says, noting that one call can prevent expensive out-of-network charges on top of vacation bills.

Of course, one of the best ways for any traveler to prevent illness is to make sure all immunizations are up to date before leaving home. Vaccinations, as a rule, are not required for foreign travel, except for areas where there are cases of yellow fever. The Centers for Disease Control lists general recommendations on its website, and travel clinics can provide more detailed information.

Pamela Prindle, nursing director at the Foxhall Internists Immunization Clinic, says travelers should check on the status of their routine immunizations before leaving the country.

They include the TDAP -- tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis -- vaccine as well as the Hepatitis A vaccine.

The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, is also highly recommended. Prindle says that even people who had the disease or the vaccine as kids might want to err on the side of caution and get a booster shot, especially when traveling to countries where there is a significant outbreak.

"Getting a booster of MMR just increases your antibody protections against measles, and why not?" she says, noting that the disease has now reached epidemic proportions even in developed parts of the world.

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