Travelingpanties Q&A: Do You Need Shots to Travel Outside the US? A Guide to Knowing When You Need Travel Vaccinations

When planning a fun and exotic vacation, the last thing on your mind is visiting the doctor. Trust me, I get it, all you want to do is look at photos of your glorious destination and shop for a new wardrobe. Been there! Done that. However, now that I’m at an age where I’m supposed to be a responsible adult (or so I’ve been told) I’m old enough to know that safety and health have to come first when I plan all my amazing trips. Before I plan a trip anywhere, I always remind myself to make sure that my standard immunizations are up to date. However, if you’re lucky enough to be heading somewhere outside of whatever country you call home, you may need certain additional shots–especially if you’re traveling somewhere exotic. Here’s a video I did going over some advice for determining what travel vaccinations you will need for traveling outside of the U.S.

How Do I Know What Shots I Need?

To determine which immunizations are needed for your trip, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at and enter your destination. 

The website will tell you which vaccines are required for entry into that country and which vaccines are recommended to protect you against potentially serious diseases you may never have been exposed to, depending on where you’re from. The website will also let you know any medication you may need to take while you’re there. This typically is something like anti-malaria medication. And while we’re on the topic, it’s nothing to be afraid of. You may have heard horror stories from people who have taken older meds in the past. People regaled me with horror stories of bad nightmares. I am happy to say that I have had many, many friends take different types and no one has complained of anything at all. In fact, I have one friend who liked the vivid and fun dreams so much that she took it one last day she didn’t need it for fun. 

But back to business–Many countries around the world have infectious diseases that the United States (and many other countries) do not. With the proper vaccinations, though, you can prepare your body to defend itself if it comes in contact with one of these diseases. Don’t ever miss out on a great destination because you’re too lazy to get vaccinated!

What Doctor Do I See?

Your regular physician may not be well versed in travel medicine so if that’s the case, I recommend seeing a medical expert who specializes in travel to ensure they have all the vaccinations you may need on hand. A simple call to make sure before you go is usually a good idea. It’s also a good idea to print the CDC’s page, which also lists specific medicines that it recommends for certain regions. For example, different malaria meds are used for different regions because certain strains may not work. 

When Should I Go?

You’ll also want to note that some vaccines are given over a period of time. Make an appointment with your doctor at least 6 weeks before you leave. This allows you time to complete any vaccine series and gives your body time to build up immunity before you leave. You also may have to return a few times before you are cleared for travel so be sure to plan ahead. 

But my Friend Didn’t Get it and She was Fine…

Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t need the vaccines. The list of medicines and vaccinations needed is a compiled from the CDC (Center for Disease Control). Their job is to know this information and pass it on to travelers–they’re the experts, not your know-it-all friend. Nothing makes me angrier than other people (non-doctors) giving me their medical opinion. I know people who have contracted malaria and trust me, you don’t want it. It’s a nasty disease and it can be life-threatening. So don’t risk it! Be safe and take the necessary precautions so you can have a safe trip.

Be a Smart Traveler

And finally, in addition to ensuring you’re up to date on your vaccinations, be a smart traveler. Be careful what you eat and drink. While I often indulge in street delicacies, know which ones are safe. There is a difference between a popular night market and something being sold out of a van. Use your head, people.  Be sure that food is fully cooked and water, in contaminated areas comes from a sealed bottle. Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. I’m not saying to turn into a germaphobe but when you’re traveling and exposed to lots of germs it’s always a good idea! Also, if you’re headed somewhere very exotic, it’s always a good idea to bring along a nice sampling of medicine from home. Also, I often visit my doctor and get a slew of prescriptions for common ailments like a z-pack and cipro which can take care of many common bugs you may pick up. You’d be surprised how difficult it would be to find a pharmacy in the middle of the African bush…or rural Southeast Asia…Hopefully you won’t need any of these but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

By the way, I’m not a doctor nor do I claim to be. I’m just saying what I do, which is following doctor’s and CDC’s orders! Consult with your own physician before doing anything.

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