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Culture, sports, and lounging in the sun

What should you do to make sure you get back from vacation healthy and rested? Professor Jan Fehr at the Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute advises getting prepared early and taking your time so that your vacation doesn’t turn into a stressful experience.
Adrian Ritter
Relax and enjoy yourself. We wish all University members a great vacation. (Illustration: iStock)


Professor Jan Fehr, how would you describe a “healthy” vacation?

Especially if you’re headed for a far-off destination, a healthy vacation begins before you’ve even left home – and not just shortly before takeoff. You should schedule a medical consultation four to six weeks before departure so that you can get any vaccinations in good time and give your body a chance to build up protection.

Besides the medical arrangements, when you’re traveling to unfamiliar, faraway countries it’s important to find out about the local culture, climatic conditions (such as heat), and special circumstances such as altitude, and prepare accordingly. Once you’ve reached your destination it’s best to get a good mix of culture, exercise, and lounging in the sun. That way you’ll return home fulfilled, rested, and healthy.

What destinations require special preparation?

The tropics and subtropics potentially have plenty of unpleasant surprises in store, including dangerous diseases such as malaria that we don’t get in this part of the world. Poor standards of hygiene are another challenge you might encounter. Another is the risk of accident, which is often underestimated: Believe it or not, on average one person from Switzerland a month dies in a road accident in Thailand, for example.

What should you do if you get sick at a holiday destination far from home?

Proper medical advice prior to travel has to include discussing the initial response to various diseases. This is the type of advice you can expect to get at the UZH Travel Medicine Center, for example. Once you’re under way it’s important to recognize any warning signs such as fever or dehydration in good time. Then you have to decide whether to go to a doctor locally. If after consulting a local physician you’re still unsure or have questions, you can call the UniversityHospital Zurich Department of Infectious Diseases or the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute emergency line any time for expert advice.

How does the staying at home alternative compare in terms of risk?

Naturally life in Switzerland isn’t without its dangers, even though you’re much less likely to get a disease or have an accident on an excursion in this country. But that’s certainly no reason not to go to a faraway destination where you can expand your horizons and really leave all your cares behind.

Can vacations also be stressful?

Yes, vacations really can mean stress, as a study by Andrea Farnham at the Travel Medicine Center shows. But you can prevent this by preparing properly. It’s important to have a rough idea of what you’re letting yourself in for. As already mentioned, you should find out about unfamiliar cultures and conditions. It’s also advisable not to plan to do too much on your vacation. Sometimes it’s nice not to have seen quite everything, and have a good reason to go back.

And another thing: You should avoid a situation where you’re still preoccupied with work when you arrive at your destination, especially if it’s somewhere you’re not familiar with. You should leave at least two days between “out of office” and “ready for takeoff.” The same applies to your return: Make sure that part of you’s not still on the beach when you get back to work. The secret is take your time. That way you can return to your routine gently and make sure you stay feeling rested and relaxed for as long as possible. Have a great vacation!