The Healthy Traveler’s Mindset — Mitigating Risk and Embracing Adventure

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10. Sossusvlei, Namibia: T reflects on the adventure, looking to the east at first light of the fifth day, and considers the path ahead. (Captured 09/01/13)

By: Cullen Welch     

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger, but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” —Niccolò Machiavelli

Every Course in Life is Risky

The author takes a plunge. Cullen cliff jumping in Croatia
The author takes a plunge. Cullen cliff jumping in Croatia

As a backpacker abroad, I have been exposed to many experiences and foreign diseases that have challenged my health and immune system in ways I never expected. Thanks to my travels, I am now aware that diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and influenza are a serious concern to consider in international adventures, but I do not let these health risks slow me down. Instead, I choose to be prepared by understanding how good hygiene, healthy habits, and vaccines can help me reduce these risks. With an arsenal of disease-prevention ammunition at our fingertips, we can find a reassurance and enabling power that allow us adventures to pursue our global explorations.

Every course of action in life is risky – but when it comes to taking adventures abroad one must not only accept and understand the risks, but also know how to manage these risks responsibly. You better believe that I conducted extensive research into the water quality before launching myself from that Croatian cliff!

Embrace the Experience

In my own life, personal risk management has taken on new dimensions through multi-month backpacking and hitchhiking excursions in Asia, India, and Africa. I’ve run into body-engulfing skin rashes in India, Belize, and Malawi; bronchial infections in Zambia and Namibia; and urchin puncture wounds in Mozambique—all of which reminded me of the importance extensive and comprehensive pre-travel preparation.

A Peruvian rough patch
A Peruvian rough patch

Though some of my experiences remind me that staying put at home, in my trusted comfort zone with the family physician a phone call away, is safe and secure, I always come back to this favorite lyric from the appropriately named song, Ends of the Earth: “What good is livin’ the life you’ve been given, if all you do is stay in one place?” So despite the risk and health mishaps that I have experienced, I am always drawn back to the adventure and thrill of exploring this great big world.

Don’t Let Fear Stop Your Adventure

Responsible planning motivates many of our professional, relational, and recreational pursuits in life. When it comes to travel and adventure, we often become wary and scared by unpredictability and lack of complete control. These feelings, along with the perception that the daily reality of far-off places’ looks dangerous and unwelcoming, can make many people hesitant to explore the world. My advice, don’t let the fear of the unknown stop your adventure! Be prepared to embrace it.

The best that we can do as conscientious travelers is embrace the reality of risk, equip ourselves with the means to tackle potential problems along the way, and accept that sometimes, rough patches are simply unavoidable as a byproduct of the adventure! 

A Few Tips I’ve Learned Along the Way

Whether you are planning a family vacation, studying abroad, or setting out on your own world adventure, here are a few tips for your travels:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch [Cullen on Cricket Grounds in Mumbai, India]
1. I once carried an extensive (and heavy) kit of first aid supplies that was less than ideal for a backpacker attempting to travel light. I’ve personally found over time that I can make do very well with just a few basic essentials. Here are a few of my essentials, but also have a look through the CDC’s recommendations for a full traveler’s health kit and make a kit that fits your needs.

  • Disinfectant, antibacterial ointment, and small bandaging supplies.
  • Pain/fever relievers such as Ibuprofen/Advil/acetaminophen
  • Cough drops/throat lozenges
  • Digestive aids such as activated charcoal or Pepto-Bismol
  • Skin protection with UVA/UVB protection
  • Geographically relevant prophylactics such as malaria pills if traveling to certain parts of Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
  • Water purification supplies such as iodine tablets
Putucusi Perch, Machu Picchu

2. The CDC Health Information for International Travel (“Yellow Book”) is the gold standard for globally recognized health records on travelers. I have found it to be a useful aid in many cases and a necessity for travel through yellow fever countries. It includes an exact history of your lifetime vaccinations, blood type, medications, allergies, and ophthalmic prescription, meaning that in the case of an emergency abroad, international doctors have access to your basic medical records straight away.

3. Be proactive in confirming what vaccinations you may or may not need before leaving home. Some of these you will already have; others require booster shots or additional strain vaccinations. The best way to find out which vaccines you will need for your trip is to talk to your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip. Before my first big outings to India, Southeast Asia, and Africa, I had to get several vaccinations, including: Hepatitis A3TetanusTyphoidInfluenza, and Yellow Fever

4. Duct tape — don’t leave home without it! Seriously, duct tape will fix just about anything in a bind. A length of decent line (rope) isn’t a bad idea either – at minimum, you’ll have a useful clothesline.

5. Also consider how to handle some of these essential travel documents:

  • Scan or photocopy your passport, credit cards, identification, certification cards, insurance, flight tickets/etc. and leave copies with your family and friends at home. You may also want to electronically distribute these, for easy access later on. If you run into any problems with loss or theft of these documents, having electronic access to them from a remote corner of the globe may prove invaluable.
  • Purchase additional passport photos beforehand, ready for use during border crossings, visa extension applications, and other potential customs requirements.

6. Establish a communication plan with your family! The frequency and nature of interaction with friends and family will vary widely between travelers, but the important thing is to have at minimum a mutual understanding of a timeline for when you will check in. For me, this is often weekly or biweekly updates, depending upon my location and access to the internet. Share your travel plans and an idea of whereabouts you might be headed.

The world is a big place. The opportunities are endless if we’ll remain ambitious, act decisively, and dare greatly. Don’t be afraid to seek adventure, just remember to be prudent and prepare!


Morning greetings from the sun as it crest Everest
Morning greetings from the sun as it crest Everest
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2 comments on “The Healthy Traveler’s Mindset — Mitigating Risk and Embracing Adventure”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Cullen is my son and he has created an incredible exploratory travel experience while making new friends and working along the way. I am amazed at what he has accomplished and very proud of his work and accomplishments. His travels would make an extraordinary and wonderful TV documentary to share with all that have that spirit of adventure. Cecil Welch

    Well said, Cullen. I’ve traveled/lived outside the US for four years and have to agree with you on all your points! I’ve also found that a minimalist version of the recommended first aid kit does the trick in most travel situations. No need to carry extra weight all the way around the world!

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Page last reviewed: November 3, 2015
Page last updated: November 3, 2015