Medical Advice for International Travel Photography

When traveling to exotic or remote locations, it's important to be prepared with both the necessary medications as well as the proper paperwork and insurance that an area requires. 

I have been lucky enough to travel to a lot of amazing countries and explore some pretty remote areas that many people only get to see in images. A lot of times, these areas have very specific health considerations that either require being prepared with the right medications or having proof of the proper shots and vaccines. Traveling to these locations also requires special medical insurance and being prepared for possible contagions that you could pick up along the way. 

The crew over at 1iOpen Productions, who make a living putting themselves in extreme and remote environments, have put together some very good advice on how to be prepared when traveling internationally, especially if you are going to be in less populated and rural areas. 

I can't emphasize how important this advice is if being a travel or adventure photographer is something you are interested in. On my last trip to Africa, I got so sick that I continued to be sick for weeks after returning. Had I not planned ahead and brought the proper antibiotics just in case, it would have ruined the entire assignment and caused me to return weeks before I had planned. Having the right meds and taking them quickly allowed me to get well enough to stay and continue shooting, not to mention the potential costs and uncertainty of finding local medical services. 

Do you have any medical tips that have saved or prevented you from getting sick or injured while on assignment?

Michael DeStefano's picture

Michael DeStefano is a commercial/editorial photographer focusing on Outdoor Lifestyle and Adventure. Based in Boston, MA he combines his passion for outdoor sports like climbing and surfing into his work. When not traveling or outdoors he is often found geeking out over new tech gadgets.

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Don’t forget toilet paper. We take roll ends to remote regions.

We always have our wet wipes!!

So, I was doing photography work in Ethiopia and was put on malaria meds...the ones that lead to extreme anxiety, possible night terrors, and a ton of other wonderful side effects :) 5 days in i was wigging out, then realized I only had one pill left for the entire trip...

Turns out I was taking them daily...instead of weekly. After being on hold with the nurse and poison control, we had a great laugh and realized I was probably ok to not take anymore.

So my tip? Read the directions on your medications :)

Such good advice. We always have the "non-sick" person take care of the meds for that very reason.

Or just a detail oriented person that can follow simple instructions haha :)

It's a bit basic, but probably more generally applicable to the average working photographer.

Pedialyte in powdered form.

Add it to a bottle of water and you'll get a flavorful drink that hydrates you better than pure water, and helps get your blood sugar up if you're too busy to stop and eat.

Dehydration can ruin a day of shooting, even in good conditions when water is readily available, you might be working so hard you forget to eat or drink anything the whole day. Something like Pedialyte is both a great preventative measure, and the fastest way to recover after you're already dehydrated. (it's also great for preventing/treating hangovers).

I keep 1-2 packages of the powdered mix in my camera bag, along with a protein bar and a backup of my daily ADHD medications, in case I get up early for a shoot and forget to take them before leaving.

This is a great tip and I will add this to my kit. I always have hydration issues when in Africa so this may be helpful. Thanks

Pedialyte! I used to carry a bottle of that in my kit back in the early 2000's, for that very reason, and a few cans of Ensure. We now use Nuun hydration tablets or Proven Nutrition's hydration powder.

First, start with the CDC for the latest travel advisories and vaccine requirements:

Second, go to physician that specializes in travel medicine. Most universities will have someone that covers these issues.

Third, never lance a blister with a dirty knife. The inside is sterile until you open it up. The fellow in the video is asking for cellulitis, sepsis and possibly death.

Fourth, petroleum jelly. Apply liberally to all cuts, rashes, chaffing, abrasions, etc. Antibiotic ointment is expensive and can cause localized allergic reactions where applied.

Good advice. You certainly want to know what you need for vaccine requirements. I think at this point we have had almost everyone available. :) I agree on wanting to keep things sterile, but there comes a point when you have to treat the blisters in order to keep forward movement. Pricking the blister (minimal hole) will often relieve the fluid pressure and keep the interior clean. I do this with my toenails as well, drilling the tip of my knife into the top of the nail to release the fluid pressure. Over 25 years of this, I have yet to get an infection, even during weeks in the jungle mud. (I wash my feet twice a day in those environments.)

And in today's world one of the pre-made tourniquet.

and the meds are Cipro and Flagyl here in the states.

Traveling with a personal "pharmacy sized" collection of blister packaged meds is asking for trouble in many countries where drug trafficking is often punishable by extreme prison sentences or even death. In these countries you MUST make sure you have an accompanying prescription/doctors letter with these pill packs specifying what they are and what they're for. Commonplace drugs (in the West) such as codeine is, in some countries as illegal as heroin.

Even in some western countries (New Zealand) more than a single tray of codeine is asking for trouble. Probably just have it confiscated, though. Same goes for Contact NT or similar pseudo-ephedrine based meds.

Good advice. We have traveled to many countries around the world and to a few high security areas, such as, the Xinjiang Autonomous region and the Guatemalan boarder. The authorities often take the entire situation into consideration. They look through our meds and move us along. It's our batteries and external hard drives that get us pulled aside and put in a special room. :) But, as Jon said, confiscation is usually all the farther they go with these type of things.

having lived in some places for extended periods 3rd world stuff
often the locals have better knowledge of what it is and how to treat it so knowing where and who those folks are is a key thing

self diagnosis and medicating can be just as bad so knowledge is most important

For sure! We often source the local information and treatments at the same time. We have a whole episode of Viv going for traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing. In India the locals made us eat burnt toast, basically charcoal.

I was in Guatemala spent a month backpacking and got sick I remember the tray of needles to choose from OR I could buy a new new but it was like 5 quetzalas (forgot spelling) I was like yeah I think I will take the new one:) hahahaha I did for a moment think OH I wish I had my sharps kit on me !!!

Michael DeStefano Thanks from Viv and I over at 1iOpen Productions, for utilizing our content in your article. That's why we make it. We appreciate the shout out and hope you and others enjoy the 167 Episodes of the insanity of adventure filmmaking we call work. Cheers