After hatching a slightly crazy plan to travel with my 11-year-old niece for seven months across Southeast Asia, there was a lot I’ve had to get in order as her primary guardian in this endeavor. Top on the list was tackling our homeschooling travel plan. Then I had flights, accommodation, soothing the fears of a tween … oh yeah, and handling her travel vaccines!
In just three short weeks, instead of lunch at our kitchen table back home in Florida, my niece would sit down to a plate of rice and flavorful veggies while no doubt discussing the many differences she sees between Thailand and Florida. But before that happened, we had a few last vaccines for world travel to track down and administer. I was responsible for many of her childhood vaccines, and I had already done my own travel vaccinations before my round the world trip, so I knew what we were facing: Some travel vaccines are a breeze to secure, while others are pricey so some travel clinics wait days or weeks for several travelers to need it—then they open a vial and administer the vaccine all at one. Plus! Since I had received many of my vaccines four years earlier, I was surprised to learn several of my vaccinations had already run out and I would need boosters. That meant we started this process early, and you should, too.
Here’s everything I know about vaccinations for world travel after going through it a fair few times with myself, as well as in preparation for various international trips with my two nieces and two nephews.
What Vaccinations Do You Need for World Travel?
Although this question is best answered by your nearest travel clinic, you should also read on to have an idea of how many you might need. Also, the Center for Disease Control is the best source on the internet for the vaccination-inclined researching recommended shots. As you dive in, you’ll see that some shots require staggered administration—start the vaccination process at least six to eight weeks before you leave.
These are the shots I have right now—some are standard childhood ones, the vaccines usually reserved for world travelers are marked with an asterisk*:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- Tetanus/Diphtheria (Td)* (get a booster before you leave)
- Yellow Fever* (a proof-required vaccine for several countries)
I do not have these vaccines, but some other travelers do, depending on the regions they’re visiting:
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Chicken pox booster if you’ve never had it/only had the vaccine
Quick Tip: Find Out If Your Travel Vaccines Have Expired or Lost Efficacy
If you are a frequent world traveler, keep in mind that many travel vaccines do not last for a lifetime. Instead, they require boosters every five to ten years. I had to track down a travel clinic in South Africa before beginning my six months in Africa because it was only an off-hand conversation with another traveler that reminded me my typhoid vaccines began to lose efficacy within five years (for the typhoid shot versus oral pill, decline in immunization starts at 1.5 years and within three years it’s only 50% as effective!). Use the CDC’s guidelines to determine if you require a booster for your travel vaccines to provide full protection (then ask at a travel clinic to be doubly sure!).
World Travel Vaccinations for Kids
My niece dreaded her travel vaccinations and begged me to put them off as long as possible. But, it had to happen—I wasn’t comfortable leaving the United States without all of her vaccines and immunizations up-to-date. Now that we’re a part of the homeschooling community, vaccines are a controversial issue (and man, there is heated debate about vaccinating kids for travel). Suffice to say that, although I understand both sides, she’s 11 years old and we chose to vaccinate—I believe her body and mind can handle vaccines far better than the alternative … which would be coming down with typhoid fever, meningitis, hepatitis, etc.
We used information on Center for Disease Control’s website to determine the shots necessary for Asia (they have every possible country listed!) and perused the CDC’s child vaccination pages specifically. Armed with a list of possibilities and her shot records, we went to the local health department because her pediatrician did not carry some of the more exotic vaccines (namely, typhoid). She now has these four vaccines (all of which I also have):
- Hepatitis A
- Typhoid (the shot, not oral)
- Tetanus booster
- Chickenpox booster
We used the traditional U.S. schedule throughout her childhood for her vaccinations, so the tetanus and chicken pox were boosters on top of her previous vaccines. Hep A, meningitis, and typhoid were specifically for our Asia travels. The only common travel shot she doesn’t have at this point is Yellow Fever since we are not traveling to Africa or South America.
For comparison, right before I left on my solo round the world travels back in 2008 I received: Hepatitis A, oral typhoid, yellow fever, and a tetanus booster. My public university required meningitis, so I had received that just a few years before I left.
The only two “Asia” vaccines neither of us have are rabies and Japanese encephalitis—they are not recommended for our trip due to our planned country list (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar).
Quick Tip: A Note on Vaccinating for Chicken Pox
We are in a transition period in the world where you are either old enough to have contracted chickenpox as a child (my four brothers and I had an epic chickenpox party), or you instead received the vaccine in childhood. If you received the vaccine and you have never received a booster, talk to your doctor or travel clinic about your situation to determine if you should. My niece’s doctor absolutely recommended that all teens receive a booster, and they administered hers a couple years ahead of schedule because of our planned travels (and because of the danger of contracting it after childhood).
How Much Do Travel Vaccines Cost?
Travel vaccination costs can stack up if you use a travel clinic in the United States—especially if you are vaccinating a whole family of soon-to-be world travelers. Consider that a travel blogging family managed to save about $1,000 by getting their shots at the beginning of their round the world trip at a reputable travel clinic in Thailand: Cut the Cost of Travel Vaccinations.
Many health insurance companies cover the basic travel vaccines, but it may cost several hundred dollars for rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, or some of the more obscure vaccines. Visit your local travel clinic for their recommended vaccination list, then you can price out by seeing which ones your doctor can administer for low-cost or free (the Heps and the boosters of childhood vaccines), and which require the specialization of a travel clinic (Yellow Fever, typhoid, and others).
Additional Travel Vaccination and Health Resources
Government Resources and Vaccination Research
- Use the U.S. Government’s travel health and international safety tips.
- Use the Canadian Government’s travel health and international safety tips
- Find an official U.S. State Department’s travel clinic at the ISTM site or the CDC search tool.
- Little Nomads offer a layman’s explanation of each major travel vaccine if you’re looking for the quick and easy on it before delving deeper! :)
Staying Healthy While Traveling
- Vaccines protect you from the biggies, but you should have a solid strategy in place to stay healthy on the road from diarrheal illnesses.
- Things like the Zika virus are not something you can vaccinate against, but is something many travelers should maintain an awareness of (particularly women considering getting pregnant). Be sure to talk to your travel clinic doctors about any health concerns particularly to the country or region you’re visiting.
- The reason it’s so important you check knowledgeable sources is because there are sometimes small loopholes for something specific to your trip that others may not have written about for their own trip. For example, in order to secure a long-term visa for Spain, I had to have a tuberculosis skin test and show those results. It’s not a vaccine, but it’s in the realm and it was only through asking the right questions I knew to have this as a part of my yearlong visa application.
With our travel vaccinations handled, we are just three weeks away from our big Southeast Asian backpacking adventure! We’ve settled into a homeschool groove and we are ready to take her sixth-grade course-load on the road. Her virtual school teachers are enthusiastically on board with our plan, so it’s happening.
I admit that things like figuring out our travel vaccines was the easy part. The homeschooling part of our world travels daunts me—I know she will naturally absorb so much information once we are traveling and seeing new places, but I want to cover her academics as well.
It’s seems a bit unreal to me that we announced our travel plans more than five weeks ago—time is slippery, elusive, and now down to the wire! Through it all though, I’m fairly grateful that the panic attacks and overwhelming uncertainty that accompanied my first long-term trip three years ago are no longer present. I often email soon-to-be round the world travelers this calming advice about pre-trip jitters:
Whatever you forget, you can buy on the road. If it’s left unfinished, you’ll find the way to either finish it or work around it. Once you get on the airplane instincts kick in, the adventures begin, and whatever you’re stressed about planning-wise will eventually work out because it has to work out.
Now I’m forced to take my own advice! If there’s a travel vaccine we forget, we can receive it in Thailand. If we’re missing a school book, we will make do or have it shipped to us! Because one way or another, we are boarding that flight in three weeks and heading to Thailand!