A Guide to Travel Vaccinations


No one likes going to the doctor or getting shots. But travel vaccinations are more than just something you should consider: in many countries they are a requirement.

If you’ve ever been seriously ill on vacation, you know that if there was anything you could have done to prevent it ahead of time you would have done so.

With illness prevention as a fact of travel life, the most important thing you can do is plan ahead.

Many travel vaccinations must be given several weeks in advance in order to be at their height of efficacy or administered in a series over a period of days or weeks.

When determining what vaccines you need when, the two best places to start are the Center for Disease Control and your physician, ideally one who specializes in travel medicine.

The CDC breaks vaccinations down into three categories: routine, recommended and required.

Routine Vaccinations You Need 

Routine vaccinations are those that all children and adults are recommended to have whether traveling or not. These include:

  • tetanus
  • diphtheria
  • measles/mumps/rubella

Consult with your doctor or look to your prior medical records to determine when your last round of vaccinations or boosters took place. (Another good starting point may be determining what your college or university required for immunizations upon admission.)

Do not overlook diseases such as polio that were eradicated in the United States and for which you may have received a vaccine as a child.

Such diseases are still active in other parts of the world, and a booster to your original vaccine may be necessary before traveling.

Recommended Travel Vaccinations

Recommended travel vaccinations cover diseases such as:

  • typhoid fever
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • rabies

Such travel vaccinations depend upon a variety of factors – where you are visiting, whether you will be spending time in rural areas, certain risks you may be taking while traveling, how long you are staying, the season of the year, your age and health condition and previous immunizations.

While the CDC offers guidelines by which you can look up the countries you will be visiting and their corresponding recommended vaccinations, this is likewise best discussed with a physician who specializes in travel medicine.

Required Travel Vaccinations

The requisite you-aren’t-entering-this-country-without-that-vaccine vaccine is rare.

In fact, there are currently only two such vaccines listed on the CDC’s website: 

  • yellow fever
  • meningococcal meningitis

The vaccination for yellow fever is required for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

In order to enter countries requiring such vaccine, you will need to find an authorized clinic giving the vaccine who can issue a certificate of proof to that effect.

For meningococcal meningitis, the government of Saudi Arabia requires the vaccine for travelers entering the country during the Hajj Pilgrimage.

An Ounce of Prevention

Even when a vaccine isn’t available, there are many preventative measures you can take to ward off illnesses or put a stop to them once they start. Here are some common travel diseases and how you can prevent them before you get them.


Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease for which there are several drugs to consider taking.

The decision about which anti-malarial drug to choose is best made after a discussion with your physician weighing the side effects alongside the effectiveness.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is also spread by mosquitoes, but unlike malaria, there are no magic pills.

The best prevention is covering your arms and legs, sleeping under mosquito netting and using mosquito repellant containing DEET.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind before setting out on your journey:

  • Several weeks before your trip, begin taking a probiotic to help ward off any stomach issues while vacationing.
  • Educate yourself on foods to avoid in certain countries and when bottled water is a necessity.
  • Talk to your doctor about obtaining a prescription for an antibiotic to take with you as well as instructions for what symptoms to look for when considering taking the medicine.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a good first aid kit.

How do you feel about travel vaccinations? Do you stay up-to-date or wing it? Ever had a health scare while traveling? Any other advice to share?


About Author

In 2006, Rebecca Garland began shifting gears from attorney to writer. Raised in the South, she left her Tennessee-based law firm two years ago to travel solo throughout the U.K. and Europe before settling down in Seattle. Rebecca is a freelance writer and contributing editor for lifestyle magazines and websites, specializing in travel. When she isn’t exploring the Pacific Northwest, Rebecca is on a constant quest for the next big adventure whether that be dancing on tabletops in St. Barts or shopping in her favorite outdoor market in Madrid. Get to know more about Rebecca on her website, www.rebeccagarland.com, or follow her travel blog, www.rebeccagarland.blogspot.com.


  1. This is a good reminder that we can’t hear enough! I was just talking with a co-worker who is going to the Philippines about this. He opted to not take any vaccinations because it was going to cost him $200! Personally I think this is a little crazy but I’m not the one going.

  2. I was surprised at how expensive vaccinations are, but in my opinion they are worth the cost. Think of the medical bills (not to mention the misery!) on the back end if you became ill. I am leaving for SE Asia next week, and my insurance covered tetanus and Hepatitis B but not polio or MMR boosters or typhoid fever, which totaled $240.

  3. Becca – Love it! I didn’t think I would ever get through the endless immunizations for SE Asia a couple of years ago, but it was well worth it. There are on-going outbreaks of dengue fever in parts of Australia, especially around Cairns. The Australian government is taking steps to vaccinate the population and eradicate its spread, but it will take time. Travel: always an adventure!

  4. You need to be careful with taking “travel” antibotics, I’ve discovered. I ended up in hospital because I had a bad reaction to the antibiotics that my travel doctor sent me overseas with. I’d never taken them before, but thought my severe dose of the trots warranted some medicine. It was not a fun few days for me at all.
    My advice would be if you think you are sick enough for antibiotics, try your best to see a doctor. Even if you can only weakly wave the antibiotics under his or her nose for approval.

  5. We’re sort of awful about not getting travel vaccinations, but so far we haven’t had any problems. The cost is obviously annoying, but what I really hate are the potential side effects of the medications. We really should be more careful, though – the last thing I want is a case of malaria!

  6. Great summary. When needed I take tablets to prevent malaria and I had two yellow fever shots, that’s it. Never a problem, never an illness and I’m more in favor of using common senses than chemicals.

  7. I went to The Ohio State University Travel Clinic for a consultation. It was easy, and I felt confident that I had everything I would need. Plus, they gave me all sorts of information about other potential illnesses common in each area. Although it was costly to get everything, it was worth it for my first long trip.

  8. We didn’t need to get any vaccines for our trip, but would totally if we were heading to Africa or an area that required it. wouldn’t think twice, even though I hate hate hate needles!

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