A healthy twist on your typical summer travel guide, here are AARP's top US vacation destinations coupled with location-specific tips to keep you free of injury and illness.
Recently, AARP published a list of the top vacation destinations in the United States for 2018. A diverse sampling of the nation’s hot spots, the list has something for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a seasoned explorer or planning your first trip out of your home state, a little bit of research can go a long way. While you’re looking up the hottest new restaurants, spectacular parks, or fun family-friendly activities, it’s also a good idea to check up on potential health hazards or summer safety concerns that you might encounter during your getaway.
Here are some helpful tips to make sure that your vacation is a safe, fun experience—so you can stay out of the emergency room and urgent care.
2018 Travel Destination 1: Stay Hydrated and Bug-Free in New Orleans, Louisiana
If you’ve ever dreamt about visiting New Orleans, 2018 is a great year to do so. The city is celebrating their 300th anniversary with a calendar year full of events honoring the city’s rich cultural history. A few minutes of care before you go out each day can help keep your time in New Orleans healthy and worry-free.
- Stay hydrated—New Orleans is a walkable city, with sights to see on every corner. With so much to do— and drink—around the city, it’s important to remember to drink enough water. To stay safe and healthy, especially in the summer, make sure to bring a refillable water bottle with you.
- Protect yourself from the sun— During the summer, the average high temperature in New Orleans is 91° Fahrenheit. Even if the sky is cloudy, the sun can do serious damage to your skin. Be sure to apply sunscreen liberally and regularly. An SPF of at least 30 is recommended for the best protection from sunburn and long-term skin damage. Hats and other protective gear can also help protect you from the sun’s harmful rays.
- Wear insect repellent— The warm temperatures and heavy coastal rainfall make the city a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, especially during the months of July through September. At best, these bugs are a major annoyance. At worst, they can be carriers of disease. Make sure to pack or purchase some insect repellant for your trip. Look for sprays containing DEET for the best protection from mosquito bites.
2018 Travel Destination 2: Watch out for Wildlife in Healdsburg, California
The town of Healdsburg, California is a dream getaway location that offers five-star restaurants, breathtaking landscapes, beautiful weather, and more wineries than you could ever visit in one trip. While you’re basking in Healdsburg’s small-town charm, there are some things that you should watch out for:
- Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes—If your plans in Healdsburg include hiking or camping, especially during the summer, you should consider bringing along some sturdy hiking boots. The California Poison Control System has reported over 20 rattlesnake bite calls from April to May 2018. The organization notes that that number doesn’t include people that went to a hospital or urgent care center after they were bitten instead of calling the hotline. The majority of snakes in Healdsburg are non-venomous but the best thing to do when you see a snake is to remain calm and keep your distance. If you do get bitten by a rattlesnake in California, you should call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 and then head to the nearest urgent care center.
Avoid ticks at all costs—Between 2005 and 2014, Sonoma County, home to Healdsburg, had 81 confirmed cases of Lyme disease. Lyme disease can be contracted by ticks so, to help keep yourself safe, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services recommends:
- Walking in the center of hiking trails
- Using insect repellents that have 20 to 30 percent DEET
- Conducting a full-body tick check on you, your children, and your pets at the end of each day
2018 Travel Destination 3: Keep Your Skin Protected in Houston, Texas
The city of Houston uniquely combines fine arts and modernity with country living and southern hospitality. If you’re planning on joining the ranks of the many people that flock to Houston each year, here are a few health and safety tips that you should consider.
- Plan ahead for unpredictable weather—In any given day, Houston can go from rainy and windy to sunny and unbearably hot. Pack a variety of clothing to make sure that you’re ready for any weather situation. Remember to bring sunscreen, hats, and other protective gear, too, because even the rainiest days carry the potential for a painful sunburn.
- Protect yourself from mosquitoes—Last year, Houston was named the seventh-worst metro area in the country for mosquito population, according to the pest control company, Orkin. To stay safe from mosquito bites, especially during the warm summer months, cover up as much as possible, try not to be outside from early evening to morning, and don’t forget your insect repellent.
- Keep an eye out for coyotes—In recent years, coyote sightings in Houston suburbs have been on the rise. While the danger from these “urban coyotes” is mostly aimed at neighborhood pets, you should keep your distance if you see one while you’re walking around. Remember: it’s never safe to approach a wild animal.
2018 Travel Destination 4: Live Your Best Island Life on Kodiak Island, Alaska
Kodiak Island is one of Alaska’s more remote tourist destinations. Only accessible by plane or ferry from Anchorage, the island offers opportunities for wilderness exploration including both bear and whale sightings as well as outstanding fishing opportunities. Here are a few things that you should be cautious of when visiting this destination:
- Guard against mosquitoes—Alaska is home to 35 species of mosquito. Tourists visiting during the months of June and July should take special care to wear long sleeve clothing in light, neutral colors, use unscented soaps, and bring plenty of insect repellent. If you’re planning on taking a multiple-day backpacking or fishing trip, consider bringing along a head net to further protect you.
Be aware of bear safety — Kodiak brown bears are one of Kodiak Islands biggest attractions—and top dangers. Exploring “bear country” might seem like a scary idea to some people but if you research and follow bear safety tips, you’ll be able to fearlessly share the forest with the Kodiak brown bears. To preserve the safety of both you and the wildlife you encounter, be sure to follow proper bear safety protocol:
- Don’t sneak up on a bear. It may seem counterintuitive to make a lot of noise when there are bears nearby, but surprising a bear can be very dangerous.
- Never try to approach a bear. If you’re taking photographs, use a zoom lens. Bears will get aggressive if you get too close to them.
- Don’t try to feed the bears. It is both dangerous and illegal. Store food, garbage, and odorous items securely away from your campsite.
2018 Travel Destination 5: Steer Clear of Germs in New York City, New York
New York City has always been one of the biggest tourist destinations in the United States. In fact, a record-breaking 62.8 million people visited the Empire State in 2017 alone, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bustling city is host to a wide range of experiences to excite any type of traveler. Before you travel to the Big Apple, consider these tips to make sure that your trip is fun and free of illness.
- Be mindful of air pollution—Between 2005 and 2007, New York City reported over 8,000 hospital visits due to high pollution levels in the city. About 6,000 of these were emergency department visits for asthma in children and adults. Anyone with a history of breathing problems should take caution when visiting New York City. If you aren’t from a big city, the pollutants from rush hour traffic could exacerbate asthma symptoms. To avoid this, walk as far away from the street as possible and, if you get the chance, always choose to walk through the park.
- Wash your hands frequently— In a city of over 8.5 million people, there can be a rapid spread of illness-causing germs. Avoid touching handrails, door handles, and light switches if possible. To reduce your risk of catching a virus, try not to touch your eyes, mouth, or nose, as those are the best pathways for the virus to enter your body. This is especially important during and after a ride on the subway or any other form of public transportation.
2018 Travel Destination 6: Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City has been steadily expanding and tourists are taking notice. With fun, unique places to catch live music, explore local art, and enjoy scenic downtown strolls, the destination is a great place for your next vacation. Before you hit the road, here are a few summer safety tips that you should take to help you get the most out of your trip:
- Protect your skin from too much sun exposure— While walking around Kansas City, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. In addition to the pain of a bad sunburn, too much sun exposure can have lasting harmful effects, such as wrinkles and certain skin cancers. Regular application of sunscreen, accompanied by protective clothing, can go a long way in keeping you safe from the sun’s rays.
- Avoid mosquitoes—Kansas City was ranked just behind Houston in Orkin’s Top 50 Mosquito Cities list. Bring along some insect repellent and plan to wear clothing that will protect your skin from the pests. Avoid being outdoors in the evenings and early mornings, especially during the warm summer months.
- Keep an eye out for kissing bugs—The bites from kissing bugs aren’t inherently harmful but they are known to carry the Chagas disease. While usually not life-threatening, it could lead to inflammation and a trip to urgent care. Kissing bugs usually hide out in the nooks and crannies of a building. If you see a bug that you think might be a kissing bug, don’t touch it with your bare hands. Instead, put it in a container and freeze it so it dies.
2018 Travel Destination 7: Be Water Aware in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is a city bursting with history and southern hospitality. Right outside of the city are multiple beaches and fishing spots to choose from, giving tourists the opportunity to enjoy a variety of activities on their summer vacation. Here are a few safety concerns to consider before visiting Charleston, South Carolina this summer.
- Watch out for sharks—In 2017, South Carolina reported 10 unprovoked shark attacks. To stay safe from sharks, swim in groups and don’t wander too far from the shore. It also helps to avoid wearing shiny objects or bright clothes in the water. Sharks are most active from dusk to dawn—and are harder to spot in the dark—so it’s best to enjoy your swimming during the day.
- Watch out for sand gnats—While these insects aren’t as dangerous as mosquitoes, they can still bite and leave painful, itchy welts on your skin. To protect yourself, use insect repellent spray or lotion. Try not to be outdoors after dark, as these bugs are more active during the night hours.
2018 Travel Destination 8: Adjust to Higher Elevations in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is home to stunning landscapes and world-class restaurants and shops. Tourists can explore the famous Garden of the Gods one day and visit the Air Force Academy or the the Olympic training center the next. Whether you’re climbing Pikes Peak or visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, here are some important steps to make sure that your trip to Colorado Springs is healthy and safe.
- Prevent altitude sickness—Symptoms of altitude sickness can include headache, fatigue, and nausea. If your body isn’t accustomed to high-altitude environments, it may take some time for it to acclimate. Make sure to adjust your activity level to account for the change in altitude. Pushing yourself too hard before your body is used to the altitude can cause you to get sick. Dealing with the higher altitudes will be easier if you keep your mountain climbing during the day and return to lower altitudes to sleep at night.
- Be mindful of wildlife—Encounters with animals such as snakes and wildcats while hiking or camping in Colorado Springs are not unheard of. Always be mindful of your surroundings and keep a safe distance from any potentially dangerous animals that you may spot.
2018 Travel Destination 9: Keep Safe from Sharks and Sun in Delray Beach, Florida
Delray Beach has the feel of a small beach town but offers a brimming nightlife scene. With a bustling downtown area, museums, wetlands, and beaches to explore, it’s not hard to see why the destination has become so popular summer vacation spot in recent years. Here are a few safety tips for your stay there:
- Be wary of sharks—According to the International Shark Attack File, Florida was home to 35% of the world’s total shark attacks in 2017. While shark attacks aren’t extremely common, they can be fatal. Steps to take to keep yourself safe include swimming close to shore, avoiding the ocean when it’s dark outside, and refraining from wearing metallic or brightly-colored clothing in the water. Scuba divers and surfers should be especially observant of their surroundings, as they are more likely to encounter sharks.
- Stay safe in the summer heat—When you spend long periods of time in the sun, you put yourself at risk for sunburn and dehydration. To protect yourself, be sure to pack sunscreen and water, whether you’re taking a stroll downtown or spending a day on the beach. If you’re headed toward the ocean, consider bringing along a beach umbrella and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin from too much sun.
2018 Travel Destination 10: Stay Warm and Wildlife Smart in Roanoke, Virginia
Home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke, Virginia proclaims itself “America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital.” There, you have the opportunity to explore the mountain wilderness during the day and then head back into town for local food and shows at night. If you’re thinking about vacationing in Roanoke, here are a few safety tips to consider.
- Hike and camp safely— Encounters with snakes and ticks are sometimes inevitable, but there are things that you can do to protect yourself. Stay on marked trails and be aware of your surroundings. Wear thick, tall hiking boots and protective clothing. At the end of the day, do a full-body check for ticks or other insect bites. Black bears may also be encountered on the Blue Ridge Mountain trails. If you see a bear, follow bear safety rules. While camping, make sure to travel in groups and keep any food securely contained according to park regulations.
- Plan for cold nights—Don’t let the bright sunny days keep you from being prepared for the chilly mountain nights. If you’re camping during your stay in Roanoke, you should pack adequate clothing and blankets to avoid hypothermia. Keeping dry and dressing in easily-removable layers is always a good idea.
Most of the potential summer safety concerns listed above can be avoided by caution and diligence. However, sometimes accidents can happen to even the most careful travelers. If you find yourself in need of medical care while you’re on vacation, it can be hard to know where to go in an unfamiliar town. Use Solv to book a same-day urgent care appointment. Since most Solv patients spend, on average, 8 minutes waiting to be seen, you’ll be back to your vacation fun in no time at all.