Health & safety
Make sure you have adequate health insurance. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health costs. The former is generally preferable, as it doesn’t require you to pay out of pocket. See right for details of who is eligible for free health services.
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Make sure you’re healthy before you start travelling. If you are going on a long trip make sure your teeth are OK and if you wear glasses take your prescription.
If you require medication, you should take along the packaging that shows its generic name, rather than the brand, which will make getting replacements easier and cheaper. To avoid any problems, it’s also wise to have a legible prescription or doctor’s letter to show that you legally use the medication.
Although no immunisations are required, it’s recommended that everyone keep up to date with diphtheria, tetanus and polio vaccinations.
Wales is a pretty safe place to travel, but use your common sense when it comes to hitching, or walking in city centres at night. If you’re unlucky enough to encounter a brawl outside a pub at closing time, just give it a wide berth. In general you’ll receive a warm welcome all across Wales, but outside the main cities the population is overwhelmingly white and, although racists are a small minority, there have been some reports of unpleasant incidents.
The obvious things to guard are your passport, travel documents, tickets and money, and it’s a good idea to bring a padlock for hostel lockers. Don’t leave valuables lying around in your hotel or B&B room and never leave valuables in a car, especially overnight, even in rural locations. Look for secure parking near tourist offices and national-park visitor centres, otherwise while you’re discovering the countryside someone else may be exploring the contents of your glove compartment. Report thefts to the police and ask for a statement otherwise your travel-insurance company won’t pay out.
In Wales never assume that just because it’s midsummer it will be warm and dry. The general wetness aside, it’s even more important to treat the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia National Parks with respect. Mist can drop with a startling suddenness, leaving you dangerously chilled and disoriented.
Never venture onto the heights without checking the weather forecast and without being sensibly clad and equipped, and always make sure someone knows where you’re heading. For more information, see Hypothermia and Walking.
A change of water, food or climate can cause the runs; diarrhoea caused by contaminated food or water is more serious. Dehydration is the main danger with any diarrhoea, particularly in children or the elderly, and it can occur quite quickly. Fluid replacement (at least equal to the volume being lost) is the most important thing to remember. Weak black tea with a little sugar, soda water, or soft drinks allowed to go flat and diluted 50% with clean water are all good. With severe diarrhoea, a rehydrating solution is preferable to replace minerals and salts lost. Keep drinking small amounts often and stick to a bland diet as you recover.
Wales may not seem like a place to worry about heat exhaustion, but it’s not entirely unknown. Dehydration or salt deficiency can cause heat exhaustion. If you’re in hot conditions and/or exerting yourself make sure you drink sufficient nonalcoholic liquids. Salt deficiency is characterised by fatigue, lethargy, headaches, giddiness and muscle cramps.
Too much cold can be just as dangerous as too much heat. In much of Wales you should always be prepared for cold, wet or windy conditions, even if you’re just out walking or hitching. Every year people set out for walks and end up in trouble when the weather suddenly changes.
To help prevent hypothermia dress in layers; silk, wool and some of the new artificial fibres are all good insulating materials. A hat is important as much heat is lost through the head. A strong, waterproof outer layer is essential, and a space blanket is wise for emergencies. Carry basic supplies, including fluid to drink and food containing simple sugars to generate heat quickly.
Symptoms of hypothermia are exhaustion, numb skin (particularly toes and fingers), shivering, slurred speech, irrational or violent behaviour, lethargy, stumbling, dizzy spells, muscle cramps and violent bursts of energy. Irrationality may take the form of sufferers claiming they are warm and trying to take off their clothes.
To treat mild hypothermia, first get the person out of the wind and/or rain, remove their clothing if it’s wet and replace it with dry, warm clothing. Give them hot liquids – not alcohol – and some high-kilojoule, easily digestible food. Do not rub victims; instead, allow them to slowly warm themselves. The early recognition and treatment of mild hypothermia is the only way to prevent severe hypothermia, which is a critical condition.
Eating lightly before and during a trip will reduce the chances of motion sickness. If you’re prone to motion sickness, try to find a place that minimises disturbance – near the wing on aircraft, close to midships on boats, near the centre on buses. Fresh air usually helps; reading and cigarette smoke don’t. Commercial motion-sickness preparations, which can cause drowsiness, have to be taken before the trip commences; when you’re feeling sick it’s too late. Ginger (available in capsule form) and peppermint (including mint-flavoured sweets) are effective natural preventatives.
Insect bites & stings
Bee and wasp stings are usually painful rather than dangerous. However, in people who are allergic to them, severe breathing difficulties may occur and require urgent medical care. Calamine lotion or Stingose spray will give relief, and ice packs will reduce the pain and swelling.
Midges – small blood-sucking flies – and clegs (horseflies) can be a problem during summer, especially in North Wales. Bring mosquito repellent, some antihistamine tablets and a head net. Always check all over your body if you’ve been walking through a potentially tick-infested area as ticks can cause skin infections and other more serious diseases. To remove a tick, press down around the tick’s head with tweezers, grab the head and gently pull upwards.
Even in Wales, including when there’s cloud cover, it’s possible to get sunburned surprisingly quickly – especially if you’re on water, snow or ice. Use 15-plus sunscreen, wear a hat, and cover up with a long-sleeved shirt and trousers.
Tap water is always safe unless there’s a sign to the contrary (eg on trains). Don’t drink straight from a stream – you can never be certain there are no people or cattle upstream.
Travelling with children
Make sure the children are up-to-date with routine vaccinations, and discuss possible travel vaccines well before departure as some vaccines are not suitable for children under a year. See also Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children, by Cathy Lanigan.
Availability & cost of health care
Reciprocal arrangements with the UK allow residents of Australia, New Zealand and several other countries to receive free emergency medical treatment and subsidised dental care through the National Health Service (NHS); they can use hospital emergency departments, general practitioners (GPs) and dentists. Long-term visitors from Australia, New Zealand and certain other countries who have the proper documentation will receive care under the NHS by registering with a specific practice near where they live. EU nationals can obtain free emergency treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Travel insurance, however, is advisable as it offers greater flexibility in where and how you’re treated, and covers expenses for an ambulance and repatriation that won’t be picked up by the NHS. Regardless of nationality, anyone with a medical emergency that requires a doctor’s attention will not be refused treatment.
All blood donations in the UK are screened.
Chemists (pharmacies) can advise on minor ailments such as sore throats, coughs and earache. There’s always one local chemist open somewhere at any hour; other chemists should display details in their window or doorway (or you can look in a local newspaper). All standard medications are readily available either over the counter or on prescription.
In the UK, the contraceptive pill is only available on prescription. Emergency contraception (the morning-after pill; actually effective for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex) is now available over the counter in many chemists, but it’s expensive at around £20. It’s also free on prescription. Most big towns have a Well Woman Clinic that can advise on general health issues.