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updated 6/1/2011 9:28:23 AM ET 2011-06-01T13:28:23

If the goal of vacation is to feel better, why are nasty injuries, icky infections, and added pounds such common souvenirs? Why do we go on trips and think we're in a parallel universe, where we have superhero powers and are immune from harm? With this ultimate Prevention trip planner, you'll have an excellent adventure...and still return in one piece.

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Waves of nausea
More than 50 million Americans planned to book a cruise between 2010 and 2013. And multitudes of stowaways — i.e., germs — will likely tag along. But despite the fact that cruise ship outbreaks of Norovirus, which causes stomach flu, have made headlines, hospitals, schools, and daycare centers are where 9 out of 10 such outbreaks actually occur. We hear more about episodes at sea because cruise lines are legally required to report outbreaks to the CDC. The organization also loosely monitors ship cleanliness and recently gave its top rating to 36 popular vessels, including Carnival Liberty, Norwegian Dawn, Celebrity Century, and Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.

Story: Steer clear of vacation health hazards

Sunny side-up
Bathing suit: Check! Fully loaded Kindle: Check! Two bottles of sunscreen for every member of your family: Seriously? That's right. For adequate protection, you need to coat yourself every 2 hours and apply a lot more than you realize. Vanity alert: The thin skin on the top of your hands is a prime target for age spots.

Cabin fever
Whenever you're in a small, crowded place, you're at increased risk of contracting germs, says Mark Gendreau, MD, an air-travel expert and vice chair of emergency medicine at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. "Planes are often packed, and there's also the issue of the very low humidity level on aircraft," he says. "Your nasal membranes become dehydrated, which makes you more susceptible to infection from passing germs." Aside from the obvious precautions — drink lots of water, use saline nasal spray, and keep your hands off your face — he advises turning the overhead vent above your seat to medium flow and directing the nozzle slightly in front of your face. Then, if someone sneezes, those 30,000 airborne droplets are less likely to rain down on top of you. Also, if you have a choice, sit at the front of the plane, which typically has the best ventilation. Finally, bring along an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes to clean your hands, tray tables, and armrests, which can be teeming with germs.

The top 7 germiest public places you should avoid.

(Leg) room for improvement
Tennis star Serena Williams is in top physical shape, so people were shocked when she developed a life-threatening pulmonary embolism after a long flight in February. But "it can happen to anybody who sits in a cramped space for a long time," says Arthur Agatston, MD, a preventive cardiologist and Prevention advisory board member. To keep clots from forming during long flights, periodically raise and lower your heels while seated and walk up and down the aisle a few times. If you feel calf pain when you flex and unflex your foot, call a doctor upon landing.

Get in the (sleep) zone
Between the hours you spent getting to the airport and the double time you put in at the office the week before, you're even more tired than you were before your vacation started. What's a sleep-deprived traveler to do? Graham Glass, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco Sleep Disorders Center, offers his tips to help you get your z's.

Do ...take melatonin. It's not a sleeping pill, but it helps reset your internal sleep clock. "If you're flying east, take it in the early evening before you leave on your trip; once you arrive, take another one an hour before bedtime," he says.

Don't ...order a Bloody Mary on the plane the minute the beverage cart rolls by. We know, it's tempting — alcohol can help you to fall asleep despite your cramped upright position. But overall, drinking will disrupt your sleep and leave you less rested.

Don't ...hit the sack as soon as you've checked in to your hotel — no matter how exhausted you feel. Instead, get on the local time. "There's a saying that 'heading east is a beast,'" says Dr. Glass. "If you must take a nap, keep it under two hours."

20 ways to sleep better every night.

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Read the fine print
Not all medical insurance covers travel abroad. Break your leg while hiking in the jungle and a medical evacuation could set you back $10,000 or more. So ask your insurer about exclusions before you go, and consider buying a supplemental policy.

Gut reactions
You're not Andrew Zimmern of "Bizarre Foods," so don't feel pressure to try the deep-fried scorpion, even if it's touted as the not-to-be-missed local specialty. If you're in a country where food safety is a concern, follow these three simple tips from the World Health Organization.

Run from raw. That includes undercooked eggs, leafy greens, produce without a peel or shell, and red meat and poultry whose juices run pink.

Beware the buffet. If cooked food has been sitting out for a while, do yourself a favor and don't eat it. The presence of steam is a good sign that food is hot enough. Cold food should be sitting on plenty of unmelted ice.

Turn off the tap. In addition, avoid raw milk, ice cubes, and ice cream. Bottled water is your safest bet. If tap water is your only option, bring it to a vigorous boil first. And never swallow water in the shower or from the sink — brush your teeth with the bottled stuff.

Your first-aid kit
Pharmacist Laura Mandos of the University of the Sciences suggests:

  • Bandages and Neosporin for cuts. For larger injuries, bring tape and gauze.
  • If the water isn't safe, saline solution is a sterile wash.
  • Hydrocortisone cream. Provides topical relief for poison ivy, poison oak, or stinging nettles.
  • Benadryl. Good for allergic reactions — and in a pinch, it doubles as a sleep aid.
  • Imodium. Your go-to solution for diarrhea. (For an upset stomach, try ginger ale.)
  • Prescription meds. Pack extra, in case you get stranded.

Don't let the bedbugs bite!
Bedbugs are equal-opportunity pests: You're as likely to encounter them at a high-end hotel as at a budget dive. To avoid forming a lasting relationship with these unwanted critters, follow these precautions from Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at the National Pest Management Association.

  • Pestproof with plastic. When packing, pop clothes into giant sealable bags. There are also medium and large clear plastic suitcase covers for wary travelers who want to keep the bugs at bay.
  • Do a spot check. Upon arrival, deposit your luggage in the shower, and do a visual sweep for the apple-seed-size bugs (and specks of blood) on the mattress and upholstered furniture.
  • Safeguard your belongings. Even if your room is clean, keep your suitcase off the floor, preferably atop a hard luggage rack. Avoid draping your clothes over the furniture or placing them inside the dresser drawers.
  • Don't take them with you. As soon as you get home, launder all of your clothes — even items you haven't worn — on the hottest washer and dryer settings. Then vacuum your suitcase to suck up any stowaways.

Beware unwanted 'baggage'
Between grabbing a Cinnabon at the airport (730 calories!), slurping down one too many margaritas by the pool, and getting our "money's worth" at the buffet, many of us return from a weeklong trip 5 pounds heavier. Before you reach for the back-to-work caftan, put these three weight traps on your radar, says David Heber, MD, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition:

1. Be wise about breakfast. Waffles and pancakes look tempting, but think of them as set decorations. Instead, greet the sunrise with a protein-rich shake or an egg-white omelet to kick-start your metabolism and keep you satisfied.

2. Beware the beverages. Cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts offer an endless supply of juices, sodas, and sweetened cocktails. By day, opt for green tea, which revs your metabolism. By night, drink red wine (125 calories versus 350 for a pina colada).

3. Say no nocturnal noshing. Where else but a cruise ship would you find Midnight Buffet extravaganzas? "No one should be eating from a towering chocolate fountain that late at night," says Dr. Heber.

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