Adventure Travel

Tourist overlooking ancient ruins

Is an adventure off the beaten path on your to-do list this year? Learn about your risks and prepare for a fun and safe trip with CDC Travelers’ Health.

From trekking the Inca Trail to surfing off the shores of Bali, adventure travel has become a popular way to explore new destinations and test your physical abilities. Adventure travel includes “extreme” activities like mountaineering, backpacking, diving, surfing, bungee jumping, rafting, zip lining, and paragliding.

Risks of Adventure Travel

Adventure activities, both at home and abroad, carry some risk of injury. If you travel to a remote location, some additional risks to consider include

  • Limited or no access to medical care
  • Unreliable communication that can delay emergency response
  • Unexpected weather changes that can make safety challenging and rescue efforts more difficult

Don’t forget about your usual outdoor risks (like sunburn and bug bites) too!

Travel and Evacuation Insurance

Be aware that if you are injured during your trip, your health insurance might not cover healthcare you receive abroad. Check with your health insurance provider before you go to see if your policy will cover any medical care in another country. If not, consider buying travel health and evacuation insurance.

  • Look for gaps in your insurance coverage. For example, your health insurance might not cover medical evacuation if you cannot receive needed treatment where you are. Evacuation by air ambulance can cost more than $100,000 and must be paid for in advance by people who do not have insurance.
  • Evacuation companies often have better resources and experience in some parts of the world than others. Ask about their resources in a given area before you buy, especially if you are planning a trip to a remote destination.

Before You Go

  • Learn about health concerns at your destination.
  • Make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist or your healthcare provider to get needed vaccines and medicine at least 4 to 6 weeks before you leave. Talk to the doctor or nurse about any planned adventure activities in case there are special precautions for you.
    • If your destination is at a higher altitude (8,000 feet or more above sea level), talk to your doctor or nurse about prescribing medicine to prevent altitude illness.
  • Train properly for your trip. Many adventure tours and activities can be physically demanding, so it is important to be fit before your vacation.
  • Pack a travel health kit with your prescription and over-the-counter medicines (enough to last your whole trip, plus a little extra), first aid supplies, and your health insurance card. Depending on where you’re going, you should also consider packing sunscreen, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and insect repellent.
  • Use a reputable travel guide or tour company. Look for a company that has been in business for several years, has a current operating license, and is a member of relevant professional associations, like the local board of tourism. Ask for references, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Doctor talking with patient

Talk with your doctor or nurse about any planned adventure activities.

Health insurance papers

Look for any gaps in your insurance coverage, in case of injury while abroad.

During Your Trip

  • Wear protective gear (like a helmet or life jacket) when doing adventure activities, and follow your adventure guides’ safety instructions.
  • If you are traveling to a higher altitude, avoid altitude sickness by ascending gradually. If you are going quickly from low to high elevation, take altitude medicine to prevent getting sick.
  • Avoid swimming in fresh water like lakes and rivers. Infections such as schistosomiasis and leptospirosis are spread by contact with fresh water.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before or during outdoor activities. Alcohol can slow down your reaction time and impair your coordination.
  • Wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher outdoors. Remember that sun protection isn’t just for the beach—you can get a sunburn even if it’s cloudy or cold!
  • Use insect repellent to protect against diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and malaria. To prevent insect bites, use an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus/para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Apply insect repellent on exposed skin. Always apply sunscreen first, then insect repellent. Be sure to follow instructions on the label, and reapply as directed.
  • Avoid stray, wild, or frightened animals. In addition to the risk of rabies, all animal bites carry a risk of bacterial infection.
  • If your doctor prescribes medicine for you to prevent malaria, be sure to take the medication as directed throughout your trip.
  • If you become ill with a fever either during or after traveling to a malaria-risk area (for up to 1 year), you should get immediate medical attention. Tell the doctor about your travel to a malaria-risk area.

After Your Trip

  • If you are not feeling well after your trip, you may need to see a doctor. For help finding a travel medicine specialist, you can find a clinic here.
    • Be sure to tell the doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. Also tell the doctor if you were bitten or scratched by an animal or were around any sick people while traveling. This will help your doctor understand your symptoms, consider or exclude certain infections, and avoid unnecessary testing.
  • If your doctor prescribed antimalarial medicine for your trip, keep taking the rest of your pills after you return home.

Page last reviewed: January 22, 2018