Getting vaccinations is a key part of preparing for an international bike journey.
We offer this information based on our experience but we’re not doctors so consult yours before making a decision.
The first thing to consider when it comes to vaccines is planning ahead. Some require a course of two or three doses and six weeks is the minimum you should allow. It’s nice to have a little extra time to space the shots out so your sore arm has a chance to recover!
The standard vaccines you should always be up to date on are:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Polio/Tetanus/Diphtheria combination jab
Beyond that, it depends on where you’re going and your personal tolerance for risk. Ask your doctor about the prevention of:
- Tick Borne Encephalitis
- Yellow Fever
If you’re planning a very long trip, you may need to get booster shots for things like Hepatitis A and B a year down the road. It’s quite possible to do this in many parts of the world. Just ask around for a local health clinic. We got ours done in rural Italy with a group of kids lining up for their first vaccinations!
Don’t forget to carry your vaccination record cards with you in case you need to show them at a hospital or border crossing.
Our personal thoughts on some vaccinations:
- Rabies – Cyclists are in a high-risk group for dog bites. However, the shots can be expensive and that puts some people off. We believe the risk of getting bitten by a dog is quite low, especially if you get into a routine of getting off the bike if a dog is aggressive, instead of cycling on and giving them something to chase. The Rabies jab greatly simplifies the treatment you’ll need if you do get bitten and gives you more time to get to a hospital.If you’re going to be travelling through remote areas like Central Asia or Western China where it’s possible to be days from a decent hospital, then we highly recommend being innoculated against Rabies. Turkey and northern Greece might also give the cyclist cause for concern as the sheepdogs are particularly fierce.In Southeast Asia, you could weigh up the cost of Rabies shots against flying to a major capital if you are bitten and good treatment isn’t available in the immediate area. There are reports of cheap Rabies vaccinations in Bangkok but keep in mind that a 3-course treatment takes five weeks. If you are bitten, don’t leave your Rabies treatment to a doctor in rural Cambodia or Laos. Get yourself to a capital city.
- Malaria – There are many pills you can take for Malaria, each of them specific to various strains. All of them can have side effects and some are expensive. You can buy generic drugs in Southeast Asia but there are fakes around so be careful where you get them. We decided not to take preventative treatment for Malaria. There is barely any risk in Thailand and many cities in Laos and Cambodia also have taken steps to eliminate the disease. We reasoned that our chances of getting it were quite low if we covered up at night and used mosquito repellent. We were prepared to fly to Thailand for treatment if we did get Malaria. We didn’t meet any other travellers taking Malaria tablets.
- Tick Borne Encephalitis – It’s possible to get this from ticks in places like eastern Europe, Austria and southern Germany. We decided not to get the vaccination but instead to be careful to protect against ticks in the first place by covering up when walking through grassy areas and doing a tick-check each night.
6th November 2012 at 8:05 pm #
I got bitten by a monkey once in Bolivia. We were on a one day canoe/boat tour from Rurrenabaque and we were encouraged by the guide to feed the monkeys with bananas – ok, maybe not the smartest thing in the world, and not the best for the monkeys either, so I would not recommend it at all.
Either way, I decided to get shots, in case the monkey had rabies. The treatment involved getting five injections over the next week or so. In Bolivia, at least at the time (2002?), these injections were offered all over for free (even for tourists), except one had to pay for the syringe (a tiny fee). I went to clinics in small places such as Potosi and Uyuni and had no trouble at all.
All I’m saying is that heading to a big city might be a good idea anyway, but it might not be necessary in order to get the shots.
8th April 2015 at 1:31 am #
Thanks for the information!
Were you happy with your decision not to get the Tick-Borne jab? Did you ever find any ticks on you?
24th April 2015 at 7:42 am #
We did find ticks on our body maybe 3-4 times in the entire 3 year trip but that didn’t change our view that the jab was (for us) unnecessary. If you check regularly and remove the ticks promptly, they don’t have nearly as much chance to pass on disease.
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