Ah, vacation! Whether you're heading to the beach for a few days in summer, or getting on a plane for a family getaway in Europe, time off is essential for everyone – adults and children alike.

Those precious weeks we wait for all year long should be a way for us to recharge and shake off the lethargy and anxiety of every day life. Vacation time is short and you want to make the most of every single minute.

The best way to make sure you do is to travel healthy. A little foresight is all you need to keep yourself and your family enjoying your vacation to the fullest. Start your preparations before you leave:

-- Don't ignore any medical symptoms that may be bothering you – If your body is telling you things aren't quite right, see your doctor before you take off. It is a much better idea to be treated by a doctor you know and trust than to rely on a hotel concierge to find a doctor in the middle of the night. In fact, it's a good idea to get a clean bill of health before you leave even if you're feeling fine. Don't forget to see your dentist too.

-- Check your health insurance coverage – Find out what medical services your health insurance will cover if you travel, especially if you are going overseas. If your health insurance does provide coverage, be sure you pack your insurance identification card and a claim form. Although many health insurance companies will pay reasonable hospital costs abroad, very few will pay for your medical evacuation back to the United States. If you have a pre-existing medical condition and will be traveling abroad, you may want to consider purchasing international health/medical insurance depending on the length of time you will be away.

-- Get necessary vaccines - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you schedule a visit to your doctor to be vaccinated 4 to 6 weeks before an international trip. That's because your body needs time to build up immunity after receiving a vaccine and many vaccines are given cumulatively over time. Even if you are making a last-minute trip, you should still check with your doctor to see if any vaccines might be required or recommended. You can also log on to the CDC's web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/vaccinat.htm to see their vaccination recommendations.

-- Pack light and use roller suitcases/folding carts – Keeping your suitcases light and on wheels will avoid any possibility of spraining your back.

-- Store all medicines in carry-on luggage – Storing medicines in carry-on luggage will make it easier for you to find them when you arrive at your destination. However, the Transportation Security Administration has certain guidelines about traveling with prescriptions and medical devices. Log on to their web site at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/index.shtm for more information.

-- Bring an adequate supply of all prescription medications – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns travelers about filling prescriptions abroad, "The name of a drug bought from another country may be identical or similar to the name on the U.S. prescription, but the active ingredient in the medicine may be different and not provide the right treatment."

-- Pack a travel first aid kit – Travel first aid kits need to be well stocked because a drug store may or may not be accessible. Your kit should contain items to help alleviate the symptoms of common ailments, including: fever, nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, cuts, mild pain, gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and constipation, skin problems, and allergies.

It's also important that you plan how and when to expose that white, winter skin to the intense summer sun. Follow these simple guidelines from the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com/health/sun-damage/HQ01462 ) to keep your skin healthy: Avoid the sun during high-intensity hours.

The sun's rays are most damaging from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reduce the time you spend outdoors during these hours. Wear protective clothing.

Cover your skin with clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats. Also, keep in mind that certain clothing styles and fabrics offer better protection from the sun than do others. For example, long-sleeved shirts offer better protection than short-sleeved shirts, and tighter fabrics are better than those that are loose. Use sunscreen.

Apply sunscreen liberally 30 minutes before going outdoors so that your skin has time to absorb the sunscreen. Then reapply according to the directions on the label — usually about every few hours.

Remember, to keep your vacation living easy, spend a little time before you go to plan ahead. The reward for your investment will be wonderful memories that will carry over long after you've returned.

FoxNews.com health writer Maria Esposito contributed to this report.

For more great information on living healthy through every decade of life, click here to check out Dr. Manny's book The Check List (Harper Collins, 2007).

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.