Traveling can be a real shock to the system. When we travel, we are thrown into new environments, therefore upsetting our usual routines. What we eat, what we drink, where we sleep, and what we do from day to day can be drastically different from home. It is easy to become weakened while traveling, and even to become sick.
Falling ill is never pleasant, but if you are unlucky enough to experience feeling unwell while traveling, the effects can be even worse. Days or even weeks of a holiday or business trip can be spent feeling miserable, and sometimes good medicine or health care can be difficult to find. While there is never a guarantee that you won’t become sick while on the road, there are a few measures to take before and during your travels to prevent illness as best you can.
1. At least a month before you set forth on your holiday, research the country you are visiting. There may be certain recommendations or even requirements of vaccinations. It’s a good idea to stay up to date on your tetanus, measles/mumps/rubella, and hepatitis shots, and, depending on the countries you will be visiting, to be immunized against typhoid, polio, yellow fever and rabies. Malaria is also a serious concern, and your travel health clinic can give you a prescription for anti-malarial pills. Diseases that may not be common in North America can be rampant in other parts of the world, so it’s worth it to read up on your destination and take the necessary precautions.
2. When you pack for your holiday, it’s important to include a small first-aid kit – if you do suddenly become sick or injure yourself, it’s good to have something that can treat your ailment immediately. Though stores and travel clinics sell ready-made kits, you probably already have all the things you need at home: bandages, anti-bacterial cream, cold medicine, stomach medicine and painkillers should be able to sustain you until you find a proper pharmacy. If you do fall ill while on holiday, visit a local pharmacy or health clinic as soon as you can – most have somebody who will speak English, and they will hopefully be able to help you with finding the best treatment for your ailment. There is no point suffering any longer than necessary.
3. Even something as small as a blister can make a day miserable, so make sure to have comfortable shoes. Similarly, bring sunglasses with good UV protection and clothing that will make your holiday enjoyable, not unpleasant. Even if going to a hot country, it’s good to pack a few articles of clothing to keep you warm, especially if you will be traveling by an air-conditioned vehicle at any point or plan to do any trekking or other outdoor activities.
4. Unsafe drinking water is the root of many evils for travelers, and one rogue ice cube or salad washed in tap water can cause days of serious stomach pain. We’ve all heard of horror stories from around the world – Delhi Belly, Bali Belly, and Montezuma’s Revenge are all infamous, and nobody wants precious hours of a trip spent on a toilet. Research whether or not the water in the country you’re visiting is safe to drink, and double-check when you arrive at your hotel. While there are a few medicines that can prevent some cases of traveler’s diarrhea, the best and simplest way to avoid becoming sick is to avoid all unsafe tap water as best you can. Make sure to always have a lot of bottled or filtered water on hand, and avoid brushing your teeth with tap water, drinks with ice cubes or that are blended with ice, uncooked vegetables, and fruit with a skin you don’t peel (apples may have been washed in tap water, for example, but bananas are fine). You may also want to bring a few water purification tablets for emergencies.
5. Before swearing off water altogether, it’s important that you still drink as much of it as you can. Drinking water can prevent dehydration, and can help flush your body of any impurities that might make you sick. This is especially important in hot climates, as you may sweat a lot and become dehydrated much quicker. There’s a reason doctors and health enthusiasts always recommend drinking lots of water – it’s the best way to stay healthy!
6. While it may be fun to try all the local cuisine, listen to your gut (literally) if a certain food doesn’t seem quite right. Improperly cooked meats and seafood can wreak havoc on the body, and try to suss out the conditions of the place where the food was prepared. A very good rule to follow is to eat where the locals eat, and to eat where there is a high turnover of people. If nobody but flies are snacking at that street vendor’s stall, there is probably a reason for it. You are also more likely to eat something that has been sitting out for hours, which could lead to food poisoning. Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you eat!
7. It may be obvious to state, but if you are outdoors, make sure to always apply sunscreen, and to keep applying it throughout the day. Even cloudy days can cause serious damage, and a sunburn can ruin whole days of your vacation. If you do get a sunburn, try to find an aloe ointment, drink lots of water, and stay out of the sun.
8. Even if there don’t appear to be many bugs around, wear bugspray. In hot and humid climates, mosquitoes can carry deadly diseases, and sand is often home to various fleas and flies that can feast on your skin without you even realizing until it’s too late. There is (almost) nothing worse than a body covered in itchy bites (see #4 for the worst).
9. One of the reasons people become sick is because they don’t get enough sleep. Without proper rest, your body and mind weaken and fall susceptible to illness. Don’t plan a jam-packed trip that requires endless journeys, nonstop sightseeing and not enough hours of down-time. It’s important to sleep comfortably and soundly, so book hotels accordingly. Avoid places on very busy streets, as there could be noise from traffic and construction. Ear plugs are always a great idea, too!
10. At the end of the day, the most important tip for staying healthy on the road is to listen to your body. If you are tired, hungry, thirsty or ill, stop and take care of yourself. Don’t push through just because you’re on vacation and are trying to see everything you possibly can – you’ll only further exacerbate the situation. Be aware of the early warning signs of sickness, and respond immediately … your body will thank you. Stay hydrated, stay healthy and stay happy! Your holiday will be that much better for it.
About the Author
Brenna Holeman is a travel writer and photographer. She posts regularly on her blog, This Battered Suitcase, which attracts thousands of new readers a month. An avid adventurer, she has been to over 60 countries in the last six years, often travelling off the beaten track. She is currently travelling through Central and South America.