Whether it is at home or in a different country, we always have the potential of getting sick. Sometimes, though, that potential increases when we expose ourselves to an entirely different environment than we are used to.
The best way to avoid getting sick when traveling is by being proactive combating the risk factors that can make us sick in the first place. The following are seven tips to minimize the risk of getting sick.
1. Wash Your Hands
As basic as this sounds, this is an essential component of preventing illness. On average, people touch their face about 16 times per hour. Imagine all the bacteria transmission that could occur towards your eyes, mouth and nose as you touch them constantly with your dirty hands after they touched other surfaces that may or may not be clean.
Hand hygiene is essential in stopping the spread of infection and can dramatically reduce the chances of getting diarrhea, food poisoning, flu and other maladies.
The best recommendation to keep your hands clean is by carrying and using hand sanitizing gel. These come in travel size bottles and should be used before and after eating, going to the bathroom, and after touching any surface that has high contact (like railings, subway holding bars, etc.).
2. Drink Bottled Water
Most developed countries offer tap water pure enough for anyone to drink. In other less developed countries though, drinking tap water might be risky. You might ask locals about the local water, and they might say it is good and that they all drink it. What they might fail to mention is that their stomachs are already immune since they have the right bacteria that protects them from becoming sick from any impurity that water may have.
As a general rule, I tend to stick to bottled water for drinking and tap water for brushing my teeth – unless the country has some serious impure water issues, like India, among others, where I stick to bottled water even for brushing my teeth.
3. Be Aware Of What You Eat
Food contamination can happen in any developed and under-developed country. It just happens, and it is one of the most common causes of diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems on any trip. Do your best to make sure that you’re eating fresh, well-cooked and recently made food to reduce your chances of food poisoning.
For example, in India, I made sure to eat things made at the moment and only if well cooked. I avoided salads since they could have been washed with impure tap water (see the previous point), no raw foods, and I didn’t even allow a single drop of water on my plate or cutlery after it was washed (made sure to dry it myself if there was some water). Doing this helped me not get sick at all in India – a country infamous for its easy to get, long-lasting and painful Delhi Belly.
4. Take Probiotics
Before traveling, prepare your stomach’s coating with a healthy set of bacteria that will help you digest food better or “stomach” more easily any food that might harm you.
Probiotics are excellent to help reduce stomach pain and food poisoning, and help improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Having Familiar Food
While experimenting with local foods is part of the travel experience, if you’re someone who is allergic to several foods and ingredients, sometimes it is better to stick to the types of foods you already know and tolerate. It’s also fine to switch back and forth between “known” and “foreign” food so you give your stomach some balance to assimilate those new dishes.
You can be adventurous and try ordering a dish without those peanuts you’re allergic to, but be aware that sometimes orders could be misinterpreted due to translation or mistakes are made in the kitchen too. So, be prepared for any emergency by having your medications readily available.
Also, be aware that in less developed countries, there are no strict hygiene rules for cooking, so a chef could cook shrimp in the same pan he cooked meat. If you’re allergic to shrimp, it is possible that meat cooked after the shrimp might contain some of the shrimp juices.
6. Stay Hydrated
Water is essential for our body to function properly. This means staying hydrated is one of the best things we can do to stay healthy. Since you might be quite active when traveling, it is recommended to drink between 2 to 3 liters of water a day to keep yourself well hydrated.
7. Get Vaccinated
Vaccinations are one of the best ways to prevent contracting serious diseases still prevalent in certain parts of the world. The required vaccinations for your trip depend on your destination and your health too, so it is best to visit your doctor or a travel clinic to know which vaccination is the best for you on any given trip. Have in mind that some vaccines required for your trip fall outside the regular vaccinations required back home, like for example: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Cholera, and others. The destination information found in the RoamRight app also has useful vaccination information in it.
Some diseases, like Malaria, are not treated with a vaccine but prevented via prescribed oral medication.
Prevention is key to avoid getting sick while traveling, but prevention does not guarantee 100% that you won't get sick. For this potential, it is always recommended to have travel insurance to help with any medical situation while abroad.
What are some ways you avoid illness when traveling?