If you travel long enough, you will eventually get sick. It's one of the worst possible things that could happen on your trip. It's not only physically draining but you feel down because you are in a beautiful new city and you're stuck in bed. Luckily, in 4 years of travel, I've only been sick a few times. I spent my week in Madrid in bed with the flu. I missed Christmas in Australia because of a fever. I spent a few days in the bathroom because of bad food. But in my experience, if you practice basic health and sanitation common sense, you'll avoid getting sick.
So, some general health tips for the road that mom would be proud of you for following:
Dirt and grime are everywhere. No wash basin available - carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer. Either of these simple things will help cut down the amount of time you are sick.
Most travelers don't get enough sleep, they eat poorly, and they drink a lot. Not the best recipe for a healthy body. Taking a few vitamins can help keep your body healthy and your energy up.
There are a lot of pots and pans in hostel kitchens for you to use. However, most travelers aren't thorough when washing dishes. Give them a good rinse before you start using them.
Some of the best food is found on the street stalls of the world. Yet it is also really easy to get sick from these places. If you find that they are empty, despite the ones nearby being full, skip them. If the locals aren't eating there, there is probably a very good reason.
Your stomach might not be up to the task of handling foreign bacteria. Make sure you get your food a bit extra well-done to be on the safe side. When getting meats from street vendors, I have them leave the food on an extra minute or two. Just to be safe.
Make sure you check with your local doctor for any vaccinations you may need. Typhoid, Hepatitis, and Tetanus are the basic shots to get and, if you are going to a malaria zone, make sure you get malaria pills. Traveling in Southeast Asia usually means you also will need a Japanese Encephalitis shot. For more information, consult your doctor before you leave. They will have the most up to date information. In general, it's important to get all your shots and treatments before you go because you don't want to take any chances. Make sure you carry your vaccination book as some countries want to see it before you enter.
Moreover, in many parts of the world (e.g. Asia, Latin America) it's very easy to resupply medications over-the-counter (i.e, no prescription needed). After a short visit to a pharmacy in Bangkok, I had all the emergency antibiotics and stomach stuff I needed without any prescriptions. Don't feel like you need to bring a portable pharmacy with you. If you are really stuck for something on the road, you can find it.
Basic hygiene, a well a balanced diet, and common sense – like avoiding sick people and keeping clean -will go a long way in ensuring you don't end up spending a week sick in a dorm room, but are out enjoying the trip you've spent so long thinking about.
Matthew Kepnes, originally from Boston USA, has been travelling around the world for the past four years (favourite country: Thailand, favourite city: Amsterdam). He runs the award winning budget travel site Nomadic Matt which has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL's Wallet Pop and yahoo! Finance. Visit his site, subscribe to his blog, or read his twice monthly newsletter.