7 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick While Travelling

There's nothing worse than being sick while travelling. The good news is there are easy ways to avoid it. Guest blogger Nomadic Matt shares his tips.

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:

Wash Your hands

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.

Take your vitamins

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.

Wash everything before you cook

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.

Skip the empty stalls

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.

Beware of Street Food

Get the Food Extra Cooked

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.

Consult your doctor

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.

Cheap drugs

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. 

Back to basics

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.

 

 

About Nomadic Matt

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.

9 Comments

  • Barbara said

    First, I don't eat with my hands, even though when in Rome it's what they do. I use a gel cleaner when running water isn't available. Take probiotics, daily. AND a peptobismol tablet each morning to protect my stomach. I've been to every continent but Antartica and have tossed my cipro tablets in the toilet.

  • Loz said

    Some good advice here, with a few exceptions. Your local doctor may be able to handle the vaccine requirements of a short, simple, single-destination trip, but may struggle with more complicated, multi-country itineraries. As far as shots for developing countries go, its now standard to check your childhood immunisations to see if any need boosting (such as tetanus, measles), get a flu shot if the vaccine is available, Hep A & B are pretty standard and adventurous eaters and those getting off the beaten track might warrant typhoid vaccination. VERY FEW people are at sufficient risk of Japanese encephalitis to warrant vaccination (very dependent on regions, season, lenght of stay, and type of accommodation etc) and those same folks are also more like candidates for rabies vaccination. Malaria (either prevention meds, or standby treatment meds) is another area travel medical professionals will be better versed in. As for cheap drugs, take care what you buy/take overseas. There are a LOT of fakes out there (certainly give malaria meds from street stalls a big miss). Sure, there's no need to take a pharmacy, but it's great to have what you need on hand in a travel first-aid kit - just case!

  • Sue L said

    Wash hands, so easy, anti bac - pound shops in UK sell small bottles really cheap - stick one in each bag you use (in see through bag for plane!)
    Take pro-biotic tablets for a week or two before you go to get your stomach prepped.
    Don't drink the water, unless you KNOW you can trust it. Only buy bottled water that is sealed at time or purchase.
    Take your own cutlery / chopsticks / sporks, and don't be too embarrassed to use it.
    This advice has worked for me, thanks to those who passed it on.
    I don't drink alcohol so can't advise on that, maybe don't have so much that you don't appreciate the place and people you are supposed to be engaging with?

  • Rod Smith said

    When traveling to Asia, Africa, South America I always take chewable "Pepto Bismol" -- actually usually the generic equivalent-- and eat one before or after each meal from questionable sources including restaurants. It works!

  • Natwild said

    Don't forget about the ice. Unless it has been purified, it is not. Also, I always avoid any drinks with fresh fruit added to them and wipe down the tops of all opened bottles served to me with a damp napkin or wet wipe if available. Next time you are served, take a look at how they handle the bottles and you will see why.

  • Sarah said

    As a travel doctor myself, I disagree with a lot that is written in this article, and it is clearly not written by someone who has any sort of health background.

    Firstly, I would advise against taking vitamins. Many studies have shown that vitamins are useless, and sometimes even harmful. The only instance in which people need to take vitamins is if they have a proven vitamin deficiency. Deficiencies can be found on blood test only. Taking vitamins just to "keep healthy" is generally a waste of money.

    Secondly, the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine is only generally for people travelling to rural areas in certain Asian countries, so most travellers will not require this vaccine.

    Thirdly, I would NOT advise getting prescription medications from pharmacies in Asia. First of all it is unlikely the staff will speak very good English, so you may have trouble communicating your symptoms.
    Additonally, pharmacists/doctors/nurses in many of these countries have a tendency to dole out medications to people who don't need them. For example, giving antibiotics to people who don't have bacterial infections. They also give out very high strength benzodiazepines without a prescription which can be dangerous if taken in combination with other medications or taken in too high a dose or taken with alcohol. The medications they give you also don't come with instructions in English so it is hard to know how to take them properly.
    Also, something very concerning is that many pharmacies in Asia give out "fake" drugs. There have been many reported cases of "fake" anti-malarial drugs being given to patients at pharmacies in Asia.
    Get all the medications you will need from your trip from your travel doctor before you leave and make sure you they have explained to you when and how to take them.

    Fourthly, yes I agree you should wash all your cooking equipment before you cook, but you need to be using boiled or disinfected water, as often the water supplies are contaminated.

  • Davina said

    As a GP who does a lot of travel medicine I would like to add: *please please* come in at least a few months before you travel to discuss vaccinations, and not the day before. Depending on where you are going, if you're at a GP some of the more elaborate ones (like Japanese Encephalitis or Yellow Fever or even Cholera) we do not keep in stock, and you will have to order. Also, most of them need *at least* a week to kick in. Some of them are courses spread out over weeks or even months (Rabies being a big one here). Also, vaccinations are expensive. If you don't like paying them all at once, spacing them out will help spread the costs as well.

  • Steve said

    I would add here that it is a good idea to take Emergen-C or it's equivalent. That has 1000 mg of vitamin C plus electrolytes. The electrolytes are most important if you are going to be sweating a lot or drinking a lot of water, or both. I got sick in the Galapagos on the equator because I was sweating a lot and didn't notice it because it was evaporating right away. Emergen-C from more experienced fellow travelers got me through that. A biologist friend of mine who travels to Africa twice a year and camps in the bush with students insists that everyone take one Emergen-C every morning to stave off loss of electrolytes.

  • Taylor Sauce said

    Some good advice here, with a few exceptions. Your local doctor may be able to handle the vaccine requirements of a short, simple, single-destination trip, but may struggle with more complicated, multi-country itineraries. ( https://www.thetaylorsauce.com/festival-fun/ )

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