Below are travel health tips from some very well traveled folks. Between them, few countries and territories have been unexplored and few illnesses and travel health disasters remain to be experienced.
For the record, none of the tips involve turbo viagra, a concoction I discovered in Morocco. I simply find the pic amusing, and I need to test out our new spam filter (if you feel like chumming the waters for spammers, put the word ‘viagra’ somewhere in a post).
Some of the tips overlap. This is not indicative of a lack of creativity, but rather, an emphasis on what’s really important (for example, getting enough rest). Feel free to share your own tips in the comments below – the list is by no means comprehensive.
Jack and Jill from Jack and Jill Travel
Wear a hat when outside. Looks dorky but it’s so much better than skin cancer. Sunscreen works too, but if you’re anything like us – you’ll never reapply it as often as you should.
Avoid hotel glassware – you never know who drank from the glassware in your room last, or how well it was cleaned. An exposé on Tonight showed that even top luxury hotels weren’t cleaning the glassware well, using dirty towels and harsh chemicals on the same glassware you might drink out of. Thoroughly rinse out any glassware in the room prior to using it, or better yet, use disposable cups or bring your own cups to avoid germs or ingesting harsh cleaning agents.
Eat the street food! This is where the locals eat, the food tastes better, and it can actually be safer than the restaurants because the food is prepared hot and fresh right in front of your eyes. Use common sense though, make sure the food is served hot, and look around you because locals are a good gauge of the street vendors food–if they line up to eat somewhere then it’s likely quite safe!
My #1 piece of advice for travelers is to not fear medical care around the world. Every country in the world has good doctors and – for most things – you’ll be able to find adequate care no matter where you are. For the rest – the life-threatening conditions that can’t be taken care of some places – make sure you have evacuation insurance.
Drink lots of water, take vitamins and a green supplement if you aren’t getting your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And wash your hands often!
I realized when I was violently ill in Laos that, as long as you survive, being sick and thus forced to lie down and just think for a while provides really valuable reflection and revitalizing time. Sickness forces you out of the go-go-go routine and reminds you that things don’t have to keep going as they’ve gone; the world won’t end if you sleep instead of seeing your tenth temple of the week. Once you heal, you not only treasure the ability to stand upright again without puking, but you remember again that sometimes you just need to chill out and appreciate.
The best advice I can offer for staying healthy on the road is to take Spirulina. It is a green algae, taken in tablet or powder form and is nature’s richest source of food. If your blood is high in alkalinity, which Spirulina will give you, then you can’t get sick. I take it daily, I rarely get sick, and it helps give you lots of good energy.
I have been incredibly lucky with my health. I have been traveling constantly since 2008 and the worst health problem I have had is just a couple days of traveler’s stomach in Egypt (knock on wood). Here is my really, really basic health tip: don’t overdo it. I think most often the reason I see so many people get sick is that they try to wrap 40 hours of activity into a 24 hour day. You can’t do it all and expending your energy constantly in that fashion is the kind of thing that knocks your immune system down and makes you susceptible to coming down with illnesses. Some days the best thing to do is nothing.
When traveling overseas, I carry only a few over the counter med/first aid items: aspirin (fever), Pepto Bismol tablets (upset stomach), Imodium (diarrhea), and Benadryl (allergic reaction), along with a small tube of antibiotic cream and a handful of band aids. I find these are the only things I ever need on an emergency basis; outside of the U.S. most medications are readily available from a pharmacist without a prescription and cost much less than in the U.S.
Eat healthy! This may sound like common sense but once you get out on the road it can be incredibly difficult to stick to a balanced diet. It’s the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ philosophy: you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how much energy you have if you keep up your intake of fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food. This will probably take some extra effort but cooking many of your meals can help. Or try eating naturally healthy cuisines that focus on fresh ingredients already (Thai, Japanese and Vegetarian come to mind).
While traveling, it’s important to take advantage of the simple things one can do to stay healthy. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, make sure your food is hot when served to you and if you are concerned with the water, bring your own bottle. Likewise use every opportunity you have to exercise. Do pushups in your hostel dorm, take the stairs instead of the escalator and if it’s a reasonable distance, walk instead of taking a taxi! One last thing, I ingest giant cloves of raw pungent garlic – when it seeps out of my pours it wards off mosquitos! Ed. Note: Don’t know about mosquitos and garlic ;), but garlic has plenty of other health benefits.
When you are in developing countries, everything is negotiable! Don’t let the private clinic mistake you for a diplomat or a rich tourist. I negotiated a root canal down $400 while in Sri Lanka
Never leave home without CIPRO (Ciprofloxacin). It can treat most of the common diseases you will get while traveling to less developed countries, most notably traveler’s diarrhea. If it’s expensive in your home country, research your destination country, it may be a lot cheaper to buy there.
If you are traveling in a hot climate or are drinking a lot it is really important to drink water and to wear sunscreen. Drinking on the beach is fun but dehydration and sun poisoning are no joke!
Take the motion sickness pills BEFORE you go out on the pitching boat. Believe me, your boat mates will thank you.
When traveling, you often feel compelled to do everything you possibly can in the quickest amount of time as possible. But, it’s important to take a break now and then to give yourself and your body time to rest up before your next big adventure. And eat some potato chips because, I swear, they have Vitamin C in them or something.
If you break a bone while you’re on the road, there might not all that much you can immediately do to fix the problem, but there are a couple of things you can do to lessen the pain. One thing that helped me was the travel pillow I’d brought. I used it to prop up my foot on a long, bumpy car ride before making it to the hospital. I also used it through the remainder of my trip — I continued traveling with a broken bone — to help cushion and elevate my foot. The other thing that helped me was that immediately after falling, I took some ibuprofen, which worked as an anti-inflammatory drug. And finally, the one item I wish I’d taken traveling with me was a set of clean needles. I ended up in an extremely dirty hospital in rural India and refused a shot to reduce the swelling because I’m fairly certain the needles there were not new. If I’d brought my own, then I could have safely gotten the shot.
Staying well while you travel is largely about cultivating a healthy immune system. It should go without saying — but doesn’t in the rarefied world of family travel bloggers, which is why I found myself writing a post insisting on the value of vaccinations — that the first step is to get your shots. See a specialist doctor, ideally one affiliated to a tropical medicine hospital or clinic to get advice on the appropriate vaccinations and/or updates before you travel Most US citizens will save a bunch of money by actually getting their shots *after* they leave the country. The other side is about looking after yourself — getting your fruit and veg intake to keep up your vitamins, making sure you get enough sleep. This strengthens resistance to all sorts of bugs. I’d recommend allowing your immune system to acclimatise to the local bacterial flora and fauna slowly — eat as the locals do, but start small then build up. If you’ve allowed your babies to play in the dirt and your kids to eat food that’s been dropped on the floor, they’ll have a big head start in immunity terms. If you’re too punctilious about food hygiene at home or abroad, a single slip-up — a wet lettuce leaf in a salad — can leave you sick as a dog for weeks.
I spent 14 months traveling through Latin America, eating food from dodgy stalls and women selling baggies of meat on the bus but I was never sick. My best stomach health tip is to eat yogurt every day. This actually isn’t hard to find, whether it is in a mango lassi or a commercial yogurt drink, as long as you are in a town that has refrigeration you are likely to find yogurt.
One of the simplest ways to stay healthy when we travel may be one of the most overlooked. While many people are concerned with fighting germs, getting vaccinations, and avoiding diseases, taking care of ourselves is one of the best ways to stay healthy. When traveling, make sure you get plenty of rest and slow down. When your body is weak and tired, that is when we are most susceptible to getting sick – either at home or on the road.
I recently discovered that I am lactose intolerant and that makes eating while traveling a bit more difficult. The lactose pills help, but it’s still not the same. Nevertheless, even if you are not lactose intolerant and on the road you anticipate consuming far greater quantities of lactose than you are used to, it may be a good preventative measure to have a lactose pill before your first bite of food.
For us staying healthy is a lot easier if you are working on keeping in shape while on the road. This really is no different than the lifestyle we try to maintain at home. We try to go for 30-60 minute runs every couple of days, just to keep the cardio up. In areas where we may not feel completely safe venturing out for a run, we have brought resistance bands and a skipping rope to tide us through. Additionally, get some sleep!!!! You will likely be taking plenty of overnight buses, or early morning flights (or camel rides), so it is easy to let sleep get away from you. Listen to your body….if it says sleep, take a nap! And finally…drink red wine….it has proven to be much more enriching than the typical ‘apple-a-day’ advice.
I always carry a needle with me, not for sewing, but to help drain blisters that can form from hiking, trekking, or simply breaking in a new pair of shoes on the road. Not only does this reduce the discomfort of blisters more quickly then waiting for them to break on their own, it speeds up the healing of your skin too.
Whenever I travel I always take probiotics to keep my stomach in tip top shape so I can enjoy all the wonderful street food without worrying too much about it being followed by a bout of explosive diarrhea. Not only does it keep your intestinal flora in balance but it can help boost your immunity so you can keep exploring and creating great experiences.
The key to staying healthy on the road is to eat a lot of fresh fruit. Veggies help, too, but fruit provides a lot more energy. Eating right on the road is difficult, but it doesn’t get much easier than stopping at a local market or grocery store and grabbing fresh, local fruit in season. Be sure to clean it carefully, especially in tropical locations. Even better if you have access to a blender. Grab some leafy greens and blend them into a fruit smoothie. Not only is fruit a perfect food, it helps you stay hydrated.
Don’t worry too much about your health, live a little. When you see that street food in Bolivia don’t think “this might make me sick,” think “how often do I get to eat street food in Bolivia?”
Walk when possible, eat moderately when questionable, and wash your hands often. One good laugh a day doesn’t hurt either.
My biggest tip to my awesome fellow adventurous travelers, would be to learn from my mistakes where motorcycle/scooter riding is concerned. Proper training and helmets can go a long way toward saving your life and ensuring you’ll have a blast on your trip instead of being hung up in a hospital like I was. Another way to protect your health, that too many adventurers overlook, is vetting tattoo shops for hygienic practices. There are potentially big scary consequences to making bad choices in this regard. Please make sure your sweet new ink is the only souvenir you take home. Check out: How to get a Good, Safe Tattoo Abroad for loads of specifics. Happy, healthy trails!
It’s the small consistent things that you do on a daily basis, which will keep you healthy while traveling. Here are a few things we do regularly: drink enough water daily (stay hydrated), drink bacterial yogurt, stay active by doing a basic work-out routine every morning, give ourselves time every few days to rest and relax. When you are out traveling and seeing so many new impressions, that can place a lot of pressure on your body and mind – so taking the time to sit down and relax really helps you to stay in great mental and physical shape for a longer period of time.
Take advantage of fitness classes when on the road. They can be much cheaper than at home, and could range from such fun things as learning local dances to different types of yoga.
Given that, during travel, our bodies are often forced to deal with unfamiliar conditions, it is vital to keep our bodies as rested as possible at all times. If we wear ourselves out while traveling (which is easy to do as we lug our heavy backpacks/luggage around and try to explore as much as possible in a limited time), there is a greater risk of becoming ill from such things as air pollution, bad food, extreme temperatures, etc. My advice is to avoid reaching a state of exhaustion. If you need to take a day off from traveling or you need to spend an extra night somewhere to get some needed rest, do so. It could be the difference between getting sick and staying healthy throughout your trip.
Whenever we’re plagued by the various ailments of travel, we like to turn to the local remedies whenever possible. Aside from the relief these cures generally provide, we’ve found it also adds to the cultural experience of the location. Although, having Western medicine as a backup is always a good idea.
Let us know about your favorite travel health tips in the comments. If you like what we do here, join us on our facebook page at facebook.com/sickontheroad or on twitter at @sickontheroad. Finally, if you are knowledgeable about travel health topics or if you have a relevant story to share, feel free to volunteer for a guest post. If you are interested, contact us on the contact page
This post was written by Phil Paoletta, a semi-nomad who is somewhat obsessed with West Africa. Read about his thoughts and travels at Philintheblank.net
Photo credits: all photos are sourced from wikipedia or they were taken by the author