I’ve been traveling for nearly two years now. I’ve spent most of my time in West Africa, a region of the world that is notorious for traveler’s diarrhea, malaria and a variety of parasites, such as Guinea Worm. While I previously wrote an article on the 7 travel health tips I’ve learned from West Africa, this post will cover things I’ve learned from visiting Southeast Asia and South America as well.
Travel with something to wash your hands. Also, wipes are better than hand sanitizer
I can’t say how many diseases I’ve contracted because I was lazy about hand washing, but if I am to believe my doctor (or almost any doctor), it’s a rather high number. It makes sense when you think about it. Your hands come into contact with money, dirt, other people’s hands, doorknobs, and possibly worse things. Washing your hands takes 30 seconds and you can do it even if you don’t have access to water. I would recommend doing so with wipes rather than hand sanitizer, however. Wipes allow you to actually scrub the dirt off while hand sanitizer helps you merely move it around. In our article on 7 recommended travel health products, we suggest some solid antibacterial wipes.
A rest day won’t kill you
In fact, it will most likely make your trip a whole lot better. Insisting on seeing every attraction, cramming 10 tours into your day, or trying to hit up every noteable restaurant or bar in a place will lead to physical exhaustion. Don’t take this lightly. It can ruin your trip. Oh and by the way, this was the most recommended tip in our post profiling 32 travel bloggers.
If you get a cut, clean it
Ok, I’ve stated this tip elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating. If you are in a tropical area and you get a cut, clean it immediately. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 5 inch gash or a tiny, 3 cm nick. Wash it with some warm (clean) water and soap or get some rubbing alcohol or iodine on it. Bacteria thrive in the hot and moist environs of tropical climates and you may find that you have an infection brewing before you know it. I was once temporarily crippled by a leg infection in northwest Benin and it took close to 3 weeks to recover from it. It all started with a cut that was not far from a 3 cm nick. Recovery involved shots in my ass, oral antibiotics and an IV.
You can say “no”
Nobody wants to turn down food that has been offered, especially if that food has been labored over by new friends from an unfamiliar culture. But if you have reasonable doubts, excuse yourself from eating. I have grappled with this over the past two years of traveling and I’ve realized that it’s easy enough to make up an excuse that won’t devastate your hosts. You can feign an illness (stomach is easiest as the symptoms may be known only to you) or make up an allergy. Or simply say, as nicely as possible, that the particular food being served has made you sick in the past.
Know what’s out there and be prepared for it
This is one of the most valuable travel health tips I can offer. If you are traveling to a country for the first time, especially one that is tropical and/or developing world, visit a travel health clinic and have a consultation with a doctor. You will be able to get recommended travel immunizations, learn about endemic diseases that may be present, and you will be able to weigh the risks of traveling in certain areas. You should also check the World Health Organization website for the latest information on outbreaks, if there are any.
And finally, while it is not listed with the 5 tips here, you should always take out travel insurance. This is a point we have reiterated throughout the site. If you are traveling for a while, get long stay travel insurance, but even if you are just taking a week-long trip, you should take out insurance just the same.