There’s nothing that can ruin a trip quicker than getting sick. It sucks, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but there are things you can do to help mitigate your risk and stay healthy while you’re on the road.
Before you travel…
- Check if you’ll need any vaccinations for your destination.
- Check if malaria is present in your destination, and if so, talk to your doctor about getting antimalarial drugs prescribed to you.
- Make sure you are well rested. Get a lot of sleep before you travel. When you are exhausted, your immune system suffers. Since traveling can be exhausting, combat this by making sure you start your journey well-rested.
- Take a daily vitamin C and vitamin D supplement for a few weeks before traveling. This will help to strengthen your immune system.
- You may also want to eat fermented foods leading up to the trip, which are rich in probiotics and will help with possible digestive issues when you travel. These are foods like yogurt, kombucha, miso, kefir, tempeh, and fermented cabbage (like sauerkraut and kimchi).
- Don’t overbook yourself right before your trip. Keep your schedule as light as possible. This will help you to get more rest. More rest means more immunity.
- Pack medications you may need, such as allergy medicine, pain killers like aspirin or ibuprofen, and something to ease stomach discomfort such as alka seltzer or Tums. Not all medications are readily available in other countries, so it’s best to pack your own before you travel.
On the plane…
- I like to bring antibacterial wipes on board with me and immediately wipe down the surfaces surrounding me upon boarding. This includes the seat belt handle, seat arm rests, and the tray table. That way, I can protect myself from anybody on the flight before me who might have been sick and left behind some germs.
- Stay hydrated. I like to drink a lot of water when I fly. A hydrated body is less likely to get sick.
- Try to get some rest if possible. It’s not always easy to sleep on a plane, but even just closing your eyes and resting for a little while will help.
Depending on where you’re traveling, you may have concerns about food and water safety. In some countries, food handling safety standards are not the same as you might be accustomed to. Additionally, you will be exposed to new foods that your stomach might not handle well. Nobody wants to get traveler’s diarrhea, and there are things you can do to mitigate your risk.
- Drink bottled, purified water. In countries where you can’t be sure of the purity of the local water, this is the best way to ensure you’re getting water that is safe.
- Food contamination is also a concern. In general, if you’re concerned about the food safety in a location, be wary of raw vegetables and fruits that may have been washed in local water. A good rule of thumb is if the food is well cooked and served piping hot, it’s probably OK. Here are some things to look out for:
- Is the food stand you’re eating from a popular one? Locals know if a particular food stand has a bad reputation and won’t eat there.
- Is the person handling the food wearing gloves?
- Is the person handling the food the same person who handles the cash?
- Do they appear to be washing their hands regularly?
- Does the food look like it has been left out for a long time?
- Avoid raw fruit that you didn’t peel or skin yourself.
- Don’t feel like you have to eat like a local. If you are concerned about food safety and you have familiar options available to you, such as a McDonald’s or packaged foods, it’s ok to eat there to nourish yourself. Of course, food is one of the most awesome experiences when traveling, but if you’re in a situation where you’re feeling like your options are to either eat a Big Mac or get sick, just suck it up and go with the Big Mac so you can enjoy the rest of your trip.
No matter where you are (at home before the trip, in transit, or at your destination), there are tips that always help mitigate risk for sickness.
- Wash your hands frequently. Germs spread by touching surfaces and then touching your face, which many people do subconsciously. The best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands with plain old soap and water. Many travelers also carry a bottle of hand sanitizer, which can be great in a pinch, but really you just need soap and water.
- Keep taking those vitamin C and vitamin D supplements while you travel.
- When you get home from your trip, try to have scheduled in a day or two of rest, especially if your trip was especially exhausting or if the time change is extreme. You’ll want the time to let your body rest and get back to a normal schedule.
Prepare for the worst…
If you’ve done all of the above, and you still get sick, make sure you receive proper treatment if necessary. Do a little research before you leave on the specifics of your destination and what will be required in order to get medical attention should you need it. Also do a little research on how to get common medications at pharmacies, as this can vary from country to country. Carry copies of any prescriptions you might have with you.
If you’re worried about the cost of getting sick or injured on the road, you may want to look into travel insurance before you go. A word of warning, however: not all travel insurance is created equal, so pay special attention to what is covered and what is not covered before you go on the road.
In cases of extreme illness or injury, contact your local embassy as they may be able to assist.
When you travel abroad, you want to have fun and not think about negative things like injury or illness, but it’s always best to be prepared.