You’ve been planning this vacay for months. You’ve ponied up the cash, and you’re eagerly anticipating a well-deserved break. Now…the last thing you want is to spend your entire trip in the hotel bathroom.
Am I right?
Travel is a fabulous thing. I am a big fan. But let’s be clear: the only souvenirs I want to bring home are a pair of butter-soft Italian leather boots or lovely Mexican silver bangles….no unwanted infections or illnesses, thank you very much.
The good news? There are lots of things you can do to stay healthy while traveling.
First things first. If your destination is a tropical or developing country, get thyself to a travel clinic. There are important things to be discussed. Like, which vaccines you might need, and whether malaria prevention is indicated. The advice that follows on this page, here, is no substitute for individualized planning and prevention under the care of a good travel physician.
That said, what else can you do to stay healthy while you’re traveling?
Here’s a video clip of my recent TV interview on just this topic:
And here are some tips on what you should do to stay healthy while travelling:
Traveler’s diarrhea is ridiculously common. It strikes 30-70% of travelers, depending on the destination. When it hits, it typically lasts for 2-5 days, and usually resolves on its own. Although, an antibiotic (like a short course of cipro) will usually clear it up (another good reason to go to the travel clinic pre-departure). Of course there are worse things you can get than traveller’s diarrhea–Hepatitis A, intestinal parasites, and typhoid spring to mind. Therefore, please be super-careful about what you eat & drink.
Here are some tips:
-eat food that’s freshly cooked and served piping hot. (Avoid food that’s been sitting for a while in a buffet, or a kitchen)
-avoid street food.
-avoid food that’s been washed in tap water (like salads), or unpeeled raw fruit & vegetables.
-avoid undercooked meat or seafood.
-avoid unpasteurized milk & cheese
-be wary, in general, when eating in restaurants: unfortunately, they are often a source of traveler’s diarrhea pathogens. This is primarily because so many factors are out of your control, and you have no idea what’s going on behind those kitchen doors…cutting boards may not be washed between cutting raw meat and chopping vegetables, and some restaurants fail to provide sinks for employees to wash their hands after using the toilet. That sort of thing. If in doubt, skip it.
Feel like I’m being a killjoy about food? That this is going to take all the fun out of your vacation? It’s a fair point, but think of it like this: being sick for most of your trip is a sure-fire way to kill a holiday. For me, given a choice between seeing the pyramids and eating safe/boring stuff…and eating exotic food but missing the pyramids because I can’t get off the toilet…I’d take the pyramids.
It’s not just about food: the organisms that cause traveler’s diarrhea also come in liquid form, of course, so you should take care with your drinks.
-drink bottled, sealed water only
-sealed, carbonated drinks are fine too, as are drinks made with boiled water (eg. tea, coffee)
-avoid drinks diluted with tap water…and here there are some hidden dangers: reconstituted fruit juice, fountain drinks, iced tea, iced coffee.
-another hidden danger: ice cubes or drinks made with ice cubes (like smoothies!) This, friends, is an honest mistake that’s been made by the best of us…ahem, oh-so-refreshing banana smoothies in Thailand.
One little thing to increase your paranoia (sorry): reports do exist of apparently sealed bottles or cans from commercial sources that, when opened, were found to contain contaminated products.
Also, because water on the outside of cans and bottles may be contaminated, they should be wiped clean and dried before opening and drinking directly from the container.
It’s important to bear in mind that even small amounts of contaminated water can make you sick….therefore, tap water is not safe for brushing teeth, and may also cause illness if inadvertently swallowed or inhaled during showering or bathing.
Recreational water (in lakes, ponds, pools, hot tubs, etc) can also be contaminated, so avoid ingesting any water in which you’re swimming. And please note that water can appear clean and clear but still contain disease-causing pathogens.
Here are some things to consider bringing with you:
-hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol)
-pepto bismol. (studies from Mexico shown that pepto bismol (taken as 2 oz or 2 chewable tabs 4 times per day) reduces the incidence of traveler’s diarrhea from 40% to 14%. An interesting side effect from pepto bismol is that it can turn your tongue, and your stool, black. So don’t be alarmed!
-a short course of prescription antibiotics to treat traveler’s diarrhea (get this from your travel clinic).
-imodium/loperamide (an antimotility agent that will reduce bowel movement frequency if you get diarrhea).
-oral rehydration salts. You can get these in little packets that you add to bottled or purified water.
-first aid supplies (bandages, tape, etc)
-pain medication like Tylenol or Advil
-motion sickness medication like Gravol
-antihistamines, like Benadryl, for allergic reactions
Also, check out: The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. IAMAT is an organization that coordinates and international network of doctors and clinics that are committed to providing urgent medical care to people travelling abroad. They have providers in more than 90 countries around the world. Membership to IAMAT is free, although they do accept donations.