As someone who learned the hard way, I wanted to share with you my 10 top tips on keeping healthy whilst you travel. Some of these will probably seem blindingly obvious, but some of them won’t. Having pushed myself too hard travelling, and then getting very ill for a few days because I took some of the below for granted, it’s not too fun and you miss out on awesome things… So the tips below should be a great place to start for making sure that you can get the most out of your trip and hopefully avoid getting sick while you travel.
1 – Get your vaccinations
This is number one, because it’s by far the most important for your health. Depending on where you go obviously depends on what vaccinations you’ll need to get, but in my opinion, your health is the most important thing. Vaccinations are there for the serious stuff, the stuff that you really don’t want to get and that could cause serious damage. I’m talking about things like rabies, cholera, yellow fever etc.
So without wanting to scare you all, my advice is to make a list of the countries your visiting, do your own research, and speak to your doctor about which vaccinations are most important for you. There is plenty of great advice out there, and although some can be pricey, for the peace of mind and your health, it’s definitely money well spent.
2 – Don’t overdo the drinking
If only I’d listened to this advice more myself… I like a drink or three, as I’m sure many of you do as well. The difference when you’re travelling though, is it can actually be quite tiring. You’re eating weird stuff, travelling around all the time, going out and socialising with your new travel buddies, and essentially often burning the candle at both ends. This means your immune system and body’s ability to recover from heavy drinking sessions may not be as good as it would normally be. If you’re only travelling for a couple of weeks or a month, I’m sure it’s fine. But if you’re long term travelling and pushing it, you never know when your body will just have enough and you’ll get sick.
So my advice is if you’re long term travelling; go out, party, drink to your heart’s content, just don’t do it night after night, week after week. Have some nights off for your body to recover. If you want to read about the night in Vietnam that pushed me over the edge, I’ve written about it in another post here.
3 – Take a break every now and then
This is linked in with the above, but also applies for those of us that aren’t drinking. If you’re travelling long term, it can be quite easy to get pretty tired, lack energy, and as a result not want to do and see as much as we would otherwise. It sounds crazy but once your lifestyle is travel, you actually start to crave the odd day off, and a day of normality just chilling out, reading a book etc.
I think it’s so important to have these small ‘mini breaks’ within travel to recharge the batteries and chill out for a bit. It will seem like a huge first world problem for anyone who hasn’t travelled, but it definitely can get tiring, rushing around trying to see and do as much as possible and socialise and meet as many people as possible, all in unfamiliar environments without much personal space. So for your mental and physical health, having a few days to relax is really great.
4 – Eat your fruit and veg, or take multivitamins
‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’, was what my parents used to say to me. I’m definitely conscious of sounding like a condescending parent here in this post, but diet is probably something not too high on the priority list of people that travel. You’ll either likely be eating out a lot trying local food, or you’ll be cooking cheap and easy food. In my experience as someone who is terrible at planning and cooking for myself whilst travelling, I ate out quite a lot or picked up snacks and sandwiches etc. Often this type of diet is very low on the veg and greens content.
I’m not a dietician but I know it’s important to get fruit and veg and the right vitamins in our diet. If you can’t control what you’re eating as much, or aren’t sure what kind of food you’ll have, buy a pot of multivitamins instead. Although some people don’t believe in them, I had some in Africa and even if it’s placebo, I didn’t get sick and it was super simple to just have a small tablet each day.
5 – Carry around a small box of simple meds
This is one I didn’t really start doing until it was do late. I prioritised other things in my backpack so just thought that if I needed painkillers, etc I’d pick them up. Unfortunately, you can’t plan when you’re going to get sick, so when I did and when I wanted medication, and rehydration sachets etc, I had nothing.
If I’d been a bit more prepared then I probably could have got better quicker, or even having a bit of medication, I could have prevented getting sick at other times too. I know it will seem like a pain and take up space in your backpack, but it’s so worth having a small box of meds for emergencies. (Also rehydration sachets are great for dealing with a hangover…)
6 – If you’re eating street foot, make sure you’ve seen it being cooked
I ate some interesting things, including snake and rat on ‘that night’ in Vietnam. But this wasn’t on the street, it was a home stay and not what made me sick. What I’m talking about and mean by ‘street food’, is stalls selling meats etc at very reasonable prices often in night markets etc. Often you’ll be completely fine, but sometimes this food is cooked earlier then left out all day, meaning it may be risky to eat because it’s been sitting in the sun all day.
If you want to try eating bugs etc for example, (as is a popular tradition for travellers in Asia) just be aware, your stomach may not agree with it. A fellow traveller and good friend of mine who’s from the Philippines, so is used to non-western food so in theory was less at risk, still got pretty sick from trying one of these bugs at a street stall. So my advice is, make sure you see it being cooked fresh in front of you and you should be fine!
7 – If it smells wrong, don’t eat it
This applies to non travel life too… Following on from the above, it’s pretty simple. Follow your nose… If it smells wrong, don’t eat it. (The exception to this rule is a spikey fruit called the ‘durian’, which smells absolultely awful, as in is banned on some planes awful, but is actually ok to eat. )
8 – If in doubt about water quality, drink bottled water
There are some amazing gadgets that allow you to filter water and make it safe these days, and these are an option to get and take if you want to drink local water safely. But generally, if you’re in a less developed, or new country, drink bottled water to be safe. Do find out from locals, of hostel staff etc if the water is safe to drink, and if so go ahead. Sometimes even if water is safe, if your body is used to different water, then your stomach won’t be happy and it will take a couple of possibly unpleasant days to adjust.
I have a friend who used to work in Mali in West Africa, unwisely his tactic was to drink the water his first day, knowing he’d get sick but that his body would adjust so he could then drink it for the months he was out there. But I wouldn’t recommend this approach…
9 – Don’t stay out in the sun too long and always carry sun screen
As a blonde man with a pale complexion, who has got sunstroke in the past as a child, ending up in hospital in Turkey as a result. I was extremely aware of this, so luckily I was sensible. My anti-malarial medication also made me more susceptible to the sun (if that’s possible), so that pretty much guaranteed I made sure I didn’t let myself spend too much time in the sun and get burnt.
Make sure you have sun screen and don’t stay out too long in the sun. It sounds ridiculous (and someone more scientific than me please correct me if I’m wrong), but the sun is stronger in different countries, and you will burn quicker, Australia being a prime example of this.
10 – Make sure you have travel insurance for emergencies
This is one of those things that I never really thought about, until I realised that I’d be on the other side of the world and in quite a lot of trouble if anything serious happened. In line with number one, it’s a pain to spend money on, I know, but it’s worth getting for your peace of mind in case of emergencies, and health should always come first.
So although I feel like I’ve prematurely become a parent, talking about eating vegetables and wearing sun screen (I say ‘sun cream’ as I’m British, but this seemed more international friendly…). The list above should set you up well to keep healthy whilst you travel. Obviously you never know what’s going to happen out there in the big wide world, but like anything, you want to do what’s within your power to swing the odds in your favour.
Have you got any tips or tricks that help keep you fit and firing travelling?
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